A WINDOW INTO THE WORLD OF ONE OF CLASSICAL DRESSAGE'S FINEST ANDREAS HAUSBERGER
The Spanish Riding School needs no introduction. A bastion of classic dressage since its formation in 1565 under the Habsburg Empire in Vienna, the School started touring the world in 1925 and, since then, has been globally synonymous with this most prestigious, complex, and beautiful form of equestrian art. The Equestrian Edit sat down with Andreas Hausberger, Second Chief Rider of the Spanish Riding School, and gained unparalleled insight into the world of the School. In this first part of three, Andreas explains how he got into the School and just how tough it was to become one of the world’s leading riders.
Like many top riders, Andreas found the saddle at a young age, as he explains: “It started at my parents’ place, a stud in Austria – my parents had horses.” Andreas quickly realised that he wanted to forge a career with horses, and his brother felt the same: “I learned to ride at that age and then at the age of twelve, my parents realised that we wanted to be professional riders – they hired a very nice trainer. He didn’t demand much, but he was amazing for us as children. He really started the fire in both of us.”
But, as Andreas says, the journey to the top was far from easy, “By the age of 15, I applied for the Spanish Riding School. They didn’t take me, but I applied every year until I was 19 and then I gave up.” Disillusioned by the rejection, Andreas went to work on a stud farm, but, out of the blue, the School contacted his mother to ask if he was still interested in joining. Mrs Hausberger knew well how much it meant to the 19 year old Andreas and said yes without needing to consult him. Four years after first applying, he was on his way to Vienna to join as an apprentice at the world’s most prestigious Riding School.
Apprentices, known in the School’s lingua franca as élèves, are pupils in the toughest academy in world riding. As Andreas says, “I would compare it to a university –the more you engage yourself, the quicker you move forwards. Nobody makes it in less than ten years. It’s hard to get in but it’s even harder to stay there.” The dropout rate is a phenomenal 80%, and many leave of their own volition. Andreas explains the attrition rate: “It’s because the standard is so high, it’s so demanding. It’s hard to stay and survive. It’s everything: the physical part, the psychological part, the horses, the people. It’s overwhelming: the history, the buildings. Only the best of the best will survive.”
But Andreas survived. He learned the art of equestrianism from the bottom up, starting with the crucial work of preparation of the horses: “It all starts in the stables. You spend at least three months just grooming, mucking out, cleaning, and readying in the horses. You don’t sit on a horse for that time.” Élèves who pass this first stage then receive a lunge stallion to train with, as Andreas explains: “You sit on and get lunge lessons, every day, six days a week for thirty minutes. When the chief riders are satisfied with the seat, which can take up to a year, you then get a fully trained stallion as a regular exercise stallion.” Yes, you read that correctly: it can take a year for the seat to be correct enough to satisfy the trainers. The Spanish Riding School demands total commitment and concentration.
Once an élève has two stallions, one for the lunge, one for exercise, work continues to develop the riding position: “You work on correcting each and every part of your body. Everything is shaped, formed, criticised. Our speciality is our seat, the rider’s seat. We spend years forming the rider’s body. We really take time on that, because it’s our base. It’s what we are known for. From the seat comes correct riding, a correct exercise, and a correctly moving horse.” It’s an enormous undertaking, but without all this practice and shaping, the School would not be able to maintain its standards and its reputation as the home of classic dressage.
And as Andreas, who loves the history of his School, points out, at the Imperial court there was a saying: “A horse is the best schoolmaster for a prince because he never spoils him”. He explains what this means to the riders of the Spanish Riding School: “We tell our élèves at the riding school – you don’t just learn how to ride, you learn about life. You are not the centre of interest all the time, you have to have to step back. It’s a partnership, a relationship between horse and rider.” As Andreas says, “It’s a lesson that everyone could learn from.”
This lifelong partnership, rooted in all of the hard work that Andreas put in from his entry to the School at 19, has seen him rise to the very top.
In this second part of our three part series of interviews with the Spanish Riding School’s Second Chief Rider Andreas Hausberger, The Equestrian Edit hears more about the origins of this historic centre for equestrian excellence, which has its roots in the Habsburg dynasty and a small stud in Slovenia…
In 1565, the Habsburg Empire was possibly the dominant power in Early Modern Europe, its dominions stretching from Spain, across central Europe, to the edges of what is now Asia. Obsessed with prestige, military influence, and maintaining a court splendid enough to arouse the admiration of the rest of Europe, no expense was spared by the Habsburgs in their quest for power. Vienna, the dynastic capital, except for the period 1583 to 1611, when it was Prague, was the seat of Habsburg influence and it was here in 1565 that the Spanish Riding School was founded.
The School’s name derives from the legendary Lipizzaner horses, arguably the most famous equine breed in the world. Andreas takes up the story: “The Lipizzaners’ origins were in 1521 when Ferdinand 1st came via the Netherlands to Austria from Spain. He brought 200 Spanish horses with him. That was the cradle of the Lipizzaner.” It took another 44 years for the first wooden ring for the training of the Lipizzaner to be built, but the seeds had been sown. Known for their poise, elegance, and control, the Lipizzaner horses were ideally suited for training based on drawing out and displaying the extraordinary range of natural movements and grace of the horse. Andreas continues, “The stud farm in Lipizza was established in 1582, but the Hapsburg family was ruling Austria and Spain and so there was a cultural interaction between the two courts. They shipped them via Naples to Slovenia to the farm. They bred Spanish horses in Lipizza, and they also used Arabs in the breeding.”
