Often referred to as Lipizzaners, these gorgeous horses can trace their history way back to the early part of the 15th century. The Lipizzans came about when the finest and purest bred Arab horses were introduced to the athletic and tremendously powerful local Spanish horses during a period of time when the Moors occupied Spain.
The result of this breeding was a glorious success story, producing a sturdy, intelligent and truly beautiful horse. It was not long before a Lippizzan caught the eye of Maximillian II and his interest was so great, he brought some of these horses back to Austria with him in the mid 15th century. Together with his brother Archduke Charles, both royals founded royal stud farms with the horses they brought back from Spain being their main breeding stock.
The first stud being established at Klabrub by Maximillian II, and the second founded by his brother Archduke Charles, was established later that century in a place called Lipizzaner in Slovenia which is close to the Adriatic Sea. So it was the name of these Spanish horses was born, the Lipizzan.
Both royal and elite stud farms went from strength to strength with the one at Kladrub producing some magnificent heavy carriage horses. However, the stud at Lipizzaner began to breed riding horses as well as much lighter carriage horses. Both studs remained closely linked and occasionally swapped breeding stock to improve it and to enlarge the gene pool. The two main stallions of the Lipizzans we see today were bred at the Kladrup stud, they were called Maestoso and Favory.
Through the following centuries new stallions were purchased and introduced in order to strengthen the original Spanish-Arab mix. During the 17th century Sires were found in Denmark and Holstein and bought back to Austria because these stallions boasted being of pure Spanish decent. Then in the 1800s, the original Spanish horse bloodlines dried up which saw the two stud farms purchase seven pure bred Arabs to help replenish as well as perpetuate the Lippizan line.
Of the seven original Arabs introduced in the 1800s, today, only six of them are accepted as being the founding stallions of the Lippizzans of modern times. As well as the 6 stallion bloodlines, there were 18 mares used to produce 18 family lines too.
In times long past “white” horses were the preferred colour of many European royal families and today, grey is still the predominant Lipizzan colour. However, two hundred years ago Lipizzans boasted other colours too, with black, chestnut, brown, dun as well as the more extraordinary skewbald and piebald being frequently bred. Today, however, any Lipizzan that's not grey is a rare horse indeed with some black or bays only occasionally being the result of carefully managed breeding.
When Lipizzan foals are first born, they are dark in colour although very occasionally they can be a mouse-grey too. Between the ages of 6 and 10, their coats go lighter until eventually they turn pure white, although there are a few Lipizzans that remains dark but as previously mentioned, this very rarely occurs.
The Lipizzan is renowned for their kind and patient natures, and although they are not a tall horse, standing anything between 14.3 to 15.3 hands, they are incredibly powerful looking. The Arab in the breed is very noticeable in the Lipizzan's head and especially in their eyes and tiny, alert ears and noses. Like a true Arab, when Lipizzans move, they hold their tails proudly very high in the air.
The Spanish Riding School is situated in Vienna and for the last four and a half centuries not much has changed. The tradition of the Lipizzan and its classical “haute école” Renaissance school of riding has remained exactly the same for the last 440 years or so.
The whole object of this classical riding is today, the same as it has ever been, which is to study the way the magnificent horse moves and then to cultivate these actions to such a level for it to be deemed an elegance classed as “haute école” or “schools above the ground”.
Lipizzans go through systematic training, and the results are astounding with an unparalleled understanding and harmony between horse and rider that's second to none. No other level of horsemanship can be found anywhere in the world – it is quite unique to the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.
These amazing horses and their trainers and riders travel around the world giving exhibitions of the outstanding level of riding and horsemanship they have achieved. People go these splendid shows to witness these small but powerful horses demonstrate just what they are capable of doing. One of their “repertoires” is called The Ballet of the White Stallions which takes riding to a whole new level.
The “Pas de Deux” is amazing, the Work in Hand takes your breath away and the eight magnificent white stallions when they perform in the School Quadrille show a level of coordination, balance and horsemanship that's hard to believe unless you witness their displays for yourself.
Anyone who has the opportunity to go along to one of these magnificent shows of ultimate horsemanship, should not miss out on the opportunity to see these beautiful white stallions perform.
Lipizzans are not the right choice for first time horse owners. Also many people do not realise just how small the breed actually is, they only stand at anything between 14.2 to 15.2 hands. They are extremely intelligent and quick on the uptake which means they need a firm yet gentle hand. The one thing that is a pre-requisite to owning a Lipizzan is patience because the breed matures a lot later than others and should not be ridden under saddle until they are four years old. Other breeds can be backed a year earlier when they are three.
If you would like to find out more about the lovely white lipizzans, you may like to check with a rescue centre first. Many people have to give up their horses for many reasons, it could be due to a change of circumstance but for whatever reason, you might find a gorgeous Lipizzan that's desperate to find a new and loving, safe environment to live in, which you could offer them.