Long ago there lived a little boy named Henry. Henry lived in the city of Vienna in Austria in a small house with his parents. Although they were very poor, Henry loved his life very much. He had a wonderful friend named Signe who lived next door.
One Sunday his mother and father took him to the park for a picnic. They brought along Signe as well since she and Henry played together every day. They had bread to eat and water to drink because this was all they could afford.
Henry was so happy to be in the park with his parents and Signe, he began to sing.
“Land der berge, Land am strome,” sang Henry. This was the national anthem of Austria, a favorite of his.
When his mother heard him sing, she said, “Oh my, our Henry has such a lovely voice.”
“We must bring him to the city center and have him audition for the Boys’ Choir,” said his father.
When Henry heard this, he was not pleased. He did not want to go to the city center. He did not want be part of a boys’ choir which Signe could not join. The boys in the choir had to live in a boarding house and only see their families and friends on Sundays.
But his parents insisted. If he were part of the boys’ choir, he would make a lot of money for the family because they got paid when they put on concerts They could afford a better house and wiener schnitzel for dinner on Sunday.
So his parents took Henry into the city center to audition for the choir. The choir director was a stern man who never smiled. He told Henry to sing for him and Henry did as he was told.
“Well,” said the choir director, “I think you will do.”
Henry’s parents were overjoyed at the news even though they would miss Henry very much. They could come to the city center every Sunday to take him out to lunch. To Henry, seeing his parents and Signe only once a week, was not something he could imagine.
On Monday, his parents took Henry to the school. They hugged good bye and promised to come back on Sunday. Henry was shown to his room. He was given new clothes to wear for practice and for performing, for the choir would sing every Sunday at Mass.
Henry shared his room with another boy named Hanz. Hanz was older than Henry and had been in the choir for two years already. Henry sat on his bed looking very sad when Hanz came back from practice.
“Hello,” said Hanz, “What is your name?”
“My name is Henry,” he managed to say all the while holding back his tears.
“I bet you are sad to leave your parents and friends,” said Hanz, “But don’t worry, soon you will get used to it. There are many boys here with whom you can play and become good friends. I will be your friend and show you around.”
Henry felt a little better as Hanz showed him around the school. He showed him the practice rooms, the dining hall and the small playground in the courtyard of the building. They had a slide, some monkey bars and a teeter-totter.
At dinner, Henry met some other boys called Stephen, Karl and Philip. Karl and Philip were just Henry’s age and would be members of his class. Although he was still homesick, Henry was not quite as lonely.
Each day the boys got up early, had breakfast in the dining hall and then went into the practice rooms for vocal training. They sang for three hours each day. After practice, they would go to the dining hall for lunch followed by a brief recess in which they were allowed to go out to the playground. This was Henry’s favorite part of the day for he loved to run and climb.
In the afternoon, the boys attended regular school. They studied German, mathematics, history and science. Then they had dinner. After dinner, they studied their school subjects and did homework until it was time for bed.
Day after day, Henry followed this routine. On Sunday, after Mass, his parents took him to the park for lunch. They brought Signe with them so they could run and play together. Henry wanted to ask them to take him back home with them but all they could talk about was how proud he had made them. And, they were getting money from the school after each performance of the choir. Perhaps, in a year, they would be able to move to a better house.
One day, when Henry was in the courtyard during recess, he saw the most marvelous sight outside the iron fence. It was a beautiful white horse being ridden by a man in a black bicorn hat, a grey jacket, and very tall boots that went above his knees.
“What is that?” Henry asked Hanz who was standing nearby.
“Ah,” said Hanz, “That is one of the famous Lipizzaner horses from the Spanish Riding School. They rarely go out onto the street. There must be a special parade today.”
Henry watched the beautiful horse prance gracefully down the street. He longed to leave the play yard and touch the lovely creature. But there was no gate and the fence was very high with sharp iron points at the top.
That night, when they turned out the lights, all Henry could think of was the beautiful white horse. He imagined himself riding the horse, wearing the special hat, coat and boots. But he had no idea how to leave the school or even where to find the horse.
Many months went by and Henry began to learn the difficult Latin songs the choir sang at Mass. He also learned his other subjects and did very well in school. But he never forgot the horse.
One day a special visitor came to the school. The boys were called from their regular classes into the dining hall where they would hear him speak. All the boys liked to have a change like this so no one really cared who the visitor was.
After they were all seated, the headmaster called them to be quiet. He introduced the visitor as Herr Brucknerr and asked the boys to please listen politely to the guest. Henry was well-behaved even though Philip and Karl were kicking him under the table and giggling.
