Founded in 1572, The Spanish Riding School of Vienna is a historical and prestigious institution that is known all over the world for its Lipizzaner stallions; those horses are elegantly white and marvelously handsome. Located within the compound of Austria’s former imperial Hofburg Palace, the School has always been dominated by men. Ladies had no access to any of its activities until recently its director, Elizabeth Guertler, took initiative to allow women to be recruited as riders-in-training. Thus the centuries old tradition of masculinity is changing and it took 436 years for that change to take place. Austria’s most “sophisticated stable” is no longer an exclusive men’s club.
The first two female riders-in-training, officially announced recently by the school are: (1) Hannah Zeitlhofer, 21 year old Austrian national from Vienna and (2) Sojourner Morrell, 17 year old British national who grew up in Saratoga Springs, New York. These two beautiful young ladies are making history; they are riding their Lipizzaner stallions in identical uniforms just as the men here have been doing it for more than four centuries. It is not that the 18th century Austrian ladies were not allowed to ride Lipizzaner horses, they were rather not recruited as “trainers” in those days. That centuries old tradition is apparently being adapted to a contemporary spirit of gender equality.
Both Zeitlhofer and Morrell are extremely happy and satisfied beyond expectation; however, their enthusiasm would have been much less if they were treated any differently by the authority of the school. Moreover, as the fellow “men” trainers are being nice and paying them due respect, their spirit is elated, enabling them to be fairly competitive. There is fierce competition in getting admission into the school as countless applications from around the world for the posts are being reviewed each year, according to Guertler. Vienna’s Spanish Riding School claims to be the world’s oldest of its kind and hence the prestige of being accepted as “trainer”, is huge.
This huge prestige was off limit for female riders since the establishment of the school; nevertheless, even after 436 years, ladies can think of being on board. Thanks to the new director, Elizabeth Guertler, who took an approach in the right direction that finally removed the barrier for women to be a part of an exclusive riding club. Lipizzaner horses are viewed as a symbol of imperial Austria’s glorious past that reflects the Austro-Hungarian Empire, occupying a large portion of Europe. The Habsburgs, the Royal Family of Austria that ruled the empire, founded a stud farm in present day Slovenia centuries ago; they bought their horses from Spain.
Since its inception, The Spanish Riding School has been a “sophisticated stable” for men only; it followed that trend for 436 years. The school became a private enterprise in 2001; thereafter, it started to adopt its policies as consistently as possible to modernize its approach of operation. To let women sit in the saddle marks, is one genuine step toward modernism as it brings gender equality in the school by breaking a centuries old tradition of masculinity.
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