by Laura Wiener~Smolka

It has been said that Pegasus, in all his glory, had only two things the Lipizzans do not...wings...and even without them, these magnificent horses are airborne.


Lipizzans are Europe's oldest domesticated breed of horse. They represent over 400 years of select breeding, held apart from the world, founded upon selections of the most superior horses gathered from all over the world. They not only possess beauty and nobility, but also a rare combination of courage, strength, ability, temperament, and intelligence.

The Lipizzan breed had its beginning in 1580 when Archduke Charles established the studfarm in Lipizza (Lipica), using the best imported Spanish horses, Andalusions, Barbs and Berbers bred to the local Karst horses. The Karst horses were white in color, small, slow to mature, and extremely tough. Most people have the false idea that Lipizzans inherited their high stepping gait from the Spanish horse. It was the Karst horse who gave the Lipizzan its high stepping gate.

In the late 1700's the horses were moved three times during the Napoleonic Wars. Napolean gained possession of the horses for a while and bred his Arab stallion, VESIR, to the Lipizzaners. Seven Arab stallions were used to develop the breed during the period from 1807 to 1856. They were: SIGLAVY, TADMOR, GAZLAN, SAYDAN, SAMSON, HADUDI, and BEN AZET. From 1792 to 1815, the Kladruby horse helped to develop two of the Lipizzan lines (Maestoso & Favory). By 1880 there were 341 Lipizzan horses at the Lipizza studfarm. Of all the sires used in the 18th and 19th centuries, only six founded the original stallion lines of the Lipizzan breed: SIGLAVY, NEAPOLITANO, MAESTOSO, FAVORY, PLUTO, and CONVERSANO. Later, in Croatia and Hungary, the TULIPAN and INCITATO lines were developed.

Throughout history, the Lipizzans' existence has been threatened by numerous wars and lack of suitable food and shelter for long periods of time. During World War I the Lipizzans were moved again, and at the end of the war (1919), they were divided between Italy and Austria. There were only 208 Lipizzans known to be left in existence. Italy received 109 horses for its stud farm in Lipizza and 98 horses for the Austrian studfarm of Piber. The Lipizzans were once again evacuated during World War II to Houstau in 1943.

In 1945, General Patton executed a daring rescue of the Lipizzans, the story of which is told in Walt Disney's movie, THE MIRACLE OF THE WHITE STALLIONS. Again, at the end of World War II, the Lipizzans numbered less than 200 and were divided between countries. It was not until 1955 that the performance stallions returned to the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. Now there are Lipizzan stud farms in Austria, Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, as well as South Africa, Austrialia, France, and Germany.


Lipizzans are not very tall, the largest about 16 hands, but their proud carriage, muscular bodies and elastic, powerful movements make them appear much larger than they really are. Lipizzans are late maturing and long lived, many times to 35 or more years of age. Lipizzans display elegance and nobility as soon as they are born. They are born black or bay and slowly turn "white" by the time they are five to eight years of age. Lipizzans are actually grey; their dark skin hidden under a white coat is not revealed unless they are wet or bear a large scar. They are not fully grown in size until they are seven and do not reach full maturity until almost ten years of age. At one year of age, most Lipizzans look shockingly small compared to a Thoroughbred of the same age.

In addition, by the time they are eight months of age most Lipizzans begin to go through the most awkward, ugly duckling stage from which they do not usually emerge until they are about three years old. During this period of awkwardness a typical Lipizzan is barely recognized as a member of his breed. He looks more like a molting mule. In Austria the young Lipizzans are turned out in the alps until they are brought back at the age of three. That is when the elegance a Lipizzan possessed at birth returns and is increasingly manifested, even through old age, until the day he dies.

The Lipizzan has a head-heavy, lethargic stance when found in the paddock. When he is turned out or ridden, there is an unforgettable display of fiery animation, with head held high, neck arched, nostrils flared and an inborn ability to leave the ground with incredible power and grace. Then, when approached by a person with a kind word, there is yet another transformation, almost instantaneously, to a docile, gentle horse. He displays obedience and a desire to understand and please, yet without losing his proud bearing and superior presence.

Lipizzans are of sound, heavy bone and lameness is rare. They are extremely adaptable to frequent or rapid changes in their environment and their feed. It is their easy going nature and adaptability that makes them very easy keepers. These are, no doubt, the same qualities which enabled the breed to survive some thirty years of being protectively marched around Europe to various hiding places.

