1. The History:
It was founded in 1572 by the Habsburg emperors.
In 1942 the Nazis removed the horses to Czechoslovakia.
From there they were returned to Vienna by the US-Army under General Patton in 1955.
A plaque commemorating that event can be seen in the entryway to the Riding School.
The horses the Habsburgs bred and trained originally came from Spain – that’s why the Riding School is called “Spanish” Riding School.
At the Spanish Riding-School you can watch the world-famous Lipizzaner horses perform a kind of ballet. The school itself is a very old institution looking back on a long tradition
2. The Location:
The school is located at that part of the Hofburg Palace which is called the ‘Winter Riding School’. It is on the left side of St Michael’s Gate.
In winter the performances take place indoors, in spring and autumn they are outdoors, in the adjoining courtyard.
2.2. The Building:
The famous Austrian Baroque architect Joseph Emanuel Fischer von Erlach designed the building of the Winter Riding School for Emperor Charles VI, the father of Maria Theresa. There are two entrances to the building: one from door number 2, Josefsplatz Square, the other from inside St Michael’s Gate .
2.3. The Arena:
The interior of the school is quite beautiful. The arena is painted white and has got a double gallery for visitors. At the head of the room there is the court box. An equestrian portrait of Emperor Charles VI who commissioned the building hangs in this box. Chandeliers illuminate the room and 46 columns line it. At the Emperor’s box the horses used to pause at the beginning of a performance and give a courtly bow.
3. The Horses:
The horses do not live in the Winter Riding School, they only perform there. The stables are just across the street from the school at a building called ‘Stallburg’. This is a former Renaissance palace and was originally used as a residence by Emperor Maximilian II.
During the performance, the riders ride forth in impeccable order and go through a sequence of difficult exercises which have made this school famous.
These exercises are a kind of ballet.
Many of the horses steps derive from the Renaissance period when cavalrymen trained their horses to do special manoeuvres in war.
The horses are not bred in Vienna, but at a stud farm called Piber, which is in Styria, not far from Graz. Originally they were bred at Lipizza, which is in today’s Slovenia, near Trieste. That’s where the horses have got their names from. However, after World War I, Slovenia became part of Yugoslavia, and so Austria had to build its own Lipizzaner stud farm.
The horses come from Piber to the Riding School at the age of four. Only the stallions are used at the school. The mares stay on at the stud farm. The training of the horses begins at the age of four and lasts for eight years. Lipizzaners usually live to a ripe age of between 28 and 32 years and some people say that their high life expectancy has got to do with their dressage.
Aristocrats of the horse world, and as carefully bred as the Habsburg princes, the Lippizaners are noble animals: fiery, proud, intelligent, a mixture of Spanish, Arabian and French blood. Born coal black, grey or russet-brown, they get their snow-white coat at between four and ten years of age. At the beginning of the 19th century an emperor decreed,that the true Lipizzaner should be that colour and this excluded all other varieties such as bay, russet-brown, grey or spotted horses.
4. The Steps:
Among the steps are the ‘Levade’, the ‘Croupade’, the ‘Capriole’ and the ‘Piaffe’.
In the ‘Levade’, the horse stands on its hind legs with hocks almost touching the ground – you could see a horse in this position on the old Austrian five shilling-coin.
In the ‘Croupade’, the horse leaps into the air with hind legs and forelegs bent under its belly.
The ‘Capriole’ is a leap into the air with a simultaneous kick of the hind legs.
Both the ‘Croupade’ and the ‘Capriole’ are very difficult for the horse to perform and also quite dangerous.
In the ‘Piaffe’, the horse trots almost on the spot, often between two pillars.
In the ‘Pirouette’ the horse turns in 6 to 8 gallop-jumps around his hocks.
The ‘Pas de deux’ is a ballet for two, performed by the horses with their riders.
The “School Quadrille”, which is presented by 8 horses and 8 riders is the finale of the performance.
5. The Riders and their Training:
Riders should not be too tall, as the Lipizzaners are relatively small horses. In order to be trained as a rider, you should be at least 15 years old and you should have completed legally required schooling. The training of a riders takes about 10 years, but actually it is never really finished. In the first 5 years you are an eleve, the you become a carpet rider: After 10 years you are a rider and if you are especially good both with the horses and the other riders, you can become chief rider.
Eleves have to do stable work, train on the stallions, acquire theoretical knowledge about horses and are sometimes used at morning practice.
Riders wear brown coats, with two rows of brass buttons, special black two-cornered hats with a golden stripe in front, white buckskin jodhpurs, long boots covering the knees and pale leather gloves. They sit in elegant saddles which are covered with red embroidered cloth, the embroidery showing the Austrian coat-of-arms.
6. Kinds of Performance and Tickets:
Performances are usually at 10.45 a.m. on Sundays. Sometimes there are performances also on Saturdays at 11 p.m. and on Fridays at 6 p.m. They last approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes. Seats cost between €35,- and €105,- depending on how good you want your view of the arena to be. Standing room tickets cost between €24 and €28,-. But note: you can get a ticket only when you have ordered it in advance by written order from at home. If you have not done so, it is quite difficult to obtain a ticket. But I could try and ring up some of the ticket offices and travel agents here in Vienna – they sometimes have remaining tickets.
From Tuesday to Saturday there is morning exercise with music at 10 a.m. This lasts about two hours, until 12 a.m. Entrance fees are the €11,50,- for adults and €5,- for children. For these training sessions tickets are available at the entrance in the inner courtyard of the Hofburg Palace. You do not have to make a reservation for them.
The Spanish Riding School also offers guided tours four days a week. From Thursday to Saturday, these tours start at 12 a.m., after the morning exercise; on Sundays the tours start half an hour later, at 12.30. The guided tours cover the Riding Hall, the Riding School and the Lipizzaner Museum. A combination ticket – which includes the morning exercise and the tour – costs €14,- for adults and €8,- for children.
For visiting the Spanish Riding School, you should know that it is not allowed to take photos and that children under three years of age are not allowed to accompany you. For children between three and sex years of age, the entrance is free.
In the summer-months the school is closed and the horses are taken back to Piber to return again at the end of August.