Lipizzaner Dressage, Slovenia, 11-14 October 2008
My first impression of the stud as we were driven down the main drive was the stunning sight of Lipizzaner horses, the brood mares and young stock in large natural herds.
I was then met by Uljana and my trip started with a tour of the stud, visiting each individual block, I met the performance and breeding stallions, mares used for carriage driving, those starting the educational life and the school horses used for lessons. Amongst them was Favory Canissa XXII, the 16 year old stallion that was presented to Queen Elizabeth II the following week. With such a vast number of horses it was impressive to see everywhere was immaculate from the yards to the stables, and the horses themselves of course, in a calm and relaxed atmosphere throughout the centre.
I was shown around the rest of the centre including the large indoor arena, with seating area, used for performances. This arena is bright and impressive, and I was lucky enough to see the professionals schooling their stallions, so effortlessly and calm. Joining this arena is a smaller warm up arena, another large indoor arena where the client lessons take place. Outside there are three smaller outdoor arenas, a large horse walker and a very large outdoor arena, with seating where national and international events are held. This is all situated in acres upon acres of pastureland, surrounded by trees.
On site of the hotel complex you will also find large courtyards, a small museum for old carriages, and an interesting art gallery displaying work produced by Avgust Cernigoj a famous local and unique artist who lived out his final years on the stud. For something more active there is a large indoor swimming pool, a nine hole golf course, several tennis courts, and a play area for children. Finally, for other ways to relax there is a casino, a souvenir shop with some riding essentials and small café bar. Overall it is an impressive complex set in Slovenia’s stunning countryside.
At the end of each day all the young stock and brood mares perform their daily routine of returning back to their courtyard for dinner and to settle for the night. This was a wonderful sight, many visitors gather to take photos and stroke the horses, the children in particular loved this, with some of the foals being very friendly indeed, one of which let me kiss her soft nose and enjoyed a good scratch.
Exhausted after the days excitement I retired to my room, which included a TV and mini bar, and found the large bed very welcoming at this point! Meals at the hotel are simple, but tasty; beware the pizzas are quite large indeed!
The next morning was to begin with my first riding lesson. I was nervous, although I have many years of riding experience; one of the famous Lipizzaner horses was going to be somewhat different to my little ex racehorse at home, and dressage has never been my forte! My lesson was to be given by Uljana, and joining me was a lovely American lady, Jerry. Asked whether we wanted a lazy horse or not, I immediately said I didn’t and was introduced to my horse Maestoso Steaka XX. I greeted him with a sugar cube to make friends and tacked him up, all the horses are groomed daily by the yard staff and his white coat was silky and shiny.
Off we went to the indoor arena where we mounted and started to warm up, riding in a dressage saddle was quite a treat, as this doesn’t happen to me too often. We appeared to be a perfect match in terms of size and got off to a good start. Things were going well, not technically brilliant, but he was on the bit, just a little more clever than I had anticipated! When asking for canter I didn’t quite have a good enough connection between my hand, leg and seat, he made this very clear as we flew off in the other direction not quite as controlled as I had hoped. I liked this guy he was fun, cheeky and going to make me ride correctly!! Right time to wake up, get it together and impress this guy, I was going to show him I could ride!!
Jerry meanwhile was getting on great with her horse, who was unfazed by my slightly out of order behaviour. I laughed and carried on with the lesson and working on my canter transitions. The lesson continued with some basic lateral movement, including leg yield and shoulder in, followed by rein back. This was again good as my horse, being 12 could do all of these movements, but only if I asked him correctly, eventually we were getting it together and this was obviously benefiting our engagement and outline. With this our canter transitions improved and we finished the lesson with some walk to canter transitions and ended on a good note, I had worked hard, maybe a little harder than my horse who was having fun at times.