Lipizzans are a joy to ride with their soft, broad backs and lively gait. Their powerful hindquarters allow them to carry themselves with a natural balance. They have a natural sense of rhythm and maintain a very even tempo in all paces without constant adjustment on the part of the rider. They are extremely quiet and steady under saddle.

The stallions are extremely docile and easily handled. They are, in fact, easier to manage than the mares. Respect, once earned by the handler, will always be there with the Lipizzan stallions. The mares, on the other hand, tend to be a little bossy in a motherly way and must be reminded from time to time that they cannot pull parental rank on the handler.

They rarely shy at anything, and if they do, strangely, it is not for the reasons most horses shy. When a Lipizzan is startled there is no feeling of fear or trembling. His back does not hollow out and leave the rider without a place to sit; rather, a Lipizzan collects himself--his hind legs step under his body, his back elevates, seating his rider even more securely in the saddle. The neck arches, insisting that the rider take up more rein. The horse begins piaffe (a powerful trot in place full of cadence and rythm) with exhilarating power and boldness. He feels like a coiled spring just waiting for the command to capriole through the air. If instead the rider gives to the horse the smallest amount of rein, the piaffe extends to the passage (a slow motion floating trot). This they do naturally. The Lipizzan makes even a beginning rider believe, just for a moment, that he/she is an old, respected riding master.

When a Lipizzan is startled, even over and over, there is no mounting tension. He quickly recovers because he seems to consider each occurence as an isolated incident. Calmed by only a few reassuring words from his keeper, a Lipizzan will remain obedient and reliable in the most outrageous and demanding circumstances.

He will respond with willingness and heart when respectfully asked to do so, even by the most inexperienced horseperson ... but woe to the person who believes "a horse is a horse" and attempts to display an egotistical desire to bully or intimidate the Lipizzan. When they are truly afraid or their sense of justice is violated by brutality, they stand their ground, look the opponent in the eye, and "royally" prepare for battle--the very purpose for which they were first bred 400 years ago.


Careful selection of a trainer or handler for a Lipizzan is necessary. A horse of such intelligence, and in possession of such a sense of identity as the Lipizzan, requires a handler who can be flexible, treat him respectfully, and take an individualized approach to his training.

As the late Col. Alois Podjasky (former director of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna) once said, without the subtle variations and adaptations of the method to the individual, riding would remain a sport limited to the level of handicraft, without ever rising to the sphere of art.

The airs above the ground, such as levade, courbette and ballotade are witnessed from the time a Lipizzan is only a few days old, and they are later easily elicited. One must not be tempted to encourage these movements under saddle until more elementary training has been accomplished. Otherwise the training of a simple reinback, for example, could result in the trainer's being caught off guard when he finds himself being carried through the air in a ballotade (a movement which looks similar to a rearing horse hopping on his hind legs).

A Lipizzan's early training under saddle must focus on a long, lengthened stride with the head stretched down, reaching for the bit. Asking the Lipizzan to carry himself like a "parade horse" during training will result in the neck muscles developing before they are lengthened, sacrificing flexibility in later years. This is especially important with stallions.

In addition, once the trainer is sure the Lipizzan knows what he is asking for whether it be on the ground or under saddle, he must ask only once. If there is not an immediate, obedient response, an appropriate discipline must be administered, such as a firm, well-placed smack of the whip. In contrast to a Thoroughbred, for example, a Lipizzan is not very impressed by the whip. It is important that it be used with one swift, firm swat and not as a nagging tool, or he will become completely dull (due to his nature to endure pain & hardship) to the whip, and of course, the aids.

Lipizzans have a large capacity to learn. They can be taught a number of different things in a single training session without losing their patience or their desire to learn. However, if not previously handled, the first "training" must begin slowly until the relationship and communication between horse and man is established. Then Lipizzans are so easily trained and learn so quickly and obediently, that the trainer of a Lipizzan is often accused by horsepersons to have unfairly "pushed" the horse. This is a natural assumption to make because very few horses learn so quickly with such physical and mental stamina. The Lipizzan has an attention span and memory that is remarkable.


