Home to the world famous white Lipizzaner stallions, it may seem like all that happens at Vienna’s home of the spanish riding school is grand dressage performances. But there is so much more to it than that!
The Spanish Riding School is an institution that has been preserving the art of classical horsemanship since its inception in the 16th century. It continues to perform to this day with their magnificent horses in baroque splendor inside the winter palace. The riders and stallions are known around the world for their incredible classical movements that bring to mind the grace and coordination of a ballerina. It takes years for a horse and rider to achieve these movements which are referred to as Haute Ecole or High School.
This very traditional way of training has survived many upheavals and political systems in Austria with little change to its overall structure. Knowledge of the art of riding and the stallion training has never been written down, but instead passed orally from Master equestrians to their young pupils. The apprentices or cadets, as they are called, learn not only from their older colleagues through instruction and observation but also, and perhaps most importantly, by watching the fully trained school stallions.
It is not uncommon for a cadet to spend up to 20 years at the School before he or she is ready to become a Master. Once a rider has achieved mastery they are expected to teach the next generation of cadets, and the process begins again. The training method is based on the concept of asking for something slowly and with consistency while rewarding the animal when they get it right. This allows the horse to progress naturally without getting frustrated or fearful and builds a mutual respect for human and horse that is not found in modern, quick fix training methods.
In fact, the most successful sports riders today are still using the techniques of the old Masters as their foundation. Herwig Roth, a former Master from the School, has been a mentor for top sport riders including Olympians Alois Podhajsky, Christine Stuckelberger, and Franz “Rocky” Rochowansky, as well as American Olympic medalist Lisa Wilcox. The masters of the Spanish Riding School have always been there to help the up-and-coming superstar riders as they hone their skills.
While the students at the School train daily, members of the public can visit and watch the training on a weekly basis. It is a great opportunity to see the pedigreed stallions put through their paces and to witness the incredibly skilled work that goes into making the performance at the Theater im Winterpalaste so magical.
In 2015 the tradition of the Spanish Riding School was inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It is an invaluable part of Austrian culture and history and a must-see for visitors to Vienna. You can purchase tickets to a performance online. Or, if you’d prefer to experience it for yourself, you can visit the school during open doors on Tuesdays-Friday.