The Feline Keepers of the Lipizzaners

Meet Vienna’s most pampered barn cats.

By Sharon Hudgins

Photographs Courtesy Sharon and Tom Hudgins


The historic Stallburg, the 16th century stables at Vienna’s famous Spanish Riding School, houses more than horses. I made that discovery during a trip to Vienna in 2005, when I was walking along the Reitschulgasse, the narrow passageway between the stables and the Riding School’s indoor arena across the street. The buildings are all part of the massive Hofburg palace in the city center, where the Lipizzaner stallions and their riders perform for the public several times a week.

Six large plate-glass windows give pedestrians on the sidewalk a view into the Stallburg’s arcaded courtyard surrounded on three sides by the horse stalls. When the top half of the stalls’ Dutch doors are open, the handsome white horses can look out onto the courtyard, which is often bustling with activity as hay is delivered, horses are fed, and stable hands muck out the stalls.

But what really caught my eye that day were two tabby cats sauntering across the stone courtyard as if they owned the place.

What were cats doing at the Spanish Riding School? Were they strays just passing through? Or did they belong to someone there? And what did the horses think about two uppity felines invading their space? Cat-lover that I am, my curiosity was piqued.

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