The first Lipizzans to be privately owned and to be brought to the United States were brought over in 1937 by the Austrian born opera singer, MADAME MARIA JERITZA. Jeritza brought her two stallions and 2 mares to California and her husband (Winfield Sheehan) produced a movie in 1938 with the Lipizzan PLUTO II-1 and Neapolitano Conversana (known as "Emperor") based on Felix Salten's book "Florian." Then in 1945, General Patton brought back from the Austrians, the stallion PLUTO XX and several mares. When the Army disbanded its calvary, they and their offspring were auctioned off at the Kellog Remount Station in 1949. Some went to circuses.

In 1955, millionaire TEMPEL SMITH (Tempel Steel) of Chicago, Illinois, imported 20 Lipizzans from Austria, 11 from Hungary, and 6 from Yugoslavia. He devoted 15 years, until his death in 1980, importing and breeding his herd to over 400 horses. Since Tempel Smith's death, much of the herd was disbursed. However, TEMPEL FARMS still breeds a number of Lipizzans each year, and GEORGE WILLIAMS, successfully competes Lipizzans for Tempel Farms.

In 1959 a New York brewery imported 8 Lipizzans. Lipizzans and Lipizzan-Arab crosses were used for the chariot races in the movie BEN HUR. In 1961 EVELYN DREITZLER, of Washington, imported 20 Lipizzans and began a breeding program at RAFLYN FARMS. However, in 1975, a dam broke and tragically killed 28 of her Lipizzan horses. In 1976, one of her 15-year old Lipizzan stallions, PLUTO CALCEDONA, made his film debut as Buffalo Bill's horse in a PAUL NEWMAN movie.

Until about 1981, Lipizzans were very difficult to acquire. Now they are growing rapidly in numbers all over the United States. Disneyland owns a number of Lipizzan mares; the Marine Corps uses them in their Color Guard; and, even President Reagan had one.

The number of Lipizzans in California is estimated to be 200. Current estimates are: 800 in the United States; less than 3000 worldwide, ranging from newborn to 35 or more years of age. Many are in former communist countries. There are now more than 20 breeders in California, Oregon, Washington, and Arizona. Although Lipizzans are increasing in numbers and are available for purchase at reasonable prices, most people don't advertise them for sale because they are usually approached by buyers soon after a foal is born. People buy Lipizzans because they want a special, unique horse. More and more people are discovering Lipizzans and their calm disposition, trainability, and versatile gaits.


For many years there was no United States registry for the horses. Each farm kept their own records and registry. One of those registries was the "Royal International Lipizzan Club," formed by Col. Ottomar Herrmann in 1968. It was later sold to John Iannuzzi of New York and was renamed "Lipizzan Association of America."

In 1980 the United States Lipizzan Registry (USLR) was formed by Kathy Naugle and a group of Lipizzan enthusiasts. Since that time the registry has grown to include over 100 horses in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. The registry researches and documents pedigrees, publishes a quarterly journal, and participates in USDF competition awards. In order to expand the breeding base in the United States, the USLR allows artificial insemination and the transporting of semen to breed. There are regional Lipizzan Associations in every area of the United States now. They sponsor shows, awards, and local newsletters. Later, another registry was formed, LANA, as well as the international organization Lipizzan International Federation (LIF).

The number of half-Lipizzans now registered has grown to over 250. The half-Lipizzan owners are considering possibilities for forming their own registry. Crossbreeding has become popular, not only in Europe, but in the United States and Mexico. In Mexico and some parts of the U.S., Lipizzans are crossbred to quarter horses to produce excellent working cow horses. When bred to Thoroughbreds, they produce exceptional event horses. Arabs are frequently bred to Lipizzans to produce slightly heavier boned Arab-looking horse. Lipizzans consistently impart their prepotent qualities of intelligence, temperament, and soundness, (and, in almost all cases, color). It remains to be seen if they impart their longevity to other breeds. Lipizzans will not only continue to gain popularity as more people come to know them, but also as a foundation breed to produce a superior all-around American warmblood sporthorse--and possibly an American warmblood pony breed.

Lipizzan horses excel in dressage, especially at the upper levels. Most all Lipizzans are outstanding in competition and in upper level movements such as piaffe, passage, and canter pirouettes, with a brilliance not usually seen in other breeds. These abilities are inborn to the Lipizzan.

They excel not only as driving and dressage horses, but for jumping, cutting, reining, endurance, trail, vaulting, and of course for pleasure. They are used extensively for handicapped riding programs. In spite of their royalty, they are truly an all-around horse capable of performing whatever task is required.

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