It is no easy feat to become a fully qualified rider of the Vienna Spanish Riding School, with the men and women having to endure a rigorous training process before earning their status as a ‘Chief Rider.’

Levade, Courbette and Capriole are classical jumps performed by the Lipizzaner stallions that enchant the public at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.  The traditions of this haute école, the art of advanced classical dressage, have been passed down for over 450 years.  Once these intelligent white stallions have completed their training, they are known as ‘professors.’ The young stallions, which demonstrate the best jumping ability and stamina, are selected for ‘High School’ training.  They begin with four years of schooling in Vienna, where the guiding principle is the well-being of the horse.

The rider has to overcome many challenges on the long journey from inexperienced elève to fully qualified rider.  The first three years of an elève’s training are based on the officially recognized apprenticeship of a ‘Pferdewirtschaftsfacharbeiter’ (qualified groom), which not only includes practical on-the-job-training, but also attending trade school.  An elève’s early years are spent learning proper horse care and maintenance, as well as correct handling of all the equipment.  While the fledgling riders learn how to care for horses, they also receive regular riding lessons.

In daily sessions, an experienced rider teaches the student the correct seat on a fully trained “School Stallion.”  The history and long standing traditions of the school and of classical horsemanship are also part of the curriculum.

Once the elève is promoted to the position of Assistant Rider, a young stallion is entrusted into the rider’s care.  This training phase takes another six years and demands a great deal of discipline, patience and sensitivity from the young rider.

It takes eight to 12 years to successfully achieve the status of fully qualified Rider.  Every five years, the riding school takes four new students. They have to work hard, taking pains to learn how to sit, maintain perfect posture and how to lead with the reins.

In 2015, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) admitted the Spanish Riding School and the tradition of classical horsemanship to the World Heritage List of intangible cultural heritage of humanity.  The UNESCO list comprises over 300 cultural practices and expressions of intangible heritage that are of outstanding universal value.


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