A modern Lipizzan
Distinguishing features Compact, muscular, generally associated with the Spanish Riding School
Alternative names Lipizzaner, Karster
Country of origin Developed by the House of Habsburg from Arab, Barb, Spanish and Neapolitan stock.[1] Today associated with nations of Austria, Croatia, Hungary, and Slovenia.
Breed standards
Verband der Lipizzanerzüchter in Österreich Breed standards
Lipica Stud, Slovenia Breed standards
Ministero delle Politiche Agricole e Forestali, Italy Breed standards
Lipizzaner Society of Great Britain Breed standards
Lipizzan International Federation Breed standards
Lipizzan Association of North America Breed standards
Equus ferus caballus

The Lipizzan or Lipizzaner (Czech: Lipicán, Croatian: Lipicanac, Hungarian: Lipicai, Italian: Lipizzano, Slovene: Lipicanec), is a breed of horse closely associated with the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Austria, where they demonstrate the haute école or "high school" movements of classical dressage, including the highly controlled, stylized jumps and other movements known as the "airs above the ground." The horses at the Spanish Riding School are trained using traditional methods that date back hundreds of years, based on the principles of classical dressage.

The Lipizzan breed dates back to the 16th century, when it was developed with the support of the Habsburg nobility. The breed takes its name from one of the earliest stud farms established, located near the Karst Plateau village of Lipica (spelled "Lipizza" in Italian), in modern-day Slovenia. The breed has been endangered numerous times by warfare sweeping Europe, including during the War of the First Coalition, World War I and World War II. The rescue of the Lipizzans during World War II by American troops was made famous by the Disney movie Miracle of the White Stallions. Along with the Disney movie, Lipizzans have also starred or played supporting roles in many movies, TV shows, books and other media.

Today, eight stallions are recognized as the foundation bloodstock of the breed, all foaled the late 18th and early 19th centuries. All modern Lipizzans trace their bloodlines to these eight stallions, and all breeding stallions have included in their name the name of the foundation sire of their bloodline. There are also classic mare lines, with up to 35 recognized by various breed registries. The majority of horses are registered through the member organizations of the Lipizzan International Federation, which covers almost 11,000 horses in 19 countries and at 9 state studs in Europe. The majority of Lipizzans reside in Europe, with smaller numbers in the Americas, Africa and Australia. Generally gray in color, the Lipizzan is a muscular breed that matures slowly and is long-lived.


This young Lipizzan stallion is midway through the graying process

Most Lipizzans measure between 14.2 and 15.2 hands (58 and 62 inches, 147 and 157 cm).[2] However, horses bred that are closer to the original carriage-horse type are taller, approaching 16.1 hands (65 inches, 165 cm).[3] Lipizzans have a long head, with a straight or slightly convex profile. The jaw is deep, the ears small, the eyes large and expressive and the nostrils flared. They have a neck that is sturdy, yet arched and withers that are low, muscular and broad. They are a Baroque-type horse, with a wide, deep chest, broad croup and muscular shoulder. The tail is carried high and well set. The legs are well-muscled and strong, with broad joints and well-defined tendons. The feet tend to be small, but are tough.[4]

Lipizzan horses tend to mature slowly. However, they live and are active longer than many other breeds, with horses performing the difficult exercises of the Spanish Riding School well into their 20s and living into their 30s.[3]


Mare and dark foal

Aside from the rare solid-colored horse (usually bay or black), most Lipizzans are gray. Like all gray horses, they have black skin, dark eyes, and as adult horses, a white hair coat. Gray horses, including Lipizzans, are born darkusually bay or blackand become lighter each year as the graying process takes place, with the process being complete at between 6 and 10 years of age. Lipizzans are not actually true white horses, but this is a common misconception.[2] A white horse is born white and has unpigmented skin.[5]

Until the 18th century, Lipizzans had other coat colors, including dun, bay, chestnut, black, piebald and skewbald.[2] However, gray is a dominant gene.[5] Gray was the color preferred by the royal family, and so the color was emphasized in breeding practices. Thus, in a small breed population when the color was deliberately selected as a desirable feature, it came to be the color of the overwhelming majority of Lipizzan horses.[6] However, it is a long-standing tradition for the Spanish Riding School to have at least one bay Lipizzan stallion in residence, and this tradition is continued through the present day.[7]


