Lipica: The Orig­i­nal Home of the Lip­iz­zaner

Take a be­hind-the-scenes tour of this his­toric bea­con of clas­si­cal dres­sage train­ing.

Dressage Today - - Content - By An­nie Mor­ris

Take a be­hind-the-scenes tour of this bea­con of clas­si­cal dres­sage train­ing.

W hen I was a kid, I saw the trav­el­ing Lip­iz­zaner show at our lo­cal univer­sity foot­ball field. Of­ten, those who hear the name “Lip­iz­zaner” re­call clas­si­cal train­ing, clas­si­cal rid­ing, the fa­mous Span­ish Rid­ing School in Vi­enna, Aus­tria, and, of course, the airs above the ground. I was amazed to see live the quadrilles and the airs above the ground since I had only seen pho­tos in books. Since then, I have al­ways had a place in my heart for the breed, which is, in fact, named af­ter the place of its origin—Lipica (the “c” is pro­nounced as a “z”), lo­cated in to­day’s Slove­nia.

I was lucky enough to visit the Lipica Stud Farm last Novem­ber. This is the time, af­ter the tourist sea­son is over, when the fo­cus re­turns to train­ing the horses. The head trainer at the farm, Igor Maver, finds great pride in work­ing with the Lip­iz­zaner horses who have been bred there since the farm’s be­gin­nings in 1580. He has com­peted in­ter­na­tion­ally, but was raised in the tra­di­tion of train­ing Lip­iz­zan­ers and is proud to be a part of their cul­tural her­itage. The farm

at Lipica not only upholds this her­itage, but has many pro­grams to share the unique Lip­iz­zaner horse with the rest of the world. I had trav­eled to Lipica hop­ing to see the clas­si­cal train­ing sys­tem in ac­tion, and I wit­nessed it there, in a deeply tra­di­tional set­ting.

Visit­ing the Farm

As you en­ter the Lipica farm, you are first wel­comed by the bor­der of white fences lin­ing the nearly end­less fields ABOVE: The his­toric sta­ble called Vel­banca, which means “vaulted,” houses per­for­mance horses and has vaulted ceil­ings.

RIGHT: The barn­yard con­sists of many pleas­ant yel­low build­ings. and ac­cented with rows of huge trees. The area is as lush and fra­grant as a deep for­est. Once you ar­rive at the cen­ter of the farm, you see many lovely

yel­low build­ings. All are his­tor­i­cally styled, and the set­ting is pic­turesque. A pe­riod man­sion is lo­cated on the grounds as well as a chapel and other ad­min­is­tra­tive build­ings.

The farm is home to about 400 Lip­iz­zaner horses. The mares and foals are of­ten out in the pas­tures, but they have a large barn for the colder win­ter months. There is a his­toric sta­ble called Vel­banca (which means “vaulted” and ap­pro­pri­ately de­scribes the struc­ture’s ex­trav­a­gant vaulted ceil­ings) that houses some per­for­mance horses. There are a va­ri­ety of other barns that house younger stal­lions, stal­lions in train­ing and the horses used for the shows.

The farm has a stan­dard-sized show arena set up for pub­lic pre­sen­ta­tions of the Lip­iz­zaner horses. There are bleach­ers lin­ing one side for up to 700 guests and a set of pil­lars with Slove­nian flags in the cen­ter of the ring. The farm presents a show three times weekly dur­ing the tourist sea­son, which runs from the end of March to the end of Oc­to­ber. Dur­ing that time, they also of­fer trail rides, car­riage rides and even lessons on Lip­iz­zaner horses. The rid­ers in Lipica some­times col­lab­o­rate with other rid­ing schools in Europe for grander ex­hi­bi­tions and to de­velop a shared knowl- edge of the mod­ern train­ing of these tra­di­tional steeds. A CDI has also been held at the farm each sum­mer since 1974 with dres­sage rid­ers from all over Europe in at­ten­dance. This Septem­ber, the World Driv­ing Cham­pi­onships will take place at the fa­cil­ity.

I first vis­ited the large sta­ble. The stalls are painted red and have ver­ti­cal bars all the way around the top half of each wall so you can view a sea of white faces and toplines across the many aisles of stal­lions. There are more than 100 horses in train­ing on the farm. Be­sides the many rid­ers, the staff in­cludes the stall clean­ers who make

their rounds and two men as­signed each morn­ing to re­mov­ing the daily stains that you can imag­ine tar­nish the many white coats. The rid­ers carry their tack, bustling in the early morn­ing to pre­pare their horses for train­ing. Be­sides the few horses each rider presents in the show, they each have a few younger horses in train­ing.

