California Riding Magazine • May, 2014

Lipizzans: An Accessible Equestrian Legacy
Ride into spring on your own Lipizzan with the classical style of royalty.

by Susanne Desai

Pluto Fantasia cantering with his trainer Kelly Synold. Photo ©Susanne Desai

When you are looking for a new dressage horse or a beautiful overall horse, consider the Lipizzan. The breed has been carefully bred to support the classical rider with a well-balanced stature able to bend underneath itself and lift off the ground into "haute ecole" moves also known as "airs above the ground."

Lipizzans are sturdy horses that live long. They are an affordable choice compared to expensive breeds and can take you into battle as they were bred to move quickly and gymnastically with great loyalty in war times.

A rare breed with around 4,000 horses worldwide, they can be found locally in the US at select breeders. These horses have special in-your-pocket, large personalities and can easily become your favorite horse. Flourishing through deep human-to-horse relationships, they will be your dream horse that will not run from battles, but instead will stop and fight. Think of the character Maximus from the Disney movie Tangled. Many Lipizzans have strong but loyal personalities and relish working hard for their owners every day. 

Lipizzans have been bred for the Royal Habsburg family in Germany since the 1500s. During the Renaissance, classical riding was revived in large institutions for the Hapsburg family who controlled Spain and Austria at the time. The Spanish horse had been created by crossing the Barb and the Arab stallions with Iberian mares.

In 1562 Maximillian II brought the Spanish horse to Austria and founded the Kladrub Stud. Kladrub horses were heavy-built carriage horses.  The stud farm at Lipizza/Lipica (in Slovenia) was founded in 1580 and they started to breed Lipizzans by mixing the Kladrub and Lipizza horses with native Karst horses, then adding horses of Spanish descent from nearby Spain, Germany and Denmark. Lipizzans can be traced by their heritage for hundreds of years.

Chief Rider Andreas Hausberger of the Spanish Riding School on Siglavy Patricia. Photo ©Spanish Riding School/Stefan Seelig

During the 18th and 19th centuries there were only six established sire lines. Conversano was born in 1767 and he was from the Neapolitian line and he was black. Maestoso was bred from Neapolitain sire and a Spanish dam and he was born in 1819 and he was grey. The Neapolitan sire was either bay or brown and born in 1790. The Pluto line was from a Spanish dam and Danish Stud and he was gray and born in 1765. Siglavy was born in 1810 from a grey Arab stud. The Favory line was from the Kladrub stud and originated in 1779 as a dun stallion.

You can find the home of the Lipizzan still to this day at the oldest institution of classical riding, the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria ( At the Spanish riding school you can watch stallions from each of the six stud lines perform. If you want to see foals and young horses go visit the Piber Federal Stud in western Austria where the best stallions at the Spanish Riding School get to breed and continue their heritage. There are 15 classical mare lines there and around 40 foals born each year to around 70 broodmares. From their website you can also adopt a Lipizzan to help support this rare breed.

At home in California, my Lipizzan Pluto Fantasia works with his trainer Kelly Synold on canter transitions. He also loves to go out on trail and do ground work. He is working on long-lining and can do most of the Parelli movements. This winter and spring we have been jumping him over small jumps. He loves to show off his natural above-the-rails acrobatics and, when he is blowing off steam in turnout, you can see his ability to lift up is his natural way of being. He has a large movement and takes up a lot of your leg with his substantial core strength, so average size riders will be surprised they are so close to the ground.

Classical dressage is what we do most of the time and he is built with a pre-existing knowledge of what his ancestors have done for years before him. Please consider creating your own Spanish Riding School at your home and join the long list of Lipizzan owners who are enthralled by this breed of horse. You can join the Lipizzan Association of North America for just $25 and get access to a beautiful breed magazine and support the breed in the North America.

For more information, visit