The Lipizzan is one of the most famous horse breeds in the world. Celebrated on film and television, the “white stallions” of the Spanish Riding School are easily recognized by the public.
The Lipizzan had its genetic origins in Spain from stock, which included Spanish and Moroccan Barb blood. Spanish horses were used for all purposes, but their athletic skill and intelligence were especially valued in the classical riding practiced in the Renaissance. For this reason, Maximillian II of Austria (son of Emperor Ferdinand I) chose Spanish horses as the foundation for a royal stud formed in 1560 at Kladrub. Maximillian’s brother, Archduke Charles, also established a royal stud with Spanish stock about 1580 in the village of Lipizza near Triest. The two studs collaborated closely and both supplied horses to the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. Eventually, selection goals diverged, which led to the formation of the Kladruby breed as a heavier carriage horse and the Lipizzan breed as a lighter riding horse.
The history of the Lipizzan is reflected in the historic documentation of bloodlines within the breed. Six stallion families are known: Pluto, Conversano, Favory, Neapolitano, Siglavy, and Maestoso. There are several mare families as well. These bloodlines are identified genetic resources within the breed, and their conservation is of great importance.
The Lipizzan is a compact and powerful horse standing 14.2 to 15.2 hands (56-60″) at the withers. The head is long with a flat or convex profile, and the neck is muscular and well arched. The chest is deep and wide, with powerful and sloping shoulders. Gray is the predominant color. Most foals are born dark and lighten to white between the ages of four and ten, although a few remain black or bay as adults.
The fortunes of the Lipizzan were threatened in the 1900s by economic and political instability and war in Central Europe. The Hapsburg empire collapsed in 1910, and Lipizza found itself a part of Italy. Part of the Lipizzan horse population was moved to Austria, where the government established a stud at Piber. World War II caused significant damage to the breed, with the loss of a great many horses and the pedigree records of many of the survivors, which were then removed from the purebred population. More recently, civil war in the former Yugoslavia in the 1980s and 1990s destroyed many herds of that region. Time and again, the Lipizzan’s international distribution has proven essential to its survival.
The Lipizzan breed is rare, with an estimated global population of about 3,000 horses, including about 600 in North America. This population originated from imports of the last 30 years. The breed is most often used as it was traditionally, for riding and driving, though it has just begun to gain success in dressage competitions. Though the superior balance and action of the Lipizzan has been celebrated for centuries, the breed gives a very different performance than the larger “warmblood” breeds of Europe. As a result, it is not always rewarded in the show ring. If Lipizzans find a modern niche as sport horses, continued selection for performance will be encouraged, and conservation of the breed’s complete genetic heritage will be accomplished.
Did you know:
The Livestock Conservancy is America’s leading organization working to save over 150 heritage breeds from extinction. We rely on the support of our members, grants, and donations from the public to raise the $700,000 a year needed to maintain our conservation work with rare breeds of farm animals. Click here to learn how you can help.