History of the Lipizzan breed
The Lipizzan horse is one of the oldest breeds of horses in Europe. The original breeding farm,
Lipica, was created in the year 1580 in what was at that time part of the Austrian Empire (now in
present times the country of Slovenia).
The foundation for the Lipizzan breed were the horses from the Karst mountain regions. Horses
were selectively bred on this mountainous plateau above the city of Trieste already during Roman
times. This mountainous area was very suitable for developing the desired traits of strength and
hardness. The Karst horses were known for their quiet and good temperaments. These horses
were highly sought after during medieval times for tournaments as well as war horses. Their
endurance and longevity was described as highly regarded traits in the literature from that time
The Neapolitaner horses, an Italian breed developed by using Arabians stallions on the heavier
native mares, were also highly regarded during this time period. They were larger and much
heavier than the Spanish horses and the Arabians. This breed had its highest popularity during the
1600 hundreds and the horses where famous for combining size with grace, quiet temperament
combined with their high-stepping trots and slow walk with high knee extensions. At that time it
was regarded as the most suitable breed for high school and as parade horse at the Imperial
Courts. Through attrition during wars, faulty breeding programs, bringing to much foreign blood
in, the breed declined steadily during the 1700´s and finally became extinct.
The Spanish horses including the Andalusian, originating from Arabians and Berber horses from
North Africa, were brought to Spain in the 8th century. These Spanish horses had a large influence
on the Lipizzan breed throughout its history. The convex nose, still common among the
Lipizzaners and Andalusians has been inherited from the Berber horse. During the 15th and 16th
century these majestic horses, with their long manes and high stepping gaits became the status
symbol of the royal courts throughout Europe.
Most of the Arabians influence on the Lipizzan breed originated through the Spanish horses.
However during later years, purebred Arabian stallions were used to bring endurance and
refinement into the breed.
As the importation of horses from the Spanish Peninsula became more difficult, the Vienna court
under Archduke Karl II decided to develop their own breeding farm. In the year 1580 a
representative from the court traveled to Spain bringing back three stallions and over the next
couple of years an additional 6 stallions and 24 mares were brought back to Lipica. The original
horses from this region, with the Spanish horses became the foundation of the Lipizzan breed.
During the time of Maria Theresa (1740-1780) there were 150 broad mares at the breeding farm.
Of the classical stallion lines that we know today, in the early days of the breed, the originators
were as follows: the grey Pluto from Fredriksborg in Denmark where they had bred old Spanish
and italien horses since 1562. Pluto was born in 1765 and brought to Lipica in 1772. He was
followed in 1774 by the dark brown Conversano, born in 1767, an original Neapolitaner. The
grey stallion Maestoso was born in 1773 and the Royal breeding farm at Kladrub in Bohemia.
The stallion Favory, was also from Kladrub, born in 1779 and the bay Neapolitano born 1790,
was a representative of the original old Italian Neapolitaner breed. The Arabian Siglavy, born in
1810 and introduced in 1816, was the most successful of all the Arabian blood introduced to the
breed. Later on, two more stallion lines were introduced, Incitato from Hungary and Tulipan from
In addition, in Lipica, great importance was given to the mares and eighteen classical mare lines
that originated there. Various breeds were represented, Karst, Kladruber and Arabians, most of
these lines continuing on through today.
The wars in Europe created difficulties for the Lipizzaners throughout the centuries starting with
the Napoleonic wars in 1796, when the breeding farm and all the horses were evacuated to
Hungary, a 6 week long journey. During this trip 16 foals were born who all survived to return to
Lipica. This return occurred in September 1798, however all the facilities at the farm had been
destroyed. In 1805 another war broke out between France and Austria and again the horses were
evacuated from Lipica, this time to Dakovo. During this winter flight and during the stay at
Dakovo the horses were exposed to severe hardships and on their return to Lipica in 1807, only
one foal was born. Two years later the horses were again evacuated, as the Karst region had been
seceded to France. This time 289 horses were evacuated to the town of Petska in Hungary, where
they stayed for 6 years before they returned to Lipica. This period was not very productive, as the
climate was very different from the Karst region and the Lipizzan horses did not do very well
there. After this return a long period of peace returned and it was during this period that
experimentations with including Arabians, thoroughbreds and other breeds into the Lipizzan
breed, were conducted. It became apparent fairly soon, that most of this experiments did not
improve the breed and they were eventually abandoned. The Arabians were removed from Lipica
During this last time period, important contributions to the breed were made from other breeding
farms, both state owned and private, established within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Lipica
made stallions available to these breeding farms and it was also during this time that the other two
stallion lines, Incitato and Tulipan, were established.