Lipizzan Stallion, Schönbrunn Palace

The ancestors of the Lipizzan can be traced to approximately A.D. 800.[8] The earliest predecessors of the Lipizzan originated in the 7th century when Barb horses were brought into Spain by the Moors and crossed on native Spanish stock. The result was the Andalusian horse and other Iberian horse breeds.[9][10]

By the 16th century, when the Habsburgs ruled both Spain and Austria, a powerful but agile horse was desired both for military uses and for use in the fashionable and rapidly growing riding schools for the nobility of central Europe. Therefore, in 1562, the Habsburg Emperor Maximillian II brought the Spanish Andalusian horse to Austria and founded the court stud at Kladrub. In 1580, his brother, Archduke Charles II, established a similar stud at Lipizza (now Lipica), located in modern-day Slovenia, from which the breed obtained its name.[2][9] The name of the village itself derives from the Slovenian word lipa, meaning "linden tree."[11]

Spanish, Barb, and Arabian stock were crossed at Lipizza, and succeeding generations were crossed with the now-extinct Neapolitan breed from Italy and other Baroque horses of Spanish descent obtained from Germany and Denmark.[1] While breeding stock was exchanged between the two studs, Kladrub specialized in producing heavy carriage horses, while riding and light carriage horses came from the Lipizza stud.[2]

Beginning in 1920, the Piber Federal Stud, near Graz, Austria, became the main stud for the horses used in Vienna. Breeding became very selective, only allowing stallions that had proved themselves at the Riding School to stand at stud, and only breeding mares who had passed rigorous performance testing.[12]

Foundation horses

Today, a maximum of eight foundation lines for Lipizzans are recognized by various registries, which refer to them as "dynasties."[13] They are divided into two groups. Six trace to classical foundation stallions used in the 18th and 19th centuries by the Lipizza stud, and two additional lines were not used at Lipizza but were used by other studs within the historic boundaries of the Habsburg Empire.[2]

The six "classical dynasties"[14] are:

There are two additional stallion lines found in Croatia, Hungary, and other eastern European countries as well as in North America.[2] They are accepted as equal to the 6 classical lines by the Lipizzan International Federation (LIF).[13] These are:

There are several other stallion lines that have died out over the years, but were used in the early breeding of the horses.[16] In addition to the foundation stallion lines, there were 20 "classic" mare lines, 14 of which exist today.[17] However, there are up to 35 mare lines recognized by various Lipizzan organizations.[2]

There are traditional naming patterns for both stallions and mares, required by Lipizzan breed registries. Stallions traditionally are given two names, with the first being the line of the sire and the second being the name of the dam. For example, "Maestoso Austria" is a horse sired by Maestoso Trompeta out of a mare named Austria. The horse's sire line tracing to the foundation sire Maestoso. The names of mares are chosen to be "complementary to the traditional Lipizzan line names" and are required to end in the letter "a".[18]

Spanish Riding School

Lipizzans training at the Spanish Riding School
Main article: Spanish Riding School

The world-famous Spanish Riding School uses highly trained Lipizzan stallions in public performances that demonstrate classical dressage movements and training.[19] In 1572 the first Spanish Riding Hall was built, during the Austrian Empire, and is the oldest of its kind in the world.[20] The Spanish Riding School, though located in Vienna, Austria, takes its name from the original Spanish heritage of its horses. In 1729 Charles VI commissioned the building of the Winter Riding School in Vienna and in 1735, the building was completed that remains the home of the Spanish Riding School today.[21]

Wartime preservation

The Lipizzans endured several wartime relocations throughout their history, each of which saved the breed from extinction. The first was in March 1797 during the War of the First Coalition, when the horses were evacuated from Lipica. During the journey, 16 mares gave birth to foals. In November 1797, the horses returned to Lipica, but the stables were in ruins. They were rebuilt, but in 1805, the horses were evacuated again when Napoleon invaded Austria. They remained away from the stud for two years, returning April 1, 1807. But then, following the Treaty of Schönbrunn in 1809, the horses were evacuated three more times during the unsettled period that followed, resulting in the loss of many horses and the destruction of the written studbooks that documented bloodlines of horses prior to 1700. The horses finally returned to Lipica for good in 1815, where they remained for the rest of the 19th century.[22]

