In den fernen USA feiert heute der ehem. OB Karl Mikolka seinen 80 Geburtstag, zu dem wir ihm herzlich gratulieren wollen!
Lieber Karl, von Herzen wünscht Dir der Freundkreis der Klassischen Wiener Reitkunst alles, alles Gute zu Deinem Jubiläum! Bleib so unverfälscht, authentisch und mit den Herzen bei der Sache!
Aus diesem Anlaß wollen wir eine unterhaltsame Erzählreihe starten, die Karl uns aus seinem Erlebnisfundus zur Verfügung stellt und starten heute mit Teil I seiner Erzählungen:
From: Reflections of a Spanish Riding School Defector - or: how not to do it
by Karl Mikolka
Disk: : 3A17-08DB
or Drolly, the Funny One"
Conversano Arva came to the Spanish Riding School as a four year old in 1961. He was part of the annual crop of 12 stallions which was sent every fall to the school from Piber, the stud farm in the province of Styria. In Piber, the youngsters live free for their first four years on beautiful lush pastures surrounded by rolling hills and lovely forests. Here, within the camaraderie of the herd, they develop stamina, strength and agility by playing on mountainous terrain and breathing the pure, unpolluted air of horse paradise.
Though Conversano Arva was a small horse, not much over 15 hands, he exhibited alpha characteristics, which fostered his desire to claim leadership of his group and never showed any fear when challenged by a larger stallion. Being the smallest of all the stallions placed him somewhat of a disadvantage and the older riders did not give him much chance to survive the strict selection criteria which every horse had to pass in order to be accepted permanently as a four legged member of the Spanish Riding School.
At the time C. Arva arrived in Vienna, I was in my sixth year with the school in the rank of Bereiteranwaerter or Assistant rider. The duties of an assistant rider were divided between stable work, the grooming of two horses, night watch and afternoon feeding in addition to all the riding hall activities which included receiving two lessons a day, one on the lunge line during the first three years and one on a trained school horse plus the riding of a young stallion later on.
For the horses who were the permanent residents of the Imperial Stables as well as for the riders, it was always an exciting period to welcome a new generation of young stallions and the first training session of the newcomers was one which we approached with eager anticipation. Not only was this a time which promised fun and adventure but one which fostered amongst us the competitive spirit in the hopes of finding the super horse every horseman dreams about.
Training began in one of two ways. The late Colonel Podhajsky, then director of the Spanish Riding School, preferred to introduce the young stallions to their new environment by having them hand walked for six weeks. During these walks, the horses were gradually taught to accept the equipment which would become their daily working outfit later on. Colonel Hans Handler, on the other hand, who succeeded Podhajsky as director, preferred letting all the young stallions run free together in the arena on a daily basis for a period of four weeks.
Since the horses were used to each other from the stud farm, they found this method more to their liking and after a short time, they were much easier to handle, being less charged with unused energy than those who were merely hand walked. This method, found to be more effective than the other, has since been adopted by all other directors who succeeded Colonel Handler.
Once serious training started, Chief Rider Hans Irbinger, considered the best for this stage of development, was most of the time placed in charge. He made the work so interesting for both horses and riders that we looked forward to this part of the day - from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. with great enthusiasm. One of Irbinger’s training techniques consisted of bringing several buckets of oats into the arena as a distraction during the first mounting sessions and as an aid for teaching the horses to come in from a circle.
Standing in the middle of the circle he would shake the bucket of oats while calling his young student to come to him. In less than a week all stallions learned to understand the sound of the oats in the bucket and connected this to the command: „Komm her”-or: “come here” eagerly approaching the people in the middle of the circle: the man with the whip, the man with the longe line and the man with the bucket of oats. The highly intelligent Arva learned very quickly that the middle of the circle meant a treat and tried often on his own to determine the length of the work session by suddenly turning in towards the oat bucket.
The philosophy of the school is to make work fun for the horses. In that manner we were able to develop a high level of confidence and trust in the animal, which is paramount to any successful animal-trainer relationship. The oats in the bucket prevented many unnecessary incidents such as the horses getting scared, running off, bucking, getting rid of their riders and so on. By avoiding mistakes we averted confrontation and all horses ended up feeling as comfortable around the people who were on the ground as well as those who climbed up on their backs.
From the beginning, C. Arva proved easy to teach as far as carrying a rider was concerned and almost gave one the feeling that he was proud to be ridden. He was one of the few precious animals which enjoyed spending more time with a human being, than with his fellow equines. Life around people seemed to be more interesting to him. His affectionate nature and outgoing personality were later to earn him the nickname, ‘Drolly’, which means ‘the funny one’.
