Horsemanship In History – The Spanish Riding School

by Lisa Carter on August 22, 2014

Lipizzaner stallions at playOnly once in my life have I been privileged to witness the famous Lipizzaner Stallions performing live.  It was amazing and an experience that I have never forgotten.  Since then I’ve felt drawn to them, but didn’t really understand why until recently.  I was watching a documentary on the history of the Lipizzaner horse and the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.  I immediately saw parallels to what I have learned over the years with natural horsemanship and knew that’s why I was so fascinated with these incredible horses. 

I think we sometimes forget that the use of so-called “natural horsemanship” is really quite ancient, and I have often wondered where and why training methods veered so far away from such an obviously (at least to me!) successful methodology, as evidenced by the performances given by these magnificent horses and their handlers.  Don’t get me wrong, I know there have always been people who would rather look for a “quick fix” method of training for their own convenience rather than take the time required by more natural methodolgy.  But over the centuries that mindset seemed to considered more the norm than natural horsemanship is today.  The concept of mutual trust and respect and giving high importance to maintaining the dignity of the horse fell further by the wayside.  Many of my friends who practice natural horsemanship are made fun of at their “traditional” barns as if they are quacks! 

I was most impressed with how much weight the handlers at the Spanish Riding School put on the personality of each of their charges.  In the stud book, which is hand written and dates back to the very first horses in this breeding program, everything is documented – including the personality of the horse!  They take exceptional care to consider this factor when selecting for breeding, and even use it to determine where each horse will be placed in the stables to keep friction between the stallions at a minimum.  The young horses are raised in a natural herd setting so they are well socialized.  Humans are incorporated into their everyday life from the beginning, so they accept them as part of their herd, making the transition into training much easier. 

Unlike many other performance horse breeds, Lipizzaner horses are given a lot of time to develop both physically and emotionally before they are put into training.  They won’t even start their official training at the school until they reach age 4, and take an average of 6 years to complete their training.  Talk about taking the time it takes! 

I’ve added a couple of trailers from the special I watched.  If you get a chance to watch the full documentary, it’s well worth it.  Surely such an time-tested method of training should be required study for anyone considering training horses for a living.  Not only do we learn to not make the same mistakes, but we also learn from the successes as well. 



Lisa Carter, Certified Equine Massage Therapist, with her Arabian mare Siofhice. Carter is a Certified Equine Massage Therapist (CEMT), with multiple certifications from several different equine bodywork schools.  She incorporates her knowledge and experience with Parelli Natural Horsemanship, equine bodywork, using essential oils for animals and as a veterinary technician to provide her clients with the resources they need to make informed decisions for their horses.  She encourages and facilitates network building between equine health care professionals, working together to find the best combination of therapies to meet the needs of the “whole horse”.  

Are you ready to get better results with your horse?  Put your equine health care team to work so you and your horse can be doing what you were meant to.  Click here to get started!

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