The Lipizzaner (or Lipizzan as it is called in North America) is one of Europe’s oldest breeds of horse. It is also arguably one of the most well-known due to the Spanish Riding School of Vienna and the famous rescue which took place during World War II by American troops and was recounted in the Disney movie Miracle of the White Stallions.
The Lipizzan is descended from the Spanish horse that was produced by the Moors in the 8th century by crossing Barb and Arab stallions with Iberian mares, creating a sturdy yet beautiful animal. During the Renaissance, a light, fast horse was needed for the military and also for the riding school for the classical riding revival. In 1562, Maximillian II of the Austrian House of Habsburg imported Spanish horses and founded the court stud at Kladrub; his brother Charles set up another imperial stud farm in 1580 in Lipica (Lipizza in Italian] which was the origin of the name Lippizaner.
The horses bred at Kladrub were of the heavy carriage variety, while the horses from Lipica were lighter carriage horses and riding mounts. Six stallions from the 18th and 19th centuries made up the foundation sire lines: Conversano, Favory, Maestoso, Neapolitano, Pluto, and Siglavy.
The Spanish Riding School of Vienna was established in the mid-1500s to promote the art of classical horsemanship. The school now exclusively uses Lipizzaners bred at the Piber Federal Stud to perform the spectacular ‘haute école’ movements of dressage, including the levade, courbette, and capriole.
Despite evacuations during the world wars and a viral epidemic which hit the Piber Stud in 1983, the Lippizaner population has steadily increased. Today, there are nearly 11,000 animals worldwide registered with the Lipizzan International Federation.
Lipizzans are predominantly grey, although they are usually born a darker colour and gradually lighten between the ages of 6 and 10. With a sturdy body and proud carriage, the Lipizzan has a noble head with large, kind eyes and small, alert ears, a well-crested neck, powerful shoulders, muscular hindquarters, and strong legs. A compact equine, height ranges between 14.2-15.2 hands.
The breed also possesses good agility and stamina, as well as being intelligent and obedient.
In addition to performances at the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Lipizzaners are used for carriage driving, pleasure riding, and competitive dressage.