Unusually talkative, he developed a wide range of ‘horse vocabulary’ which he happily displayed at any opportunity and for him it was equally easy to beg for sugar by kneeling down or doing a Levade in his stall. I remember when Arva was introduced to work in hand I almost had the impression that he had already learned that part of his education somewhere in his past.
Leading him straight along the wall was easy because he always remained light in hand. Transitions from walk to trot were fluent without any tension or clumsiness- normal reactions with any novice horse when being introduced to this ‘Handarbeit’ period. After two weeks of work in hand Arva offered the first piaffe steps. One day when nobody was watching I collected the piaffe a little more and he sat down into the most natural Levade. Fooling around with airs was strictly forbidden, but once in a while behind the backs of a preoccupied Director or senior rider, we young riders managed to get away with the unspeakable.
Thus, Conversano Arva became a part of the Spanish Riding School tradition though he hardly behaved like a young stallion but more like a big dog. The only problem remained his size. Even for a quadrille horse he was a little too small and it would have presented too awkward a picture to put a tall rider on him in an attempt to meet the height requirements of riding in formation. I did not mind at all sitting on this little stallion simply because I felt that every horse, this one in particular could teach me something.
The words of Chief Rider Polak were ringing in my ears: “ A young rider should have the desire to ride any horse, because this is the only way to learn the art of riding. Later, when more experienced, he should be more selective so that he does not become too easily a target for his critics.”
Not in the least concerned with his insufficient height, Conversano Arva was determined to be the leader of the class of ’61 because deep in his heart he was convinced that no other horse could do a better job. In addition to his leadership qualities, Arva also had another shining characteristic: the ability to cope. Here in this country they have a saying: “ when the going gets tough, the tough get going,” which could have been written especially for this horse.
Whenever a situation became difficult for the average horse to handle, C. Arva pulled through with flying colors and when particularly pleased with himself would even offer an unsolicited sample of his natural talents for Airs above the Ground. Because of his unusually rapid progress, we were able to show Arva in the Young Stallions sooner than any other horse from his string which meant that he was exposed more often than the others to the excitement of the performances. In those unfortunate instances when other horses might shy or jump around, Arva remained calm and steadfast. I cannot remember ever having ridden a more reliable, cooperative and smart horse.
One day in a training session, we had to canter in formation and were asked to lengthen the strides on the long side and shorten them on the short side. Arva seemed to like this exercise because he almost offered the extension as well as the collection without hesitation. As soon as the group was asked to come back to the trot, he offered the most beautiful passage steps in the most natural way.
I, his rider, took advantage of his preference to show off in the passage. Every time we did an extended canter and whenever I had the opportunity to work the horse alone, I frequently practiced transitions from extended canter to collected canter to halt and off into the passage. A quite unorthodox way of teaching a horse this highly collected movement but in Arva’s case it worked beautifully. Under normal circumstances the passage follows a lengthy introduction to piaffe, with many transitions from piaffe to trot and vice versa, but seldom after an extended canter. Up to that day the school never had had a stallion which so innocently broke all the rules of higher level training sequences making Arva an innovator in his own right demonstrating that dressage really has no border lines.
In spite of his talents, Arva was sold in 1965 to a wealthy lady by the name of Heidi Pruscha, wife of an oil tycoon in Vienna. Frau Pruscha was the first person in Austria to own a Corvette and the first person to own a fairly advanced Lipizzan stallion from the Spanish Riding School. As a rule, only very young stallions were ever sold and under Podhajsky, they were gelded as well. Drolly, as he was now called however, was permitted to leave the school as a stallion under promise from the owner that he would never be used for breeding. This privilege would later backfire. I also became part of the ‘package deal’ when Frau Pruscha insisted that the trainer of Arva- me-should also become her trainer. Frau Pruscha moved the horse to the private stables in the Prater where “ Drolly” became my first horse to ride and train outside of the School. The added benefit of a little extra money was timely and much appreciated since I was an expectant father for the second time.
At the beginning of our Prater adventure I had difficulties persuading the other trainers of the Freudenau Riding Club to trust that this stallion was a safe horse and that no-one should feel threatened or intimidated by him. But in spite of my pleading, I could not convince the equestrian community of Drolly’s gentleman- like behavior and quickly got the feeling that I was not welcome. The resident trainers used the stallion issue as an excuse to hide their jealousy for Drolly, as he was now the most advanced horse in the establishment.
