The Lippizaner, or Lipizzan, is one of the most culturally significant European horse breeds. Made famous by the Lipizzaner stallions of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, these horses are recognized worldwide for their classical dressage ability.

Named for the stud farm where they originated, the Lippizaner is the product of nearly five centuries of selective breeding. However, the breed’s famous bloodlines were almost lost during World War II.

While initially developed as the ultimate military horse and used widely in classical riding schools, the Lippizaner is also a popular dressage mount for pleasure riders. With correct care and management, these horses can have exceptionally long athletic careers.

This article will review the origin, history, characteristics, health problems, and nutritional needs of the Lipizzaner horse breed. Keep reading to learn more about caring for and feeding Lipizzaner horses.

Lipizzaner Horse History

The Lipizzaners have become a global emblem of humanity’s remarkable capacity to unite amid times of conflict. Today, UNESCO recognizes knowledge concerning the breeding and classical training of Lipizzan horses as an intangible cultural heritage of mankind.

Origin

The Lippizaner descends from bloodlines that originated in the ninth century when Barb horses brought to Spain by the Moors crossed with native breeds. The resulting Iberian horses gained popularity throughout Europe as mounts for the military and nobility.

The foundation of the Lipizzaner breed began in the court studs of the Habsburg Monarchy in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. When Emperor Maximillian II founded the Spanish Riding School in Vienna in 1572, the school only used horses of Spanish descent.

In 1580, Archduke Charles II imported nine stallions and twenty-four mares from Spain to found the court stud at Lipizza, now modern-day Lipica, Slovenia. Other bloodlines from Italy, Germany, and Denmark contributed to developing a distinct type of horse at the stud.

Initially called Spanish Karst horses, the new breed first gained the Lipizzaner name in the second half of the 1800s. [1]

There are eight recognized foundation sire lines for Lipizzaners. These lines trace to the stallions Pluto, Conversano, Maestoso, Favory, Neapolitano, Siglavy, Tulipan, and Incintato. Lipizzan stallions traditionally carry the name of their sire line in their registered name.

Historic Use

Early breeders developed the Lipizzaner horse as riding and light carriage horses. Military riding schools refined Lipizzaner breeding to create specialized cavalry mounts and trained horses to perform in exhibitions for European nobility.

The Spanish Riding School in Vienna continues to operate today, preserving classical horsemanship methods and performing public exhibitions in the same Winter Riding School hall used since the 18th century.

Lippizaners have faced numerous threats from centuries of European wars. Invasions in the late 18th and early 19th century forced the evacuation of the Imperial stud farm and destroyed most early breeding records.

New infusions of Arabian blood and seeded populations of Lipizzans in Eastern Europe during the 1800s maintained the breed’s genetic diversity. However, the stud had to relocate during WWI, and horses were divided between Italy and Austria at the war’s conclusion. [2]

WWII also significantly impacted the breed’s history. As the war intensified, the Spanish Riding School transferred horses from the Piber stud farm to a former Czech farm in Hostau. The performance stallions were evacuated from Vienna to St. Martin in Upper Austria shortly after.

Concerned about the Soviet Army descending on Hostau at the war’s end, Spanish Riding School director Colonel Alois Podhajsky secretly sought special protection from the U.S. Army for the Lipizzaner.

Known as Operation Cowboy, the covert mission led by a coalition of American and German soldiers to rescue the Hostau herd is immortalized by powerful images of the military convoy escorting hundreds of Lipizzaner mares and foals through enemy lines to safety. [3]

Breed Registry

The United States Lipizzan Federation is the official breed registry for Lipizzaners in North America. The organization is a community of breeders, owners, and enthusiasts dedicated to preserving, protecting, and promoting the Lipizzan breed.

USLF maintains a closed studbook, and registered horses must be purebred Lipizzaners descending from one of the eight recognized stallion lines.

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Breed Characteristics

Lipizzaners share many characteristics with other horse breeds having Iberian ancestry, such as Andalusians and Paso finos. The breed standard changed little over the last 400 years, and modern Lipizzaners possess the same elegant appearance that made these horses famous in noble courts.

