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Gaining insight on international trip

Touring to the Spanish Riding School is a pilgrimage for any horse lover, but taking a course with the SRS team is a rare jewel of an opportunity for the avid equestrian.
Melanie Patton
Melanie Patton, an avid rider from the Yorkton area, spent time in Spain recently to attend a riding school.

Touring to the Spanish Riding School is a pilgrimage for any horse lover, but taking a course with the SRS team is a rare jewel of an opportunity for the avid equestrian. It is a dream come true, right next to actually becoming a SRS rider, of course! Do not worry if you cannot speak German, as no matter where you go, the people are friendly, helpful and may speak a few English words and some are fluent.

The serene location is set in the idyllic, country town of Heldenberg with gentle hills and crops of corn, sunflowers, grapes and pumpkins.  Tall trees and misty mornings envelope the stables, and create a fairy tale setting. I felt like a child en route to Disney World.

The Trainingszentrum Heldenberg is impressive in its construction, being simplistic in design as compared to the Winter Riding School in Vienna, and yet it is designed for the best in care and housing for the equine athletes within. The center creates an atmosphere perfect for focusing on the truly magical part of the school overall, the training. One gets to see inside the daily life and witness the education of these famous white stallions.

Our group was welcomed and made at ease. The course was called ‘The Complete Training of the Dressage Horse’. It was an honour to meet the riders and learn from their extensive education of high caliber horsemanship. In pursuit of perfection, each horse and rider had intense concentration as the stallions were put through the paces and movements. We were shown the beginning stages of the stallion being started under saddle to the more advanced movements. Demonstrations carried on through the second day, displaying the pirouette, passage and piaffe. As we studied the movements, the aids, and listened intensely, we were also shown the highest of movements, the levade, capriole and courbette.

The most outstanding thing was not in the movements themselves, but rather in the overall display, which was not competitive in the slightest. Yet every ride and every movement was done for perfection with impressive harmony and balance. As well, the comradery amongst all of the riders was heartening. It is definitely an old school atmosphere that demands the humbleness and modesty of the riders, however they are proud and ride tall. Even the highest of riders rides with the aid of another from the ground. It is like a breath of fresh air and inspiring.

On the third day, we met at the Riding School at the Hofburg Palace. The stables are very well kept, the stallions immaculately clean and happy, as the workers bustle about with their duties. The fanciful name plates and ornate horse head statues add incredible beauty and mysticism. I felt like Cinderella at the ball, where these princesses and princes of riders were happy to answer questions and show off their home. Just as the horses are attended to, our group was granted attention and given special permission as well. We were able to pet the famous stallions, smell their sweet aroma and admire them up close. I could not help but snap pictures and fall behind the group. I could forever live in such a heavenly place.

In the famous arena, the morning practice is done in front of an audience and ridden to Austrian classical music, creating an ethereal setting, allowing you to submerse yourself and dream of being part of the school. Onlookers are captivated by the peaceful harmony between horse and rider, as well as between the stallions.  Mesmerized by the wonderful display of the haute école, the riders show idealistic equestrianism, with such remarkable unity and poise, that it is a privilege to witness, and it touches the soul.

All things in Vienna are done with such care and beauty which continues to astound me. We were presented our certificates in the most lavish of rooms and it gave a sense of pride, satisfaction and fulfillment to have such an honour. And with that somewhere in Vienna, came the ringing of an old church clock. The twelve bells told me that our course was done and just like in the story of Cinderella, for me, the ball was now over. Nevertheless what one takes from the entire course with the Spanish Riding School, is not just a fanciful performance, but is the incredible understanding of the consistency of the harmony and balance between the horse and rider in the pursuit of perfection, achieved with tranquility, sympathy and compassion for the natural beauty and grace of the horse. May we all strive for such merit.

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