Lipizzaner Horses [history and origins of the famous white stallions]
Lipizzaner horses are a rare breed of white horses originating out of Spain. These stallions are prized for their amazing beauty, intelligence, and ability to perform complex classical dressage riding maneuvers often described as a dance.
The Lipizzan breed has a long and rich history and is said to be one of the oldest horse breeds in Europe.
What is a Lipizzaner Horse?
Lipizzaners are one of the most beautiful breeds of horses in the world. Believed to originate from Spain in the 16th century, they were bred for their intelligence, strength, and agility.
Lipizzaners have a reputation for being intelligent horses that can be trained to perform complicated dressage movements.
They are known for their signature white coat with black markings on the head, neck, legs, chest, and tail.
Lipizzaner Horse Breed
As an Austrian-bred horse, they were originally used by the Hapsburgs (German royal family) as carriage horses and later became known worldwide through performances at fairs and circuses.
Today Lipizzaner horses can also be found in dressage competitions and performances around the world!
History of Lipizzaner Horses
The Lipizzaner horse has been selectively bred for four hundred years. The breed came into existence during the Habsburg Monarchy. They have often been cited as the true horse of royalty!
At the beginning of the Renaissance, the Hapsburg reigning family controlled both Spain and Austria. Classical riding re-emerged as an art form and a sport of nobles during the Renaissance.
This in turn brought about an intense search for horses that were elegant, fast, and sturdy. The ideal horse was one that could be used for both show and combat.
The Spanish Horse
Originally, enthusiasts turned to the Spanish Horse, a breed produced by crossing Arabian horses with Iberian peninsula stock.
This produced horses that were generally sturdy, with beautiful proportions and a high level of intelligence.
In 1562, Maximillian II, who later became the Holy Roman Emperor, imported the Spanish Horse to Austria and established a stud farm in the Kladruby province.
Eighteen years later in 1580, his brother Archduke Charles established a similar stud farm in the region of Lipizza, near the Adriatic Sea.
These two stud farms would become the foundations of what later became the Lipizzaner breed of horses.
The formal beginnings of the breed were two stallions from the Kladruby stud farm. However, the Lipizzan stud farm produced lighter, faster horses.
Both lines were bred to horses from Karst (horses from the Kras region of karstic Slovenia) and Neapolitan horses. Italian, German, and Danish horses were brought in to strengthen the lines.
Lipizzaner Horse Facts
In 1572, Maximillian II established the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. Only horses of Spanish descent, including Lipizzaner horses, were used.
Today the school is still in operation and uses Lipizzaner horses almost exclusively.
The lines continued through the centuries. In the 1800s, the pure breeds of Spanish horses had died out, and Arabians were bred into the Lipizzaner breed.
After World War I the empire run by the Hapsburg family was divided into several smaller countries.
The Lipizzaner breed was divided between the Lipizzaner stud farm in Italy, the Spanish Riding School and its stud farm in Austria, and the newly formed Czechoslovakia.
Currently, the Spanish Riding School is run by the country of Slovenia.
Later, after 1919, Lipizzaner horses were also bred in Hungary, Romania, and Yugoslavia.
World War II and the Lipizzaner Horses
During World War II, General George S. Patton negotiated a deal (Operation Cowboy) to protect the breed. The German High Command had transferred mares and foals to Czechoslovakia.
Patton and the Director of the Spanish Riding School, Colonel Alois Podhajsky, are credited with returning the mares and foals to Austria and Lipizzia.
This daring rescue of the Lipizzaner breed was later immortalized in the 1963 Disney movie, Miracle of the White Stallions.
When Did Lipizzaner Horse Come to America?
The first Lipizzaner or Lipizzan horses were brought to America in the late 1930s by opera singer and Countess Maria Jeritza.
In 1945, the United States Remount Services imported the first Lipizzaner horses for military use in the U.S.
The late 1950s to 1970s saw more Lipizzaner horses imported by private individuals, who negotiated with the Austrian government for Lipizzaner stallions and mares.
These were imported, often with at least one mare in foal, to add to the diversity of the Lipizzaner stock in America.
The World Famous Lipizzaner Stallions
Since then, the breed has spread beyond the borders of the former Austrian-Hungary Empire to multiple continents.
