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 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. 

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.

In 1969, a rising star equestrian from Great Britain visited the Spanish Riding School and earned the rarest of honors, to ride one of the Lipizzaner stallions. Her name? Princess Anne of Great Britain. (Getty Images Popperfoto by Ral Bellisario)

The Spanish Riding School in Vienna is the oldest Riding School worldwide. Riders there have passed down the classical art of riding in the Renaissance tradition of the “High School” for 450 years. The School has cultivated its artful form of riding exclusively with a horse especially bred for that purpose, the Lipizzaner.

Hannah’s achievement is a great accomplishment and even the Federal Minister, Andrae Rupprechter, has issued a comment. “In the Spanish Riding School, the tradition of classical equitation is passed orally from generation to generation. For more than 450 years, (the School has) managed to maintain the quality of education at the highest level. The swearing-in of the first (female) rider is an important step and a strong signal to inspire more young people for a career in the Riding School, (as well as the discovery of) many new talents.”

Hannah will now have several stallions to train, along with the education of the younger apprentices.

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.