“Dear boys,” began Herr Bruckner, “I am pleased to speak with you today. I am the headmaster of a special school in Vienna. This school is very near to your school and I thank your headmaster for letting me address you. Each year, we choose two boys only to join our school. We offer this opportunity to you because we know you boys work very hard and will succeed if chosen. However, it is not easy to be accepted. Many try but few are chosen.”
Henry wondered whether this school of whom Herr Bruckner spoke would allow him to return home after school each day as this is what he longed to do. Maybe he should try to get into this special school.
“I am the headmaster at the Spanish Riding School,” said Herr Bruckner.
When Henry heard those words, his heart leaped within his chest. The Spanish Riding School was where the beautiful white horse lived. If he were chosen, perhaps he could ride that wonderful creature.
“It takes a special boy to ride a Lipizzaner horse,” Herr Bruckner went on, “The horses always know who really loves them. Only those who do will be accepted as riders.”
Henry was very excited. But he was also very worried. What if he was not accepted? He would feel even worse than he did now. But he must try.
The next week, the boys who wanted to attend the riding school were taken over to the stables. The stables were three stories high and were once the palace of a king. When Henry saw the horses looking out from their stalls, his heart beat faster.
Each boy would be given a chance to ride a horse with the help of an experienced trainer. They would go three times around the ring if the horse accepted them. If not, they would be taken off the horse and dismissed.
Karl was the first to try. He was helped onto the horse by the trainer to be led around the ring. Karl was quite nervous and the horse sensed it because it began to nay and sway back and forth. Before completing one lap around the ring, Karl was removed from the horse.
Philip was next. He was a lively boy who often got himself into trouble for his shenanigans. He hopped onto the horse and pretended to whip the horse with his hand.
“Yee haw,” said Philip loudly.
The horse became very scared and tried to run off into the stables. The trainer was able to stop it before Philip got thrown off. Philip was dismissed.
Many other boys tried with similar results. The horses sensed the mood of their riders and quickly rejected those who did not seem comfortable on their backs.
Finally, a tall boy named Joseph took his turn. When he mounted the horse, he bent forward and stroked its mane. The horse seemed to enjoy this because it nodded slowly and began to walk. The trainer led the horse, ridden by Joseph around the ring. They completed the first lap and began the second. At the end of the second, they began the third. Henry could hardly breathe watching Joseph and the horse. Finally, they completed the third lap.
“Well done,” said the trainer, “You are accepted into the school.”
Joseph smiled broadly and was helped off the horse. Only one opening was left.
Several other boys tried and failed before Henry’s turn came. Henry did not think he could remain calm. He was afraid he would scare the beautiful horse.
“You will ride Signe,” said the trainer as he helped Henry onto the horse.
Signe! The horse’s name was Signe. Henry’s heart was so full of love for the horse, he soon forgot his fear. As soon as he was set on the horse’s back, he felt so much joy in his heart he thought it would burst. He stroked the soft mane and nodded to the trainer to begin.
Henry completed two laps successfully and was now entering the third. He felt his heart begin to beat faster and Signe to sense his fear. When Henry felt the horse start to sway, he immediately stroked her mane and whispered in her ear.
“Do not be afraid, my friend. I would never hurt you.”
The horse calmed and quietly completed the third lap.
At that, Henry was accepted into the school!
“You are a natural born rider,” said the trainer, “You will do very well.”
Now Henry had to tell his parents about this turn of events. He would not be paid while he was in the riding school. He would not receive a salary until he was grown and could ride in the shows.
His parents were invited to the riding school. They were treated to a demonstration of the horses’ skills. They watched as the horses stood on their hind legs with their hocks almost touching the ground. They gasped as the horses leapt into the air with their hind legs tucked under and then kicked out behind.
But mostly they watched Henry watching the show. They had never seen him smile or laugh so much.
“Henry,” said his father, “We would rather see you so happy than buy a bigger house. You have our blessing to attend the riding school.”
Henry was still only able to see his parents and Signe, the girl, on Sundays. But the rest of the week he had Signe the horse to keep him company.
Henry went on to be one of the greatest riders the school had ever seen. He even invented a new trick in which the horse would trot in place between two pillars. And finally he made enough money to buy his parents a better home where he joined them for wiener schnitzel every Sunday.
Henry married Signe, the girl of course, and they were very happy. After dinner each evening, Henry sang to his children a lovely song he had learned while in he boys’ choir. For Henry still liked to sing when he was happy.
(Stock photo from Internet.)