Their superior positions were suddenly threatened and fearing the subsequent loss of customers, did everything in their might to blackmail the Lipizzan. Since I did not want to lose the horse nor the extra income, I decided that the only way for me to train was early in the morning when no-one was around. My job at the Spanish Riding School started at 7 a.m. sharp and the trip to the stables was half an hour’s ride by car from where I lived. Having no groom or help of any kind, I had to feed, groom and prepare the horse myself, ride and if necessary cool out, clean the tack and make it back to the Spanish Riding School before seven o’clock. Needless to say, my day out of necessity started at three o’clock in the morning.
Frau Pruscha, who took to riding as a therapy, rode her horse every day at 1.30 p.m. always going on a trail ride weather permitting. When she decided to stop smoking she needed something else to do and hoped that riding her beloved Lipizzan out into the beautiful country side along the Danube might help her to kick the habit. And it really did. Mrs. Pruscha knew how to ride from childhood and never had any interest in taking formal lessons. She relied on my training the horse in the morning expecting to have a safe ride in the afternoon. That pattern went on for almost four years.
From the beginning, Drolly had two problems with his new life: seeing other horses of a different color and having to work alone. He could not understand why he had to work alone when working in a group was so much more fun. But he did manage to adjust and become an excellent trail horse for his new owner.
As the wife of a wealthy businessman, Frau Pruscha had many social obligations and traveled frequently with her husband, especially to Italy and France. On one of those trips Frau Pruscha was invited to spend a week at the Mediterranean and there fell in love with the ocean and scuba diving. Her riding, which helped her to stay off cigarettes and scuba diving became her two most favorite past times.
Once I contracted a terrible flu and could not come to the stables for a few days. Mrs. Pruscha decided not to ride on her own and asked her groom to longe Drolly only.
On the first day back I had not much time nor sufficient energy to exercise the horse in the morning and advised the owner to wait another day before taking to the trail. Pushing my safety concerns aside, Frau Pruscha insisted on going out since she hadn’t had her exercises on horseback lately.
Against my better judgment, we tacked up and proceeded on our way as we so many times had done before. But at one approach to a narrow and sharp bend of the trail we met another group of riders head on, one of whom was mounted on a mare. The closeness and suddenness of the encounter would have challenged even the best educated stallion and Drolly was certainly not exempt. Obviously quite smitten with the mare and having now totally overcome his ‘horse of a different color’ prejudice, Drolly became super charged and began to engage in some fancy footwork punctuated with a few well fired airs above the ground - much to the dislike of his owner who finally fell off. This left me to battle Drolly and the mare that still carried her very frightened rider.
The picture could not have been more pitiful: here I was on this rented horse which had not much to offer in terms of suppleness and submissiveness, there he was, Drolly, alternately hanging with his front legs on the mare’s croup, or on the rider’s shoulders and there was the mare trying to flee her rude assailant in the fastest trot imaginable down the lane with me in hot pursuit. Trailing a few hundred yards behind us was Drolly’s owner who miraculously was not hurt; only horseless and had to follow the whole fiasco on foot.
The rider of the mare lost complete control over his horse while I could only pray that the repeated attempts of the stallion to mount the mare in motion would not result in injury to person and horse. Our adventure led us across an open area in the park and the mare, as though driven by the Holy Spirit headed straight towards a row of thick bushes on the other side. There she, her rider and Drolly got so tangled up that nobody could move.
That gave me the opportunity to jump off my horse and take hold of the now very sweaty and heavily breathing stallion. He as well as the mare had a couple of deep scratches along the hind legs, but aside from that, nothing else was destroyed. The mare’s rider suffered a torn shirt.
Leaving my rented horse to graze, I attempted to walk out Drolly. In the meantime Frau Pruscha managed to catch up with us and was badly shaken over the rude behavior of her beloved Drolly.
This unfortunate incident became water on the mill for all those who wanted to see the stallion gone and soon, under public pressure and as security against future law suits, his owner decided with a broken heart to geld the horse. It was my job to ride the horse 3 miles to a veterinary clinic at the harness race track where our four-legged friend lost his manhood. After the operation I hand walked the horse back home.
Soon after his operation I left Vienna for a new adventure in Brazil. Drolly recovered quickly and eventually became the favorite of everyone in the Prater. A few years later Frau Pruscha decided to sell him to a private riding stable where he could teach many young riders that “utmost happiness on earth can be found on the back of a horse.”
At the age of 33 Drolly was still giving riding lessons to a new generation.
Copyright 1997, ©karlmikolkadressage.: 2000,2004,2008,2012