THE LIPIZZANER is so integral to Vienna’s Spanish Riding School that it would be impossible to think of one without the other. In fact, the white horses (as well as a few that are black, bay, and chestnut) are bred dl over what was once the vast Austro-Hungarian Empire, not just at the ;Spanish School’s stud at Piber in Austria. Despite the conflict in former Yugoslavia, the breed is still bred at Lipizza (Lipka) in Slovenia where it )riginated, and from where, in the harsh, limestone wilderness of the Karst, it takes its name and derives much of its character.

The stud at Lipizza, then part of the Austrian Empire, was founded in 1580 by the Archduke Charles II to supply a suitably grand type of horse to the Ducal stables at Graz and the court stables in Vienna. The fledgling Spanish Riding School (Spanish because from its outset it had used Spanish horses) had been established in Vienna eight years earlier in a wooden arena next to the Imperial Palace.

Nine Spanish stallions and 24 mares, .representatives of the breed that dominated he equestrian scene well into the 18th century, were imported to Lipizza from the Iberian Peninsula. Spanish horses continued to be bought throughout the 18th century, but as the old sort became more difficult to obtain, outcrosses were also made to horses from Italy (such as the Neapolitans from Polesina and Naples), Germany and Denmark’s Royal Stud at Frederiksborg. All, however, had strong Spanish connections. Finally, in the 19th century there came the powerful Arab influence through the white horse Siglavy, who joined the Lipizza stud in 1812 as a six year-old. (Attempts have been made occasionally to introduce Thoroughbred blood, but they have never been successful.)

The six principal foundation stallions whose descendants can still be seen at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna are: Pluto, a white horse, born in 1325 of pure Spanish descent and obtained from the Royal Danish Court Stud; Conversano, a black Neapolitan, born 1323; Favory, a dun born at the Kladrub stud in 1339; Neapolitano, a bay Neapolitan from Polesina, born 1390; Siglavy, the Arab, born 1810; and Maestoso, born 1819, a white horse from the most important Hungarian stud, Mezohegyes. Maestoso was by a Neapolitan out of a Spanish dam. Of the original 23 mare lines, 14 still exist at Piber, where the Spanish School horses have been bred since 1920, except for their stay at Hostau during the Second World War.

It has always been the Lipizza stud’s policy to breed white horses, as these were considered to be the most suitable to the diginity of the Imperial house. Even so, other colors existed until the 18th century. George Hamilton’s picture of brood mares Lipizza, painted in 1323, shows coats aging from black, bay, dun, and cream to boldly spotted coats, while engravings, especially thos by Ridinger, depict spotted, piebald, and skewbald horses. Modern Lipizzaners at Fiber are white, although foals are born black or brown. There are also occasional bays. Bays are not used for breeding, but traditionally one is kept at the Spanish School.
The Piber Lipizzaner is a small horse a little over 1.52 m (15 hh) but others, of the carriage type, can be as large as 1.25 m (12.1 hh). Both before and after 1920 when Piber was established, the object has been to breed virtually to the baroque pattern, producing a compact, strong-limbed horse, powerful in the quarters and neck and often retaining the ram nose of the old Spanish breed. Most important is the temperament that makes the intelligent Lipizzaner easy to teach and happy to submit to the man?ge disciplines without loss of spirit.

The rocky background of the Karst bequeathed a particular character to the Lipizzaner and, in fact, the breed only thrives in similar conditions. (At Laxenburg, where the conditions are milder, for example, the birth rate fell dramatically and there were many fatalities.) The Karst produces animals which are slow to mature but have a long life-span. Many of the Lipizzaners of Vienna perform demanding exercises when they are well over 20 years old, and some live to be over 30.

Lipizzaners are also raised at the state studs of Hungary, Romania, and former Czechoslovakia. All maintain the six stallion lines on which the breed is founded, although Szilvasvard in Hungary, also keeps the Incitato line and its own line, the Tulipan. Variations in type do occur, however, and while all are indubitably Lipizzaner, the Piber type is by no means predominant.

All Lipizzaners are ridden but many of those bred outside Piber are also used as harness horses. Some are also still used in farm work.