The Arab horses had come as the booty of war. In 1529, the advancing Ottoman Empire had laid siege to the Habsburg capital, only to be repulsed, leaving tens of thousands dead and the Ottoman Empire defeated for the first time in its advance into Europe. The Ottomans tried again in 1683 and were once more defeated; in both instances, the Habsburgs rescued Ottoman Arab horses from their retreating enemy and put them to stud. But the influence of history does not stop there, as Andreas explains: “The second siege of Vienna also influenced the Spanish Riding School as a building – the Turks destroyed the wooden indoor arena so the Emperor built the most beautiful indoor arena, which is the current Winter Riding School, from 1729-1735. The ornaments you can around the School were captured when the Turks were defeated.” The history of the Spanish Riding School is intricately bound up in the history of Europe itself in one of its most turbulent periods; it is incredible to think that, out of war and chaos came an animal with as much beauty and serenity as the Lipizzaner horse.
Andreas’ enthusiasm for the history of the School is infectious and his knowledge is wonderfully detailed. As he says, “To be at the School, the most important thing is to be a good rider, but you deal with so many experts worldwide and the dressage world looks to the Spanish Riding School to lead, so you have to be an expert in history as well as riding.”
Indeed, the School is effectively the global seat of classic dressage. What does classic dressage mean to Andreas? He says, “Classic dressage classic is perfect, balanced in form and content, and mature; it’s about standards, that are tried and true, and that have longevity of use. That is what the Spanish Riding School is all about.” While the roots of the various training and performance elements are in military manoeuvres that required the cavalry to be able to control their horses with dexterity and responsiveness, the classic form has continued to evolve and now finds its apogee at the School. It is also the style found in competition at the Olympics, as Andreas explains: “Modern sports dressage grew out of this classical dressage, and I still say that sports dressage seen at the Olympics is still classical dressage.”
But the role of the Spanish Riding School is still hugely important, even as Olympic exposure means that modern sports dressage is becoming increasingly well known. As Andreas says, “The Spanish Riding School protects the purity of this art form. It’s not just a sport; we see it as an art form.” And anyone who has been privileged enough to see these wonderful, historic horses and their riders, products of another era but just as relevant now, would find it impossible to disagree.
In this final part of three, Andreas Hausberger, Second Chief Rider of the Spanish Riding School, explains to The Equestrian Edit what his day-to-day work is like and what being part of the world’s most prestigious classic dressage School is like…
Andreas Hausberger is a busy man: “My job is to produce and train horses to the highest possible standards, as well as train the riders. The Chief Riders have to present the Spanish Riding School outside the school, to pass on the knowledge to foreign pupils, seminars and so on.” The School has a strict hieracrchy, one based on experience and ability: there are the élèves, or apprentices, followed by Assistant Riders, Riders, and, lastly, Chief Riders. The oldest Chief Rider becomes First Chief Rider.
Clearly, despite a remit involving teaching and representing the School domestically and abroad, Andreas is also part of the famed School display as well, and so naturally, riding is a huge part of his day, as he explains: “I ride eight stallions six days a week for training and performance. Monday is my day off. My speciality is doing work on the long rein.” He continues, “The day starts at 7am when I mount my first stallion. I dismount my last one at 12.30. I work all eight horses in between. Plus, I have to teach the élèves and the assistant riders.”
It’s a huge task, but Andreas luxuriates in both the responsibility and the setting, as he says, “On many Sundays, when I enter the winter riding school, I have the sense of sweat, of perfume, soil, the walls – all those things come to my nose and I recall the time I went to church with my mum and discerned all those things, incense, wood, leather, and so on. It’s an emotional experience.” The emotional connection extends to his horses too, and one in particular, as he explains: “I love all my horses. I am 51 and I have had many horses, but now I have a stallion, Maestoso Bellamira, and he was outstandingly naughty when he was young. He’s now 11. It took my six years to train him and now he is in the quadrille. I’m so grateful that we became partners. I don’t say I love him more than my other horses, but he was so difficult to establish a relationship with him. But now we are there, we’ve made it.”
‘Made it’, for Andreas, means developing a partnership between rider and horse, the fruit of the sort of intensive schedule of work described above, that allows the combination to transcend ordinary riding and find in dressage something that becomes art. As Andreas explains, “At the School we do public morning training from 10-12 every day. Ninety percent of the spectators are not horse people, but they walk out and say, “Now we have seen art.” They can’t discern the passage from the piaffe, but they find it beautiful.” Distilling that art from the series of exercises practised by the School is the whole aim, as Andreas says: “That’s exactly what our goal is, not just to satisfy the experts, but also those people who are not into horses at all. When you go to the Lourve, you don’t need to be a painter or an art historian to appreciate that the Mona Lisa is a wonderful piece of art. We want to satisfy all the senses.”
And this satisfaction is now a global phenomenon. Since 1925, the School has toured the world with the stallions, to bring their art form to the public. This year, the School tours Switzerland in the spring and London and Manchester in the autumn. As Andreas explains, “Traditionally, we do this in Wembley. It’s quite a big undertaking, 30 horses and eight riders. That’s usually four trucks. We have a stable manager, a tour manager, and the CEO accompanying us. I will be one of those riders.” There’s no mistaking the pride in Andreas’ voice, despite his long period of service at the School.
And what can you expect to see at a Spanish Riding School show? Andreas says that the most engaging elements are from what is known as the Haute École: as he says, “The most difficult exercises that imagine. This includes the school jumps, which comprise the levade, the capriole, and the courbette.” There are also displays on the long rein, Andreas’ speciality, work in hand, the famous Pas de Deux, in which two horses mirror each other, and the School quadrille, the longest and most difficult in the world. But then, as Andreas would say, it’s art.
The Spanish Riding School, the keeper of the spirit of dressage, a School that demands huge commitment from its riders but gives so much back, has a worthy, articulate advocate in Andreas Hausberger. We hope you have enjoyed this series of interviews, and that you can go to support the School when it tours in the United Kingdom later this year.