Lipizzan Horse

The Lipizzan or Lipizzaner is a breed of horse from Europe, whose ancestors date back to approximately A.D. 800. Barb horses were brought to Spain in the 7th century and crossed with native stock. The breeds developed were Andalusian and Iberian horses.

In the 1500s, the Habsburg family ruled both Spain and Austria and desired a powerful and agile horse for use in the military and riding schools for the nobles of central Europe. In 1562, Maximillian II formed the court stud at Kladrub and his brother Archduke Cahrles II formed the stud at Lipizza in modern-day Slovenia.

At lipizza, Spanish, Barb and Arabian horses were crossed and the following generations of horse were crossed with the now-extinct Neapolitan breed from Italy and Baroque horses from Germany and Denmark. Breeding horses were exchanged between the two stud farms and horses were developed for carriage and riding.

Today there are eight stallion bloodlines for the Lipizzan breed. Other lines have been used over the years but have since vanished.  There are 35 mare bloodlines recognized by Lipizzan organizations.

In 1983, a viral epidemic hit the Piber Stud, resulting in 40 horses and eight percent of the foals perishing. Since, there has been an increase in stock with a total of around 11,000 Lipizzan horses registered in 19 countries and nine studs in Europe as of 2012, with 9,000 in Europe alone.

The average Lipizzan stands between 58 and 62 inches high with some carriage horses taller, around 65 inches. The breed has a long head that sometimes is slightly convex, with a deep jaw, small ears, large eyes and flared nostrils. The arched neck is sturdy, the broad withers are set low and are muscular. The legs are muscular with broad joints and defined tendons. The feet are small but tough and the tail sets high.

Most Lipizzans are gray, but can be bay or black, although rarely. The foal is born dark and will become lighter each year as it ages. This is called a graying process which usually takes six to ten years to complete. Until the 1700s, other colors were prominent, including dun, bay, chestnut, black, piebald and skewbald. However, gray was the preferred color of royalty so it was emphasized in breeding.

The Lipizzan were bred specifically for riding schools and warfare. Training for these activities took an average of six years to complete for each horse. Today’s Lipizzan are trained for competitions in, driving, riding and dressage, but also for the Spanish Riding School.

Lipizzan horses are featured in many movies, films, TV programs and a variety of literature. One Disney movie based on an actual event was Miracle of the White Stallions. It is the account of General George S. Patton rescuing 1,200 horses, 375 of them were Lipizzans, and returning them to the Spanish Riding School.

Image Caption: Lipizzan Horse. Credit: Conversano Isabella/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)