The first evacuation of the 20th century occurred in 1915 when the horses were evacuated from Lipica due to World War I and placed at Laxenburg and Kladrub.[23] Following the war, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was broken up, with Lipica becoming part of Italy. Thus, the animals were divided between several different studs in the new postwar nations of Austria, Italy, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia. The nation of Austria kept the stallions of the Spanish Riding School and some breeding stock.[23] By 1920, the Austrian breeding stock was consolidated at Piber.[24]

During World War II, the high command of Nazi Germany transferred most of Europe's Lipizzan breeding stock to Hostau, Czechoslovakia.[23] The breeding stock was taken from Piber in 1942,[24] and additional mares and foals from other European nations arrived in 1943.[23] The stallions of the Spanish Riding School were evacuated to St. Martins, Austria from Vienna in January 1945, when bombing raids neared the city and the head of the Spanish Riding School, Colonel Alois Podhajsky, feared the horses were in danger.[25] By spring of 1945, the horses at Hostau were threatened by the advancing Soviet army, which might have slaughtered the animals for horse meat had it captured the facility.[25]

The rescue of the Lipizzans by the United States Army, made famous by the Disney movie Miracle of the White Stallions, occurred in two parts: The United States Third Army under the command of General George S. Patton, was near St. Martins in the spring of 1945 and learned that the Lipizzan stallions were in the area.[26] Patton himself was a horseman, and like Podhajsky, had competed in the Olympic Games.[26] On May 7, 1945, Podhajsky put on an exhibition of the Spanish Riding School stallions for Patton and Undersecretary of War Robert P. Patterson, and at its conclusion requested that Patton take the horses under his protection.[27]

Meanwhile, the Third Army's United States Second Cavalry, a tank unit under the command of Colonel Charles Reed, had discovered the horses at Hostau, where there were also 400 Allied prisoners of war, and had occupied it on April 28, 1945. "Operation Cowboy", as the rescue was known, resulted in the recovery of 1,200 horses, including 375 Lipizzans.[25] Patton learned of the raid, and arranged for Podhajsky to fly to Hostau.[28] On May 12, American soldiers began riding, trucking and herding the horses 35 miles across the border into Kotztinz, Germany.[25] The Lipizzans were eventually settled in temporary quarters in Wimsbach, until the breeding stock returned to Piber in 1952,[24] and the stallions returned to the Spanish Riding School in 1955.[29] In 2005, the Spanish Riding School celebrated the 60th anniversary of Patton's rescue by touring the United States.[30]

During the Croatian War of Independence, from 1991 to 1995, the horses at the Lipik stable in Croatia were taken by the Serbs to Novi Sad, Serbia. The horses remained there until 2007,[31] when calls began to be made for them to be returned to their country of origin. In October 2007, 60 horses were returned to Croatia.[32]

Modern breed

The Lipizzan breed suffered a setback to its population when a viral epidemic hit the Piber Stud in 1983. Forty horses and eight percent of the expected foal crop were lost. Since then, the population at the stud increased. By 1994 there were 100 mares at the stud with and a foal crop of 56 born in 1993. In 1994, the rate of successful pregnancy and birth of foals increased from 27% to 82% as the result of a new veterinary center.[33] In 1996, a study funded by the European Union Indo-Copernicus Project assessed 586 Lipizzan horses from eight stud farms in Europe, with the goal of developing a "scientifically-based description of the Lipizzan horse".[34] A study of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) was performed on 212 of the animals, and those studied were found to contain 37 of the 39 known mtDNA haplotypes known in modern horses, meaning that they show a high degree of genetic diversity. This was what had been expected, as it was known that the mare families of the Lipizzan included a large number of different breeds, including Arabians, Thoroughbreds, and other European breeds.[34][35]

