CLASSIC DRESSAGE IN AN IMPERIAL SETTING
No journey to Vienna should be considered complete without a visit to The Spanish Riding School. With a history exceeding four centuries this, the oldest riding school in the world, is the only equestrian institution where Lipizzaner Stallions are trained in a curriculum of the most classic horsemanship. Many years of training create a unique kinship between horse and rider. The precision of movement of the Lipizzan horse in perfect synchronicity with the music is an unforgettable experience.
The Lipizzaner is Europe's oldest horse breed. Intelligent and lively they originate from Spanish, Italian and oriental bloodlines. Their classic physique and powerful grace are ideally suited for an "Elite School" of horsemanship. The result of classical training can be witnessed in the Performances, i.e. in the Pas de Deux or in the School Quadrille.
In 1580, the Habsburg archduke Charles II created an imperial stud farm in the small town of Lipica. Today this region, (Karst) is part of Slovenia. In subsequent years, horses of Spanish and Italian blood were used by the Habsburgs to develop a breed which ideally complimented the baroque imperial appearance. The best stallions were chosen from this select group for the Viennese court and they played an essential role in the life of the imperials.
The "Karst-Imperial Stud farm" was the private breeding farm of the Austrian Court from 1580 until 1915. In 1920 this valuable herd transferred from Karst to Piber, about 45 km from Graz. To this day, direct descendants of the original imperial herd are bred here. It is interesting that the name "Lipizzan" has only been in use since the 19th century. Until that time they were called "Spanish Karstes" as an indication of their noble Spanish blood.
Spanish Riding School of Vienna
Equestrian art has been traced back to the doctrines of the Greek commander Xenophon (400 B.C.) and so does the formal regimen of rider and equestrian art at the Spanish Riding School. The Winter Riding School, which is part of the Imperial Viennese Palace was built by Joseph Emanuel Fischer von Erlach 1725 - 35 on the command of Charles VI. To this day, this building is acknowledged as an architectural icon of the late baroque era and radiates an incomparable aura. In what is considered the most beautiful riding hall in the world visitors to Winter Riding School experience a unique example of Austrian culture as Lipizzaner stallions and their riders, perform in perfect harmony.
Even today, it remains part of a tradition whereupon riding skills are passed on orally from the advanced riders or chief-riders to pupil. A measure of a good rider is that he can train his own horses and if he can pass his knowledge on to junior riders he, or she, is a good teacher. This tradition preserves the high standards of education and keeps the Spanish Riding School's unique cultural heritage and ensures its international reputation.
Over sixty Lipizzaner Stallions housed at the Spanish Riding School are "members of the cast" that present classical performances of Haute Ecole throughout the year. Over a quarter-million visitors admire the mastery of this equestrian ballet each and every year. Further the reputation of the Spanish Riding School is enhanced through international performance tours in appearances throughout the world.
Performances at Spanish Riding School of Vienna
Morning training with music gives one an insight into the training regimen of the Lipizzaner Stallion. Guided tours include a "backstage" visit to the stables. During the Morning Exercise the riders and their horses do simple relaxing exercises and exercises aimed at refining and perfecting a certain movement. Each rider is responsible for the training of his own horse. Through specific strengthening and development of muscles, natural movements are developed into the perfect examples of "Haute Ecole".
Classic jumps are not practiced on a daily basis. They can only be seen occasionally during the Morning Exercise. However, intimate moments between horse and rider are common as a tidbit produced from the pocket of the rider's tailcoat, is given to the horse immediately after dismounting.
In the course of gala performances, visitors experience unique presentations of the Lipizzaner Stallions in the most lavish equestrian setting in the world. It is worth noting that this magnificent riding hall was originally built to provide aristocratic youths with a proper place in which to take riding instruction.
One of the highlights of the performances are the "Schools (jumps) above the Ground': These require exceptionally talented and intelligent horses. They feature the major school jumps such as the Levade, the Courbette and the Capriole.
Performances also offer insights into the long established traditions of the Spanish Riding School, handed down from one generation of riders to the next. In these bilingual (German and English) programmes, a rider takes the audience through the necessary steps of training horse, and rider, in the art of classical horsemanship.
In addition, the audience is introduced to the history, tradition and characteristics of the Lipizzaner breed. One also experiences insights into the stages that need to be accomplished for a Cadet, or Éleve, to evolve into a Chief Rider and the curriculum that transforms a young horse into an admired School Stallion of the Spanish Riding School.
