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Lipizzaner US tour off to avert icon's bankruptcy.

The renowned Spanish Riding School in Vienna famed for its white Lipizzaner stallions is on the verge of bankruptcy. Officials say the 430-year-old school, whose shows at the former imperial stables at the Hofburg Palace are among the Austrian capital's top tourist attractions, lost nearly pounds 1.5m last year.

Business adviser Elisabeth Guertler said a planned US tour has been cancelled to save on travel expenses as staff scrambled to put together a rescue plan.

Ms Guertler, the former chief executive of Vienna's prestigious Opera Ball, said high wage bills were to blame for the school's mounting losses. Its 17 riders are paid bonuses while on the road that can boost their monthly salaries to around pounds 7,500, she said.

In addition to cancelling the US tour, the school will boost the number of performances in Vienna from 38 to 69 this year, and plans to cultivate its own grain to cut feed costs for the prized stallions.

"Tradition is important, but tradition alone is no prescription for success," she said.

Several riders told Viennese newspapers they were worried about the welfare of the prized and pampered horses, and that the animals would risk injury if put through too many performances. In the 1980s, some stallions became lame after the number of shows was increased to 70 a year.

But Ms Guertler is standing firm. "If it turns out to be too much, I'll put a stop to it," she said.

An estimated 250,000 people a year attend the school's performances, which cost about pounds 25 for a ringside seat and roughly half that for a standing ticket.

The Lipizzaners have long served as a symbol of Austria's past glory during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which stretched across much of Europe.

Austria's former ruling royal family, the Habsburgs, went to Spain centuries ago to buy horses and founded the Lipizza stud farm in what is now Slovenia.

The school was privatised in 2001, and now operates the Piber stud farm in the southern Austria province of Styria.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jan 15, 2008
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