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The "Flying Horse": Neapolitano Santuzza in a capriole in hand.

The “Flying Horse”: Neapolitano Santuzza in a capriole in hand.

When I outgrew my first (“free”) pony, my parents, who were not horsey and who didn’t have a lot of money, found an Appy mare that was effectively “out to pasture.” She was unused and unloved, and they could get her cheap. I remember my first reaction, as a child who reveled in the long-maned, thick-tailed, glossy horses of girlhood fantasies—she’s not pretty…she’s not going to be any good. It is so easy to judge a horse’s worth by how he looks—and to get it tragically wrong.

That mare stayed with me until I went to college. She was the safest, most surefooted mount I may have ever ridden. She packed me many, many miles on lonely mountain trails, always bringing me home to my worried parents just before dusk. She was game for every jump (up to a certain height!) I threw at her, and she put up with the half-dozen neighbor kids to whom I gave lessons, patient, quiet, and honest until the end.

My experience is certainly not uncommon. A far more striking and illuminating example is one described by Colonel Alois Podhajsky, the Director of the famed Spanish Riding School in Vienna for 26 years, in the book MY HORSES, MY TEACHERS:

One of the most brilliant caprioleurs at the Spanish Riding School was Neapolitano Santuzza. By appearing in the performances and having pictures taken of his tremendous leaps, his fame certainly spread farther into the world than that of most of the other stallions of the School…

He was born in 1936 at the Lipizzaner stud farm in Piber in the green mountains of Styria and came to the School in Vienna together with nine young stallions of the same age in the autumn of 1940. Here he experienced the first disappointment of his life. While his brothers were admired by all riders for their beauty and their good paces and were flattered accordingly, nobody even paid any attention to Neapolitano Santuzza. On the contrary, suggestions were heard that he should not be kept at the School because he was obviously not worth any serious work. I am sure he felt like the ugly duckling. It was true that he was rather small and his head was just a trifle too big for his conformation. Nor did his eyes express the ardent temperament expected from a Lipizzaner. His paces were mediocre but his character was of an indescribable good-naturedness and docility…

I admit, I felt sorry for the little chap who looked at everybody with such gentle eyes and of whose presence nobody took any notice. What had been mere pity at first slowly developed into a deep affection, which made me protect him…I assigned him to a rider of very modest ambitions who demanded very little from his horses and consequently would not do any harm to him. In this respect he led a quiet life but also progressed so slowly in his training that as a twelve-year-old he was still not advanced enough to appear in a performance. Again it was suggested we get rid of him and sell him to some private stable. But he had become so dear to my heart that I was reluctant to make any decision and wanted to give him one more chance…

In 1949 I decided to work him personally in hand…I tried to teach him caprioles and was very pleased with his reaction to my aids. Although he was of a very calm disposition he possessed an extraordinary gift for this spectacular school jump. It was surprising to everybody who had followed his training to see how quickly he understood what I wanted, which was yet another proof of the importance of sympathy and mutual understanding for any successful cooperation…

A year later, in 1950, Neapolitano Santuzza appeared in public for the first time…[his] debut was a great success and the beginning of a brilliant career. From 1951 on there was no performance in which he did not take part. He received the name “the flying horse” and pictures of his capriole in hand circulated throughout the world. Our relationship became closer all the time; he never let me down and it seemed in all those years as if nature had endowed him with everlasting youth. He never declined in his abilities and his performance remained unaltered in beauty and exactness.

 

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Read more about Neapolitano Santuzza, and many other horses that contributed to the life of Colonel Alois Podhajsky, in MY HORSES, MY TEACHERS, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER

 

—Rebecca Didier, Senior Editor

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of horse books and DVDs, is a small, privately owned company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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