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© Diatom Graphics

Extinction by NAIS


Windt im Wald Farm
Geauga County, Northeast Ohio
since 1995

The Lipizzaner Horse

It was in Lipica, (or Lipizza in Italian) very close to the Italian/Austrian border, that the heir to the Holy Roman Empire founded the Lipizzaner stud farm in the year 1580. The son of Emperor Ferdinand, Charles, would eventually become known as Emperor Charles V, thought to be the most powerful monarch during the Renaissance. The Spanish Riding School, already well established at the time that Charles was still only an archduke, demanded a very special type of horse that could excel at military maneuvers and be trained to do Haute Ecole (High School) in the form of advanced dressage. Charles, then the King of Trieste (now Yugoslavia), bought the land for the stud from the Catholic archbishop of Trieste to make it possible to produce the kind of horse the Spanish Riding School in ViennaT demanded.

There was such a shortage of pure Spanish horses in the Holy Roman Empire, whose capital was Vienna, Austria, that many horses were imported from the rest of Europe. Starting in 1580, stallions, including those from Andalusia, Spain, were imported to Lipica to be used in the new breed. Additionally, stallions were imported from Bohemia, Italy, Denmark, and Barbary (in North Africa). A major setback for the breed was a terrible earthquake and a resulting fire at the stud, which destroyed the original studbook records. Pedigrees of today's Lipizzaner horses can be traced back only to the year 1714.

Of the sires used during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, only six established sire lines for the Lipizzaner breed. The first five were Conversano, a black Italian stallion foaled in 1767; Favory, a dun stallion foaled in 1779; Maestoso, a grey Italian/Spanish cross foaled in 1819; Neapolitano, a bay or brown stallion foaled in 1790; Pluto, a grey Spanish stallion from Denmark. By the early nineteenth century, however, the original horses were no longer available to strengthen the Lipizzaner breed so seven Arabian stallions were imported. Of these, Siglavy, a grey Arabian stallion foaled in 1810, established the sixth sire line for the Lipizzaner breed.

There is a traditional system for naming Lipizzaner horses. A stallion receives two names; the first is the name of its sire or father, and the second is the name of its dam or mother. A mare receives only one name. When the Lipizzaners are yearlings, they each have the letter L branded onto their left cheeks to designate that they are purebreds from the Lipica stud farm. The majority of Lipizzaner horses that are foaled at the stud in Lipica mature to between 15 and 15.2 hands. A few stallions reach 16 hands. Foals are born black, bay, or dark grey in color but generally become white between the ages of six and ten. As late as two hundred years ago the adult herd of Lipizzaners contained blacks, browns, chestnuts, duns, and spotted or pinto horses, but only an occasional bay, brown, or chestnut is seen today. Chestnuts are definitely not in favor, but the Spanish Riding School in Vienna always retains a bay or brown colored Lipizzaner horse for use in performances for good luck; there is an ancient superstition that without such a horse, the Riding School could fall upon bad times and be forced to end its operation.

There is plenty of historical basis for this superstition. During periods of war, the stud farm was always forced to move, and in fact, the Spanish Riding School and its precious Lipizzaners were almost destroyed several times. During the Napoleonic War, the stud moved three times to an area in Hungary. During World War I, it relocated to Vienna, Austria. During World War II, the majority of the Lipizzaner herd was captured by the German army and then miraculously rescued by the US Army under General Patton, and General Alois Podhajsky, the director of the Spanish Riding School at the time, was credited with saving the school itself from destruction. Only eleven Lipizzaners, however, were returned to Lipica after World War II. In the early 1960s Walt Disney produced a film called The Miracle of the White Stallions to recount how these wonderful horses were saved from extinction. Even today, more than fifty years since the end of World War II, there are fewer than 3000 Lipizzaner horses so they are still considered quite rare.

The Lipizzaners have become famous as a result of many tours to large cities worldwide. Lipizzaners’ training consists of seven years of instruction at dressage and Airs Above the Ground, including the Courbette, the Capriole, and the Levade. The Courbette consists of the horse rearing straight up in the air on cue with its hind legs off the ground. The Capriole occurs when the horse, with a rider on its back, has both front and rear legs off the ground at the same time; the front legs are tucked, but the rear legs are kicking out. The Capriole is thought to be the most difficult move that the Lipizzaners are trained to do.

The illustration demonstrates the Levade, where the horse is rearing up with its hind legs planted on the ground. Notice that the rider uses two sets of reins and two bits to be able to fine-tune the motion of the magnificent Lipizzaner horse. The rider wears a dark or black jacket with gold trim across the chest, neck, and sleeves and a black hat. The breeches are white. This uniform recreates the look of the military at the time of the formation of the Spanish Riding School in 1580. The saddle pad is dark but trimmed in gold, and the horse's bridle, martingale, and saddle are dark. The background shows the Spanish Riding School with its white wall, balcony railing, and marble columns. The square object in the background is an opening in the wall for viewing the elegant rider and his majestic white Lipizzaner horse.

Diane Jones
Windt im Wald Farm  


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