The Spanish Riding School

The great double doors at the end of the riding hall swing slowly, slowly open, moved by invisible hands. The violins of Bizet's "Arlésienne Suite" breathe a gentle invitation, and from the gloom of the passageway the first horse and rider, an apparition in brown and white, move gravely forward into the hushed arena.

A tall, iron-gray man with lean, ascetic cheeks and grieving mouth, the rider sits his snowy stallion in complete composure, hands as still as marble, back firm, boots straight and tranquil, eyes fixed ahead. Under him his horse moves with quiet pride. Its neck is arched, its hoofs spurn the smooth-raked sand.

Seven other riders in file follow the leader. Soberly uniformed in the cinnamon livery of a bygone era, they exhibit the same impassive, taut control of themselves and their mounts. Beneath the many-faceted chandeliers - Christmas trees of dripping ice - they parade the length of the gold-and-ivory hall until, approaching the lofty portrait of Charles VI, they doff their two-cornered hats in wide-sweeping salute.

The deliberate, majestic gesture wrings a spurt of applause from the audience packing the double balconies. For the spectators instinctively recognize in this homage more than a formal tribute to an imperial patron of the Spanish Riding School. They sense here a willing acknowledgment by today's riders that they are the trustees of a fragile but precious tradition of horsemanship that has been passed along, by word and example, from one generation to another through the centuries.

This high and exacting technique of dressage, once common to the Greek world of Xenophon, sank out of sight in Roman and medieval times, emerged again in the Renaissance, and came to full flower in the imperial courts of the 18th century. Today it survives in its purest form only in Vienna, home of the Lipizzaner stallions.

A trip to the Spanish Riding School

Die Spanische Hofreitschule zu Wien
Official homepage of the Spanish Riding
School with programme and ticket ordering.

(Foto right up: Stallions Vienna Hofburg)

Lipizzaner: Originally andalusian horse,
trained in Lipizza / Slovenia for military
purpose, now located in Piber / Styria-Austria
(Foto left)


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