In May 1915, war again broke out and Lipica had to be evacuated. The stallions, broadmares and
the trained horses were moved to Laxenburg near Vienna, while the younger horses were
transferred to Kladrub in Bohemia, in what is now the Czech Republic. At the end of the first
World War, the Karst region was seceded to Italy, however Austria did not wish to give up all the
Lipizzaners and a compromise agreement was established. Austria retained 97 horses and 107
were transferred to Italy. The horses which were assigned to Hungary were purchased by the
Hungarian Count Esterhazy and the young horses that had been sent to Kladrub, remained there
and became the foundation for the stud farm at Topolcianky. The Yugoslavian Government, to
start a breeding farm at Stancic, purchased several of these original Lipica horses. As a result of
this break-up of the horses, Lipica lost the right to its original designation of "Imperial and Royal
Court Breeding Farm Lipica" which it had held for 339 years. By 1930, only 30 mares were
remaining at Lipica and two stallions from Stancic were bought to revitalize the breeding
program, and in 1940 they had increased to 52 mares.
When Italy capitulated in the second World War, 179 of the horses were moved to Hostau in
Czechoslovakia, where in addition to the horses from Lipica, the Lipizzaners from Piber and
Demir Kapija had been sent. At the end of the war, Lipica now belonged to Slovenia, but after
long negotiations, they were only given back 11 of their horses, 1 Siglavy stallion, 3 broad mares
and 7 young horses. The remainder of the horses were divided between Italy and Austria, and
some time later they received an additional 24 horses. At the end of 1950, the breeding farm was
up to 180 horses, however hard economic times and a desire to return the breed to its original
quality, caused hardships. Stallions were brought from Piber and the other studfarms and after a
long period and severe culling, Lipica now is back to breeding to original type of quality Lipizzan
horses. In the 1980´s, Lipica owned horses were very successful in dressage competitions,
culminating with sending a team to the Los Angeles Olympic Games.
Mares and foals at Lipica 1998
During the years many stud farms had been established within the old Austrian-Hungarian
empire. In the former Yugoslavia several breeding farms, which are no longer in existence were
established: Stancic (1920-36), Demir Kapija (1924-41), Lipik (1937-56 ) and Kutjevo (1946-60).
Dakovo, in Croatia, is regarded as one of the oldest breeding farms in Europe, having been
established in 1506, originally to breed oriental or Arabian horses. In 1806 the Lipica horses were
housed there and they started a small scale breeding program. In 1854, Dakovo purchased more
horses from Lipica and converted to only breeding Lipizzan horses.
Mares in pasture at Dakovo in 1998
Lipik , also in Croatia was reestablished in 1982 with breeding horses from Lipica. The breeding
farm was totally destroyed in 1991 from bombing during the recent Yugoslavian civil unrest and
35 horses were killed.
Vucijak, in Bosnia Herzegovina, was originally established to provide stallions for the farmers
and many of the horses are solid in color. This breeding also fell on hard time during the unrest in
the region, and an international effort, with large contributions from the USA, was established to
rescue and feed the horses. This appears to have been successful and the horses are in good
Karadordevo in Serbien was established in 1903, however they started to breed Lipizzaners in
1946 with horses from Dakovo and Lipica. Not much is known about the studfarm today.
The breeding farm in Piber was established in 1798 for the purpose of providing horses to the
military and the farmers.. The year 1853 a Lipizzan breeding program was started. This program
was however transferred to Radautz (in present Romania) in 1869, as the main purpose of Piber
was to breed part bred horses for the cavalry. Piber, as we know it today, was reestablished in
1920 as the main breeding center for Lipizzaners in Austria. During the second World War and
the German occupation, the horses were again moved and this time they were transported to
Hostau in Bohemia. The Lipizzaners were brought back to Austria and Hostau in 1945, mainly
through the efforts of the American General Patton. It was however not until 1952, that all of
them were returned to Piber. The breeding program started with these mares and an additional 10
mares from the stud farm Vukovar, a total of 40 mares, and three stallions from the Spanish
The goal at Piber is to provide a proud baroque stallion, similar to the original horse from Lipica,
destined for the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. For this reason, only the six classical stallion
lines are used. Only the best performance stallions are returned to Piber to assure the continuation
of the classical Lipizzan.
