Maestoso II Sabrina "Smokey" and Jennifer Roth in 1988.
It's time for Lipizzaners to get their due, says accomplished dressage trainer and international judge Jennifer Roth. The Carmel Valley-based professional has been a believer in this venerable breed for over 30 years, based on personal experience with the star stallion Maestoso ll Sabrina, and the qualities of his offspring and brethren over that time.
The California director of the U.S. Lipizzaner Federation, Jennifer has seen other breeds of baroque origins take the domestic horse market by storm: Friesians, Andalusians, Lusitanos and others. The fact that these horses have overshadowed the Lipizzaner is due more to marketing than to her favorite breed's potential, she asserts.
For many, images of Spanish Riding School of Vienna officers performing highest level dressage movements on beautiful white Lipizzaner stallions conjure images of equestrian accomplishments beyond the average rider's reach.
"Once people see them they are kind of mesmerized," Jennifer acknowledges of the breed's impact. Originally bred exclusively for royalty by the Habsburg monarchy in 1580, their excellence in the strength movements required in warfare and elegance presentations in peacetime, make Lipizzaners "the original dressage horse," Jennifer notes. They use their backs very effectively, which is critical for the discipline's collected work as well as the extended gaits required in FEI levels of the sport. Their temperaments, intelligence and willingness to please make them superior at every level.
Jennifer experienced that first hand with Maestoso II Sabrina, aka "Smokey," the beloved breed ambassador. Reserve championship in the U.S. Dressage Federation's 1990 and 1991 Intermediare Freestyle Horse of the Year standings were among the many highlights to which she rode Smokey, all simultaneous with his career as one of the country's top Lipizzaner breeding stallions. Jennifer has since taken several other Lipizzans to similarly impressive national titles.
Rennie Squier riding her mare, Nova, western dressage.
As recent dressage trends toward huge movement and tall heights that can be inappropriate to the rider's size taper off, Jennifer predicts that Lipizzaners will be poised to showcase their many plusses for dressage riders at all levels.
For all their dressage suitability, however, she emphasizes that Lipizzaners are "also very versatile horses and they should be marketed as such."
"They have very good endurance, so they make good trail horses and excellent driving horses," she continues. Lipzzan driving teams are highly regarded in the European driving competitions.
"They are very sure footed, hearty, sound horses. A former trainer of mine used to call them 'convenience horses' because, in war times, they had to stand still in small places for long periods of time and they did so without getting hyper or stiff." That same quality translates well to the repetition required to master high-level dressage movements. "They've been bred for over 400 years to have good temperaments, which includes the ability to repeat exercises without getting bored, which is very important in dressage."
The tolerance for repetitive work is not to be confused with dullness. Quite the contrary: they are high intellect horses – 'thinkers," Jennifer calls them, with a tendency to form remarkable and rewarding bonds with their riders. It's a quality that's valuable in every setting from the show ring to the trail. "They are very bonded with their rider, so they will really fight for you and try to please us."
Jennifer has always felt that Lipizzaners are "one of the most undervalued breeds" from a price standpoint, and that's good news for buyers. The United States Lipizzaner Federation welcomes inquiries to help newcomers and veterans alike make informed purchases.
"The Federation has great members who are interested in helping everybody learn about the breed," she notes. The organization's North American Lipizzan Symposium with be held this year at the famous breed hub, Tempel Farms in the Chicago area, in October. It's an ideal place to learn about the breed, she notes. An organization of breeders, owners and enthusiasts, the Federation has an annual meeting that is another good opportunity to make connections with knowledgeable, helpful Lipizzaner breeders and trainers as well as celebrate a historic and elegant horse breed.
For more information, visit www.USLipizzan.org.