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Spanish Riding School


Levade, courbette and capriole are classical school jumps performed by the Lipizzaner stallions, who enchant their public at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. The traditions of this haute école of classic equestrianism have been passed down by word of mouth for more than 400 years. Once these intelligent white stallions have completed their training, they are known as professors.

These world famous horses originally from Spain are schooled in the Winter Riding School of the Hofburg Palace in a hippodrome once reserved for the imperial family. During their morning exercise they practice the choreographed steps which will be executed perfectly at the evening gala with their riders. 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 horses, Europe's oldest domesticated breed of horse, take their name from an imperial stud which was located near to Trieste. And 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.

Lipizzaner 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. During gala performances the horse performs the movements that it would naturally make in the pasture - various gaits, changes of steps and 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.

In 2015, the tradition of the Classical Horsemanship and the High School of the Spanish Riding School were admitted to the UNESCO’s world heritage list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity. The UNESCO list comprises over 300 cultural practices and expressions of intangible heritage and includes two other Austrian traditions, falconry and the Schemenlaufen carnival of Imst.

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Impressions of the Spanish Riding School

  • Spanish Riding School © Spanische Hofreitschule Spanish Riding School © Spanische Hofreitschule
  • Lipizzan horses in Piber, Styria © Steiermark Tourismus Lipizzan horses in Piber, Styria © Steiermark Tourismus

Gala Performances
The programme includes all the movements of the haute ecole and the most difficult jumps to the accompaniment of Austrian classical music. The horses are both ridden and led by the reins. The highlight is the school quadrille, the ballet of the white stallions.

Morning Exercises
Visitors can watch the horses in the winter riding school, accompanied by music. Stallions at every stage of training are shown.  Riders in the audience will take some practical tips and plenty of inspiration home with them.

Winter Riding School
Guided tours are available of the baroque riding hall of Vienna’s Hofburg Palace, which is used for both Morning Exercises and the Gala Performances.  You will also visit the Stallburg (renaissance stables).

This is the oldest Renaissance courtyard in Vienna and home to the Lipizzaner, offering them every modern comfort. You can view family trees which trace their long bloodline. Bridles and tack are displayed in the saddle room.

Fête Impérial
This charity ball is held at the beginning of July for the benefit of the Spanish Riding School.  The venue is the beautiful Winter Riding School which is transformed into a ballroom for the occasion.

Café at the Spanish Riding School
You can eat and drink at the Hofburg Palace with a view of the Lipizzaners’ summer riding area.

Piber Stud Farm
The young stallions spend their early years here before moving to the Spanish Riding School; on “Mother’s Day” the stud presents its youngest foals. The stud is open every day and offers horse and coach rides, tournaments and seasonal events.

Piber meets Vienna
For some weeks in July and early August during the Spanish Riding School’s summer break, some of the delightful residents of the Lipizzaner Stud in Piber make a guest appearance at the Hofburg in Vienna.

The Spanish Riding School student stallions spend their summer holidays in July and August at leisure and running free in the green fields of Lower Austria.

The High School of Horsemanship

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