Whether it be shopping at the Tuesday morning market, taking a run along the river, swimming at the public pool or frequenting the discotecas, you may have spent time in Florence’s largest public park, il Parco delle Cascine. This massive park, more than 290 acres, is about a third of the size of New York’s Central Park and offers a wide array of activities. While many have taken advantage of the trails and open spaces in the park, very few know that deep in the park is Florence’s most prestigious and famous equestrian club, Centro Ippico Toscano (CIT).
The competitive sport of horseback riding, or cavallo da sella, dates back to 1868 when the first competition took place at the royal Dublin Horse Show. Since then, the interest and enthusiasm for the sport grew quickly in Europe and North America, and by the late 1800s, horse shows were considered regular international events.
Italy in particular, has a rich history and affection for these four-legged animals that some have dubbed man’s “other” best friend. The country has many ancient traditions and celebrations centered on the sport of racing horses. The most famous perhaps is the Palio of Siena, a death defying race three times around the city’s renowned Piazza del Campo that occurs twice each summer in mid-July and early August.
Competitive horseback riding became popularized by Capitano Caprilli, a famed military man, instructor and director of the cavalry school at Pinerolo in the Piedmonte region. During this time in the early 1900s, professional riding schools were being built throughout Italy to promote the study and practice of riding. In Florence, CIT was founded, beginning its 100 year reign as the superior riding school in Florence.
The Florentine Society for Cavallo da Sella was located in Via degli Orti Oricellari until the 1950s when the rapid development of the city made it necessary to move to a more spacious location. The Commune di Firenze, with financial assistance from the Azienda del Turismo, worked with CIT to construct the new riding school, ring and stable in the Cascine on Via de’ Vespucci. In recent years, to adapt to the school’s continued growth and popularity, CIT has expanded with an additional riding ring and added on to the stable that can now house up to 140 horses.
“At CIT we are dedicated to spreading the practice of the sport of horseback riding,” said the school’s director, Oliviero Fani. “For more than 100 years we have concentrated on preparing many young riders to obtain the level necessary to compete in some of the biggest and most well-known competitions throughout Italy.”
Today there are more than 1,400 members and 350 equestrians that practice at CIT. The school offers a variety of classes for students age four and up who want to practice the sport either as a hobby or to pursue as a career. Further, with eight certified instructors on staff, those looking to practice individually can have private lessons.
The school of basic horseback riding or Equitazione di Base, is directed by Angela Frati, a federal instructor of the first degree level. Lessons are carried out everyday except Monday and practice includes flat riding and jumping obstacles. The school has 10 horses and nine ponies that are ridden by students to develop the core skills of riding. Students are also encouraged to participate in other developmental courses including theory of equestrian techniques, foreign equestrian studies and grooming.
Students often participate in national competitions, such as Arezzo, Cervia, Bologna, Migliarino, Pontedera and the two biggest Italian competitions, Piazza di Siena and Verona. Advanced students also participate in international shows throughout the world.. As a result of the school’s keen focus on discipline, CIT students continually rank in the top of each class, giving the school a stellar reputation throughout Italy.
CIT offers one time riding lessons to tourists and it gladly welcomes foreigners with an interest in training at the school. Sheila Priory, an American living in Florence and working for Gucci has been training at CIT for more than a year now, and has just joined the show circuit, riding at Pontedera in October.
“Horseback riding has always been my biggest passion,” said Priory. “Aside from the exceptional training and top-of-the-line horses available at CIT, I found it has something most barns don’t: a sense of community and friendship. This brings a whole new aspect into the experience and makes me really look forward to going every day – whether to ride or to join a friend for lunch.”
The school is truly a place to both practice and belong. The facilities also include a bar and restaurant and some of the younger members regularly participate in group activities, such as dinners and evenings out. The school is planning to expand again with a pool and a private party room that can be rented out for events and dinners.
So the next time you’re taking a stroll deep into the Cascine and you stumble upon these perfectly manicured grounds with massive stables and professional riding rings, you’ll know it’s a little riding school, with humble beginnings that has carved a piece of history in Florence as its most prestigious, 100 year-old riding school.
For more information on the school and riding opportunities, you may contact:
Centro Ippico Toscano
Via de’ Vespucci, 5
Phone: 055 31 56 21