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A modern Lipizzan
Distinguishing features Compact, muscular, generally associated with the Spanish Riding School
Alternative names Lipizzaner, Karster
Country of origin Developed by the House of Habsburg from Arab, Barb, Spanish and Neapolitan stock.[1] Today associated with nations of Austria, Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia.
Breed standards
Verband der Lipizzanerzüchter in Österreich Breed standards
Lipica Stud, Slovenia Breed standards
Ministero delle Politiche Agricole e Forestali, Italy Breed standards
Lipizzaner Society of Great Britain Breed standards
Lipizzan International Federation Breed standards
Lipizzan Association of North America Breed standards
Horse (Equus ferus caballus)

The Lipizzan or Lipizzaner[2] (Hungarian: Lipicai, Slovene: Lipicanec, Croatian: Lipicanac, Czech: Lipicán), is a breed of horse closely associated with the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Austria, where the finest representatives demonstrate the haute école or "high school" movements of classical dressage, including the highly controlled, stylized jumps and other movements known as the "airs above the ground." The Lipizzan breed dates back to the 16th century, when it was developed with the support of the Habsburg nobility. The breed takes its name from one of the earliest stud farms established, located near the Kras village of Lipica (spelled "Lipizza" in Italian), in modern-day Slovenia.


The ancestors of the Lipizzan can be traced to approximately A.D. 800.[3] The earliest predecessors of the Lipizzan originated in the 7th century when Barb horses were brought into Spain by the Moors and crossed on native Spanish stock. The result was the Andalusian horse and other Iberian horse breeds.[4][5]

By the 16th century, when the Habsburgs ruled both Spain and Austria, a powerful but agile horse was desired both for military uses and for use in the fashionable and rapidly growing riding schools for the nobility of central Europe. Therefore, in 1562, the Habsburg Emperor Maximillian II brought the Spanish Andalusian horse to Austria and founded the court stud at Kladrub. In 1580, his brother, Archduke Charles II, established a similar stud at Lipizza (now Lipica), located in modern-day Slovenia, from which the breed obtained its name.[4][6]

Spanish, Barb, and Arabian stock were crossed at Karst (Kras), and succeeding generations were crossed with the now-extinct Neapolitan breed from Italy and other Baroque horses of Spanish descent obtained from Germany and Denmark.[1] While breeding stock was exchanged between the two studs, Kladrub specialized in producing heavy carriage horses, while riding and light carriage horses came from the Lipizza stud.[6]

Beginning in 1920, the Piber Federal Stud, near Graz, Austria, became the main stud for the horses used in Vienna. Breeding became very selective, only allowing stallions that had proved themselves at the Riding School to stand at stud, and only breeding mares who had passed rigorous performance testing.[7]

Foundation horses

Today, a maximum of eight foundation lines for Lipizzans are recognized by various registries, which refer to them as "dynasties."[8] They are divided into two groups. Six trace to classical foundation stallions used in the 18th and 19th centuries by the Lipizza stud, and two additional lines were not used at Lipzza but were used by other studs within the historic boundaries of the Austro-Hungarian empire.[6]

The six "classical dynasties"[9] are:

  • Pluto: a gray Spanish stallion from the Royal Danish Stud, foaled in 1765[6]
  • Conversano: a black Neapolitan stallion, foaled in 1767[6]
  • Maestoso: a gray stallion from the Kladrub stud with a Spanish dam, foaled 1773, descendants today all trace via Maestoso X, foaled in Hungary in 1819.[9]
  • Favory: a dun stallion from the Kladrub stud, foaled in 1779[6]
  • Neapolitano: a bay Neapolitan stallion from the Polesine, foaled in 1790[6]
  • Siglavy: a gray Arabian stallion, originally from Syria, foaled in 1810[10]

There are two additional stallion lines found in Croatia, Hungary, and other eastern European countries as well as in North America.[6] They are accepted as equal to the 6 classical lines by Lipizzan International Federation (LIF).[11] These are:

There are several other stallion lines that have died out over the years, but were used in the early breeding of the horses.[12] In addition to the foundation stallion lines, there were 20 "classic" mare lines, fourteen of which exist today.[13] However, there are up to 35 mare lines recognized by various Lipizzan organizations.[6]

There are traditional naming patterns for both stallions and mares, required by Lipizzan breed registries. Stallions traditionally are given two names, with the first being the line of the sire and the second being the name of the dam. For example, "Maestoso Austria" is a horse sired by Maestoso Trompeta out of a mare named Austria. The horse's sire line tracing to the foundation sire Maestoso.[14] The names of mares are taken from the maternal line in the pedigree. Names from the sixth and eighth generation back in the mare's pedigree chart are reviewed. Out of those two generations the name is chosen. Thus, in Lipizzan breeding, names come back periodically and there are names for each mare family line.

Spanish Riding School

Main article: Spanish Riding School

The world-famous Spanish Riding School uses highly trained Lipizzan stallions in public performances that demonstrate classical dressage movements and training.[15] In 1572 the first Spanish Riding Hall was built, during the Austrian Empire, and is the oldest of its kind in the world.[16] The Spanish Riding School, though located in Vienna, Austria, takes its name from the original Spanish heritage of its horses. In 1729 Charles VI commissioned the building of the Winter Riding School in Vienna and in 1735, the building was completed that remains the home of the Spanish Riding School today.[17]

Wartime preservation

The Lipizzans endured several wartime relocations that prevented extinction of the breed. The first came in March 1797 during the War of the First Coalition, when the horses were evacuated from Lipica. During the journey, 16 mares foaled. In November 1797, the horses returned to Lipica, but the stables were in ruins. They were rebuilt, but in 1805, the horses were evacuated again when Napoleon invaded Austria. They remained away from the stud for two years, returning April 1, 1807. However, following the Treaty of Schönbrunn in 1809, the horses were evacuated three more times during the unsettled period in Austria, resulting in the loss of many horses and the destruction of the studbooks covering the years prior to 1700. The horses finally returned to Lipica for good in 1815, where they remained for the rest of the 19th century.[18]

The first evacuation of the 20th century occurred in 1915 when the horses were evacuated from Lipica due to World War I and placed at Laxenburg and Kladrub.[19] Following the war, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was broken up, with Lipica becoming part of Italy. Thus, the animals were divided up between several different studs in the new postwar nations of Austria, Italy, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslovia. The nation of Austria kept the stallions of the Spanish Riding School and some breeding stock.[19] By 1920, the Austrian breeding stock was consolidated at Piber.[20]

During World War II, the high command of Nazi Germany transferred most of Europe's Lipizzan breeding stock to Hostau, Czechoslovakia.[19] The breeding stock was taken from Piber in 1942,[20] and additional mares and foals from other European nations arrived in 1943.[19] The stallions of the Spanish Riding School were evacuated to St. Martins, Austria from Vienna in January 1945, when bombing raids neared the city and the head of the Spanish Riding School, Colonel Alois Podhajsky, feared the horses were in danger of being destroyed.[21] By spring of 1945, the horses at Hostau were in danger from the advancing Soviet army, which might have slaughtered the animals for horse meat had it captured the facility.[21]

The rescue of the Lipizzans by the United States Army, made famous by the Disney movie Miracle of the White Stallions, occurred in two parts: The United States Third Army under the command of General George S. Patton, was near St. Martins in the spring of 1945 and learned that the Lipizzan stallions were in the area.[22] Patton himself was a horseman, and like Podhajsky, had competed in the Olympic Games.[22] On May 7, 1945, Podhajsky put on an exhibition of the Spanish Riding School stallions for Patton and Undersecretary of War Robert P. Patterson, and at its conclusion requested that Patton take the horses under his protection.[23]

Meanwhile, the Third Army's United States Second Cavalry, a tank unit under the command of Colonel Charles Reed, had discovered the horses at Hostau, where there were also 400 Allied prisoners of war, and had occupied it on April 28, 1945. "Operation Cowboy", as the rescue was known, resulted in the recovery of 1,200 horses, including 375 Lipizzans,[21] Patton learned of the raid, and arranged for Podhajsky to fly to Hostau.[24] On May 12, American soldiers began riding, trucking and herding the horses 35 miles across the border into Kotztinz, Germany.[21] The Lipizzans were eventually settled in temporary quarters in Wimsbach, until the breeding stock returned to Piber in 1952,[20] and the stallions returned to the Spanish Riding School in 1955.[25] In 2005, the Spanish Riding School celebrated the 60th anniversary of Patton's rescue by touring the United States.[26]

The Lipik stable in Croatia had been taken by the Serbs to Novi Sad, Serbia during the Croatian War of Independence (1991–1995) where the horses remained in exile until 2007.[27]

Modern breed

The Lipizzan breed suffered a setback to its population when a viral epidemic hit the Piber Stud in 1983. Forty horses and eight percent of the expected foal crop were lost. Since then, the population at the stud has increased, with 100 mares at the stud as of 1994 and a foal crop of 56 born in 1993. In 1994, the pregnancy return increased from 27% to 82% as the result of a new veterinary center.[28]

Today, though found in many nations throughout Europe and North America, the breed is relatively rare, with only about 3,000 horses registered worldwide. The number of foals born each year is small, and breeders take extreme care to preserve the purity of the breed. Educational programs have been developed in order to promote the breed and foster adherence to traditional breeding objectives. The Lipizzan today competes successfully in dressage and driving, as well as retaining their classic position at the Spanish Riding School.[6]

Because of the status of Lipizzans as the only breed of horse developed in Slovenia, via the Lipica stud, Lipizzans are recognized in Slovenia as a national animal. For example, a pair of Lipizzans is featured on the 20-cent Slovenian euro coins.[29] Mounted regiments of Carabinieri police in Italy also employ the Lipizzan as one of their mounts.[30] In October 2008, during a visit to Slovenia, a Lipizzan at Lipica, named 085 Favory Canissa XXII, was given to Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. She decided to leave the animal in the care of the stud farm.[31]


Most Lipizzans measure between 14.2 and 15.2 hands (58 and 62 inches, 147 and 157 cm).[6] However, horses bred that are closer to the original carriage-horse type are taller, approaching 16.1 hands (65 inches, 165 cm).[32] Lipizzans have a long head, with a straight or slightly convex profile. The jaw is deep, the ears small, the eyes large and expressive and the nostrils flared. They have a neck that is sturdy, yet arched and withers that are low, muscular and broad. They are a Baroque-type horse, with a wide, deep chest, broad croup and muscular shoulder. The tail is carried high and well set. The legs are well-muscled and strong, with broad joints and well-defined tendons. The feet tend to be small, but are tough.[33]

Lipizzan horses tend to mature slowly. However, they live and are active longer than many other breeds, with horses performing the difficult exercises of the Spanish Riding School well into their 20s and living into their 30s.[32]


Aside from the rare solid-colored horse (usually bay or black), most Lipizzans are gray. Like all gray horses, they have black skin, dark eyes, and as adult horses, a white hair coat. Gray horses, including Lipizzans, are born dark—usually bay or black—and become lighter each year as the graying process takes place, with the process being complete at between 6 and 10 years of age. Contrary to popular belief, Lipizzans are not actually true white horses.[6] A white horse is born white, has pink skin and often has blue eyes.[34]

Until the 18th century, Lipizzans had other coat colors, including dun, bay, chestnut, black, piebald and skewbald.[6] However, gray is a dominant gene.[34] Gray was the color preferred by the royal family, and so the color was emphasized in breeding practices. Thus, in a small breed population when the color was deliberately selected as a desirable feature, it came to be the color of the overwhelming majority of Lipizzan horses.[35] However, it is a long-standing tradition for the Spanish Riding School to have at least one bay Lipizzan stallion in residence, and this tradition is continued through the present day.[36]


The traditional training methods for Lipizzans were developed at the Spanish Riding School and are based on the principles of classical dressage, which is in turn based on the writings of Xenophon, a Greek commander whose works were rediscovered in the 16th century. His thoughts on horses' mental attitude and psyche are still considered standards today. Other writers and equestrians who strongly influenced the training methods in place today at the Spanish Riding School include Federico Grisone, the founder of the first riding academy in Naples, who lived during the 16th century; and Antoine de Pluvinel and François Robichon de la Guérinière, two Frenchmen from the 17th and 18th centuries. The fundamentals taught to the Lipizzan stallions at the Spanish Riding School were passed down via an oral tradition until Field Marshal Franz Holbein and Johann Meixner, Senior Rider at the School, published the initial guidelines for the training of horse and rider at the School in 1898. Alois Podhajsky, whose works, written in the mid-20th century, serve as textbooks for many dressage riders today, was another significant influence.[17][37] The principles taught at the Spanish Riding School are based on practices taught to cavalry riders to prepare their horses for warfare.[38]

Young stallions come to the Spanish Riding School for training when they are four years old. Full training takes an average of six years for each horse, and schooling is considered complete when they have mastered the "School Quadrille".[15] There are three fundamental skill sets taught to the stallions, which are:

