[“Morning Exercise in the Hofreitschule” by Julius von Blaas, 1890]
In early March of this year 2023, news went around the world that Chief Rider of the Spanish Riding School, Andreas Hausberger, had been relieved of his position after 40 years of service within the school. Persons not familiar with the politics of Vienna and the school itself had a difficult time understanding the issues at hand, let alone why this could have happened to an admired and trusted member of the school, who on top of it all, was the last rider left from the last generation trained under the original classical protocols and methods. Who now would carry the torch for the true, centuries-old traditions?
“These are drab materialist times. Drab! Surely, if we can let into them one beam of elegance, of splendor, of glory, from the ancient classical world…that would be worth a man’s life, no? When I am tired, I tell myself, yes, it would.”
Colonel Alois Podhajsky, Director of the Spanish Riding School, 1958
As discussions flew wildly, it became clear to those of us who weren’t already concerned about the situation that the long, slow methods of horse and rider preparation and training that had been valued for the centuries of the school’s existence, had now been abandoned. Horse training and rider instruction were now rushed and with numbers of performances doubled, injuries to the prized and rare Lipizzan stallions, underprepared, overworked and exhausted, were happening frequently. It was mainly to bring attention to these conditions that Hausberger strongly challenged the management, and his reward was his sacking. My understanding is that his duties were transferred to one or two junior chief riders, who had not yet satisfied the criteria on which the older, most experienced riders and teachers would have to unanimously vote to promote the candidates to the chief rider status.
[Spanish Riding School, Vienna, Austria, photographer unattributed.]
I started thinking about the future of civilization and what is at stake when traditions and education are abandoned to “make things easier.” Everywhere around us today, we see evidence of standards being “dumbed down.” A glaring example of this practice can be found in the American public school system, where standards are lowered so drastically that students are being promoted up through the grades and are still functionally illiterate by the time they graduate high school. Twenty-to-twenty-five years ago I was teaching freshman college composition and even then only one or two students in each class of 36 seats were actually prepared for the work. It was truly a debacle then and I am sure it is a worse issue now.
Thinking of the gloriously beautiful manège of the Spanish Riding School and about the great libraries of the world, I asked myself how much sense did it make for the director of the school, who knows nothing about equitation, to fire the last man standing in the corps who had been mentored by the last of the great masters of Austro-Hungarian classical equitation? How much sense would it make for an executive who knew nothing about the great authors and books of the world, to fire the highly-educated librarians who conserved those great libraries, and give their jobs to the janitors?
“It is difficult to sentimentalize properly about an abbey building still entire and put to up-to-date uses, just as it is impossible not to bemoan the absence of those treasures which once ennobled it. And that leads me to say how odd is the good-natured modern readiness to admire things uprooted from the places which gave them half their beauty and all their significance…The modern mode of seeing sights is no real education, because it has no regard to the unities that slowly grew under great creating hands in a mighty past. These unities are dead, or dismembered, according to the point of view. What then? The past will remain forever dead to us unless we at least gather together those unities ontologically, and give them a real existence in the inner sanctuary of the mind or we dismember that which should have been left whole, and sequester from active life that which was made for a living use.”
A. H. Hallam Murray (1904)
[Admont Abbey Library, Admont, Austria, photographer unattributed.]
Not all is fair in life, but great boons can be earned and shared by an individual who prepares, who stays inspired, and who accomplishes his or her goals while making some or many sacrifices necessary to prevail over obstacles and keep their dreams in sight. This individual is the one who can carry a great tradition forward into the future. It is getting easier and easier to allow ourselves to be distracted from higher goals and think only about the present, leaving the great unities of the past to the mists. Once the lineage and the bridge of great teachers and masterful students, who become great teachers, is lost, what then?
[Maestoso Basowizza & Oberbereiter Hausberger, demonstration in front of Schönbrunn Palace]