We are fortunate to live here in the South of France close to a very fine riding establishment called Domaine Equestre des Grands Pins. The domaine has recently been purchased and the new owner is impressing us all with the level of the commitment that is being made in creating what will surely be one of the pre-eminent centres of equestrian activities in France.
We have always thought that the horse, in all its many different guises, is one of God’s finest creations – a combination of physical beauty, grace, intelligence, independence, agility, strength and speed. Our own preference in the world of horses is the thoroughbred – used to race both on the ‘flat’ and over the ‘sticks’ – steeplechasing, and of these two codes we far prefer flat racing where you see horses galloping flat out, which as a plains animal is what they are designed to do.
But here at Domaine Equestre des Grands Pins the focus is on two different disciplines – showjumping and dressage and it is dressage that we will address today.
When we think of dressage the first thing that comes to mind is The Spanish Riding School of Vienna and the Lipizzaner stallions. Established in the 16th century during the time of the Austrian Empire it is the oldest riding school in the world. In 1729 the Emperor Charles VI commissioned the building of the fabulous white riding school that is still used today.
It is called the Spanish Riding School after the the original horses that formed the nucleus of the Lipizzaner breed because they came from Spain. The name Lipizzaner actually comes from the original stud in Slovenia which when translated into Italian was called Lipizza. The horses are now bred at the Piber stud in Styria, Austria.
The training that a Lipizzaner stallion receives dates back to when the horse was a most useful article of war and so it strengthened the horses mind and body for the rigours of battle. In a process that today takes between 4 and 6 years from being ‘broken’ to attaing ‘High School’ (Haute Ecole) there are three stages to the training.
Remontenschule or forward riding is when the stallion is brought to Vienna as a four year old and ‘longed’ (pronounced ‘lunged’ in English), to include the transition from walk to trot to canter, to strengthen him and to start the process of obedience before being ‘backed’ after about 3 to 4 months. He is then taught free forward movement and straightness of movement in the walk, trot and canter. This process can take up to a year before he is ready for the second stage in training.
Campagneschule or campaign school is the longest period of training for the horse when, being ridden by an experienced rider, he is taught collection and is ridden in all three gaits in circles and turns. The horse will learn to lengthen and shorten his gait, to bend correctly his neck and body, all of which will improve his carriage, strength, impulsion and flexibility. This is the longest period in the horse’s traing schedule and could take from 2 to 4 years to complete.
Hohe Schule or high School or Haute Ecole is the final stage of training and is when the horse attains perfection in straightness, contact, suppleness, collection, and impulsion, to produce improved gaits. It is during this stage of the training process that the horse is taught the most difficult disciplines of dressage, namely pirouette, piaffe, passage and one tempi-changes. The best stallions may then be chosen to perform ‘airs above the ground’.
In the excellent video below from bayareabert you will see the Spanish Riding School of Vienna performing to Beliebte Annen-Polka by Johann Strauss Sr and Elisen-Polka, Op. 151 by Johann Strauss Jr. in the fabulous Winter Riding School which is located near the Hofburg in central Vienna. But should you want to see the action live there are generally two performances each week throughout the year – except between mid July and the end of August when the horses are moved to their summer stud for a holiday!
Check out the website, the link for which follows, to get the precise schedule.
The school also makes extensive tours abroad and course it is our wish that one day they will be persuaded to come to Domaine Equestre des Grands Pins – now that is an excellent idea!
And should you wish to visit the excellent facilities at Domaine Equestre des Grand Pins here is the link to their website
You will be impressed.