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The Spanish Riding School of Vienna

Image from Wikimedia Commons
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Hi again! There’s so much to explore in equestrian if you have the time! Today we learn about the Spanish Riding School of Vienna.

The Spanish Riding School is a top equestrian centre in Austria, training students exclusively in classical dressage. In fact, it has been practicing Haute-Ecole dressage for over 450 years, a discipline which appears on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, deriving from the times of Renaissance.

How come for a school in Vienna to add Spain to its name? It’s the Lipizzaner, the equine breed which is the only one used by the school. The breed, brought from the Iberian peninsula in the 15th century, is now a mix of Arabian, Spanish and Berber bloods. In fact, Archduke Charles II founded in 1850 the Court Stud Lipizza, in which he accommodated horses which he had imported from Spain, initially called “Spanish Karsters” and were renamed as “Lipizzaners” in 1780. Stallions are bred and raised in the facilities of the school in Piber and their three-year training begins when they reach the age of 4. For this purpose, they are transported to the Training Centre Heldenberg, where they will be trained in line with the standards of Classical Horsemanship.

Equine training

The stallions undergo a long schooling period, which is divided in three parts: (i) in the first year of training, the horse will be ridden in a natural posture; (ii) in the second year of training, called “the Champagne School”, the horse is trained to be ridden in all gaits, turns and circles, collected and absolutely balanced; (iii) in the third year, the stallion is trained in Haute Ecole, and the rider tries to bring his horse’s skills to perfection, learning moves that are used in the Grand Prix dressage shows. Everything now depends on the individual skill, talent, strength and sensitivity of each stallion and what he offers. In total collection, the stallion learns the piaffe, the passage, pirouettes and to change legs in the canter. Only very few, particularly talented and sensitive stallions will have the opportunity to master the art of the “Schools above the Ground”, which includes  the levade, the courbette and the capriole. Training a Lipizzaner in the Spanish Riding School of Vienna means pursuing suppleness, obedience, responsiveness and ease.

The Lipizzaners are appreciated by the trainers of the Spanish Riding School because of their frugality, strength, intelligence and extraordinary memory.

A stallion will be schooled for 6 years before he appears at a School Quadrille, which will signify the end of his training.

Facilities and amenities

The School has three main sites: the Winter Riding School, Lipizzaner Stud Piber and the Training Centre Hendelberg.

The Winter Riding School as we know it today was commissioned by Emperor Charles VI and was competed by Joseph Fischer von Erlach in 1735 and has kept its initial form until our days. Inside there is a large portrait of Charles VI, to which riders always salute upon their entrance. Except for training, the school is used for shows, continuing the tradition which was founded by Maria Theresia, who held a big number of carousels and other festivities which included equines. Since 1918, the school carries out regularly public shows, which help fund its activities and performances are conducted worldwide.

The Lipizzaner Stud is the breeding site of the school and produces about 45 foals each year. Only Lipizzaner stallions and mares are bred on the site and only the best stallions will make it to the training programmes and shows. The mares are also selected carefully, after a demanding selection process. Stallions are returned to the stud for at least one breeding season in their lives.

The Hendelberg training centre is the place where the horses receive their first training and spend their summer vacations. The site has 81 boxes, which are fully occupied in summer, and a plethora of comfortable paddocks. Stallions that participate in the shows receive an additional break lasting between six and eight weeks on the site, for resting and stretching. During their vacations, the horses receive no schooling, but instead, they are hacked in the forest nearby. The site is also an international training centre offering advanced training through seminars, clinics and theoretical courses in dressage and horsemanship to professional riders, equestrian judges and professional grooms from all around the world. Trainees may come to the centre with their own horses.

Being a student in the Spanish Riding School

Speaking about human training, one needs to pass an entrance examination to become a student in the Spanish Riding School. Most students have been male, but the tradition was broken in 2008 with the admittance of two females, Sojourner Morrell from the United Kingdom and Hannah Zeitlhofer from Austria. Students go through years of demanding training.

It’s not only stallions which are submitted to intensive schooling. The riders, being equestrians before they join the school, are also engaged in a highly demanding programme. They start from the stage of Eleve, where they learn everything around horses -including handling, maintenance, equipment as well as training – and receive regular riding lessons on experienced horses. The initial duration of this stage is three years, with a 2-4 year extension for exceptional riders. The Eleves work under the Stable Master’s supervision.

Upon being judged as successful as Eleves, students move on to the second stage of their training. On their second stage of training, the student receives the title of Assistant Rider and a Lipizzaner stallion is being entrusted into their care. They may also participate in the performances of the school on fully-trained horses. As an Assistant Rider, the trainee is now under the supervision of the First Chief Rider. This stage will last 6 years and requires responsibility, discipline, patience and sensitivity, which are necessary skills for the trainees’ performances in the school Quadrilles.

To be a fully-qualified Rider, hence able to train other trainees, one needs to undergo 12 years of training in overall. The highest rank that a trainee can achieve in the Spanish Riding School of Vienna is First Chief Rider.

If you are interested in joining the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, you need to correspond to the following admittance requirements:

  • Minium age of 16
  • Completed school education
  • Ideal height of 172 cm; slim stature
  • Athletic and creative talent
  • Fluent in German and good foreign language skills (English preferred)
  • Strong connection to horses
  • At least basic equestrian skills
  • Evidence of licence R1 or RD1 of the Austrian Equestrian Federation or a comparable proof of achievement, e.g. RA 4 (DRAIII) and LK 5 (D5,S5) in Germany

For details about the Spanish Riding School, you can visit its official website here.

What do you think of this legendary academy? Have you ever visited its premises or seen any of its performances? Even more excitingly, have you been a rider there? Let me know in the comments!







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