The Lipizzan, or Lipizzaner, is a unique breed of horse which has been selectively bred since the 16th Century. As a ceremonial horse, the breed has nobility, brilliance, balanced agility, and style. With the Lipizzan, interest in the art of classical riding was revived during the Renaissance. In 1970, producer Gary Lashinsky created the "World Famous Lipizzaner Stallions" arena attraction that over twenty-three million people have enjoyed throughout the world. The Walt Disney movie "The Miracle of the White Stallions" created an even greater world-wide interest in the extremely rare Lipizzan breed.
The Lipizzan traces its history back to the early 1560's when the finest Arab and Berber blood was introduced into the local athletic Spanish Andalusians that were created during the Moorish occupation of Spain in the 7th Century. King Maximillian II brought these Spanish horses to his native Austria around 1562 and founded the court stud at Kladrub. His brother, the Archduke Charles, established a similar stud farm in 1580 in the town of Lipizzaner, Slovenia, and from the Lipizza stud farm came the breed's name of Lipizzan. Both of these studs flourished, but in slightly different directions. The Kladrub stud was known for heavy carriage horses, and the Lipizza stud was known for riding horses and light carriage horses although breeding stock was exchanged between the studs. The Kladrub and Lipizza stock were bred to the native Karst horses with successive generations crossed with the old Neapolitan breed. During the 1700's, horses of Spanish and Italian origin included sires from Denmark, Spain and Holstein, but were of pure Spanish descent. To strengthen the original Spanish-Arab strain, several of these stallions were purchased during the 18th and 19th centuries for use at Lipizza and Kladrub but only six were accepted as the foundation lines of the Lipizzan known today. Maestoso and Favory, two of the foundation sires of today's Lipizzan were produced at the Kladrub stud.
In addition to the 6 ancestral stallion lines, there are 18 mare family lines. By tradition, every stallion has a double name, with the first being the lineage name of his sire and the second name being that of his dam. However, there does not appear to be a provision that could prevent multiple stallions from the same parents from having the same name. As for mares, names should be complementary to the traditional Lipizzan line names and must also end in the letter “a”.
An integral part of Lipizzan history is the Spanish Riding School of Vienna that was founded in 1572 and which the Hapsburg monarchy rebuilt in 1735 in the Imperial Palace in Vienna under the auspice of Charles VI. For over 430 years, the school's purpose has been to perpetuate the art of classical horsemanship and to the breed and train the Lipizzan horses. Only the best are kept to continue the line and so promising stallions are sent to the Spanish Riding School to begin training at the age of four where they go through six years of rigorous dressage school. These Lipizzaner stallions then perform their art for the rest of their lives on tours throughout the world to benefit the work of the Spanish Riding School. The Lipizzan horses can perform through their 20's and some have been known to perform up to age 30.
At first, the Lipizzan horses were bred for the Hapsburg royalty, which controlled the horses and their training until World War I. But after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the Austrian branch of the Hapsburgs dissolved, and then the Lipizzan breed almost died out during World War II.
Traditionally, the Lipizzan horses from the Spanish Riding School had been relocated around Austria to avoid war and during World War II, the horses were moved by the German High Command several times. Unfortunately, the horses were frequently stabled in areas where desperate refugees considered the horses as a potential food source. The director of the Spanish Riding School was determined to save the breed and with the assistance of General Patton of the United States Army, 250 Lipizzan horses survived the war to serve as a founding stock so that the breed could be preserved.
The first Lipizzan horses in the United States were given to Opera singer Countess Maria Jeritza by the Austrian government and imported in 1937. Eight years later, in 1945, the U.S. Army Remount Service imported 9 Lipizzans (3 stallions and 6 mares, 1 in foal). But it was not until the late 1950's that Lipizzan horses were imported from Austria to the U.S. in any great numbers. Between 1958 and 1973, two breeders imported 4 Lipizzan stallions and 21 mares (6 in foal) and other importations have been taking place during the last 35 years to add to the American Lipizzan gene pool.
The breed is still extremely rare; only about 3,000 Lipizzan horses exist worldwide and most of them are in Europe with the majority in Austria that are bred at stud farms around Austria. Extreme care is being taken by those involved in breeding Lipizzan horses to insure that the purity of the breed is preserved. If it had not been for General Patton, the Lipizzans might not be in existence at all today.
In 1992, the Lipizzan Association of America joined the Lipizzan Society of North America to form the Lipizzan Association of North America (LANA). LANA is the American representative to the Lipizzan International Federation (LIF) and is committed to perpetuating and preserving the Lipizzan breed in the United States. LANA follows the LIF criteria that defines a purebred Lipizzan, which is a horse that can trace back, without interruption, to the recognized lines and families of the official European stud farms and their approved breeding stock. DNA technology is used to identify equine parentage and provide information for future genetic traits and disease diagnosis and no horse will be registered unless the DNA results are filed with LANA. LANA has also formed a separate division for registering Lipizzan Partbreds where the Lipizzan portion of the pedigree must trace, without interruption, to the recognized male lines and female families of official European stud farms and their approved breeding stock. Partbred horses or foals do not have to be DNA’d but the purebred Lipizzan parent must have its DNA on record.
The Lipizzan is a small horse that stands between 14.3 and 15.3 hands. The influence of the Arabian is seen in the usually straight or slightly convex head, the small alert ears and the large, appealing eyes. The neck is short, crested and powerful, the back is broad and the overall picture is of strength with well-rounded quarters, heavy shoulders and short, strong legs with brilliant action. The mane and tail are thick and long and the tail is carried high.
Gray dominates the Lipizzan breed today because white horses were preferred by the royal Habsburg family. Grays are born dark, black-brown, brown or mouse-gray and then the coat gradually lightens until the white coat they are noted for appears between the ages of 6 and 10 years old. But as late as 200 years ago, many other colors existed; black, chestnut, dun, and even piebald and skewbald. These non-white Lipizzans are a rarity today and only in rare cases will the horse stay the same dark color it was born.
But even with their small size, the breed tends to present a very powerful image with compact, rectangular and highly muscular bodies that are ideal for performing haute ecole dressage and the physically demanding "Airs Above the Ground" such as the levade and the capriole. These maneuvers have now preserved as an equestrian art dating back over 400 years. The art of dressage is combined with the close order military drills of the ancient warriors and these spectacular leaps and maneuvers were once used by riders in saddle to protect and defend themselves on the battlefield and can be quite intimidating even from a small horse. The Lipizzan has an aptitude for dressage which is rather uncanny and is an unusually talented equestrian athlete. A Lipizzan is distinctive for being extraordinarily gentle, willing, and talented and intelligent.
Few people who watch the Lipizzan show realize how difficult it is to work with stallions side by side or that are very few breeds of horses in the world that are capable of performing in this way. It is their amazing disposition that allows it, however, the riders must be on their guard at all times because, after all, they are still stallions and potentially volatile.