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Haute Ecole: 1561

The Renaissance was a period of new ideas. All significant learning requires patient dedication, and nowhere in the world of man and horse is this fact more evident than in haute école, the “high school” of the horse. The high school may be rightly regarded as the highest form of training for the horse. The “airs” of the horse, the very precise and demanding positions which the horse must demonstrate upon command, remind us of modern dressage. A concise description of haute école is offered by Luigi Gianoli, a modern authority on the history of the horse.

If dressage is the training particularly indicated to give a horse the utmost harmoniousness of movement and demonstrate his perfect susceptibility and obedience to the will of his rider, haute école, in its airs above the ground, is truly schooling for virtuoso performance.

While it is true that in the wild state, a spirited horse will execute certain acrobatics, with a man in the saddle those movements must be done on command in accordance with certain definite rules of style.

The significant works on the high school were written over a period of nearly two hundred years, but all their ideas derive from an enthusiasm for a systematic study of horsemanship which began in the Renaissance.

Pluvinel Instructs Louis XIII in Horsemanship

The history of haute &eacutecole began in 1561 with the publication of Federico Grisone’s The Rules of Horsemanship. A Frenchman brought Grisone’s ideas to France, where they were refined by Antoine de Pluvinel, riding instructor to Louis XIII. Pluvinel’s method was published in 1629 under the title of Instruction of the King in the Art of Mounting the Horse and included tying the horse to a pair of pillars and teaching it to obey hand movements or the touch of the whip.

Cavendish Advances a Humane Method for Horse Training, 1658

William Cavendish, the Duke of Newcastle (1592-1676), served as a cavalry officer on the Royalist side in the English Civil War. After the defeat of the King’s forces by Cromwell, Cavendish acted as the riding instructor to the Prince of Wales (later King Charles II) while they were both in exile in France. Here Cavendish came into contact with the French theories of haute école. Improving upon what he learned, Cavendish published – originally in French – New Methods and Inventions for Training Horses. He urged that training be based on understanding and patience, not the coercion which was still the rule of horse training in haute école. As one modern commentator points out, “He was the best riding master and the world?s cavalry leader of the seventeenth century.”

Gueriniere’s System for Everyday Riding

Francois Robichon de la Gueriniere (1688-1751) has the distinction of having applied the ideas and methods of haute école to everyday riding. It was he who developed the counter-canter and the technique of the flying change of leg. Gueriniere’s instructions for riding were published as the School of Horsemanship in 1733. The soundness of his treatise is evidenced by the fact that Gueriniere’s book is still the basic manual for the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, perhaps the most distinguished equine training.

The Spanish Riding School: 1572

The mere mention of the Spanish Riding School brings to mind elegant white Lipizzans performing at majestic heights in a magnificent Baroque arena. Nowhere else in the world is haute école practiced in the fashion of Pluvinel and Cavendish. Today, just as when the school was founded centuries ago, the art of training and exhibiting schooled horses is carried on with rigorous discipline and finesse.

Why is the School Called “Spanish” but Located in Vienna, Austria?

The Hapsburg family controlled both Spain and Austria when the art of classical riding revived in Europe during the Renaissance. There was a need for light, fast horses for use in the military and the riding school. The Spanish horse, produced during Moorish rule by crossing Berber and Arab stallions with Iberian mares, was considered the most suitable mount because of its exceptional sturdiness, beauty, and intelligence. In 1562, Maximillian II brought the Spanish horse to Austria and founded the court stud at Kladrub. His brother Archduke Charles established a similar private imperial stud farm with Spanish stock in 1580 at Lippiza near the Adriatic Sea. The horses were bred to Arabian, Barb and Andalusian mares from Naples, resulting in the creation of the Lippizan breed. These became the horses used exclusively for the haute école in the Austrian court, and the horses’ Spanish ancestry gave the school its name.

The Arena of Excellence

The Spanish Riding School was first housed in an outdoor courtyard. Emperor Charles VI commissioned Fischer von Erlach to design a new arena for the school, and in 1735 its present home was completed. This magnificent building is noted for its splendid white columns and ornate decoration. A painting of Charles VI adorns the arena, and to this day, riders entering the arena lift their caps in salute to the building’s patron. Complimenting the elegance of the building, the riders wear the traditional dark brown tailcoat, white breeches, and tall black boots. The horses have similarly elegant white buckskin saddles and gilt bridles for the exhibition. During World War II, the stud farm was moved to Czechoslovakia by the Germans. At the end of the war, the stud was heroically saved from the Russians by General George Patton, assuring the continued existence of the Spanish Riding School.

The Lipizzan

The Lipizzan gained its name from the location where it was first bred in 1580: the Imperial stud at Lipizza, near Trieste. The Lipizzan is the only animal used by the Spanish Riding School. Only superlative stallions which are light grey to white in color are considered for training, which begins at age five. Those stallions which demonstrate excellence at the school are eventually retired to stud at Piber, the government farm where modern Lipizzans are bred. Those individuals not suitable for the school often become excellent hunters, three-day-event horses, or driving horses.