FB post of Thomas Ritter yesterday reads–
Most of you will have heard of the latest upheaval at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. Chief Rider Andreas Hausberger who served for 40 years at the School was suspended from his job for criticising the leadership of the current director Alfred Hudler.
This is the latest event in a long series of conflicts between the chief riders of the school and the business leadership stretching back more than 15 years and at least three different directors. The core issue seems to be that the last three directors came from a corporate business background, not a dressage background, and tried to run the Spanish Riding School like a hotel (Elisabeth Gürtler) or a brewery (Alfred Hudler) with the bottom line as the top priority.
The inevitable consequence of a profit oriented leadership style is that corners are cut in the training, horses have to be pushed up the levels faster than they can handle, and they have to perform more often than is healthy in order to maximise profits. The well-being of the horses is compromised, lamenesses become a regular occurrence, and the quality of the training deteriorates.
Whenever chief riders stood up to the leadership and pointed out the harmful consequences of their management, they were fired, rather than trying to find solutions to the problems they brought to the attention of the director.
In a corporate environment, having a young dynamic team may be an advantage, but in a classical riding school decades’ worth of practical training experience with hundreds of horses can’t be replaced by anything, not even youthful enthusiasm. And while it may be relatively easy to replace a chef at a restaurant or a brew master in a brewery, replacing a chief rider of the Spanish Riding School takes 30 or 40 years because they have to be made from scratch - under the supervision of the previous generation of chief riders. Once this chain of transmission is interrupted, it cannot be repaired.
If you count Arthur Kottas as the first chief rider to leave the school after the privatisation, the school has lost a total of six (!) chief riders (Klaus Krzisch, Johann Riegler, Wolfgang Eder, Herwig Radnetter, and now Andreas Hausberger) in 25 years. Each one of them has 40+ years of practical experience in riding and training horses. That adds up to more than 240 years of combined experience. This is a loss that is impossible to replace.
The Spanish Riding School has existed for well over 400 years and used to uphold the highest standards of classical European equestrian art. The secret to its success was the unbroken succession of teachers who trained horses to the highest levels and then used these horses as four-legged teachers to pass their knowledge on to the next generation of two-legged students. This resulted in the accumulation of a vast body of practical knowledge. The instruction always took place in person, one teacher, one horse, one student at a time. Very little was written down, which makes the tradition vulnerable to disruption if only one generation doesn’t take care to preserve and transmit this knowledge to the next generation. All this incredible training knowledge can disappear very quickly if the chain of transmission from teacher to horse to student is interrupted. Thanks to the corporate leadership of the last 15-20 years, we may have reached this point today.
If the highest priority of a cultural institution like the Spanish Riding School is the well-being of the horses and the quality of the training, then ticket sales and merchandise will not be able to generate enough income to cover the expenses. Trying to increase sales by holding more performances and training horses faster destroys the health of the horses and the integrity of the training, as three consecutive corporate directors have amply demonstrated. So the gap in the budget needs to be filled in other ways. Either the Austrian state has to step in and subsidise its cultural heritage, or private sponsors can help to finance the school, similarly to the way opera houses in the United States are supported by countless small and large sponsors.
In the meantime, there is a petition you can sign that demands a change in the way the Spanish Riding School is managed.
Or you can write a letter to the director of the school, Dr. Alfred Hudler: