BREED ORGANIZATIONS AND WEB SITES
Spanish Riding School of Vienna
ABOUT THE BREED
History and Origin of the Breed
An Imperial Horse
Descended from legendary breeds long extinct such as the Neapolitans, given grace and strength by horses of Spanish descent and the Arabian, and strengthened by the blood of the local Karst horse, Lipizzans are the result of over four centuries of careful breeding. Lipizzans possess beauty, nobility, and a rare combination of courage, strength, temperament and intelligence. White horses have always had historical significance, they have pulled the chariots of kings and emperors since antiquity, and, since Roman times, white horses have represented peace and justice.
The Lipizzan (or Lipizzaner) was created by the House of Hapsburg and the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in 1580 by Archduke Charles II, brother of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II. He founded the court stud at Lipizza just north of Trieste, Italy and crossed the best imported Spanish horses with the local Karst horses. The stud farm still exists today, now named Lipica in Slovenia. Discovered by the Romans, horses that were bred on the Karst in the area around Trieste were historically admired for their strength, endurance and agility. The Romans systematically bred these horses for tournament and for war, developing a breed whose toughness and courage were highly valued into the Renaissance. When crossed with the Archduke’s Spanish imports, the resulting horses were sturdy yet agile and athletic, supremely intelligent yet temperate and personable. In addition to riding their regal Lipizzans, the Hapsburg monarchy used their Lipizzans to pull their carriages throughout the empire in peacetime and to pull their artillery into battle in wartime. Throughout history, the Lipizzan with its strong hooves, sturdy bones, great endurance, and quiet, sensible temperament has always been both an excellent riding and an excellent driving horse.
The Hapsburg Empire showcased their elegant, athletic horses in their Spanish Riding Hall, first built in 1572 and replaced in 1735 by the Winter Riding Hall, still used today. Today, as they have for over 400 years, the Spanish Riding School continues to preserve the classic art of riding known as Haute Ecole, as well as the Airs Above the Ground, the dangerous and elegant leaps into the air that demonstrate the Lipizzan stallion’s role in battle as a weapon himself.
A Horse of History
Over the centuries, whenever warfare threatened the Lipizza stud, the horses were moved to safer ground. During these moves, individual horses would occasionally be given or sold to other studs, effectively seeding Lipizzan stud farms across the Austrian empire, many of which still exist today. For example, in the late 1700’s the horses were moved three times from Lipizza during the Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon gained possession of the horses for a while and bred his Arab stallion, Vesir, to the Lipizzans.
Of all the sires used in the 18th and 19th centuries, only six founded today’s Lipizzan breed: Pluto (1765), Conversano (1767), Maestoso (1773), Favory (1779), Neapolotano (1790) and Siglavy (1810). Later on, two more stallion lines were introduced, Incitato from Hungary and Tulipan from Croatia. In Lipizza, great importance was also given to the mares. Eighteen classical mare lines originated there representing Karst, Kladruber and Arabians, most of these lines still exist. Other stud farms also contributed mare lines; over 60 mare “families” are recognized today.
History has always been important in the Lipizzan world and the two-part name of a male Lipizzan reflects his lineage from the beginning of the breed. The first part of his name is his sire’s foundation stallion line, one of the eight original stallions, and the second part is the name of his dam. Roman numerals are sometimes added to differentiate full brothers from the same parents or half brothers from the same stallion line and the same mare. Mare names are shorter and usually end in “a”, reflecting the Italian heritage of the breed.
The traditional European stud farms also used brands to uniquely identify each Lipizzan; many still do today. In addition to the stud farm’s individual brand, the Lipizzan will usually carry the brands for both the foundation sire of sire and dam. Additional symbols and numbers may reflect birth order or reference number in the farm’s studbook. As many as five or six brands may decorate a European Lipizzan. Brands are seldom used outside of Europe.
Until 1916, the Lipizzan stud farms always remained private possessions of the Hapsburg monarchy. However, after World War I, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire was divided into several new republics who each inherited possessions of the former monarchy, including the monarchy’s horses. At the time, only 208 Lipizzans were known to be left in existence. The village of Lipizza in Italy and its environs were awarded the most Lipizzans, one-hundred and nine and in 1919, the republic of Austria became the owner of the rest of the breeding stock and the stallions of the Spanish Riding School.
In 1943, the Lipizzan breed was again threatened with extinction when German High Command sequestered mares and foals from Austria, Italy and Yugoslavia at Hostau, Czechoslovakia, to protect them from Allied bombing. Through heroic efforts of the Spanish Riding School’s director, Colonel Alois Podhajsky, the school and its stallions were saved when General George Patton gave the U.S. Army’s protection to the stallions and ordered the 2nd Calvary to retrieve the mares from Czechoslovakia and reunite them with the stallions. The Walt Disney movie The Miracle of the White Stallions dramatizes this daring and successful rescue.
In the late 20th century, the Lipizzan has proven to be a successful competitor at all levels of competition dressage and driving, as well as continuing to be the ultimate mount for classical horsemanship. The breed has also proven to be suitable for most other equestrian disciplines including pleasure riding, endurance, search and rescue, and even working cattle. The Lipizzan is also an excellent driving horse and teams of Lipizzans regularly and successfully compete at the highest levels of competitive driving, especially in Europe.
Lipizzans Move to the New World
The first privately owned Lipizzans were brought to the United States in 1937 by Austrian born opera singer, Madame Maria Jeritza who brought her two stallions and two mares to California. The next year, her husband, Winfield Sheehan, produced the movie Florian with her Lipizzan stallions, Pluto II-1 and Neapolitano. In 1945, General Patton brought the stallion Pluto XX and several mares back from Austria; they were later given to the Army cavalry.
However, the most major importation of Lipizzan was in 1955 when Tempel Smith (Tempel Steel) of Chicago, Illinois, imported 20 Lipizzans from Austria, 11 from Hungary and 6 from Yugoslavia. Tempel Farms continues to breed Lipizzans who successfully compete in dressage competitions as well as perform at Tempel Farms in Spanish Riding School tradition.
Lipizzans have also appeared in films. In 1965, MGM used Lipizzans and Lipizzan-Arab crosses for the chariot races in Ben Hur. In 1976, 15-year old Lipizzan stallion Pluto Calcedona, owned and bred by Raflyn Farms, also an importer of Lipizzans in the 1950s, appeared as Buffalo Bill’s horse in Buffalo Bill and the Indians with Paul Newman.
Today Lipizzans are found far beyond the borders the old Austrian-Hungarian Empire; Lipizzans live around the world, from Europe and North America, to the southern hemisphere in Australia, and New Zealand. With approximately 10,000 purebred Lipizzans (according to Lipizzan International Federation - LIF ) in the world, the breed is still considered quite rare.
In 2013, there are approximately 1,500 Lipizzans in the United States. Surprisingly enough, more Lipizzans probably live in the United States than in any other country.
The Lipizzan breed standard describes a horse virtually unchanged in 400 years, a picture of strength with a powerful, well-muscled body, a cresty neck, hard hooves, and a head with a convex profile. Genetically grey, Lipizzans are born black or bay and slowly turn white or grey between the ages of five and ten. Less than 5% of Lipizzans keep their birth color and a “rare” bay or black is considered a good luck symbol. Slow to mature, they are equally long lived, often living to 30 years or more. Lipizzans are also very easy keepers. Mentally tough, once Lipizzans bond with their people, they are trusting and understanding with a serious work ethic.
As a riding horse, the Lipizzan’s reputation for excellence in dressage spans centuries. Only horses of great strength and natural ability accomplish the requirements of Grand Prix dressage; few breeds are capable of advancing to the even more strenuous requirements of the famed “Airs Above the Ground”. But Lipizzans love to fly; even the youngest foal throws himself into the air when only days old with obvious pleasure. And Lipizzans maintain this “joie de vivre” in all stages of their work and life, regardless of the job they’re asked to do. Their natural balance and physical strength give them a regal presence in the dressage court as it has for over 400 years.
Their dressage talents also make them successful as driving horses, especially in combined driving events. In driven dressage as in ridden dressage, Lipizzans are masters of collection, suspension, and lightness. Their dressage prowess is especially evident in the marathon phase where their strength, stamina, and can-do attitude combine with their natural balance and sanity to quickly and agilely negotiate obstacles. The cones phase is also a natural showcase for Lipizzans who powerfully cover ground with precision and grace.
In addition to competitive riding and driving, Lipizzans excel in other venues including competitive trail riding, therapeutic riding and driving, working cattle and other Western disciplines, and search and rescue operations, all disciplines that require heart, stamina, and the right temperament.
But either driving or riding, both casual amateurs and world champions appreciate the Lipizzan’s athleticism and bravery, coupled with an honest and intelligent mind. At any level and in any discipline, Lipizzans make willing partners who bond with their humans, are understanding and kind, learn new things quickly and easily, and are generally unflappable when faced with the unexpected. As a long-time Lipizzan owner remarked, “… their extraordinary ability to provide thrust in the presence of suspension and balance make them exceptionally beautiful performers. Should you prove to be trustworthy, they will reward your care with unparalleled good will and consistency. They are …joyfully hardworking, endlessly patient, personally engaged and with a powerful desire to please.
Isenbart, Hans-Heinrich and Emil M. Buhrer, The Imperial Horse – The Saga of the Lipizzaners, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, 1986.
Hull, Melody and Sandra Heaberlin, The American Lipizzan: a Pictorial History, The Lipizzan Association of North America, Anderson, IN, 1999