The Lipizzan (or Lipizzaner)


Lipizzans trace their history back to the early 1560's after the Moorish occupation of Spain. This breed is almost 450 years old, making it one of the oldest pure breeds in the world. Others are the Arabian and Andalusian form which the Lipizzan is derived. Some say the Pyranees horse called Vilanos was mixed in to produce a taller stronger horse for carrying knights in armor.

Emperor Maximilian II of Austria brought Spanish horses to Austria about 1562 and founded the court stud at Kladrub. This might seem odd but then again the King of Spain was his uncle, another Hapsburg.

His brother, Archduke Charles established a similar stud with Spanish stock at Lipizza near the Adriatic Sea. He bought the whole village and surrounding territory 1580. This is near Trieste, Italy. After construction was finished the first Spanish horses were brought in 1586.

Maximilian was the last of the knights and the Age of Chivalry died with him. Firearms were introduces and drive the mailed horses from battle. The renaissance however was the birth of horsemanship as art.
From the Lipizza Stud Farm, came the name Lipizzan. Today the city Lipizza is known as Lipica and is in northwest Slovenia, near Trieste, Italy. At these two stud farms, the finest Arab blood was crossed with athletic Spanish horses and local Karst horses to create the Lipizzan. Lighter horses were now in vogue as they no longer carried those knights in armor.
The term Karst refers to the geology of the region, full of limestone caves and springs. The Spanish breeds used were Andalusians, Barbs and Berbers. The local Karst horses were white in color, small, slow to mature, and extremely tough. They were popular in jousting tournaments. Most people would think that Lipizzans inherited their high stepping gait from the Spanish horse. It was, however, the Karst horse who gave the Lipizzan its high stepping gait.
The Kladrub stud became known for its heavy carriage horses while the Lipizza stud produced riding horses and light carriage horses, exclusively for the Hapsburg Royal Family. The two stud farms were linked closely and on occasion exchanged breeding stock.
To strengthen the original Spanish-Arab strain, several stallions were purchased during the 18th and 19th centuries for use at Lipizza and Kladrub (Bohemia.) During the 18th century these horses included sires from Denmark (Pluto, 1765) and Holstein (Favory, 1779.) They were however of pure Spanish descent. In the mid-to-late 1700s, Lipizza had 150 broodmares.
The Kladrub stud produced Maestoso and Favory, two of the foundation sires of today's Lipizzan. These lines were developed between 1792 and 1815. Spanish Riding School It is impossible not to mention the Spanish Riding School when discussing Lipizzan history.

The Hapsburg monarchy (of the Austro-Hungarian empire) built a winter riding hall and school in 1572. They replaced it with a new riding hall and school in 1735 in the imperial palace in Vienna. This happened as part of the major rebuilding of Vienna after the repulsion of the Turks. The finest stallions from Lipizza were sent to Vienna each year at age 4. This was the purpose for which they were bred.

The first purpose of the school is to perpetuate the art of classical horsemanship. This includes the training of the young riders and the horses according to the principals of dressage. This was art for arts’ sake. The second purpose of the Spanish Riding School is the breeding of the Lipizzan horses. Only the best are kept to continue the line.  The Empress Maria Theresa enjoyed leading the Womens’ Carrousel in the riding hall. This was an elaborate pageant of horses under saddle and pulling carriages.

Dressage figures:

Piaffe * Passage *  Pirouette

 Here the stallions also learned the “airs above the ground.”

Courbette * Capriole * Levade * Ballotade * Croupade

Wars & Other Disasters

Finally they returned to Lipizza in 1815 to flourish until WWI.

Emperor Franz Joseph built the riding hall still in use today and the six stallion lines were founded.