The Lipizzan breeding in Hungary started in Mezohegyes after the 6 years stay of the horses from
Lipica between 1809 and 1815. After the return of the horses, a few remaind, and became the
nucleus of the Hungarian breeding program. Mezoheges was originally started in 1785 and
eventually became the biggest breeding farm in Europe, containing between 4-5000 horses. In the
year 1874 all of the 137 Lipizzaners were moved to Fogaras, where they remained until 1912,
when they were moved to Babolna. At this time, the Lipizzaner was mainly bred to be a working
horse for the farmers and Babolna became the mecca for the breeding of Arabian horses in
Europe. During the second World War, the horses were scattered and many were relocated in the
southern German state of Bayern. During this period, in Hungary, as in most of the other
European countries, the Lipizzan could not remain a "luxury horse" and was used extensively for
cross breeding as well as working at the farms. After the war, 20 mares and 3 stallions were
returned to Hungary and became the foundation of the new breeding program. Eventually the
young stallions had been sent to the old breeding farm of Count Pallavicini in Szilvascarad, for
pasture and eventually, as Babolna became devoted to Arabian horses, all of the Lipizzaners were
moved to Szilvasvarad, where they still remain.
Simbata de Jos in Romania was established in 1874 to accommodate the horses from Mezohegyes
in Hungary, which had turned out to be unsuitable for horse breeding. The first shipment was 137
horses of which 5 stallion, 49 mares and 35 foals were Lipizzaners. Mares were brought from
Piber and within 20 years there were 9 stallions and 110 broad mares at Fogaras. In the year 1912
most of the horses were transferred to Babolna in Hungary. The three stallions and 22 mares, who
were left as working horses eventually, in addition to locally purchased horses, became the
foundation of the Simbata de Jos/Fogaras stud farm in 1922. At Fogaras, as well as at small
prtivate breeding farms, a large breeding program exists for solid colored Lipizzaners, black, bay
and chestnuts. Beclean, another breeding farm in Romania, today breeds exclusively chestnut
Topolcianky, in Slovakia, was founded by the Czechoslovakian government in 1921, where in
addition to Lipizzaner there is extensive breeding programs for Arabians, Shagya, Hutus (ponies)
and thoroughbreds. Thirty mares, born during the Lipica herds residence at Topolcianky during
1915 and 1916, remained to become the foundation together with one Lipica and two Fogaras
stallions. During the second World War, the horses from Topolcianky, as with the other breeding
farms, were scattered. They were able to repurchase between 70-80 of the horses after the war.
Topolcianky is breeding a heavier Lipizzan, suitable for driving and farm work, however still
maintaining the classical type.
The present Lipizzan breeding farm in Italy is Monterotondo. After the first World War, half of
the horses from Lipica were given to Austria and the remainder to Italy, in addition to all of the
original stud books. The 109 horses, representing the six classical stallion lines and seventeen
mare lines, remained at Lipica, which now became a breeding farm for the military and the goals
changed. Very large Lipizzan stallions were used, some with Kladruber bloodlines as well as
mares with Kladruber background were purchased and larger, heavier horse was developed. On
the last day of the second World War, the German army invaded Lipica and removed all 179
horses to Hostau. After the war, half of these horses were returned. The breeding farm is now
located 35 kilometers from Rome where Monterotondo is located. All of the early breeding
records and studbooks from Lipica are located at Monterotondo.
The Spanish Riding School in Vienna exemplifies to all of us the beauty and uniqueness of the
Lipizzan horse. This institution has made the name Lipizzan a name known the world over. The
"Spanische Reithall" was first mentioned in 1572. It was housed in a wooden building and
received its name from the Spanish horses that were trained there. The existing location was built
1735 and was used extensively for celebrations with riders and carriages, especially during the
time of Maria Theresa. I 1916, when Emperor Franz Joseph died, the Spanish Riding school lost
its last Imperial sponsor. The school did however survive, and later during the second World War,
the German supported it. During this time period, in 1942, all the Lipizzan breeding stock were
sent to Hostau. The return of the Lipizzaners to Austria was made possible by the intervention of
General Patton, and this has been well described in the Walt Disney movie "The Miracle of the
White Stallions" starring Robert Taylor. The Spanish Riding School is today more popular than
ever tickets for their performances are highly sought after.. Occasionally the stallions go on tours
throughout the world and have visited the United States twice.
Performance at 250 year Gala in Piber