In be­tween rides, the rid­ers meet in­for­mally at the lit­tle cof­fee ma­chine near the door­way, where one can pick up a tiny, overly sweet cof­fee for .50 Eu­ros and if you choose, smoke a cig­a­rette. About half the rid­ers are women. I didn’t quite catch what the rid­ers spoke about around the cof­fee ma­chine (I don’t speak Slove­nian), but the gist of barn gos­sip was ap­par­ent. How­ever, I could tell the com­radery among the rid­ers was strong.

A Bit of His­tory

Lipica was named af­ter the beau­ti­ful tree that grows in the area: the lin­den. The land for the farm was pur­chased in the 16th cen­tury by the Hab­s­burg Arch­duke Charles II as a breed­ing ground for mil­i­tary and civil horses. Over the next 200 years, the Lip­iz­zaner breed was de­vel­oped from se­lec­tive breed­ing of Ibe­rian, Ital­ian and Ara­bian horses. To­day, Lip­iz­zan­ers are fa­mous be­cause they are the only horses used in the Span­ish Rid­ing School in Vi­enna. They are al­most al­ways gray and are known for their in­tel­li­gence, strength and long lives.

The farm’s lo­ca­tion en­dured a tur­bu­lent his­tory. Lipica is in the south­west­ern part of mod­ern-day Slove­nia. It is di­rectly east of the coastal city of Tri­este, Italy, and lo­cated up in the high­lands. Af­ter the stud farm’s ini­tial in­cep­tion, it grew and flour­ished un­til the Napoleonic wars caused in­sta­bil­ity in the area. When the 20th cen­tury ar­rived, the crises deep­ened with the two World Wars dev­as­tat­ing the area.

The horses were re­lo­cated many times for their pro­tec­tion dur­ing the wars. At times, there was worry that the herd would be lost. When the Third Re­ich in­vaded the area in 1943, pro­tec­tors of the Lip­iz­zan­ers sent the herd to the Sudetes re­gion of Cze­choslo­vakia. In 1945, af­ter the Yalta Con­fer­ence, Cze­choslo­vakia came un­der the rule of the Rus­sians and there was fear the en­tire herd would never re­turn to Lipica, de­stroy­ing many gen­er­a­tions of breed­ing and mak­ing the Lipica Stud Farm moot. How­ever, U.S. Army Gen. Ge­orge S. Pat­ton, was in­formed of the fate of the Lip­iz­zaner horse and, de­spite not re­ceiv­ing au­tho­riza­tion to en­ter the ter­ri­tory, he took the ini­tia­tive to re­move the horses from Red Army rule and re­turn them to land held by the Al­lies for their even­tual home­com­ing to Lipica. The res­cue also re­turned Lip­iz­zan­ers who had been evac­u­ated from the Span­ish Rid­ing School in Vi­enna and es­sen­tially saved the breed.

Af­ter World War II, the fu­ture of the farm was bleak un­til one man, Yu­gosla­vian Pres­i­dent Josip Broz-Tito, made it his mis­sion to keep the farm from clos­ing. The area be­came part of the for­mer Repub­lic of Yu­goslavia in the 1970s and with the mo­men­tary po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity, the farm again flour­ished with a rise in tourist ac­tiv­i­ties. How­ever, the Balkan Wars threat­ened the farm fur­ther un­til Slove­nia de­clared its in­de­pen­dence in 1991.

In 1996, the gov­ern­ment of Slove­nia passed an act to pro­tect the farm and the horses. The herd, the land, the his­tor­i­cal build­ings and arts are all de­clared a na­tional mon­u­ment and their cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance is pro­tected by the state. The farm is ded­i­cated to breed­ing, rais­ing and train­ing the Lip­iz­zaner horses, car­ing for the property and main­tain­ing the orig­i­nal Lip­iz­zaner Stud Book.

The Lip­iz­zaner Horse

Lipica is lo­cated in mod­ern-day Slove­nia, di­rectly east of the coastal city of Tri­este, Italy.

