The Lipizzaner horse, sometimes called simply the Lipizzan, is a breed that is directly associated with haute ecole dressage. This form of dressage movements is one of the highest levels that current exists and requires the horse to leap off of the ground. One of the top riding schools in the world that teaches this dressage, the Spanish Riding School of Vienna in Austria, is closely associated with this breed of horse.
Lipizzaner horses have been trained in the same way for hundreds of years, with the first documented training of the breed coming in the 1500s from the Hapsburg nobility. The name of the breed comes from one of the first stud farms for the breed, located in the village of Lipica. In Italian, however, the name of the village is spelled “Lipizza.”
Here are some more interesting Lipizzaner horse facts to discover about this wonderful breed.
#1. Lipizzaner horses have been endangered numerous times.
With the various wars that have been fought in Europe over the past 500 years, there have been numerous instances when the Lipizzaner breed was almost completely wiped out. One of the reasons why it continues to exist is because of rescue efforts taken by US troops during World War II to save the breed. Walt Disney documented these efforts in the movie Miracle of the White Stallions.
Part of the reason for this endangerment was how private the breeding process was for Lipizzaner horses. Until 1916, the stud farm was a private possession of the Hapsburg family. The horse lines would only expand when a horse needed to be sold or given to someone, which would create other small breeding farms.
#2. Just eight stallions are considered to be the foundation stock of the breed.
All of the stallions for the Lipizzaner horses were foaled either in the late 1700s or the early 1800s. All modern horses of the breed can trace their lineage to these eight stallions and every breeding stallion has included in their name the foundation sire for their bloodline. Up to 35 mare lines are also recognized through the various breed registries that are maintained around the world.
Each foundation line for the Lipizzaners is referred to as a “dynasty.” There are six dynasties that are considered to be “classical.” Two additional lines are found in Eastern Europe and North America and are considered to be equal to the classic dynasties that are traditionally recognized.
#3. The largest Lipizzaner breed registry has just 11,000 horses.
The Lipizzan International Federation is, by far, the largest breed member organization for these horses in the world today. It covers horses that are in 19 countries and includes 9 state studs that reside in Europe. Most Lipizzaner horses live in Europe, though some are also on other continents.
There are currently about 1,700 horses that are registered through the Federation in North and South America. Australia and African have about 100 horses registered each.
This includes all qualifying Lipizzaner horses, including those that may not be purebred. The total number of actual purebred Lipizzans in the world today is believed to number fewer than 3,000 and only a handful of foals are born each year from this number.
#4. Although they are often called a “white” horse, Lipizzaner horses are usually gray.
Most Lipizzaner horses are a grey, somewhat off-white color in terms of their coat. There are some solid color horses in this breed which may be black or bay. These horses have black skin and dark eyes. Most Lipizzans are actually born with a darker coat that becomes whiter as they get older. Their coat reaches a full gray color, which may be almost white, by the time they reach 10 years of age.
Until the 1700s, Lipizzans had many other coat colors, including chestnut, dun, piebald, and skewbald. The royal family preferred the grey coat, so the color became emphasized in breeding during the 18th century. For stables that maintain Lipizzaners, it is a tradition to include at least one solid bay horse in residence.
#5. The history of the Lipizzaner lineage dates back to the 600s.
Lipizzaner horses come from the same stock of other Iberian breeds, such as the Andalusian. This means their origination is traced back to when Barb horses were brought to Spain and crossbred with local stock.
#6. Disease almost decimated the Lipizzaner breed in the 1980s.
A viral epidemic hit one of the major breeders of Lipizzaners in 1983. The Piper Stud lost 40 total horses and 8% of their expected foals. In the next 10 years, the Stud would grow to 100 mares and by 1994, pregnancy and birth rates rose to over 80% thanks to improved veterinary care available in the area.
#7. Slovenia recognizes Lipizzaner horses as a national animal.
This is because Lipizzans are considered to be the only breed of horse that was developed in the country. You’ll find these horses on local euro coins and mounted regiments of law enforcement regularly use this breed. This is despite the fact that the Slovenian Lipizzaner Breeding Association was not established until 1991.
Today visiting the stud farm in Lipica is one of the primary tourist attracts that the nation offers. Not only is it one of the oldest still operating stud farms in the world, guided tours are regularly available for visitors to be able to get to know this majestic breed.
#8. The training methods for Lipizzaner horses is thousands of years old.
Much of the training that is used by the Spanish Riding School and others who focus on the Lipizzaner breed comes from Xenophon of Athens. He was a writer in Ancient Greece who studied the attitudes and psyche of horses in great detail. Much of his work was initially lost, but it was rediscovered in the 1500s and much of it is very applicable still today.
Xenophon was a student of Socrates and recorded the history of his time, including the aftermath of several wars. He was also a mercenary soldier and is one of the few people of his era to hold citizenship in both Athens and Sparta. Athens would eventually exile him for this, as well as possibly other causes, and his work on horsemanship is considered the earliest extant works that is known.
#9. Lipizzaner horses have a relatively long lifespan.
The average expected lifespan for a healthy Lipizzaner is around 30-35 years. This is about 5-10 years longer than the average horse breed. They are generally mild-tempered, though not considered to be a cold-blooded horse. Formal training for a Lipizzaner horse does not even begin until the horse reaches the age of 5.
#10. Because of the naming rules, there can be several duplicate names.
Not only do stallions need to have the name of the foundation stallion as the first part of their name, the dam must be the second part of the name. Mares are also traditionally given names that must end with an “A.” Because of this, there can be several duplications of a name, especially within certain breeding programs.
When this occurs, the horses are distinguished with Roman numerals after their names, much like the traditional family names over multiple generations.
Horses that are only part Lipizzan are not allowed to carry on the naming traditions as the purebred horses.
#11. Lipizzaner horses are usually not very tall.
Most Lipizzaner horses reach a height of 14.2-15.2 hands when they reach a full adult stage, which makes them a fairly average horse in that regard. Some Lipizzans are able to reach a height that exceeds 16 hands.
What makes this breed stand out is the crested neck, muscular hind quarters, and its powerful legs and shoulders. The joints are sturdy and the tendons have good definition, which is what allows the horse to perform the advanced dressage air movements.
Lipizzaner horses also have ears that are small, but remain alert, and eyes that are both large and appealing. Their convex nose provides evidence of their Spanish upbringing, as does the compact body.
#12. Despite their general rarity, purchasing a Lipizzaner horse is rather affordable.
Many Lipizzaner horses are available for around $5,000. This makes this breed one of the most affordable breeds that is considered to be “rare” in the world today. Several breeding programs throughout the world make it possible for virtually everyone who wants a Lipizzaner horse to be able to have one.
#13. Lipizzaner horses which do not excel in dressage are still highly coveted.
Although the first purpose of this breed is typically for show, Lipizzaner horses are a very flexible breed. Those that are not suitable for school training go on to become excellent driving horses, fantastic hunters, and small-event horses.
These Lipizzaner horse facts show that with careful training, selective breeding, and careful management, it is possible to have a highly intelligent, strong, and skillful horse that can do almost anything. This makes this breed of horse one of the most popular and sought after breeds in the world today.