The "Big Four": Europe's Most Prestigious Classical Riding Academies

In the equestrian world, classical riding is one of the oldest and most refined methods of riding and horsemanship. That's why some of the historical classical riding establishments in Europe have been carefully preserved and are still in practice today. If you want to experience classical riding at its best and immerse yourself in the culture and history of these amazing riding academies, then paying one of the 'big four' a visit should definitely be on your travel agenda. 

The Spanish Riding School - Vienna, Austria 


The Spanish Riding School in Vienna is one of the best known riding schools of Europe. Having practised the classical art of haute école for over 450 years, there's no surprise that it's on UNESCO's list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

The riders spend their days training and exercising the horses, practising the classical equestrian arts to top level. Not only this, but visitors can also attend galas and shows where the riding school demonstrates its teachings. Plus, people can embark on specialist courses during the summer months to improve their horsemanship. 

What type of horse is used at the Spanish Riding School? 

The Spanish Riding School is the world-famous home of the Lipizzaner horse. The school only uses grey stallions, bred from the only stud in Austria, located in the West Styrian village of Piber. The Lipizzaner breed has proven to be well-suited to the classical equestrian arts, combining beauty, elegance and strength with an effortless ability to pick up haute école moves, such as the capriole, courbette, and levade.

Why is the Spanish Riding School in Vienna? 

You may be wondering why the so-called ' Spanish Riding School' is in Vienna? Well, the name actually refers to the Spanish ancestry of the horses themselves.

The Habsburg family controlled both Spain and Austria during the Renaissance, when there was a revival of the classical equestrian arts. The Spanish horse was considered to be the most suitable, due to its sturdiness, intelligence and grace, making these horses highly sought after at royal court. From the late 16th century, Spanish horses were bred in Austria by the Archduke Maximilian, who later became Emperor Maximilian II.

He founded the first Imperial Stud in 1564. Later, the Emperor's brother Archduke Karl II also founded the Imperial Karst Stud near Lipica in modern day Slovenia. 

A few hundred years later in the early 18th century, Emperor Karl VI commissioned Josef Emanuel Fischer von Erlach to build the baroque Winter Riding School in Vienna, which has remained the world-famous home of the Spanish Riding School. 

How can I visit the Spanish Riding School? 

There are a variety of options when it comes to visiting the Spanish Riding School. You can book tickets for everything from a guided tour of the school to a seat at one of their performances via the Spanish Riding School Website. Book tickets here.  

The Portuguese School of Equestrian Art - Lisbon, Portugal 

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The Portuguese School of Equestrian Art promotes the teaching and practice of the traditional Portuguese Equestrian Art. As a tribute to the historical practice of equestrian bullfighting, the same type of horse is used in the school today, as well as the same riding techniques, harnesses and costumes.

The Portuguese School of Equestrian Art also preserves Baroque horseback riding exercises, such as the “airs above the ground”.

What type of horse is used at the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art? 

The Portuguese School of Equestrian Art exclusively uses bay Lusitano stallions from the Alter Real Stud Farm. The school is home to around 50 Lusitano stallions and aims to raise the profile of the Lusitano breed through its public performances.

What is the history of the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art? 

The history of the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art stretches back to the 18th century, when the equestrian academy of King João V's court trained horses in the Royal Stables of Belém, partaking in classical dressage and court games.

Established in 1979, the Portuguese School of Equestrian art maintains this legacy, reflecting the costumes and traditions and horse breeding from this period. 

How can I see the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art in action? 

If you'd love to watch the incredible Lusitano horses in action, you can see the riders train or book a ticket to one of their public performances at the Picadeiro Henriqe Calado in Belém, just outside of Lisbon. Visit the Cavago website to find out more, here

The Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art - Jerez de la Frontera, Spain 


The Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art is based in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. It's famous across the globe thanks to its show called “How the Andalusian Horses Dance”, which has delighted audiences for over 40 years. The show is a breathtaking demonstration of horsemanship that both exhibits and summarises the training that the School has practised since its establishment.

However, the high-profile show isn't all the School is known for. The horses are taught haute école on a daily basis and many of the riders compete internationally. Plus, both amateur riders and professionals can receive a comprehensive education in horsemanship, carriage-driving and even saddle- and harness-making from the School's expert instructors. 

What type of horse is used at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art? 

The Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art is home to more than 100 Andalusian horses. Known as P.R.Es (Pura Raza Espanola), these horses have been popular within the Iberian Peninsula since the 16th century and the School is devoted to conserving the ancestral abilities of the breed today, as well as maintaining the classical traditions of Spanish Baroque horsemanship. 

The most defining characteristics of P.R.E.s is their proud head carriage, gentle yet energetic temperament, trainability and natural aptitude for haute école and airs above the ground.

Why is it known as the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art? 

The Royal part of the School's name came in 1987, when King Juan Carlos accepted the position of Honorary President, thereby lending official royalty to the name. This position is still held by the King of Spain today.  

There's even a royal seating box at the end of the training arena for the King and special guests to watch over the school’s horses during practice, training and performances.

What can I expect during a visit to the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art?

Paying a visit to the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art is a must for any horse-lover. Not only will you get to see the stunning Andalusian horses and riders in training, but you can also marvel at the beautiful, historic scenery of the site itself.

The School is nestled among a palace, botanical gardens, state-of-the-art veterinary clinic and more, with the Equestrian Art Museum in the palace basement. Aside from watching the horses train in one of the many picturesque arenas, guests can enjoy a warm welcome with amenities such as coffee, a gift shop and an audio tour outlining the history of the School. 

Find out more, here

The Cadre Noir of Saumur – Saumur, France


The Cadre Noir of Saumur originated from the military and today exports the ecuyers (riding masters) in the form of advanced instructors and professional riders. The ecuyers’ mission is to teach technical and theoretical knowledge of French horsemanship, while also competing in international competitions themselves. 

Through its galas and public performances in France and abroad, the Cadre Noir promotes equitation in the French tradition. It also trains and cares for the horses presented in the Reprise de Manège (Musical Ride) and who perform the airs above the ground.

What type of horses are used by Cadre Noir? 

Unlike the other three Schools, the Cadre Noir is home to a variety of horse breeds. Most are Selle Français (French Saddle Horses) but Anglo-Arabians and English Thoroughbreds are used by the School. Some Lusitanos are also kept there to demonstrate 16th century Baroque style of riding. 

What is the history of Cadre Noir?

For almost 150 years, the Cadre Noir was part of the Royal School of Cavalry in Saumur. In 1825, King Charles X created the School to train cavalry officers for the French army, but it also devoted itself to training civilian horsemen and preserving the art of classical horsemanship. In 1972, the Royal School of Cavalry was transferred to the newly created National Riding School, where the Cadre Noir is now based. Its members still wear a sleek black uniform, which is what gives the Cadre Noir its name.

How can I visit the Cadre Noir of Saumur? 

The Cadre Noir of Saumur is a major tourist attraction in the Loire Valley region where visitors can witness the incredible history and training of the School. You can enjoy guided tours through the impressive outdoor arena, stables and tack room, taking you on a journey back to the School's 17th century origins. 

Visitors can also buy tickets to the Matinales, which are shows dedicated to exhibiting the riding mastery of the Cadre Noir at work in the Grand Manège. Commentary is provided by a riding master while you watch the horses train in long reins, jumping, and the airs above the ground.

Find out more, here.


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