Developed exclusively by the Hapsburg monarchy for its use during times of war and peace, the Lipizzan is the true horse of royalty. Four hundred years of selective breeding have made the Lipizzan one of Europe’s oldest breeds of horse. The Lipizzan’s historical and cultural development enhances its mystique. Physically capable of withstanding the demands of the Airs Above the Ground, this baroque mount was bred to perform haute ecole dressage at the Spanish Riding School and owes its survival to the intervention of American General George S. Patton during World War II.
The Hapsburg family controlled both Spain and Austria when the art of classical riding revived in Europe during the Renaissance. There was a need for light, fast horses for use in the military and the riding school. The Spanish horse, produced during Moorish rule by crossing Berber and Arab stallions with Iberian mares, was considered the most suitable mount because of its exceptional sturdiness, beauty, and intelligence. In 1562, Maximillian II brought the Spanish horse to Austria and founded the court stud at Kladrub. His brother Archduke Charles established a similar private imperial studfarm with Spanish stock in 1580 at Lippiza (nowadays: Lipizza [Italian], or Lipica [Slovenian]) near the Adriatic Sea. Here on the Karst plateau near Triest the type of horse which was bred in Lippiza was called the Lippizaner. Today in Europe the breed is called Lipizzaner or, in America, Lipizzan.
The Kladrub and Lipizza stock were bred to the native Karst horses, and succeeding generations were crossed with the old Neapolitan breed and horses of Spanish descent obtained from Spain, Germany, and Denmark. The Kladrub stud produced heavy carriage horses. Riding horses and light carriage horses came from the Lipizza stud although breeding stock was exchanged between the studs. The Kladrub stud produced Maestoso and Favory, two of the foundation sires of today’s Lipizzan. Of the sires used during the 18th and 19th centuries, only six established sire lines: Conversano, black, a Neapolitan, born in 1767; Favory, dun, transferred from Kladrub, born in 1779; Maestoso, grey, a crossbred by a Neapolitan sire and out of a Spanish dam, transferred from Kladrub, born in 1819; Neapolitano, bay or brown, from another Neapolitan sire, born in 1790; Pluto, grey, of Spanish origin, from the Danish stud, born 1765; Siglavy, grey, an Arabian, born in 1810.
By the 1800s, there were no longer any original Spanish horses available, and Arabians were used to strengthen the lines. Of the seven Arabian stallions used, only Siglavy founded a separate dynasty. Two other stallion lines which did not find favor at the Lipizza stud were perpetuated at other studs within the boundaries of the Austrian empire. The Tulipan (Croatia) and Incitato (Transylvanian-Hungarian) lines are still found in Yugoslavia, Hungary, and other eastern European countries as well as North America. In addition to the sire lines, 35 mares established dominant families which are recognized today. Each country established traditions in naming, branding, and otherwise identifying Lipizzans.
Lipizzans are genetically a type of grey. Born dark, black-brown, brown, or mouse-grey, Lipizzans gradually lighten until the white coat for which they are noted is produced somewhere between the ages of 6 and 10. The white hair coat has become dominant in the breed, and only now and then is a black or brown adult produced. As late as two hundred years ago, black, browns, chestnuts, duns, piebalds, and skewbalds were found in the adult herd. Noted for his sturdy body and proud carriage, the Lipizzan’ head is remarkable for its large appealing eyes and small alert ears. The body presents a picture of strength with a crested neck, powerful shoulders, muscular hind quarters, and strong legs with well-defined tendons and joints. Not an exceedingly tall horse, the Lipizzan averages between 14.2 to 15.2 hands.
Named after the early Spanish horses imported in the 16th century, the Spanish Riding School of Vienna is the oldest surviving institution of its kind in the world. Its primary purpose has remained the same through its history: to perpetuate the art of classical horsemanship in its purest form and transmit it from generation to generation. To this end, the School has used the Lipizzan exclusively as a horse capable of performing all the steps and movements of dressage, including the Airs Above the Ground -- the Levade, the Courbette, and the Capriole.
Until 1916, the Lipizzan studfarm always remained a private possession of the Hapsburg 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 farms, 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 Lippiza (1580-1916) itself was divided over three different countries. The main part went to Italy, to which the village of Lipizza and its surroundings were also 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.
During World War II, 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. The perpetuation of the breed was guaranteed by the American army 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. Before 1930 the Lipizzan horse did not exist within the United States. Opera singer Countess Maria Jeritza was given several Lipizzans by the Austrian government and imported them in 1937. In October 1945, the U. S. Army Remount Service imported 9 Lipizzans (3 stallions and 6 mares, 1 in foal). It was not until the late 1950s that Lipizzans were imported in any great number. Between 1958 and 1969 Tempel and Ester Smith of Illinois imported 1 stallion and 13 mares (5 in foal) from Austria, 7 Lipizzaners from Hungary and 6 from Yugoslavia. In 1959, Evelyn Dreitzler of Snohomish, Washington, began negotiations with the Austrian government, and between 1959 and 1973, 3 stallions and 10 mares (1 in foal) arrived from Austria. Other importations have occurred during the past thirty years, each adding another dimension to the American Lipizzan genetic base.
With fewer than 3,000 purebred Lipizzans in the world, the breed is considered rare, and the number of foals born each year is correspondingly small. Extreme care is taken by those involved in the production of Lipizzan horses to insure that the purity of the breed is preserved. Much effort has been expended to develop educational programs in order to foster voluntary adherence to the traditional breed goals and objectives.
Now, in the early years of the 21st 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, classic beauty, and harmonious, athletic way of moving.