The Spanish Riding School (de: Spanische Hofreitschule, the "Spanish Court Riding-School") of Vienna, Austria, is a traditional riding school for Lipizzan horses, which perform in the Winter Riding School in the Hofburg. Not only is it a center for classical dressage, the headquarters is a tourist attraction in Vienna that offers public performances as well as permitting public viewing of some training sessions. The presentation builds on four centuries of experience and tradition in classical dressage. The leading horses and riders of the school also periodically tour and perform worldwide.
The Spanish Riding School also has summer stables in Heldenberg-Wetzdorf-Lower Austria. The 68 resident stallions are taken there in July and August for seven weeks, where they are kept in Stalls with paddocks. The horses are not schooled during this period, but instead are hacked in the nearby forest.
The Spanish Riding School was named for the Spanish horses that formed one of the bases of the Lipizzan breed, which is used exclusively at the school. Today the horses delivered to the Spanish Riding School are bred in a state stud in Piber in western Styria, Austria, though they originally came from a stud in Lipica (Italian: Lipizza), near Trieste in modern Slovenia, which gave its name to the breed.
The Spanish Riding School has antecedents in military traditions dating as far back as Xenophon in Ancient Greece, and particularly from the military horsemanship of the post-medieval ages when knights attempted to retain their battlefield preeminence by shedding heavy armor and learning to manoeuver quickly and with great complexity on a firearms-dominated battlefield.
Traditionally, Lipizzaners at the school have been trained and ridden wholly by men, although the Spanish Riding School states that there has never been an official ban on women. In autumn 2008, two women, an 18-year-old Briton and a 21-year-old Austrian, passed the entrance exam and have moved into next stage of evaluation prior to acceptance to train as riders at the school.
The methods used by the Riding School are based on François Robichon de la Gueriniere. It is a common myth that the movements were developed to aid in battle; in fact, they were used to strengthen the war horse's body and mind and make him a supreme athlete, not to actually attack. All movements are based on those naturally performed by the horse when at liberty, with the exception of one-tempi changes.
The stallions are taught in three stages:
The riders, too, are carefully schooled. They first work on the longe without stirrups and reins on well-trained horses for up to 3 years, to teach a balanced and independent seat. They are then allowed to control the animals themselves, under the eye of an experienced rider, until they can perform the high school movmements. With intensive training, this will take 2-4 years. The rider is then allowed to train a young stallion from unbroken up to High School, a process that usually takes 4-6 additional years.
Performances at the Spanish Riding School were originally only presented to guests of the Court, and then when they were finally opened to the general population at the turn of the century, it was only for special occasions. However, after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1918, the school opened up regular performances to the general public to help pay for its upkeep.
The original performances were quite short, with the chief riders presenting stallions in the High School movements, airs above the ground, work in-hand and exercises on the long rein, and then a Pas de Deux (two horses in mirror image) and a four-rider Quadrille would finish the performance.
The program today has expanded. It begins with the YOUNG STALLIONS which have recently arrived from the stud farm at Piber. They demonstrate the first phase of training, in which the horse moves forward and accepts the aids. The next section is the ALL STEPS AND MOVEMENTS OF THE HIGH SCHOOL, where four fully-trained stallions perform each of the movements seen in the Olympic Grand Prix Dressage test, including the flying change, passage, pirouette, and piaffe. The horses are ridden in double bridle, to demonstrate their high level of training. The PAS DE DEUX is then shown, with two horses demonstrating High School movements in mirror image.
The next section is the WORK IN HAND, to show how their horses are trained for the school jumps levade, courbette, and capriole, all in-hand. This demonstration includes work on the diagonal, on the wall and between the pillars. All stallions wear a snaffle bridle, cavesson, side reins, some on short hand rein, some with a short back longe. All carry the traditional white "school saddle." Then one stallion is then worked ON THE LONG REIN, in which a fully trained Lipizzan performs all the movements it would be asked to do under saddle. In this section, the horse wears a red snaffle bridle and a red shabrack (saddlecloth) with the golden coat of arms of the Austrian Empire.
The AIRS ABOVE THE GROUND follows, with all horses are under saddle, but the riders do not have stirrups. Movements performed include the levade, capriole and courbette. The performance finishes with the SCHOOL QUADRILLE, consisting of 8 riders working in formation at the walk, trot, and canter, with flying changes, pirouettes, the half pass and the passage. Lasting 20 Minutes, the School Quadrille of the Spanish Riding School is the longest and most difficult in the world.
All riders wear the traditional brown uniform tailcoat, a bicorne style hat, white buckskin breeches, white suede gloves and black top boots. Swan neck spurs are also part of the uniform. The empire style uniform (1795-1820 in fashion) has remained relatively unchanged for 200 years.
During performances, the fully trained stallions wear a traditional gold-plated breastplate and crupper, called a Goldzeug. They also carry a "school saddle", which is made from buckskin and larger than the more commonly seen English saddle used by the school when training the stallions and riders. Gold-plated double bridles are only used for performances. All horses, except the young stallions, wear red and gold or green and gold shabracks, or saddlecloths, under the saddle. Red is for "All Steps and Movements of the High School", "Pas de Deux", "On the Long Rein", "The Grand Solo" and "The School quadrille." Green is used for "Work In-Hand" and the "Airs above the Ground". The shabrack is also used to differentiate the status of each rider: the director of the school has three gold bands and gold fringe, the chief riders have three bands and no fringe, riders have two bands, and assistant riders have one.
The young stallions are not exhibited in the same equipment as the more mature animals. They are ridden in a plain snaffle bridle and a simple dressage-style English saddle. For training sessions, black bridles, both snaffles and double bridles, are used for all horses.
Horses are clean and well groomed. The Capriole horses wear a braided tail wrapped short in a "queue" (known elsewhere as a "mud tail"), which is fixed with a decorative tail bag (Schweiftasche).