EFEVienna

The 450-year-old Spanish Riding School of Vienna renowned for its white horses and immaculate equestrianism presented its first ever woman rider on Wednesday.

Hannah Zeitlhofer, 29, swore an oath as an official rider for the institution, which is one of the city's most popular tourist attractions and an official World Heritage Site.

"I'm very happy to be the first woman rider but in my opinion there is no difference between male and female riders," she told EFE.

The ceremony was attended by the Austrian Agriculture Minister Ändra Rupprechter, who said this was an important step and a strong signal to motivate more young women to get a degree in the Riding School which could also benefit with the recruitment of new talent.

After eight years of learning, Zeitlhofer is now to be in charge of four horses.

As a rider she is also an official trainer and her duties include teaching the horses under her care to perform the elegant, artistic formations that have made the school world famous.

With her incorporation into the institution's staff, the school now counts with two senior riders, 13 other official riders, three aspiring trainers and two advanced apprentices.

There are also five normal apprentices, but it is rare for these to move on to become a part of the official riding team.

The riders and apprentices spend their days at the Vienna Royal Palace, caring for and training the more than 100 Lipizzaner horses raised in the historic stables of Pieber, a southern Austrian region.

Spanish equestrianism arrived in Vienna in 1521 along with the brother of King Charles I of Spain, Ferdinand I of Hapsburg who was to be the new Archduke of Austria.

The Austrian branch of the House of Hapsburg bought its horses from Spain, but decided to create its own group of breeding mares and acquired the best horses available in the 16th century.

The result was the Lipizzaner breed, which even has its own genealogical book which traces its ancestry for four centuries.

Following the disintegration of the Austrio-Hungarian Empire, the Austrian Republic decided to maintain the school as a public service and launched a series of programmed visits.

The first written mention of this institution is from 1565, during the reign of Archduke Maximilian II.

Visitors can see the horses during the open morning training sessions from Tuesday to Saturday, official events on Saturdays and Sundays, and informal walks through the Royal Palace's parks.