The Federal Stud Farm at Piber
The stud-farm in the village of Piber, located 230 km south of Vienna in Western Styria, has been home to the famous Lipizzaners since 1920. Here, over four centuries of breeding expertise is maintained to preserve those characteristics which make the Lipizzaner so famous. The newly designed Lipizzanerworld offers a wide range of sights worth visiting: the covered yard with the foals and next-door the show farrier, or blacksmith. A new Adventure Path offers children a wonderful tour of the stud-farm and is an exciting adventure.
The essential duty of the Federal Stud Farm of Piber is the enduring safeguard of the Lipizzan-breed. The most important goal is to keep upright and to breed descendants of all the classical mare families in a sufficient number. In 2002 successfully all classical mare families were settled at Piber which is the precondition of the preservation of the baroque type of the Lipizzans.
Adopt a Lipizzaner Stallion from the Spanish Riding School
The 60 stallions that live in the Hofburg are the heart of a centuries-old tradition that has been carefully preserved until today. Like centuries ago, the horses are trained in Vienna by riders of the Spanish Riding School, and then perform for millions of spectators around the world. The bloodlines of the Lipizzaner stallions at the Spanish Riding School can be traced back to the 18th century and have never been interrupted. There is no other horse breed in the world with equally high breeding and training standards.
Adoption offers a novel way for companies, organizations or individuals to be involved in in a very traditional aspect of the Austrian and the equestrian culture. The Federal Stud Piber fulfills a very important function in the breeding and selection of the famous Lipizzaner stallions for the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. Through the adoption of a Lipizzaner a company or organization makes a statement about the active support of a cultural heritage as well as a truly unique and wonderful breed of horse. Many options in adoption exist, for example it is possible to adopt a foal or a school stallion. For further information we recommend that one should contact the Federal Stud Piber.
The Journey from Éleve to Experienced Rider
An Éleve, or cadet, is the equivalent to an apprentice at the Spanish Riding School. And the fact that an Éleve is given the unique opportunity of training with the Spanish Riding School, does not necessarily insure that he or she will automatically eventually retire as a Chief Rider. All prospective Riders are faced with challenging requirements and must meet high personal qualifications. It takes approximately four to six years - depending on the individual's talent and personal commitment - for an Éleve to progress to the level of an Assistant Rider.
Until recently, only young boys aged between 15 and 16 years were admitted. However, this age limit has been raised so that candidates wanting to join the Spanish Riding School have completed their school education or an apprenticeship. The training at the Spanish Riding School does not rate as a classical apprenticeship and the drop-out rate, even after a successful Éleve training, is high. At these times a career move to a different profession or a commitment to further advanced education may prove to be the most viable alternative.
On September 9th, 2008 the time had come: four new candidates had their first working day at the Spanish Riding School. This time there was a real difference. Two of the four candidates were young women! The two young ladies, a 21 year old Austrian and a 17-year old British woman, were the first females in a very long time to be allowed to ride in the famous baroque Winter Riding School. The world's most beautiful riding hall had not seen female riders since the end of the monarchy when ladies of the Imperial Court were permitted to regularly take part in the so called Riding Festivals and Carousels which were staged in this beautiful setting.
So two boys from Vienna, aged 16 and 18 years and the two young ladies are with immediate effect, Éleves of the Spanish Riding School. They have spent the past four weeks working in the stables: grooming horses, picking out hooves, saddling and bridling up, carrying equipment back and forth, feeding, cleaning up dung and mucking out stables. A couple of days after having started their stable duties, the first riding lessons were scheduled. One of the many traditions of the Spanish Riding School is learning to mount without stirrups - once this challenge has been mastered, the student learns the correct seat during lunge lessons - a training which takes years!
Appearance also matters: there's more to the ideal Rider than just a love for horses and an equestrian talent. The baroque Lipizzaner, bred specifically for a School of Classical Horsemanship, is smaller and more compact than the average dressage horse today. The ideal Lipizzaner should be no taller than 160cm (shoulder height) and the rider should match the horse in his or her proportions.
After those first four years the Éleve is officially evaluated by the Director of the Riding School, Ernst Bachinger and the Riders, with regard to his or her skills and also in his or her own ability to pass on to others what has been taught. A positive evaluation will enable the promotion to the position of an Assistant Rider.
An Assistant Rider is expected to train a young stallion independently and present him in a public performance. This phase also takes at least 4 years and sees the Assistant Rider working closely with the experienced Chief Riders. This is the time the acquired equestrian skills should be developed into an art form and be passed on to a horse. A journey which demands a great deal of discipline and sensitivity from a young person. Taking into account all these stages, it takes approx. 8 to 10 years to progress from an Éleve to a Rider.
Lastly, we are grateful to the Spanish Riding School of Vienna for providing information used to compile this article.
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