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.