Lipizzaner horses are considered invaluable for their conformity and skill. In regards to training, they are frequently praised for their high intelligence and level, friendly temperaments.
What Do Lipizzaner Horses Look Like?
Despite being known worldwide as white horses, Lipizzaner horses are actually classified as grays. They are actually born with a dark coat color (almost black) that lightens with age.
Their color generally turns into a white coat around six years of age. These white coats are one of the defining features of the Lipizzaner.
Other distinctive features of Lipizzaner Horses include:
- Large eyes
- Small ears
- Sturdy body
- Well defined tendons and joints
- Muscular physique
- Crested neck
The Lipizzaner is not generally a tall horse. Most adult Lipizzaner horses average between 14 and 15 hands in height but can be taller.
What Makes Lipizzaner Horses Unique?
Lipizzaner Stallions are Rare
Lipizzaner horses are a rare breed. Experts disagree on the exact numbers of purebred Lipizzaners, but it’s comparatively small estimated to be approximately 11,000.
However, some say the number of Lipizzaners may be as low as 3000. This makes purebred Lipizzans one of the dozen or so domestic horse breeds that are currently listed as endangered.
For a numerical comparison, the Arabian breed has over 400,000 registered purebred horses.
The Lipizzaner is one of Europe’s oldest breeds. The lines of purebred Lipizzaner horses can be traced back at least 400 years.
They were also well known as the horse of European royalty during the Renaissance.
Lipizzaner Performance Ability
The Lipizzaner is one of the only breeds capable of performing the most complex dressage movements.
They are most noted for their ability to perform the Airs Above the Ground. These are considered the most difficult movements in dressage, where the horse actually leaves the ground.
For this reason, Lipizzan horses are some of the most sought-after for performances and high-level dressage competitions.
What are Lipizzaner Horses Used For?
Since their founding during the reign of the Habsburg Monarchy, the Lipizzaner breed has found many uses.
They are mostly used today as show horses, but they have fulfilled many other roles throughout history.
The Lipizzaner breed was originally founded as part of an effort to obtain fast yet sturdy horses for mounted combat, among other things.
The complex maneuvers Lipizzaners are now famous for were once tactics horses were trained to use in battle. Certain moves were used to defend the rider against foot soldiers.
In other circumstances, these Lipizzaner maneuvers could provide offensive support. A muscular horse’s kick could do severe, if not fatal, damage to an enemy soldier.
This special operation was led by General George S. Patton, to save the Lipizzaner horse breed from extinction at the hands of the German High Command during World War II.
Lipizzan horses were originally bred to be sturdy. Of the two original stud farms, the one founded at Kladruby historically produced more muscular horses for pulling heavy carriages.
The Lipica Stud farm, for which the breed was later named, produced lighter, faster horses. These were usually trained as riding horses. However, they were often used to pull carriage rides.
Today, the purebred Lipizzan horses are mostly trained for performances. However, some of the cadet stud lines, or pure Lipizzan horses deemed unable to withstand show riding, are designated as carriage horses for tourist companies.
An example would be the horses used by the Fiaker Viennese carriage drivers. Owned by special companies like the Fiaker Paul, Lipizzan bred horses are hitched to traditional carriages to offer visitors tours through historic locations within the city of Vienna.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Fiaker and their equine partners took carriages full of food to those who were struggling due to the quarantine.
Classical riding, also known as Haute Ecole, became popular during the Renaissance. Today it is mostly demonstrated in performances at various riding schools.
Haute Ecole, according to the Spanish Riding School, is a system of training that involves willing cooperation from the horse and rider.
The Lipizzan stallions selected for performances are trained for six years, starting from the age of three to four years old.
Ideally, in demonstrations, the horse will do most of the work with minimal cues from the rider.
Training for classical riding was once the province of nobles only. Students could attend either at the prestigious Spanish Riding School, or the exclusive baroque Winter Riding School located at the Imperial Hofburg Palace.
Today, training is open to all serious dressage riders and competitors.
Dressage Performance and Competition
There are many forms of Dressage performances. The Lipizzaner breed is most often used for the quadrille (dance routine).
These are performances are choreographed to music, much like an equestrian version of ballet. Lipizzaner horses often perform in both solo acts and as part of a quadrille with other horses.