The Lip­iz­zaner Stud Book has been recorded since 1810 and shows the old­est en­try of a mare born in 1738. The breed has six clas­si­cal stal­lion lines, each with its own dis­tin­guish­ing fea­tures that are still ac­tive to­day. There were many clas­si­cal mare lines and to­day 17 of the mare fam­i­lies still sur­vive in the blood of the mod­ern Lip­iz­zaner.

At Lipica, the farm breeds its own horses to carry on the orig­i­nal Lip­iz­zaner blood­lines. Although there are many

stal­lions on the farm, a spe­cial­ized com­mis­sion chooses stal­lions to breed each year. Its mem­bers de­ter­mine which traits they want to see more of, which traits they want to see less of and which stal­lions can pro­duce these traits to im­prove the herd. In other words, not even every breed­ing stal­lion will breed every year. The horses are bred to the mares at the stud farm and se­men can be used by se­lect breed­ers in Slove­nia as well.

Lip­iz­zan­ers are born dark but turn gray as they age. In Lipica, there is one rare black stal­lion named 331 Con­ver­sano Bon­adea XXVI. The horses tend to have huge and liq­uid black eyes, small and ex­pres­sive ears, cresty necks with long manes and a slightly con­vex shape to the face. They are hand­some in an old-fash­ioned way. Their ap­pear­ance and their train­ing truly em­body the mean­ing of the word “clas­si­cal.”

Train­ing the Lip­iz­zaner

The Lip­iz­zaner horse is tra­di­tion­ally started as a 4-year-old. The train­ing process is sys­tem­atic and grad­ual. Each rider takes the time needed for each horse to de­velop at his own pace. Af­ter the horses are rid­den and their strengths and weak­nesses be­come ap­par­ent, the train­ers de­ter­mine if the horses will be­come part of the show or play an­other role on the farm. The stal­lions usu­ally do not make it into the show un­til they are at least 6, but af­ter that they can per­form for many years. The old­est horse in the show is cur­rently 22.

Be­sides the show arena, there are two other in­door are­nas con­nected to the large sta­ble. To en­ter the are­nas dur­ing school­ing, ev­ery­one gives a lit­tle whis­tle to alert the oth­ers that he or she is com­ing through the door­way. When I ar­rived at the are­nas to watch, the mas­ter train­ers were teach­ing a few mounted stu­dents at a time. Each rider is work­ing his or her horse to achieve cer­tain per­for­mance goals, and the in­struc­tors

stand in the mid­dle, shout­ing ad­vice in boom­ing Slove­nian. All the horses are white, and at first it was hard to tell them apart, but as I ab­sorbed the scene, I be­gan to dis­tin­guish them. There was va­ri­ety in their size and move­ment. They also have ex­pres­sive faces and ears that show their emo­tions. In an­other arena, there were groups of two rid­ers long­ing the young horses. Once the horses are used to the tack and ready to be mounted, the two rid­ers work to­gether to start the horses un­der sad­dle.

Some rid­ers work with their horses mounted or in-hand to prac­tice the airs above the ground. The way they ex­plain the airs to the horse is fas­ci­nat­ing. They use the same aids (nat­u­ral and ar­ti­fi­cial) that all dres­sage rid­ers have, such as the leg, seat, rein, voice, spur and whip. With the goal of the move­ment they want in mind, they coach the horse to pro­duce the airs above the ground. The rider or han­dler must un­der­stand ex­actly how the horse must use his body to per­form the move­ment and then he or she must put the horse into that po­si­tion. When you see the stun­ning fin­ished prod­uct, you can imag­ine that there is a deep mys­tery as to how they got the horse to sud­denly be sail­ing through the air. Much the same way the rider puts the horse in the right po­si­tion for the per­fect tran­si­tion from trot to walk, he puts him in that po­si­tion for the per­fect pi­affe and then, for ex­am­ple, for the lev­ade. The com­mon airs above the ground in­clude:

1. Lev­ade: The horse sits and lifts both front legs off the ground in a low rear.

2. Pe­sade: A move­ment like the lev­ade, but the horse stands up higher.

3. Courbette: The horse rears and

then hops for­ward on his hind legs, stay­ing some­what ver­ti­cal.

4. Capri­ole: The horse rears then leaps for­ward off the ground, as if jump­ing an in­vis­i­ble jump, and kicks out with his hind legs.

