Siglavy Mantua I ridden by Oberbereiter Krzisch in the solo ride. Normally, the Lipizzans were equipped with double bridles but this special ride was communicated through a single Weymouth bit. Herr Krzisch rode with one hand and held a special sapling switch vertical in his right hand. (Spanish Riding School photo)
We sat there, transfixed in our stadium seats. You could hear every note of the Viennese march floating from the speakers in the huge Staples Center arena in Washington, DC. All eyes were on the spotlight, on the man and horse who piaffed to the music as one.
For many people, fairy tales piaffed to life before their very eyes when they attended a live performance of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna's famous Lipizzaner stallions. They were entranced by the quadrille, mesmerized by the pas de deux, and awed by the airs above the ground.
But one performance in the show was different. When lights went down and the single spotlight followed that magical horse and rider around the arena, we knew we were seeing something special. The motionless rider rode with one hand, holding a wooden switch upright in his free hand. Without any sign of aids, the two piaffed, passaged and literally danced in the spotlight, like a music box come to life.
What people didn't realize is just how special that treat was. There was no way that the public could know that for more than 20 years, it was always the same horse who danced in that spotlight. After all, the Lipizzaners look almost identical.
But only one horse and rider could and did perform the famous solo ride. Siglavy Mantua I and Oberbereiter Klaus Krzisch were a team admired around the world, yet few people knew their names.
I am sad to announce to his admirers around the world that Siglavy Mantua I died in August at the Spanish Riding School's Piber stud farm in southern Austria, only a year after his official retirement from the performing troupe in Vienna. He was 28 years old.
Siglavy Mantua I lived his life within the high walls of the Vienna stables, and was ridden almost exclusively by Krzisch. When he arrived there in the winter of 1982, he was often overlooked because of his long back, and less-than-elegant carriage. With Krzisch's dedicated training, the horse's native intelligence and willingness helped him overcome his athletic shortcomings and he blossomed into a horse recognized for his ability to perform collected movements.
While the School's 2005 USA tour was to have been Siglavy Mantua I's farewell, he continued to be sound and interested in performing, so he remained in Vienna until last year, when he was sent to Piber for retirement and to breed mares. This summer, his health deteriorated and the decision was made to end his life with dignity and peace.
I remember being in a mini-press conference at the School when one of the journalists asked bluntly if the riders had a favorite horse among the many stallions. The director looked a little uncomfortable and exchanged glances with Oberbereiter Riegel. Then he shrugged and said, "Well, of course, Siglavy Mantua I is very special."
And he smiled as he said the horse's name. We all dutifully scribbled the horse's name in our notebooks. Later, I went to look for him in the stable and the head groom told stories about the aged stallion's brilliant personality and sense of humor. Mantua was certainly a favorite, at all levels, in public and in private, out of a cohesive unit of identical horses.
His 2002 son, Siglavy Malina II, is now with the School in Vienna, and every colt of his nice crop of 2008 foals knows they have big hoofprints to fill, as the traditions and performances and romance of the Spanish Riding School continue to enchant horse lovers.
The legend of Siglavy Mantua I will live in the memories of thousands of devotees of one of the world's oldest equestrian traditions. His soundness and his longevity will continue to impress everyone in the horse health world. He delighted us all.
Note: Thank you to Oberbereiter Andreas Hausberger for sharing the news of Mantua's death.
This is a rare private moment at the 2005 Washington performance of the Spanish Riding School. In the afternoon, Oberbereiter Krzisch arrived at the makeshift stables in the bowels of the Staples Center to check on his horse and I happened to be standing outside the stall. (Mantua had the first stall, of course.) The photo above this one is the ornate sign above his stall in Vienna. I wonder who lives in that stall now! (Fran Jurga photo)