Cracking the Lipizzaner ceiling: Hannah Zeitlhofer promoted to first woman “Reiter” at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna

Riders have been showing up in the mornings at the Winter Riding School in the Imperial Palace of Vienna to train horses for more than 400 years, but none of them has ever been a woman, until now. The Spanish Riding School in Vienna inducted its first woman rider, Hannah Zeitlhofer, in September. 

Hannah Zeitlhofer, first woman rider for the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, at her ceremony last month. (Image © RGE for Spanish Riding School)

Hannah has been behind the scenes and rising slowly through the ranks at the school for eight years. Now she’s ready to ride, and she can do it with pride. It’s been eight years since The Jurga Report began following the career of Austrian dressage rider Hannah Zeitlhofer. Back in 2008, she made news when the Spanish Riding School agreed to admit women for the first time into the 450-year-old organization.

Like all the riders, Hannah started as an eleve, or apprentice rider. She fed horses, led horses, groomed horses. It was a long time before she would be allowed to actually ride a horse. For that, she needed to graduate to the rank of “Assistant Reiter”. Her biggest project began then, as she started training a young Lipizzaner stallion, Siglavy Batosta. Batosta was straight from the mountain pastures of the School’s stud farm in southern Austria. 

Hannah’s career began as an eleve, or spprentice, at the Spanish Riding School, when she was 21 and had completed an Austrian equestrian studies education. She cared for the horses and walked them across the street between the stables and the Winter Riding Hall, learning the institution from the ground up. (John Harwood photo via Flickr.com)

According to the School, it takes most riders between eight and 12 years to reach the epitome of equestrian assignments: riding in the opulent Winter Hall in the inner city of Vienna. Unlike most schools, there have been no books to lug home at night to study. The training is conducted orally, as the riders pass down the treasured secrets of training the stallions to their assistants and apprentices. Now Hannah will do the same.

US First Lady (and avid equestrian) Jacqueline Kennedy enjoyed a performance of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna in 1960, when her husband, President John F. Kennedy met at a Summit Conference with USSR leader Nikita Khrushchev in the building next door. (Photo by REPORTERS ASSOCIES/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Hannah is not the only woman at the School. She shares the crack in the Lipizzaner ceiling with School Director Elizabeth Gurtler and newly-promoted Assistant Reiter Theresa Stefan.

At the end of last year, the Classical Art of Riding of the Spanish Riding School was admitted to the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO) world heritage list of intangible cultural heritages of humanity.

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