Lipica stud farm, Slovenia

The Lipizzan International Federation (LIF) is the international governing organization for the breed, composed of many national and private organizations representing the Lipizzan. The organizations work together under the banner of the LIF to promote the breed and maintain standards.[36] As of 2012, there were almost 11,000 Lipizzans registered with the LIF residing with private breeders in 19 countries and at 9 state studs in Europe. The largest number are in Europe, with almost 9,000 registered horses, followed by the Americas, with just over 1,700, then Africa and Australia with around 100 horses each. The nine state studs that are part of the LIF represent almost one-quarter of the horses in Europe. Sâmbăta de Jos, in Romania, has the greatest number of horses, with 400, followed by Piber in Austria (360), Lipica in Slovenia (358), Szilvásvárad in Hungary (262), Monterotondo in Italy (230), Đakovo-Lipik in Croatia (220) and Topoľčianky in Slovakia (200). The other two studs are smaller, with Vučijak in Bosnia having 130 horses and Karađorđevo in Serbia having just 30.[37] Educational programs have been developed in order to promote the breed and foster adherence to traditional breeding objectives.[2]

Because of the status of Lipizzans as the only breed of horse developed in Slovenia, via the Lipica stud that is now located within its borders, Lipizzans are recognized in Slovenia as a national animal. For example, a pair of Lipizzans is featured on the 20-cent Slovenian euro coins.[38] Mounted regiments of Carabinieri police in Italy also employ the Lipizzan as one of their mounts.[39] In October 2008, during a visit to Slovenia, a Lipizzan at Lipica, named 085 Favory Canissa XXII, was given to Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. She decided to leave the animal in the care of the stud farm.[40]

Training and uses

Lipizzans in Slovenia

The traditional horse training methods for Lipizzans were developed at the Spanish Riding School and are based on the principles of classical dressage, which in turn traces to the Ancient Greek writer Xenophon, whose works were rediscovered in the 16th century.[41] His thoughts on development of horses' mental attitude and psyche are still considered applicable today. Other writers who strongly influenced the training methods of the Spanish Riding School include Federico Grisone, the founder of the first riding academy in Naples, who lived during the 16th century; and Antoine de Pluvinel and François Robichon de la Guérinière, two Frenchmen from the 17th and 18th centuries. The methods for training the Lipizzan stallions at the Spanish Riding School were passed down via an oral tradition until Field Marshal Franz Holbein and Johann Meixner, Senior Rider at the School, published the initial guidelines for the training of horse and rider at the School in 1898. In the mid-20th century, Alois Podhajsky wrote a number of works that serve as textbooks for many dressage riders today.[21][42]

The principles taught at the Spanish Riding School are based on practices taught to cavalry riders to prepare their horses for warfare.[43] Young stallions come to the Spanish Riding School for training when they are four years old. Full training takes an average of six years for each horse, and schooling is considered complete when they have mastered the skills required to perform the "School Quadrille".[19] There are three progressively more difficult skill sets taught to the stallions, which are:

Although the Piber Stud trains mares for driving and under saddle,[33] the Spanish Riding School exclusively uses stallions in its performances.[19] Worldwide, the Lipizzan today competes in dressage and driving, as well as retaining their classic position at the Spanish Riding School.[2]

"Airs above the ground"

Pesade performed during an open-air performance of the South African Lipizzaners from Johannesburg

The "airs above the ground" are the difficult "high school" dressage movements made famous by the Lipizzans.[45] The finished movements include:

Other movements include:

Lipizzans have starred or played supporting roles in many movies, TV shows, books and other media.