Conformation

The ideal height for a Lipizzaner is 15.1 to 15.2 hands at the withers. Lipizzaners can be riding or driving types, with carriage driving types standing slightly taller than those bred for classical dressage.

Lipizzaners should have balanced conformation that gives an elegant impression. Rounded outlines are typical for the breed, but the body should be more rectangular than square.

Most Lipizzaners have a sub-convex facial profile, with long heads, deep jaws, small ears, and expressive eyes. The neck should be arched and connected to low, broad withers. Like other Baroque breeds, they have deep chests, broad croups, and muscular shoulders.

Straight legs with broad joints and well-defined tendons promote soundness. But some Lipizzans have relatively small feet for their size. All Lipizzaners generally have long manes and thick tails with a high carriage.

Colours

Lipizzaners are predominantly grey. Foals are dark when born and gradually become lighter until their coats appear white. Other coat colours were standard until the eighteenth century when breeding practices favoured grey horses. [4]

Bay or black Lipizzaners are rare, but occur occasionally. According to tradition, the Spanish Riding School always has at least one bay Lipizzan stallion in their stables for good luck.

Temperament

Lipizzaners have docile dispositions and willing work ethics that help them excel in the high-level training programs of classical riding schools. But these temperaments also make the breed suitable for riders of all levels who value calm and generous equine partners.

One study linked personality traits to anatomical characteristics in Lipizzaners. The results support the anecdotal evidence that genetics and bloodlines play a role in horse temperaments. But personality can still vary significantly between members of the same breed. [5]

Disciplines

Lipizzan horses are most commonly used for dressage. The Lipizzaner stallions of the Spanish Riding School are famous for performing the haute ecole, advanced movements of classical dressage not seen in modern sport.

However, many Lipizzans have successful competitive careers with owners at all levels. Other Lipizzan owners enjoy their horses as pleasure mounts. In addition to dressage, Lipizzaners also excel at driving disciplines.

Lipizzan Horse Health

While Lipizzaners have a high incidence of certain cancers, the breed is relatively healthy, and these horses often live into their thirties with good care. But Lipizzaners with competitive careers may also have a higher risk of stress-related health problems.

Genetic Diseases

Lipizzaners have a high incidence of equine melanoma, a skin cancer seen primarily in grey horses. One study of 296 Lipizzaners identified dermal melanomas in 50% of the study population. [6]

None of the Lipizzaners in the study had significant clinical problems associated with melanoma. Current research shows that melanomas in grey horses are less malignant than those in solid-coloured horses. [7]

These results suggest that genetics can influence the development and severity of equine melanoma. Studies have linked melanoma and gray coat colour to the STX17 gene, but more research is needed to investigate the gene in Lipizzaner breeds. [7]

Health Problems

Like other horses of Iberian ancestry, they are prone to developing metabolic syndrome.

Familial narcolepsy has been reported in Lipizzaners. Narcolepsy is a rapid eye movement (REM) sleep disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness. Owners commonly mistake sleep deprivation for this rare disorder. [8]

Hoof health studies of Lipizzaners at the Spanish Riding School revealed soft white lines and crumbling hoof horns in 90% of horses. These results suggest Lipizzaners may have lower hoof quality than other breeds, which increases the risk of hoof problems. [9] These issues typically respond well to biotin supplementation. [18]

Other common health problems in Lipizzan performance horses are associated with the stress of training and travel. Research has linked competition to elevated stress hormones and a higher incidence of gastric ulceration. [10]

Regular training required for dressage can also increase wear and tear on the musculoskeletal system in Lipizzaners. Soft tissue injuries, degenerative joint disease, and other joint problems are common in sport horses of all breeds.

Care and Management

Lipizzaners need quality basic care that includes regular veterinary examinations and farrier visits.

Work with your veterinarian to determine a schedule for annual vaccinations, deworming, and dental exams.

