The world famous horses are trained in the Winter Riding School of the Imperial Palace. 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 prevailed to this day. The Lipizzan horses, 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. During gala performances the horses perform the movements that it would naturally make in the pasture, various gaits, changes of steps, jumps, but in a beautifully stylized form. Through the specific strengthening and training of muscles, the horses’ natural movements are developed into the perfect figures of the High School.
Attend a gala performance and watch the stallions demonstrate 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 their 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 dates back to 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.