Step back into the past at Vienna’s Spanish Riding School
Wandering the streets of Vienna, you can be forgiven for wondering if you’ve been transported back in time. The winding cobblestone streets, the imperial architecture, the lively café scene and gracious manners all combine to make the Austrian capital an ideal tourist destination for those longing for a glimpse into the past.
Vienna, Austria is for Horse Lovers
For horse lovers, the city’s penchant for preserving its imperial traditions allows visitors the unique opportunity to witness classical riding at its best at the Spanische Hofreitschule – the Spanish Riding School.
Lipizzaner Horses in Vienna’s Imperial Palace
In the stunning baroque Winter Riding School, located within the Hofburg (Vienna’s Imperial Palace), today’s visitors watch the snowy white Lipizzaner horses and their skilful riders executing perfect pirouettes, courbettes, caprioles, levades and complicated ballet steps to the magical strains of Mozart and Strauss. These precision movements have been acquired through countless hours of rigorous training, utilizing methods developed over 400 years ago and passed down orally from generation to generation.
Spanish Riding School Established in 1580 for Horsemanship
It was in 1580 that Habsburg Archduke Charles II founded the imperial stables, selecting the beautiful Lipizzaner horses – native to the Iberian peninsula, hence the name ‘Spanish’ Riding School – which were considered the most suitable breed for classical horsemanship. All the Lipizzaners you are seeing today can have their bloodlines traced back more than four hundred years to those in the original Habsburg stables. It was under Leopold I that the Imperial Riding School first took shape in the 1660s.
Dressage Horseback Riding Popular in Vienna, Austria
Across Europe in the 17th century, great emphasis was placed on art, architecture, literature, philosophy, music – and classical horseback riding. A great equestrian requires reserves of strength, courage, technique, discipline and skill. Dressage horseback riding perfectly embodied the classical ideals of the time. Its popularity spread rapidly throughout the courts of Europe, and nowhere more so than within the opulent and sophisticated court of Vienna. These horseback riding performances, once viewed only by guests of the court, are now held throughout the year and attended by horse lovers and visitors from across the globe.
Equestrians Groomed to be Master Horseback Riders
Interesting commentary in German and English follows each segment of the ninety minute performance. Spectators learn how the carefully selected riders begin their careers at the Spanish Riding School at the age of 16 and continue to the age of 60. Knowledge and traditions are not found in textbooks. Rather, they are passed on orally from more experienced, Master equestrian riders to their young pupils. Those students, upon reaching Master rider status, must also be prepared to instruct the younger pupils. Riders’ progress is measured not only by their skill as horsemen, but also by their potential as teachers for the next generation.
Horse Paired with Rider for a Lifetime
Each junior rider is eventually put in charge of a young horse and is responsible for the horse’s care and training. Ideally, a rider will be paired with a horse throughout the horse’s entire life. Master riders say that their education is never really finished, since they are constantly learning from the horses they ride and that each new horse has new lessons to impart. Enjoy the spectacular performance at Vienna’s Spanish Riding School and appreciate the beauty and elegance of the Lipizzaner and their impressive horseback riders, who, through their precision and discipline, have lovingly kept this horseback riding tradition alive for over four centuries.
If you go:
Tickets to the Spanish Riding School, in Vienna, Austria, may be booked on-line in advance and picked up an hour prior to the horseback riding performance.
Vienna, Austria has a wide range of accommodations for your horseback riding vacation. On a recent visit, my family and I enjoyed our stay at the centrally-located Radisson Blu Palais Hotel. The Europe à la carte blog has put together a list of the best places to stay in Vienna for all budgets.
Viennese fare is wonderful and you can eat well at traditional Austrian ‘beisl’ without breaking the bank. Enjoy enormous Wienerschnitzel at Figlmüller. Eat traditional Austrian dishes served since 1447 at Vienna’s oldest inn (complete with Ottoman cannonballs in the wall from the siege of 1683 and signatures on the ceiling from centuries of famous patrons, including Beethoven and Schubert) at the Griechenbeisl , climb down into the 14th century multi-layered catacombs to eat at the Zwölf Apostelkeller, or enjoy the imperial splendor of the Jugendstil Habsburg greenhouse, the Palmenhaus.
What are your favorite things to do in Vienna, Austria?
Image credits: Image 1: courtesy of hostau.org
Image 2: courtesy of equisearch.com
Spanish Riding School video found on YouTube.
Kimberly Sullivan grew up around horses in Saratoga Springs, NY. Now she contents herself with accompanying her children to their horseback riding lessons. She works in international development in Rome, Italy. Kimberly enjoys traveling with her family and writes a weekly column on European travel for the web blog Europe à la carte.