Daily care should include regular grooming. Lipizzaners are challenging to keep clean due to their white coats, but frequent bathing can strip their skin of natural oils and cause skin irritations.

Grooming routines should also include daily hoof picking. Clearing debris from the hoof and managing environmental moisture can help limit the risk of thrush and other hoof problems.

Lipizzaners are athletic horses that thrive with regular exercise. But unlike some hotter breeds, they don’t need intense training routines to manage high energy levels.

Ensure your horse gets adequate turnout to support freedom of movement, social contact, and grazing behaviours. Not only does turnout reduce the risk of stereotypic behaviours, it also supports bone strength, psychological well-being, and digestive function in Lipizzaners.

Research also shows that turnout has performance and behavioural benefits for competition horses. [11]

Lipizzaner Nutrition

The best feeding program for your Lipizzaner horse depends on their health status and exercise workload. Performance horses need higher levels of energy and protein in the diet, but excess calories can contribute to obesity for Lipizzaners in light work.

Weight Maintenance

Lipizzaners are easy keepers, meaning they have little difficulty maintaining their body condition on a balanced diet. However, these horses also have a higher risk of developing obesity or laminitis as a result of metabolic syndrome.

Breed standards state the ideal Lipizzaner has a rounded outline, but owners should monitor their Lipizzaner’s body condition to make sure they do not become overweight.

Weight loss in Lipizzaners could indicate an underlying digestive problem. Contact your veterinarian if your Lipizzaner doesn’t maintain a healthy weight on a balanced diet. [12]

Sample Diet

The following sample diet is intended for a mature Lipizzan horse with normal body condition in light work.

Feed Diet
(Amount / Day)
Mid-Quality Hay (10% crude protein) Free-choice
Salt 30 g (2 tbsp)
Omneity Pellets 200 g (2 scoops)
w-3 oil 60 ml (2 oz)
Diet Analysis
Digestible Energy (% of Req) 101%
Protein (% of Req) 142%
NSC (% Diet) 8.8%

 

In this sample diet, Mad Barn’s Omneity vitamin and mineral supplement is used to provide essential nutrients that are commonly undersupplied in hay. [13]

Omneity is a concentrated, low-sugar (ESC) and starch multivitamin supplement with no fillers or added sugars. This makes it an ideal choice for easy keeper breeds, such as Lipizzaners.

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Fresh, clean water and plain loose salt should be available to Lipizzaners at all times. Adding salt to your horse’s daily ration is also recommended to help meet sodium requirements and support hydration.

Forage

Forage should provide the foundation of every Lipizzaner’s diet, providing all of the calories required for most Lipizzan horses in light work.

The average 1,100 lb (500 kg) Lipizzaner needs about 22 pounds (10 kg) of hay per day. Good quality, low-starch and sugar (ESC) grass hay is suitable for most Lipizzaners.

Lipizzaners can become overweight or laminitic with unlimited pasture access. To regulate the intake of grass, consider using a grazing muzzle, which will slow down forage consumption and prevent excessive calorie intake.

If your horse is overweight or has a history of metabolic issues, turn them out on a dry lot and provide hay in a slow feeder. This will enable free-choice access to appropriate forage while slowing down intake. [14]

Protein & Energy

Lipizzaners with heavier workloads may need more energy than what hay provides. Suitable energy sources for performance horses include: [14]

Note that some EMS horses become footsore on alfalfa and may do best on other fibre sources.

Although high-grain diets are not recommended, you can decrease the risk of digestive issues if your Lipizzaner eats grain by splitting the daily ration into several small meals. [15]

Compared to plain oats alone, mixing plain oats with either alfalfa or beet pulp at a ratio of 1 part oats to 2 parts alfalfa or beet pulp will result in a meal with safe levels of ESC + starch.

You can submit your horse’s diet to consult with an equine nutritionist regarding how much oil, alfalfa or other additional energy sources to add to their diet.

Supplements

Incorporating additional nutritional supplements into your Lipizzaner’s feeding program can help ensure their overall well-being and optimize their performance.

