The Spanish Riding School of Vienna has a female director for the first time in its 430-year history.

Hotelier Elisabeth Guertler took over, together with Federal Forestry Agency manager Erwin Klissenbauer, at the beginning of this month.

Their joint appointment comes after the resignation of Armin Aigner, who has headed the school since May 2005.

Elisabeth Guertler will be responsible for strategy, sponsoring, marketing and public representation, while Mr Klissenbauer will be responsible for operations and finances on a day-to-day basis.

“It is a childhood dream come true,” says Ms Guertler, who sees a bright future for the school.

“I am sure that everyone will be happy when the enterprise is on a sound financial footing and marketed well.”

The school ran up deficits of €3.4m and €3.9m in 2004 and 2005 respectively, but its deficit fell to only €821,000 in 2006. Then in the first half of 2007, the school returned a profit of €195,000.

Mr Aigner has brought the school into the black during his time in office and will remain available as a consultant until mid-2008.

His resignation came as a surprise to many, but he said he saw himself only as a substitute managing director during dire times for the school.

“I was only the emergency doctor that helped prop up the patient,” he said. “The economic success came faster than we had hoped. Now, someone else has to take over.”

Ms Guertler believes her background with horses will help her lead the riding school successfully: “Before I entered the hotel business, riding was a big part of my life and I have never lost my passion for the sport.”

The number of visitors to the school has risen from an average 175,000 to a projected 231,000 this year, and the number of visitors to the school’s stud farm in Piber, Styria is expected to rise from 51,000 in 2005 to an estimated 90,000 in 2007.

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