Head trainer Maver looks on as the rid­ers work with their horses. He is never shy to give his ad­vice. Also, the col­lab­o­ra­tion among the rid­ers in the school is im­por­tant. Many rid­ers needed help from the ground ei­ther with the young horses, the airs above the ground or in the form of lessons dur­ing reg­u­lar train­ing. The train­ing process is su­per­vised and the goals are clear, al­low­ing each horse and rider to ex­cel and to fol­low in the tra­di­tional foot­steps of their pre­de­ces­sors, who have been train­ing these mag­nif­i­cent white stal­lions in the same lo­ca­tion for hun­dreds of years.

The fin­ished prod­uct is the show, which con­sists of many parts, in­clud­ing the quadrille: four match­ing horses rid­den by four shad­belly-clad rid­ers per­form­ing move­ments such as half­pass, shoul­der-in and fly­ing changes with chore­ographed ac­cu­racy. There is a solo act, with one horse and rider per­form­ing all the Grand Prix move­ments. A Grand Prix pas de deux may also be per­formed. The car­riages ar­rive with a pair of Lip­iz­zan­ers pulling each. This is the only time you may see a mare in the show. Pairs of mares some­times pull the car­riages, but as tra­di­tion dic­tates, they are never rid­den in Lipica.

A new pro­gram called the “Os­mica,” is some­times in­cluded. This is a sim­ple demon­stra­tion of eight young horses in the show ring. The goal is to al­low the young horses to be­come used to the au­di­ence while al­low­ing the spec­ta­tors to see some of the upand-com­ing horses.

There is also a sidesad­dle demon­stra­tion with ladies demon­strat­ing tra­di­tional sidesad­dle rid­ing. The at­tire is old-fash­ioned but sharp none­the­less. The skill re­quired to per­form the move­ments with­out a leg on each side of the horse is worth com­mend­ing.

The fi­nal part of the show is the part ev­ery­one has been wait­ing for: a demon­stra­tion of the airs above the ground. Each is per­formed with the han­dler on the ground and demon­strates the ab­so­lute high­est level of

train­ing pos­si­ble for the horses.

My Ride

I was lucky to ride one of the Lip­iz­zan­ers used in the show. His name is 188 Maestoso Slav­ina and he is 21 years old. Sit­ting on Slav­ina ful­filled an old child­hood dream of rid­ing one of the fa­mous white stal­lions in the show ring be­tween the pil­lars, which are used to train the horses for some clas­si­cal move­ments, in­clud­ing the airs above the ground. He was broad and com­fort­able to sit on, al­most like an arm­chair. He was sen­si­tive and en­er­getic to the leg and seat aids and gave a nat­u­ral and round feel­ing in the con­nec­tion. He felt noble, as if he knew his job and en­joyed do­ing it. I felt hon­ored to ride him.

I had asked Maver what he liked about the breed, and he said they have a spe­cial char­ac­ter. “They are not the eas­i­est horses to work with, but when you get them, they are yours,” he said. Even though they do not have the big­gest gaits in the dres­sage world to­day, they are fun to work with be­cause of the chal­lenge of un­der­stand­ing their unique per­son­al­i­ties. They can act like a cun­ning pony or a royal horse, and find­ing how to go from one end of the spec­trum to the other is what makes work­ing with them dis­tinct and fun.

For more in­for­ma­tion on the Lipica Stud Farm, visit

sons on Lip­iz­zaner horses.

ABOVE: A woman demon­strates the tra­di­tion of sidesad­dle rid­ing with old-fash­ioned but sharp at­tire.

LEFT: Some rid­ers work with their horses mounted or in-hand, as shown here, to prac­tice the airs above the ground.

ABOVE: Young Lip­iz­zan­ers graze at the Lipica Stud Farm. Horses of this breed are born dark and turn gray as they age.

LEFT: The pe­sade is part of the airs-above-the­ground move­ments, where the horse “sits” and

ABOVE: A his­tor­i­cal man­sion is lo­cated on the grounds as well as a chapel and other ad­min­is­tra­tive build­ings.

LEFT: Marko Blokar has com­peted in­ter­na­tion­ally, but con­tin­ues the tra­di­tion of train­ing Lip­iz­zan­ers.

44 A Lip­iz­zaner at Lipica About the Cover: Bien­venido, a 5-year-old PRE geld­ing Photo by An­gelina Peekel

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