The Spanish Riding School is located between Michaelerplatz and Josefsplatz inside the Hofburg in central Vienna. Performances take place in the Winter Riding School, built between 1729–1735. The Winter Riding School is a sunlight- flooded hall, mainly white with some beige and light grey, with a portrait of Emperor Charles VI above the royal box and opposite the entrance (to which the riders always salute before they ride), which measures 55 by 18 metres (180 by 59 ft) and is 17 metres (56 ft) in height.
The Spanish Riding School also has summer stables in Heldenberg-Wetzdorf-Lower Austria. The 68 resident stallions are taken there in July and August for seven weeks, where they are kept in stalls with paddocks. The horses are not schooled during this period, but instead are hacked in the nearby forest.
The riding school was first named during the Habsburg Monarchy in 1572, long before the French manege of Antoine de Pluvinel, and is the oldest of its kind in the world. Records show that a wooden riding arena was first commissioned in 1565, but it wasn't until 1729 that Emperor Charles VI commissioned the architect Joseph Emanuel Fischer von Erlach to build the white riding hall used today. Prior to that time, the School operated from a wooden arena at the Josefsplatz. For a time, the riding hall was used for various ceremonies, but it is now open to the public, who may witness the training and performances by the stallions.
The Spanish Riding School was named for the Spanish horses that formed one of the bases of the Lipizzan breed, which is used exclusively at the school. Today the horses delivered to the Spanish Riding School are bred at the Piber Federal Stud located near the village of Piber in western Styria, Austria. One of the original studs used to develop the breed was Lipizza, now called Lipica, near Trieste in modern Slovenia, which gave its name to the breed.
The Spanish Riding School has antecedents in military traditions dating as far back as Xenophon in Ancient Greece, and particularly from the military horsemanship of the post-medieval ages when knights attempted to retain their battlefield preeminence by shedding heavy armor and learning to maneuver quickly and with great complexity on a firearms-dominated battlefield.
Traditionally, Lipizzaners at the school have been trained and ridden wholly by men, although the Spanish Riding School states that there has never been an official ban on women. In October 2008, two women, Sojourner Morrell, 18-year-old from the United Kingdom and Hannah Zeitlhofer, 21-year-old from Austria, passed the entrance exam and were accepted to train as riders at the school - the first women to do so in 436 years.
The methods used by the Riding School are based on François Robichon de la Gueriniere. It is a common myth that the movements were developed to aid in battle; in fact, they were used to strengthen the war horse's body and mind and make him a supreme athlete, not to actually attack. All movements are based on those naturally performed by the horse when at liberty, with the exception of one-tempi changes.