The Spanish Riding School, a Viennese TraditionApril 16, 2015 10:28 am
The Spanish Riding School is one of the most quintessentially Viennese things to experience in the Austrian capital. This old imperial tradition, which is presented in the Hofburg, one of Vienna’s most important and historic buildings, will be celebrating its 450th birthday this year in 2015. So what better reasons do we have to talk about it!
For anyone, horse lover or not, a visit to the Spanish Riding School is a must when visiting the capital. The Spanish-origin Lipizzan horses are all thoroughbred and trained in equestrian haute ecole and the hall in which they perform is like stepping back in time to the days of Empress Sisi and Empereor Franz. This combination of location and dressage makes for an unforgettable performance and experience and you feel like you really are stepping back into a soiree with the higher classes of the Austrian Empire.
There really would be no better place than the Winter Riding School, the room within the Hofburg, to host these stunning performances. A hall surrounded with windows flooding light into the central performing arena, it adds to the celestial feel and magic of the experience. This classically white hall is surrounded with boxes where spectators can stand and watch. You can’t miss the royal box as there’s a portrait of Emperor Charles VI hanging above it.
The meticulous skills the horses are taught have been passed down through centuries of rigorous teachings; but their origins come from the military – even as far back to the Ancient Greeks! The traditional movements were not, as most believe, to aid in attacking, but to strengthen the horse’s body to make it a more able and strong horse to lead into battle. The stallions have to undergo a series of training, divided into three stages: the first being Remontenschule, which means forward training; next is Campagneschule, campaign school; and lastly Hohe Schule, high school or haute ecole. Horses only enter the riding school at four years of age, and it’s stallions only. And much could be said of the riders, too. At 450 years, there have only been a handful of women who have trained as riders so it’s still very much a male-dominated tradition.
The performances used to be exclusive, court events – and by invite only. It was only after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918 that the school opened up to the general public. Without the benefits of the court and Imperial family, who else would be paying for it maintenance and upkeep?
When you go to see one of these spectacular shows, or even just the morning exercises, you’ll be blown away by the professionalism and the style of both horse and rider who are visibly under such self-control. The empire-style uniform the riders wear has remained mostly unchanged for over 200 years; you’ll still see the brown tailcoats, bicorne-style hats, complete with white breeches and suede gloves!
The Riding School doesn’t only host annual performances, but on a weekly basis you can visit and watch the Lipizzan stallions practice their morning exercises. You can see them running through some of the most skilled moves to prepare for the live shows. If you’re visiting in July-August, you can look forward to the iconic Piber Meets Vienna shows which are acclaimed performances every year! What’s better, with the Vienna PASS you can see one for free!