(© Kip Mistral 2019. “Fragments from the Writings of Max Ritter von Weyrother, Austrian Imperial and Royal Oberbereiter,” published by Xenophon Press, 2017. Images and quotations from within are used with permission of the publisher. Image detail from Courbette by Ludwig Koch 1866-1934)
Maximillian Ritter von Weyrother (1783–1833) was Chief Rider of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna from 1813, and Director from 1814 to 1833. And why should we care to read a book of his writing fragments, you might ask. Is he just one more riding master in the cavalcade of horses and riders through time who codified his personal embrace of equestrian art? The answer would be no.
In our busy post-modern lives, it may seem of dubious use to study the work and literature of great equestrians long dead. However, at one time the master-student lineage was extremely significant and nowhere is this factor more important than in the lineages of the equestrian arts. The cross-pollination of high level equitation methodology across Europe is a very complex and fascinating subject, and studying it gives context to our own search for meaning in our modern riding practices.
In his book “The Complete Training of Horse and Rider (1967),” one of Max’s successors as Director of the Spanish Riding School, Alois Podhajsky, underscores the cultural value of equitation when he writes: “The historical development of riding reveals that the art is not confined to any special country. It flourishes wherever human beings dedicate themselves to horsemanship and know how to cultivate and develop its practice, wherever there are experts, and wherever such skill brings pleasure to those who love beauty. The art of riding is indeed international; it belongs to the civilized world, and it is the duty of every nation to preserve and foster it in the interest of culture.”
So, I think that Max’s contribution to this lineage and its literature is worth framing some context about the man who Podhajsky described as the most outstanding member of a family of outstanding riders.
And Podhajsky wasn’t kidding. Max’s grandfather Adam von Weyrother (1696-1770), father Gottlieb Ritter von Weyrother (the Elder) and his half-brother Gottlieb von Weyrother (the Younger)–who apparently socialized with Mozart in Vienna–were Chief Riders at the Spanish Riding School and preceded Max as Chief Rider and Director. Adam was known to have traveled widely and particularly often to Paris, and it is believed that he was a colleague of the great ecuyer François Robichon de La Guérinière (1688-1751), whose work Ecole de Cavalerie (School of Horsemanship) was later followed by both Gottlieb the Younger and Max.
Werner Poscharnigg, author of the fascinating book Austrian Art of Riding, tells me “Adam von Weyrother published his book (The Utility for the Whole World, Or the Perfect Equerry/Riding Master for Military and Terrain) in Brussels in 1767. He had traveled to France to view the French masters’ work before this year, but stated that the Austrian masters, especially the Count von Paar, were superior.”
“Marie-Antoinette [of Austria] became Dauphine of France in 1770. Before this year Austria and France were officially enemies. Thus it was politically incorrect to praise anything French, especially concerning equitation. On the other hand French language and culture became increasingly en vogue during the 18th century. Adam von Weyrother died before he could publish a complete work on equestrian art. Nobody in the Austria of that time published a book on equitation because this matter was considered something practical, an everyday thing, not apt to be written about.”
“Guérinière’s work was published in 1733. After 1789, the French Revolution, this book and sort of equitation became politically incorrect in France, but not in Austria, where everything anti-revolutionary was welcomed. So Gottlieb and Max von Weyrother took Guérinière’s book as something to preserve tradition. In later Austrian equestrian theory, anything pre-Guérinière was forgotten. Maximilian von Weyrother’s writings come from a time influenced by the Napoleonic Wars, an era not ready for the delicacies of true classical riding.”
Courbette by Ludwig Koch (1866-1934). Rider is given Weyrother’s face.
But a Director of the Spanish Riding School would never be a mere riding master. He would be, like Maximilian Ritter von Weyrother, an aristocrat of culture and sophistication. No sooner did Max take over the “wheel” for the SRS in 1813, but right to his doorstep and into his place of business came the Vienna Congress of 1814-1815, one of the most important international political and social mega events in European history, hosted by Emperor Francis I of Austria. Enormously splendid entertainments were provided–even Beethoven played a concert–parades, displays, exhibitions and festivals were ongoing, and international press reporters and artists documented the events for the public. Weyrother would have been highly involved in organizing the equestrian entertainments and re-organizing his corps of teachers, students and horses in other locations where they could keep their training going forward.
After lengthy preparations and much expenditure, an elaborately mounted carousel and tournament took place in the Winter Riding School on 23 November 1814. The ‘Turks’ heads’ that the riders had to impale can be seen on the floor and walls of the arena. (Wien Museum: no artist attribution provided at resource www.habsburger.net.)
Lavish parties also took place in the Winter Riding School…
Steinbrecht, Gustav (1808-1885) German student of Louis Seeger.
Seeger, Louis (1794-1865) German student of Max Ritter von Weyrother.
Seidler, Ernst Friedrich (1798-1865) German student of Max Ritter von Weyrother.
Oeynhausen, Borries von (1812-1875) Austrian student of Max Ritter von Weyrother.
In 1836, after Weyrother’s death in 1833, several of his students collaborated to put together the book they titled Fragments from the Writings of Max Ritter von Weyrother. Writes Daniel Pevsner, pupil at the Spanish Riding School, in his introduction to Fragments, “The twenty years or so that Weyrother served the Vienna school were dedicated to the installing, practicing and promoting of de la Guérinière’s principles and equestrian legacy as described in his book, Ecole de Cavalerie. In Fragments, Weyrother faithfully follows de la Guérinière’s precepts and expands on them in various ways. Aside from technique and science, Weyrother also offers a moral and philosophical view of horse training. Schooling methods are variable and numerous but they only work for the one he describes as a reflective rider, one who works humanely and respects the horse’s physiological and psychological needs. This is a message that is as fresh and relevant today as it was in the early nineteenth century.”
Both riding students and teachers will enjoy and benefit from this book. With so many precise instructions and trouble-shooting suggestions, there are unlimited applications that can be used in either equitation role. With this book, you can join in continuing in some small way with the Weyrother lineage…