Now time for lunch and a shower, then off to watch the experts give a dressage performance. I had a great spot sat at the end of the arena at C. The music started, then a team of beautifully turned out horses and their riders entered the arena in a line, they halted, saluted and worked their magic performing a variety of movements in perfect sequence. These movements included shoulder in, half pass, three, two and one time changes and changes of rein in all paces. This display was followed by a par de deux, performing more complex movements including piaffe, passage and pirouettes, a carriage drive followed this and the finale of the show was watching the airs above the ground movements which included their famous LaVade and Capriole. The performance was glorious to watch and showed the high level of skill and communication between horse and rider.
Following the performance Uljana took me to some local villages to see historical monuments and to learn a little more about local culture. Our first stop was in the village of Lokev where we stopped by at the Military Museum Tabor house in a 15th-century Venetian fortress. The owner, a very passionate and eccentric collector of military materials, greeted us. He knew his stuff and liked to talk… fast! Nether the less he was an interesting and memorable character and the museum had a lot of interesting collectables. From here we drove through the beautiful countryside where the leaves were turning for autumn, before arriving in Stanjel, a 13th Century stone village. We parked up across the road from the remains of a Castle.
I was overwhelmed by the stunning views from this high set car park, with the view of mountains and its valley. Stanjel is very beautiful, so I don’t want to give too much away. The evening was topped off by a delightful meal in the village of Dutovlje, about 15 minutes from the stud, at a family run restaurant called Ravbar.
The next morning started with my lesson on Maestoso Steaka XX, this time with a Russian instructor, he was a serious character, quiet but firm, and knew his stuff. Today I didn’t feel technically that I rode as well, although ‘Maestoso’ wasn’t taking advantage of me as much as he had yesterday and I had mastered the canter a little better. The lesson was swiftly followed with a trip to the Ravne Stud, where they keep the yearlings, two and three year old colts before they return back to the stud farm as four year olds to be broken. Again you walk into an immaculate courtyard before entering the peaceful pastureland out the back, where you find the herds.
The first fascinating sight was that of the three-year-old colts. They had formed two herds within their group, and whilst I was there the alpha male from one group (the smallest chap with the biggest character) came purposefully trotting past us to start some trouble with the other herd having no real intention other than to show off! The one and two-year-olds were still rather civilized and a lot calmer.
This relaxing time was followed by a visit to the Škocjan caves, walking a 3km trail of natural vast chambers and boasts an amazing and unique underground gorge. The caves are set within the most amazing grounds, with breathtaking views. No description could do them justice, and as a world heritage site they are not to be missed.
Well deserved wine and cheese tasting followed the caves in a small, but beautifully presented winery. I’m not normally a big wine fan, but I must say Slovenian wine is fantastic, my favourite being the sparkling white followed by the Terran, a red produced only on the Karst plateau and is claimed to have medicinal properties due to its abundant acidity. The local prosciutto that accompanied it was magnificent. The day ended with a relaxing meal and an early night back at the hotel, ready for my last days riding and meeting with the marketing director.
The last morning started with the self-service breakfast, offering a choice of cereal, yoghurts, tea, coffee, juices and a variety of hot and cold traditional food. A business meeting followed breakfast to discuss ideas and new programmes for 2009.
Now followed my final lesson, again I chose to ride ‘Maestoso’; I wanted to leave knowing I had made a good connection with my horse who was trying hard to teach me correctly. I opted for an intense lunge lesson, to focus on my aids, accuracy and position. Wow! What a difference, this helped me focus and think about my actions and their consequences. At last I had finally managed a consistent and engaged contact and mastered the canter, including walk to canter. I left this lesson on a high, but was sad as it was my last day and could not continue to develop my partnership with this intelligent little chap. I rewarded him with his favourite treat, sugar lumps and he insisted on asking me for more!
Now was time to leave this under discovered and wonderful complex with so much to offer. It really is a place for everybody from families, to beginners to the more advanced and serious dressage rider.
A week following my visit Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh made their first ever visit to Slovenia, where she was presented with one of the stallions.
For those interested in visiting the stud, either to learn to ride, learn classical dressage, or simply to watch the performances from the professionals, trips can be booked through us at Far and Ride. We work very closely with the stud and can adapt the programmes to suit your individual needs. Take a look at the Lipizzaner Dressage ride page.