In Seattle, Gary Lashinsky’s World Famous Lipizzaner Stallions perform maneuvers with up to four stallions moving in mirror image of each other.
Airs Above the Ground
These are the most complex maneuvers in dressage. Lipizzaner horses are famous for being one of the few breeds that can perform them due to the high level of difficulty.
The Spanish Riding School highlights three main maneuvers in which the horse actually leaves the ground.
- The Levande – The horse maintains a stance with forelegs off the ground and body at a 45-degree angle.
- The Courbette – The horse rises onto its rear legs and hops, keeping its front legs in the air.
- The Capriole – The horse leaps and pulls its forelegs up to its chest and then kicks backward with its hind legs.
What Countries are Lipizzaner Horses Found?
The Spanish Riding School still breeds Lipizzaner horses. These horses are not only bred, but carefully trained for all forms of classical riding and dressage.
The school’s active stallions are stationed in and around Hofburg Palace.
Horses of the Spanish Riding School who are too old for work are retired to Lower Austria to the Gottlesbrunn-Arbesthal farmland.
This is also where both performance and carriage horses go for their annual holiday. They spend seven weeks here each year.
The Australian Line was founded by the Ravenswood Stud Line in 1975. They are currently cared for by the Australian Lipizzaner Registry.
The Piber Stud Farm, located in western Austria is for the purpose of breeding Lipizzan horses.
Lipizzan Breeding Centers in the United States
Lipizzaner breeding stables can also be found in North America, Australia, and South Africa.
One of the most notable lines in the United States is the line of Tempel Lipizzaners, named for Tempel and Esther Smith.
The breeding farm was originally established in Illinois between 1958 and 1969, where it remains to this day.
Another school was founded in Snohomish Washington. This branch was formed by Evelyn Dreitzler. She was an early pioneer in bringing purebred Lipizzaners to the United States.
Herrmanns’ Royal Lipizzan Stallions, another performance group, is a winter training ground for the world-famous white stallions, located in Myakka City, Florida.
Lipizzans in South Africa
According to the South African Registry, the branch was established in 1948. As the story goes, in 1944, a Hungarian Count named Jankovich-Besan was worried that the rapidly advancing Soviet Red Army would overtake his Lipizzaner stud farm.
He decided to take action and took as many horses as he possibly could 400 miles to Bavaria dealing with horrible weather during the trip.
After a short stay in Britain, those surviving horses were transferred by boat to South Africa arriving in 1948 where he established his stud farm near the Mooi River. Today the stud farm is based in the Gauteng Province, South Africa. What a story!
Related Lipizzaner Questions
How Much Does a Lipizzaner Cost?
While older horses or non-purebred lines may cost as little as $3,500, a purebred Lipizzaner foal or mature adult in good health can sell for anywhere from $8,000 to $25,000 dollars.
Is There a Difference Between Lipizzan and Lipizzaner?
Lipizzaner is the American version of the term Lipizzan. The horses are the same breed.
What Do Lipizzan Horses Eat?
Lipizzaner horses eat much the same as regular horses. However, because their training often involves a reward system, they may need additional exercise to stay fit.
Some trainers use specially flavored pellets as rewards to cut down potential weight gain.
What is the Lipica Stud Farm?
The Lipica Stud Farm, located in modern-day Slovenia, is home to over 300 of the famous white stallions.
Proclaimed the largest Lipizzaner stud farm in the world, their heritage dates back to the 16th century.
The Lipizzaner breed is a beautiful horse with a rich history in Europe. They are rarely seen outside of performances and stud farms however, some older horses or cadet breeds can be found used for pleasure riding.
Fully trained Lipizzaners in performances offer a breathtaking demonstration of Renaissance-style riding and beautiful, highly complex dressage maneuvers.
Aside from Vienna’s Spanish Riding School in Vienna, these performances are offered around the globe and are well worth the visit.
For closer contact, some schools will also offer behind-the-scenes tours, so you can meet these beautiful and intelligent horses one-on-one.
If you’re looking to see one of the pinnacle breeds of horsemanship and breeding in action, the Lipizzaner horse is certainly worth looking into.
You can learn much more about the amazing Lipizzaner horses at the Lipizzan International Federation and the Lipizzan Association of North America websites.