Table of Contents
History and Origin of the Breed
History of the Lipizzan in the U.S.
Training the Lipizzan
Famous Lipizzan Horses
History and Origin of the Breed
Lipizzans represent over 400 years of
select breeding, founded upon selections of
The Lipizzan breed had its beginning
in 1580 when Archduke Charles II established the studfarm in Lipizza
(Lipica), using the best imported Spanish horses, Andalusians, Barbs
and Berbers bred to the local Karst horses. The Karst horses were white
in color, small, slow to mature, and extremely tough. Most people have
the false idea that Lipizzans inherited their high stepping gait from
the Spanish horse.
In the late 1700's the horses were moved
three times during the Napoleonic Wars. Napolean gained possession of
the horses for a while and bred his Arab stallion,
Until 1916, the Lipizzan studfarm always remained a private possession of the Habsburg monarchy. Up to this time, the expansion of the breed had been affected over the centuries by military conflicts. Whenever warfare threatened the Lipizza stud, the horses were moved away. During these moves, individual horses would occasionally be given or sold to other studs. From these horses came other small Lipizzan studs, usually within the boundaries of the Austrian empire.
During World War I, the breeding stock was relocated to Laxenburg near Vienna. The foals were placed in the other imperial studfarm, Kladrub. After World War I, central Europe was reorganized. The large Austrian-Hungarian empire was divided into several new republics, and every new state inherited the possessions of the former monarchy. The breeding stock of the imperial studfarm of Lipizza (1580-1916) itself was divided among three different countries. At the time, only 208 Lipizzans were known to be left in existence. The main part (109 horses) went to Italy, to which the village of Lipizza and its surroundings had been awarded. The 1913-1915 foals remained at Kladrub, which was then owned by the Czechoslovakian state. In 1919, the republic of Austria became the owner of the rest of the breeding stock and the stallions of the Spanish Riding School. Following World War I, in addition to Italy, Czechoslovakia, and Austria, other new states which continued the breeding of the Lipizzan horse were Hungary, Rumania, and Yugoslavia.
In 1943, the Lipizzan breed was again threatened with extinction when the mares and foals from Austria, Italy, and Yugoslavia were transferred to Hostau in Czechoslovakia by the German High Command. Through the heroic efforts of the Spanish Riding School?s director, Alois Podhajsky, the school was saved yet the performance stallions were not returned to the school until 1955. In 1945, the perpetuation of the breed was guaranteed by the American army, under the command of General Patton, which retrieved the mares and returned them to Austrian soil.
Today Lipizzans are found beyond the
borders of what was once the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. With less than
3,000 purebred Lipizzans in the world, the breed is considered rare,
and the number of foals born each year is correspondingly small.
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 other equestrian disciplines including pleasure riding. Owners and breeders are dedicated to the Lipizzan breed because they appreciate its rarity, cultural importance, romantic history, and its traits of intelligence, classical beauty, and harmonious, athletic way of moving.
History of the Lipizzan in the US
The first Lipizzans to be privately
owned and to be brought to the United States were brought over in 1937
by the Austrian born opera singer, Madame Maria Jeritza.
In 1955, millionaire Tempel Smith (Tempel Steel) of Chicago, Illinois, imported 20 Lipizzans from Austria, 11 from Hungary, and 6 from Yugoslavia. He devoted 15 years, until his death in 1980, importing and breeding his herd to over 400 horses. Since Tempel Smith's death, most of the herd has been disbursed. Tempel Farms still breeds a small number of Lipizzans each year, and George Williams continues to successfully show Lipizzans for Tempel Farms.
In 1959 a New York brewery imported
8 Lipizzans. Lipizzans and Lipizzan-Arab crosses were used for the chariot
races in the movie Ben Hur. In 1961 Evelyn Dreitzler, of Washington,
imported 20 Lipizzans and began a breeding program at Raflyn Farms.
Until about 1981, Lipizzans were very difficult to acquire. Now they are growing rapidly in numbers all over the United States. Disneyland owns a number of Lipizzan mares; the Marine Corps uses them in their Color Guard; and, even former President Reagan had one in San Simeon, California.
The number of Lipizzans in California is estimated to be 100. Current estimates are: 600 in the United States; less than 2000 worldwide, ranging from newborn to 35 or more years of age. There are now more than 20 breeders in California, Oregon, Washington, and Arizona. Although Lipizzans are increasing in numbers and are available for purchase at reasonable prices, most people don't advertise them for sale because they are usually approached by buyers soon after a foal is born. People buy Lipizzans because they want a special, unique horse. More and more people are discovering Lipizzans and their calm disposition, trainability, and versatile gaits.
Lipizzans are not very tall, the largest stands about 16 hands, but their proud carriage, muscular bodies and elastic, powerful movements make them appear much larger than they really are. Lipizzans are late maturing and long lived, many times to 35 or more years of age. Lipizzans display elegance and nobility as soon as they are born. They are born black or bay and slowly turn "white" by the time they are five to eight years of age. Lipizzans are actually grey; their dark skin hidden under a white coat is not revealed unless they are wet or bear a large scar. They are not fully grown in size until they are seven and do not reach full maturity until almost ten years of age. At one year of age, most Lipizzans look shockingly small compared to a Thoroughbred of the same age.
In addition, by the time they are eight months of age most Lipizzans begin to go through the most awkward, ugly duckling stage from which they do not usually emerge until they are about three years old. During this period of awkwardness a typical Lipizzan is barely recognized as a member of his breed. He looks more like a molting mule. In Austria the young Lipizzans are turned out in the alps where no tourists can view them until they are brought back at the age of three. That is when the elegance a Lipizzan possessed at birth returns and is increasingly manifested, even through old age, until the day he dies.