The 1940 film Florian stars two Lipizzan stallions. It was based on a 1934 novel written by Felix Salten. The wife of the film's producer owned the only Lipizzans in the US at the time that the movie was made.[47] The rescue during World War II of the Lipizzan stallions is depicted in the 1963 Walt Disney movie Miracle of the White Stallions. The movie was the only live-action, relatively realistic film set against a World War II backdrop that Disney has ever produced.[48] In the feature film Crimson Tide, a discussion between the two main characters over whether Lipizzans came from Spain or Portugal, and whether they are born white or black, is used to represent the film's suppressed racial conflict and the dividing of the world between two main powers during the Cold War.[49]

Television programs featuring the Lipizzans include The White Horses, a 1965 children's television series co-produced by RTV Ljubljana (now RTV Slovenija) of Yugoslavia[50] and BR-TV of Germany, re-broadcast in the United Kingdom. It followed the adventures of a teenage girl who visits a farm where Lipizzan horses are raised.[51] Many books and poems mention or star Lipizzans. In 2011, the Dutch writer Frank Westerman published a book on the history of the 20th century through the perspective of the Lipizzan horses, Brother Mendel's Perfect Horse.[52] In the 2004 novel The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson, Lipizzan horses and the Spanish Riding School are key elements of both the plot and the setting.[53] Lipizzans and the Spanish Riding School also play a crucial role in Mary Stewart's 1965 novel Airs Above the Ground[54] and Marguerite Henry's 1964 children's novel White Stallion of Lipizza.[55] In the 1960s, the Slovene poet Edvard Kocbek wrote a poem dedicated to the Lipizzan horses.[56] On June 21, 2011 Annie Wedekind released "Mercury's Flight: The Story of a Lipizzaner Stallion" through Breyer Horses as part of The Breyer Horse Collection book series.[57] In the Season 1 episode of The Angry Beavers "Fancy Prance" Norbert confesses to Daggett that his lifelong dream is to become a Lipizzaner Stallion. Former concert promoter Gary Lashinsky owned The World Famous Lipizzaner Stallions until they filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and permanently closed.[58] A new movie based on the World War II evacuation of Lipizzaners from a Nazi breeding farm is expected to hit theaters in December 2016.[59]