  • Forward riding, also called Straight riding or the Remontenschule - The first year of training, where a young horse is taught to be saddled and bridled, started on the longe, and then ridden in an arena on straight lines, to teach correct responses to the rider's aids while mounted. The main goals during this time are to develop free forward movement, riding in as natural a position as possible.[15]
  • Campaign school, Campagneschule or Campagne, which teaches collection and balance through all gaits, turns and maneuvers. The horse learns to shorten and lengthen his gait and perform lateral movements, and is introduced to the double bridle. This is the longest training phase of the three.[15]
  • High-school dressage, the Haute école or Hohe Schule, which includes riding the horse in a more upright position with increased angling of the hindquarters, as well as increased regularity, skill and finesse in all natural gaits as well as dressage maneuvers which may include the "Airs above the ground." (see below). In this period, the horse learns the most difficult movements such as the half-pass, counter-canter, flying change, pirouette, passage, and piaffe. This level emphasizes performance in a methodical manner and a high degree of perfection.[15][39]

Although the Piber Stud trains mares for driving and under saddle,[28] the Spanish Riding School exclusively uses stallions in its performances.[15]

The "airs above the ground"

The "airs above the ground" or exercises above the ground are the difficult "high school" dressage movements made famous by the Lipizzans.[40] They include:

  • The levade: a position wherein the horse raises up both front legs, standing at a 30 degree angle, entirely on its hind legs in a controlled form that requires a great deal of hindquarter strength. A less difficult but related movement is the pesade, where the horse stands at a 45 degree angle.
  • The courbette: a movement where the horse balances on its hind legs before jumping, keeping the forelegs off the ground and hind legs together as it essentially "hops."
  • The capriole: a jump in place where the stallion leaps into the air, tucking his forelegs under himself, and kicking out with his hind legs at the height of elevation.
  • The croupade and ballotade: predecessors to the capriole. In the croupade, both fore and hind legs are tucked under the body at the height of elevation. In the ballotade, the horse does not kick out, but the shoes of the hind feet are visible if viewed from the rear
  • The mezair: A series of successive levades in which the horse lowers its forefeet to the ground before rising again on hindquarters, achieving forward motion. This movement is no longer used at the Spanish Riding School.[41]

In popular culture

Lipizzans have starred or played supporting roles in many movies, TV shows and books.

The 1940 film Florian stars two Lipizzan stallions. It was based on a 1934 novel written by Felix Salten. The wife of the film's producer owned the only Lipizzans in the US at the time that the movie was made.[42] The rescue during World War II of the Lipizzan stallions is depicted in the 1963 Walt Disney movie Miracle of the White Stallions. The movie was the only live-action, relatively realistic film set against a World War II backdrop that Disney has ever produced.[43] In the feature film Crimson Tide, a discussion between the two main characters over whether Lipizzans came from Spain or Portugal, and whether they are born white or black, is used to represent the film's suppressed racial conflict and the dividing of the world between two main powers during the Cold War.[44]

Television programs featuring the Lipizzans include The White Horses, a 1965 children's television series co-produced by RTV Ljubljana (now RTV Slovenija) of Yugoslavia[45] and BR-TV of Germany, re-broadcast in the United Kingdom. It followed the adventures of a teenage girl who visits a farm where Lipizzan horses are raised.[46] Another show was the Nickelodeon cartoon show The Angry Beavers, where in one episode one of the main characters (actually a beaver) dreams of being a Lipizzan stallion at the Spanish Riding School.[47]

Many fiction books mention Lipizzans. In the 2004 novel The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson, Lipizzan horses and the Spanish Riding School are key elements of both the plot and the setting.[48] Lipizzans and the Spanish Riding School also play a crucial role in Mary Stewart's 1965 novel Airs Above the Ground[49] and Marguerite Henry's 1964 children's novel White Stallion of Lipizza.[50]



External links

  • Fédération Française du Lipizzan (F.F.L.)
  • Lipizzaner Society of Great Britain
  • Lipizzaner National Stud Book Association of Great Britain
  • Lipica stud farm official website
  • Lipizzan International Federation-LIF
  • Spanish Riding School and Federal Stud Farm Piber
  • Lipizzan Association of North America
  • South African Lipizzaners
  • Piber Stud
  • United States Lipizzan Registry-USLR

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