In the sample diet above, Mad Barn’s W-3 Oil is added to meet energy requirements and provide the inflammation regulating benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. W-3 Oil is enriched with high levels of DHA and natural Vitamin E, which support support joint mobility, respiratory health, coat quality and more. [16]

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  • Helps to fight inflammation
  • Skin & coat condition
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For Lipizzaners in moderate or heavy work, feed an electrolyte supplement to replenish the electrolytes lost in sweat, especially when exercising in hot weather.

Adding electrolytes to your horse’s drinking water can also encourage water consumption when trailering to shows in a new environment. However, horses should always have the choice of plain or electrolyte water.

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Performance horses are at high risk of gastric ulcers, which may be mitigated by appropriate dietary modifications. [17] Consider adding Mad Barn’s Visceral+ to support gastric and hindgut health as well as the immune system.

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Working with a qualified equine nutritionist will help you ensure that your Lipizzaner’s diet is meticulously balanced and tailored to their individual needs. Submit your horse’s diet online for a free evaluation to discover what’s missing from your feeding program.

Is Your Horse's Diet Missing Anything?

Identify gaps in your horse's nutrition program to optimize their well-being.

References

  1. Dovc, P. et al. Development of the Lipizzan Horse Breed. Reprod Domest Anim. 2006. View Summary
  2. Achmann, R. et al. Microsatellite diversity, population subdivision and gene flow in the Lipizzan horse. Anim Genet. 2004. View Summary
  3. Brglez, B. The 3rd Army rescue of the Lipizzaners. US Army Med Dep J. 2009. View Summary
  4. Poyato, J. et al. Population study of the Pura Raza Español Horse regarding its coat colour. Ann Anim Sci. 2018.
  5. Debeljak, N. et al. Relationship between anatomical characteristics and personality traits in Lipizzan horses. Nature. 2022. View Summary
  6. Seltenhammer, M. et al. Equine melanoma in a population of 296 grey Lipizzaner horses. Equine Vet J. 2010. View Summary
  7. Teixeira, R. et al. Coat color genotypes and risk and severity of melanoma in gray quarter horses. J Vet Intern Med. 2013. View Summary
  8. Ludvikova, Eva. et al. Familial narcolepsy in the Lipizzaner horse: a report of three fillies born to the same sire. Vet Quat. 2012.View Summary
  9. Josseck, H. et al. Hoof horn abnormalities in Lipizzaner horses and the effect of dietary biotin on macroscopic aspects of hoof horn quality. Equine Vet J. 1995. View Summary
  10. Hartmann, A. et al. A preliminary investigation into the association between competition and gastric ulcer formation in non-racing performance horses. J Equine Vet Sci. 2003.
  11. Wehahn, H. et al. Competition Horses Housed in Single Stalls (II): Effects of Free Exercise on the Behavior in the Stable, the Behavior during Training, and the Degree of Stress. J Equine Vet Sci. 2012.
  12. Buscechlan, S. et al. Body Condition Score Is Not Correlated to Gastric Ulcers in Non-Athlete Horses. Animals. 2022.View Summary
  13. National Research Council. Nutrient requirements of horses: 6th ed. The National Academies Press. 2007.
  14. Andrews, F. et al. Nutritional management of gastric ulceration. Equine Vet Ed. 2015.
  15. Metayer, N. et al. Meal size and starch content affect gastric emptying in horses. Equine Vet J. 2010. View Summary
  16. Manhart, D. et al. Markers of Inflammation in Arthritic Horses Fed Omega-3 Fatty Acids. The Prof Anim Scient. 2009.
  17. Murray, MJ et al. Factors Associated With Gastric Lesions in Thoroughbred Racehorses. Equine Vet J. 1996. View Summary
  18. Zenker, W. et al. Histological and physical assessment of poor hoof horn quality in Lipizzaner horses and a therapeutic trial with biotin and a placebo. Equine Vet J. 1995 . View Summary