  1. 1 2 Das K.K. Hofgestüt zu Lippiza 1580-1880, Wien 1880
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 "Lipizzan Origins". Lipizzan Association of North America. Retrieved 2008-09-17.
  3. 1 2 Edwards, The Encyclopedia of the Horse, p.111.
  4. Bongianni, Simon & Schuster's Guide to Horses and Ponies, Entry 37.
  5. 1 2 "Introduction to Coat Color Genetics". Veterinary Genetics Laboratory. University of California, Davis. Retrieved 2008-09-19.
  6. "Lipizzaner". Breeds of Livestock. Oklahoma State University. Retrieved 2008-09-19.
  7. Swinney, Horse Breeds of the World, p.52.
  8. "The Lipizzaner". Equiworld. Archived from the original on 2008-04-30. Retrieved 2008-09-17.
  9. 1 2 Jankovich, They Rode Into Europe, p. 77
  10. "Andalusian". Breeds of Livestock. Oklahoma State University. Retrieved 2008-11-05.
  11. Snoj, Marko (2009). Etimološki slovar slovenskih zemljepisnih imen. Modrijan and Založba ZRC. pp. 234–235.
  12. "The Lipizzan Horses". Piber Stud. Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2008-09-17.
  13. 1 2 "Breed Standards". Lipizzan International Federation. Retrieved 2014-04-29.
  14. 1 2 3 4 "Sire Lines". Lipizzan International Federation. Retrieved 2014-04-29.
  15. "Lipizzans". Classical Dressage. Ritter Dressage. Retrieved 2008-09-19.
  16. Dolenc, Lipizzaner, p. 49
  17. Dolenc, Lipizzaner, p. 51
  18. "Rules/Evaluations". Lipizzan Association of North America. Retrieved 2008-09-17.
  19. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "The Stallions". Spanish Riding School. Retrieved 2012-03-16.
  20. Podhajsky, The Complete Training of Horse and Rider, p. 249
  21. 1 2 "The Spanish Riding School". Spanish Riding School. Retrieved 2012-03-16.
  22. "Lipizzan Horse History". Lipizzan International Federation. Retrieved 2008-11-19.
  23. 1 2 3 4 "Lipizzan Breed History". United States Lipizzan Registry. Retrieved 2008-12-06.
  24. 1 2 3 "History". Piber Stud. Retrieved 2011-12-08.
  25. 1 2 3 4 Davis, Susan (October 16, 1995). "Operation Cowboy". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2008-12-08.
  26. 1 2 Sosby, Brian (October 2005). "The 2005 Lipizzaner Tour of the Spanish Riding School" (PDF). Equestrian. Retrieved 2008-11-24.
  27. Patton, The Patton Papers, p. 697
  28. Hirshson, General Patton, p. 635
  29. "The History". Spanish Riding School. Retrieved 2011-12-08.
  30. "After 15 Year Absence Legendary Lipizzaner Stallions of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna Set Return for U.S. Tour". Business Wire. 2005-05-05. Retrieved 2008-09-19.
  31. Boris Orešić (2010-12-28). "Pomor u zajednici bijelih griva - I Lipicance ubijaju, zar ne?". Globus (in Croatian). Archived from the original on 2011-01-01.
  32. "Croatian Lipizzaners Return Home". Lipizzan Association of North America. Retrieved 2014-04-29.
  33. 1 2 Edwards, The Encyclopedia of the Horse, p. 129
  34. 1 2 Kelly, Jeff & Kelly-Simmons, Lisa (Winter 2012). "Mitochondrial DNA Genetics of Lipizzans" (PDF). USLF News.
  35. Kavar, Tatjana; Brem, Gottfried; Habe, Franc; Sölkner, Johann; Dovč, Peter (2002). "History of Lipizzan horse maternal lines as revealed by mtDNA analysis" (PDF). Genet. Sel. Evol. 34 (5): 635–648. doi:10.1051/gse:2002028. PMC 2705438Freely accessible. PMID 12427390.
  36. "Gründung" (in German). Lipizzan International Federation. Retrieved 2014-04-26.
  37. Manz, Christian G.M. (October 2012). "Purebred Lipizzans Registered by Members of Lipizzan International Federation". Lipizzan International Federation. Retrieved 2014-04-28.
  38. Manske, Michael. "Slovenia Banks on the Euro". Network Europe. Retrieved 2008-09-24.
  39. Lipizzan horses used by Mounted Carabinieri Regiments
  40. Vukic, Snjezana (2008-10-22). "Slovenia Gives Britain's Queen a Lipizzaner Horse". USA Today. Associated Press. Retrieved 2011-12-08.
  41. Gibbon, Abby (September 29, 2011). "Xenophon, Forefather Of Dressage". Chronicle of the Horse. Retrieved 2014-04-22.
  42. "Classical Equitation". Spanish Riding School. Archived from the original on 2006-05-22. Retrieved 2009-01-07.
  43. Podhajsky, The Complete Training of Horse and Rider, p. 24
  44. Podhajsky, The Complete Training of Horse and Rider, pp. 25-26
  45. Podhajsky, The Complete Training of Horse and Rider, p. 268
  46. Podhajsky, The Complete Training of Horse and Rider, pp. 269-274
  47. "Florian". Lipizzan Association of North America. Retrieved 2008-09-17.
  48. Brode, From Walt to Woodstock, p.169.
  49. Huber, Christoph; Peranson, Mark. "World Out of Order: Tony Scott's Vertigo". Cinema Scope. Archived from the original on 2009-02-11. Retrieved 2008-09-18.
  50. Liška, Miklavž ed. (1988). RTV Ljubljana. Ljubljana: Radiotelevision Ljubljana. p. 33.
  51. Marcus, Laurence (2007). "The White Horses". Television Heaven. Retrieved 2014-04-29.
  52. Shilling, Jane (2012-08-07). "Brother Mendel's Perfect Horse by Frank Westerman: review". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  53. Trelease, Jim. "The Treasury of Read-Alouds". The Read-Aloud Handbook. Reading Tree Productions. Retrieved 2008-09-18.
  54. "Airs Above the Ground". Mary Stewart. Retrieved 2008-09-18.
  55. Helbig and Perkins, Dictionary of American children's fiction, 1960-1984, p. 278
  56. "The Lipizzaner". Poetry International. Retrieved 2014-04-22.
  57. Mercury's Flight: The Story of a Lipizzaner Stallion
  58. Oviedo-based World Famous Lipizzaner Stallions show files for bankruptcy
  59. New movie to feature lipizzaner rescue of WW2


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