These world famous horses which originated from Spain, are schooled in the Winter Riding School of the Hofburg Palace in a hippodrome which was once reserved for the imperial family. During their morning exercise they practice with their riders the choreographed steps which will be executed perfectly at the evening gala. These stallions were once stabled in the courtyard of every royal household in central Europe, valued as ceremonial horses for parades, jousts and military campaigns. However only in Vienna has the tradition of Lipizzaner horsemanship endured to this day. The Lipizzaner, Europe’s oldest domesticated breed of horse take their name from an imperial stud which was located near Trieste. The Spanish Riding School is the only institution in the world which has practiced classical equitation in the tradition of the haute école since the Renaissance.
Lipizzan horses are bred at the Piber Stud Farm in Styria and the young stallions which demonstrate the best jumping ability and stamina are selected for High School training. They begin with four years of schooling in Vienna, where the guiding principle is the wellbeing of the horse; its character and aptitude is deeply respected. During gala performances the horse perform the movements that it would naturally make in the pasture, various gaits, changes of steps, jumps, but in a beautifully stylised form. Through the specific strengthening and training of muscles, the horses’ natural movements are developed into the perfect figures of the High School. A stallion may be perfectly schooled after about six years but a rider needs a full ten to twelve years of training. During their first four to five years, the riding school apprentices practice, above all the correct posture in the saddle, on a professor horse. In 2008 women were accepted as riders for the first time in the history of the Spanish Riding School. British and Austrian female riders are currently being trained.The audience at the gala performance sees the stallions demonstrating the most demanding movements such as pirouette, passage and piaffe and the most difficult jumps to the accompaniment of Austrian classical music. The horses are both ridden and led by the reins. The highlight of the evening, after the pas de deux (two horses in mirror image), is the school quadrille, a very difficult dance with eight Lipizzaner horses, precisely choreographed to historic dance music from the time of the Viennese Congress. This ballet of the white stallions requires intense concentration. Nothing is done purely for show and yet every detail is impressive - the baroque riding hall from 1729, the historic uniforms, the complete trust between rider and Lipizzaner, who communicate only with body language. It is a perfect, living work of art, in which the unity of horse and rider touches everyone who witnesses it.