The Spanish Riding School in Vienna's Hofburg, a former principal imperial palace of the Habsburg dynasty, is one of the most important places for the preservation of classical dressage and training of horses. It belongs to the "Big Four", the most prestigious classical riding academy in the world. It is known for its most difficult act called “the Ballet of White Stallions”. The Spanish Riding School is enlisted as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Austria.
Horses of the Spanish Riding School demonstrate the Haute école or "high school" movements of classical dressage, including the highly controlled, stylized jumps and other movements known as the "airs above the ground." This style of riding has the antecedents in the military traditions dating back to ancient times, and the goal was to strengthen the war horse's body and mind and make him a supreme athlete.
The school itself, although in Vienna and established by the Habsburg dynasty, is commonly called the Spanish Riding School. The "Spanish" in the name of school derives from the horse breed native to the Iberian Peninsula, which proved to be particularly capable of classical equitation. In this school, only Lipizzaners, a breed of horse, are trained. Although Lipizzaners originate from Lipica in Slovenia, their ancestors are from Spain. The horses delivered to the Spanish Riding School today are all bred at the Piber Federal Stud farm located near the Styrian village of Piber.
Performances at the Spanish Riding School were opened to the general public only in 1918, after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Before that, they were presented only to guests of the Court. Today, anyone can see the performance, and it is very popular with the tourists visiting Vienna. The performance consists of seven different acts that are performed with classical music. The performance begins with the young stallions that just arrived at school, and they demonstrate the first phase of training, very basic moves. In the next act, four fully trained stallions perform different very demanding movements. Ridden in pairs, they demonstrate movements in the mirror image to show their high level of training. Afterwards, they are demonstrating airs above the ground or school jumps, movements in which the horse leaves the ground. The show ends with the 20-minute-long "School Quadrille" act, the longest and most difficult in the world, consisting of eight riders riding in a formation. The act is called "The Ballet of White Stallions". Traditionally, horses have been trained and ridden wholly by men, although 10 years ago, two women were accepted to train as riders, the first women in its 436-year-long history.
The Spanish Riding School in Vienna is very convenient to reach because it is located in the city center. It represents one of the most visited shows in Vienna. The Ballet of White Stallions is a must for everyone when visiting the imperial city of Vienna.
Did you like the travel story?
Get more! Subscribe to our monthly inspiration newsletter.