The Lippizaner, or Lipizzan, is one of the most culturally significant European horse breeds. Made famous by the Lipizzaner stallions of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, these horses are recognized worldwide for their classical dressage ability.

Named for the stud farm where they originated, the Lippizaner is the product of nearly five centuries of selective breeding. However, the breed’s famous bloodlines were almost lost during World War II.

While initially developed as the ultimate military horse and used widely in classical riding schools, the Lippizaner is also a popular dressage mount for pleasure riders. With correct care and management, these horses can have exceptionally long athletic careers.

This article will review the origin, history, characteristics, health problems, and nutritional needs of the Lipizzaner horse breed. Keep reading to learn more about caring for and feeding Lipizzaner horses.

Lipizzaner Horse History

The Lipizzaners have become a global emblem of humanity’s remarkable capacity to unite amid times of conflict. Today, UNESCO recognizes knowledge concerning the breeding and classical training of Lipizzan horses as an intangible cultural heritage of mankind.

Origin

The Lippizaner descends from bloodlines that originated in the ninth century when Barb horses brought to Spain by the Moors crossed with native breeds. The resulting Iberian horses gained popularity throughout Europe as mounts for the military and nobility.

The foundation of the Lipizzaner breed began in the court studs of the Habsburg Monarchy in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. When Emperor Maximillian II founded the Spanish Riding School in Vienna in 1572, the school only used horses of Spanish descent.

In 1580, Archduke Charles II imported nine stallions and twenty-four mares from Spain to found the court stud at Lipizza, now modern-day Lipica, Slovenia. Other bloodlines from Italy, Germany, and Denmark contributed to developing a distinct type of horse at the stud.

Initially called Spanish Karst horses, the new breed first gained the Lipizzaner name in the second half of the 1800s. [1]

There are eight recognized foundation sire lines for Lipizzaners. These lines trace to the stallions Pluto, Conversano, Maestoso, Favory, Neapolitano, Siglavy, Tulipan, and Incintato. Lipizzan stallions traditionally carry the name of their sire line in their registered name.

Historic Use

Early breeders developed the Lipizzaner horse as riding and light carriage horses. Military riding schools refined Lipizzaner breeding to create specialized cavalry mounts and trained horses to perform in exhibitions for European nobility.

The Spanish Riding School in Vienna continues to operate today, preserving classical horsemanship methods and performing public exhibitions in the same Winter Riding School hall used since the 18th century.

Lippizaners have faced numerous threats from centuries of European wars. Invasions in the late 18th and early 19th century forced the evacuation of the Imperial stud farm and destroyed most early breeding records.

New infusions of Arabian blood and seeded populations of Lipizzans in Eastern Europe during the 1800s maintained the breed’s genetic diversity. However, the stud had to relocate during WWI, and horses were divided between Italy and Austria at the war’s conclusion. [2]

WWII also significantly impacted the breed’s history. As the war intensified, the Spanish Riding School transferred horses from the Piber stud farm to a former Czech farm in Hostau. The performance stallions were evacuated from Vienna to St. Martin in Upper Austria shortly after.

Concerned about the Soviet Army descending on Hostau at the war’s end, Spanish Riding School director Colonel Alois Podhajsky secretly sought special protection from the U.S. Army for the Lipizzaner.

Known as Operation Cowboy, the covert mission led by a coalition of American and German soldiers to rescue the Hostau herd is immortalized by powerful images of the military convoy escorting hundreds of Lipizzaner mares and foals through enemy lines to safety. [3]

Breed Registry

The United States Lipizzan Federation is the official breed registry for Lipizzaners in North America. The organization is a community of breeders, owners, and enthusiasts dedicated to preserving, protecting, and promoting the Lipizzan breed.

USLF maintains a closed studbook, and registered horses must be purebred Lipizzaners descending from one of the eight recognized stallion lines.

Mad About Horses
Join Dr. Chris Mortensen, PhD on an exciting adventure into the story of the horse and learn how we can make the world a better place for all equines.
Apple Podcasts Spotify Youtube
Mad Barn Equine Nutrition Consultants

Breed Characteristics

Lipizzaners share many characteristics with other horse breeds having Iberian ancestry, such as Andalusians and Paso finos. The breed standard changed little over the last 400 years, and modern Lipizzaners possess the same elegant appearance that made these horses famous in noble courts.

Conformation

The ideal height for a Lipizzaner is 15.1 to 15.2 hands at the withers. Lipizzaners can be riding or driving types, with carriage driving types standing slightly taller than those bred for classical dressage.

Lipizzaners should have balanced conformation that gives an elegant impression. Rounded outlines are typical for the breed, but the body should be more rectangular than square.

Most Lipizzaners have a sub-convex facial profile, with long heads, deep jaws, small ears, and expressive eyes. The neck should be arched and connected to low, broad withers. Like other Baroque breeds, they have deep chests, broad croups, and muscular shoulders.

Straight legs with broad joints and well-defined tendons promote soundness. But some Lipizzans have relatively small feet for their size. All Lipizzaners generally have long manes and thick tails with a high carriage.

Colours

Lipizzaners are predominantly grey. Foals are dark when born and gradually become lighter until their coats appear white. Other coat colours were standard until the eighteenth century when breeding practices favoured grey horses. [4]

Bay or black Lipizzaners are rare, but occur occasionally. According to tradition, the Spanish Riding School always has at least one bay Lipizzan stallion in their stables for good luck.

Temperament

Lipizzaners have docile dispositions and willing work ethics that help them excel in the high-level training programs of classical riding schools. But these temperaments also make the breed suitable for riders of all levels who value calm and generous equine partners.

One study linked personality traits to anatomical characteristics in Lipizzaners. The results support the anecdotal evidence that genetics and bloodlines play a role in horse temperaments. But personality can still vary significantly between members of the same breed. [5]

Disciplines

Lipizzan horses are most commonly used for dressage. The Lipizzaner stallions of the Spanish Riding School are famous for performing the haute ecole, advanced movements of classical dressage not seen in modern sport.

However, many Lipizzans have successful competitive careers with owners at all levels. Other Lipizzan owners enjoy their horses as pleasure mounts. In addition to dressage, Lipizzaners also excel at driving disciplines.

Lipizzan Horse Health

While Lipizzaners have a high incidence of certain cancers, the breed is relatively healthy, and these horses often live into their thirties with good care. But Lipizzaners with competitive careers may also have a higher risk of stress-related health problems.

Genetic Diseases

Lipizzaners have a high incidence of equine melanoma, a skin cancer seen primarily in grey horses. One study of 296 Lipizzaners identified dermal melanomas in 50% of the study population. [6]

None of the Lipizzaners in the study had significant clinical problems associated with melanoma. Current research shows that melanomas in grey horses are less malignant than those in solid-coloured horses. [7]

These results suggest that genetics can influence the development and severity of equine melanoma. Studies have linked melanoma and gray coat colour to the STX17 gene, but more research is needed to investigate the gene in Lipizzaner breeds. [7]

Health Problems

Like other hor