The Lipizzan or Lipizzaner, is a breed of horse closely associated with the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Austria, where they demonstrate the haute école or “high school” movements of classical dressage, including the highly controlled, stylized jumps and other movements known as the “airs above the ground.” The horses at the Spanish Riding School are trained using traditional methods that date back hundreds of years, based on the principles of classical dressage.
The Lipizzan breed dates back to the 16th century, when it was developed with the support of the Habsburg nobility. The breed takes its name from one of the earliest stud farms established, located near the Karst Plateau village of Lipica (spelled “Lipizza” in Italian), in modern-day Slovenia. The breed has been endangered numerous times by warfare sweeping Europe, including during the War of the First Coalition, World War I and World War II. The rescue of the Lipizzans during World War II by American troops was made famous by the Disney movie Miracle of the White Stallions. Along with the Disney movie, Lipizzans have also starred or played supporting roles in many movies, TV shows, books and other media.
Today, eight stallions are recognized as the foundation bloodstock of the breed, all foaled the late 18th and early 19th centuries. All modern Lipizzans trace their bloodlines to these eight stallions, and all breeding stallions have included in their name the name of the foundation sire of their bloodline. There are also classic mare lines, with up to 35 recognized by various breed registries. The majority of horses are registered through the member organizations of the Lipizzan International Federation, which covers almost 11,000 horses in 19 countries and at 9 state studs in Europe. The majority of Lipizzans reside in Europe, with smaller numbers in the Americas, Africa and Australia.
Most Lipizzans measure between 14.2 and 15.2 hands. However, horses bred that are closer to the original carriage-horse type are taller, approaching 16.1 hands. Lipizzans have a long head, with a straight or slightly convex profile. The jaw is deep, the ears small, the eyes large and expressive and the nostrils flared. They have a neck that is sturdy, yet arched and withers that are low, muscular and broad. They are a Baroque-type horse, with a wide, deep chest, broad croup and muscular shoulder. The tail is carried high and well set. The legs are well-muscled and strong, with broad joints and well-defined tendons. The feet tend to be small, but are tough.
Lipizzan horses tend to mature slowly. However, they live and are active longer than many other breeds, with horses performing the difficult exercises of the Spanish Riding School well into their 20s and living into their 30s.
Aside from the rare solid-colored horse (usually bay or black), most Lipizzans are gray. Like all gray horses, they have black skin, dark eyes, and as adult horses, a white hair coat. Gray horses, including Lipizzans, are born dark—usually bay or black—and become lighter each year as the graying process takes place, with the process being complete at between 6 and 10 years of age. Lipizzans are not actually true white horses, but this is a common misconception. A white horse is born white and has unpigmented skin.
Until the 18th century, Lipizzans had other coat colors, including dun, bay, chestnut, black, piebald and skewbald. However, gray is a dominant gene. Gray was the color preferred by the royal family, and so the color was emphasized in breeding practices. Thus, in a small breed population when the color was deliberately selected as a desirable feature, it came to be the color of the overwhelming majority of Lipizzan horses. However, it is a long-standing tradition for the Spanish Riding School to have at least one bay Lipizzan stallion in residence, and this tradition is continued through the present day.