Until 1916, the Lipizzan stud farm always remained a private possession of the Habsburg monarchy. This changed after WWI. During this war, breeding stock was sent to Austria and young stock to Kladruby in Bohemia. In 1918 Italy defeated the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Lipizzans were split into 3 herds:

1-Lipizza regained 107 horses

2-Piber, Austria kept 97

3- Topolcianky, Slovakia kept 37

The expansion of the breed has been affected over the centuries by military conflicts. Whenever warfare threatened the Lipizza stud, the horses were moved away. During these moves, individual horses would occasionally be given or sold to other studs. From these horses came other small Lipizzan studs, usually within the boundaries of the Austrian empire:

4- Hungarian State Stud at Bobolna

5- Rumanian State Stud at Fogaras

6- Yugosavian State Stud at Stancic

7- Macedonian State Stud at Demir Kapja


Italy was defeated by Germany. The Lipizza horses were moved to Hostau Czechoslovakia. The Germans moved the Austrian, Serbian, and Polish studs and other minor ones as well.

Lipizza became part of Yugoslavia. The troops did not leave till 1957. They had been using the farm buildings as a depot for tanks and trucks.

Today there is a vacation resort in Lipica as well as a stud farm and riding school. It is the 3rd largest riding arena in Europe. It was spared in the recent Yugoslavian war but other stud farms were devastated and Lipizzans starved. The international horse community did raise money to feed them and trucked in hay at considerable risk. Nearly 300 horses perished.

Stallion Lines

By 1880 there were 341 Lipizzan horses at the Lipizza stud farm. Of all the sires used in the 18th and 19th centuries, only six founded the original stallion lines of the Lipizzan breed: SIGLAVY, NEAPOLOTANO, MAESTOSO, FAVORY, PLUTO, and CONVERSANO. Later, in Croatia and Hungary, the TULIPAN and INCITATO lines were developed.   See more details on the Stallion Lines Page.

Of all the sires used during the 18th and 19th century, only six of these horses were accepted to found the family lines of the Lipizzan as known today.  

In addition to the stallions, there are 18 mare family lines.


In most countries every stallion has two names, the sire's name and the dam's name. This explains the name such as Pluto Balmora.

Today, most mares are named with the first letter of the dam’s name and end in an “A.”


Grey is the dominate color of the Lipizzan today. Since white horses were preferred by the royal family, the color was stressed in breeding. Greys have dark skin, in contrast to white horses who have pink skin. So the White Stallions of Vienna are not really white!

Born dark, black-brown, brown or mouse-grey, Lipizzans whiten somewhere between the ages of 6 and 10.

As late as two hundred years ago, there were a great number of blacks, browns, chestnuts, duns and even piebalds and skewbalds.

These are still the base colors but are turn grey with age.

Today non-white Lipizzans are a rarity and only now and then is a black or bay found.

The SRS keeps one bay for the head rider.


Not a tall horse, the Lipizzan averages about 15 hands, and presents a very powerful picture. The SRS horses are 15.1 ¾ hands, matched for the quadrille. There are some taller Lipizzans from the Carriage horse lines.

The first thing noticed in the head are the large, appealing eyes. The influence of Arabian blood is found in the head, the small alert ears and the nose.

The body, set off by a short powerful neck, presents a picture of strength.

Lipizzans have well-rounded quarters, heavy shoulders and short, strong legs with well defined tendons and joints.

The tail is carried high and, like the mane, is thick and long.

Lipizzans are the slowest horses in the world to mature but compensate by living a long time.

They are not started under saddle until age 4. Some are still stars of the SRS at 25. They are known for their intelligence and trainability.


Today the Lipizzan is considered a threatened breed by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.   Here is a link to their web site:  ALBC

There are about 3000 Lipizzans in the world, with about 1000 in the US. The US horses cam from 3 sources:

Opera singer Countess Maria Jeritza imported the first Lipizzans to the US in 1930.

In the 1960s Evelyn Dreitzer of Washington State imported several, as did Tempel and Esther Smith of Illinois (Tempel Farms.)

The American Horse Council published a study in 2005, reporting 9.2 million horses in the US.

QH, 36%

TB, 14%

Other Breeds, 50%

Out of 4.6 million "others", Lipizzans number about 1000.

Lipizzan 1,000 0r 0.01%. They are on the American Livestock Breed Conservacy's "Threatened" list.

Unless you have seen the traveling Lipizzan shows, you may never have have seen one in person before. They and Cleveland Bays are about the most rare breeds in this country.