The Lipizzan has a head-heavy, lethargic stance when found in the paddock. When he is turned out or ridden, there is an unforgettable display of fiery animation, with head held high, neck arched, nostrils flared and an inborn ability to leave the ground with incredible power and grace. Then, when approached by a person with a kind word, there is yet another transformation, almost instantaneously, to a docile, gentle horse. He displays obedience and a desire to understand and please, yet without losing his proud bearing and superior presence.
Lipizzans are of sound, heavy bone and lameness is rare. They are extremely adaptable to frequent or rapid changes in their environment and their feed. It is their easy going nature and adaptability that makes them very easy keepers. These are, no doubt, the same qualities which enabled the breed to survive some thirty years of being protectively marched around Europe to various hiding places.
Lipizzans are a joy to ride with their soft, broad backs and lively gait . Their powerful hindquarters allow them to carry themselves with a natural balance. They have a natural sense of rhythm and maintain a very even tempo in all paces without constant adjustment on the part of the rider. They are extremely quiet and steady under saddle.
The stallions are extremely docile and
easily handled. They are, in fact, easier to manage than the mares.
Respect, once earned by the handler, will always be there
They rarely shy at anything, and if they do, strangely, it is not for the reasons most horses shy. When a Lipizzan is startled there is no feeling of fear or trembling. His back does not hollow out and leave the rider without a place to sit; rather, a Lipizzan collects himself--his hind legs step under his body, his back elevates, seating his rider even more securely in the saddle. The neck arches, insisting that the rider take up more rein. The horse begins piaffe (a powerful trot in place full of cadence and rhythm) with exhilarating power and boldness. He feels like a coiled spring just waiting for the command to capriole through the air. If instead the rider gives to the horse the smallest amount of rein, the piaffe extends to the passage (a slow motion floating trot). This they do naturally. The Lipizzan makes even a beginning rider believe, just for a moment, that he's an old, respected riding master.
He will respond with willingness and heart when respectfully asked to do so, even by the most inexperienced horseperson ... but woe to the person who believes "a horse is a horse" and attempts to display an egotistical desire to bully or intimidate the Lipizzan. When they are truly afraid or their sense of justice is violated by brutality, they stand their ground, look the opponent in the eye, and "royally" prepare for battle--the very purpose for which they were first bred 400 years ago.
The number of half-Lipizzans now registered
has grown to over 150. The half-Lipizzan owners are considering possibilities
for forming their own registry. Crossbreeding has become popular, not
only in Europe, but in the United States and Mexico. In Mexico and some
parts of the US, Lipizzans are crossbred to quarter horses to produce
excellent working cow horses. When bred to Thoroughbreds, they produce
exceptional event horses. Arabs are frequently bred to Lipizzans to
produce slightly heavier boned Arab-looking horse. Lipizzans consistently
impart their proponent qualities of intelligence, temperament, and soundness,
(and, in almost all cases, color). It remains to be seen if they impart
their longevity to other breeds.
Lipizzan horses excel in dressage, especially at the upper levels. Most all Lipizzans are outstanding in competition and in upper level movements such as piaffe, passage, and canter pirouettes, with a brilliance not usually seen in other breeds. These abilities are inborn to the Lipizzan.
They excel not only as driving and dressage horses, but for jumping, cutting, reining, endurance, trail, vaulting, and of course for pleasure. They are used extensively on the East Coast for handicapped riding programs. In spite of their royalty, they are truly an all-around horse capable of performing whatever task is required.
Careful selection of a trainer or handler for a Lipizzan is necessary. A horse of such intelligence, and in possession of such a sense of identity as the Lipizzan, requires a handler who can be flexible, treat him respectfully, and take an individualized approach to his training.
As the late Col. Alois Podjasky (former director of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna) once said, "without the subtle variations and adaptations of the method to the individual, riding would remain a sport limited to the level of handicraft, without ever rising to the sphere of art."
The airs above the ground,
such as levade, courbette and ballotade are witnessed from the time
a Lipizzan is only a few days old, and they are later easily elicited.
One must not be tempted to encourage these movements under saddle until
more elementary training has been accomplished. Otherwise the training
of a simple reinback, for example, could result in the trainer's being
caught off guard when he finds himself being carried through the air
in a ballotade (a movement which looks
A Lipizzan's early training under saddle must focus on a long, lengthened stride with the head stretched down, reaching for the bit. Asking the Lipizzan to carry himself like a "parade horse" during training will result in the neck muscles developing before they are lengthened, sacrificing flexibility in later years. This is especially important with stallions.
In addition, once the
trainer is sure the Lipizzan knows what he is asking for whether it
be on the ground or under saddle, he must ask only once. If there is
Lipizzans have a large capacity to learn. They can be taught a number of different things in a single training session without losing their patience or their desire to learn. However, if not previously handled, the first "training" must begin slowly until the relationship and communication between horse and man is established. Then Lipizzans are so easily trained and learn so quickly and obediently, that the trainer of a Lipizzan is often accused by horsepersons to have unfairly "pushed" the horse. This is a natural assumption to make because very few horses learn so quickly with such physical and mental stamina. The Lipizzan has an attention span and memory that is remarkable.
Famous Lipizzan Horses
For many years there was no United States
registry for Lipizzans. Each farm kept
In 1980 the United States Lipizzan Registry (USLR) was formed by Kathy Naugle and a group of Lipizzan enthusiasts. Since that time the registry has grown to include over 400 horses in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. The registry researches and documents pedigrees, publishes a quarterly journal, and participates in USDF competition awards. In order to expand the breeding base in the United States, the USLR allows artificial insemination and the transporting of semen to breed. There are regional Lipizzan Associations in every area of the United States now. They sponsor shows, awards, and local newsletters.