The Lippizaner

Although it may not be the first breed that comes to mind when people are considering getting a horse, the Lippizan is not one of the first breeds that springs to mind. However with a very rich and complex history, it’s one of the more interesting breeds.

The Lippizaner is most closely associated with the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria. Both the school and the breed date back some 400 years when the Habsburg dynasty, which ruled over Austria (which included much of Hungary, the Balkans, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic) and Spain needed top quality horses for their calvary. It was the Habsburg family themselves (or more likely the servants employed by the Habsburg dynasty) that breed the Lippizaner, near the village of Lipica in modern day Slovenia. They were breed from Arab, Spanish, Neapolitan, and Barb stock in order to combine the sturdiness and endurance of the European breeds with the speed and agility of the Arab and north African ones.

The breed as we known it today came into existence and subsequent fame under the reign of Maria Theresa in the middle of the 18th century. To this day the breed is strongly associated with the countries of Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, and Hungary. The ancestors of the breed can be traced in Europe back nearly a full thousand years before than when, during the Arab Conquests, Barb horses were brought into Spain, ultimately leading to the Andalusian horse.

Now known for their agility and precision and usually referred to as ‘dancing horses’, they were the backbone of the Austrian and then Austro-Hungarian calvary and were closely associated with the Habsburg dynasty and were used as prestige gifts between aristocratic family.

With this noble and powerful background one might expect them to be well beyond the price range of the average horse owner. However, if you’re lucky enough to be able to afford a horse, you’re probably also able to afford a Lippizaner. Even the stud farm were the breed originated from in Slovenia, Lipicia, or the Austrian stables that provide the horses for the Spanish Riding School in Vienna will sell them. Although the horses with a proud lineage can go into the scores of thousands, at 3 000 – 7 000 euros the average horse is quite affordable.

They make for perfect horses if one is looking for a classical dressage horse. But with a gait similar to the Arabian horse they are equally pleasurable for the casual rider and horse lover. For those of you who appreciate tradition and aesthetics as much as functionality, the Lippizaner brings with it hundreds of years of European and Habsburg history. The very breed speaks to the dynamic and ever-changing borders and cultures of Europe. Whether a casual rider or a professional show jumper, the Lippizaner brings with its charm a rich cultural heritage that entices both rider and non-rider alike.