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The Lipizzan or Lipizzaner as it is also known, is a breed of horse known for its association with the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Austria where horses perform classical dressage, including highly controlled and stylized jumps and other complicated movements.
The breed dates back to the 16th century when it was developed by the House of Habsburg from Spanish and local stock. The Lipizzan was established when a powerful yet agile horse was needed for both military uses and also for use in the fashionable and rapidly growing riding schools for the nobility of central Europe.
In 1562, the Habsburg Emperor Maximillian II brought the Spanish Andalusian horse to Austria and founded the court stud at Kladrub, then in 1580, his brother, Archduke Charles II, established a similar stud at Lipizza (now Lipica) in modern day Slovenia. It is here that the breed got its name.
The Lipizzaner is characterised by its grey coat (though bay and black do exist, they are considered rare) and as with all other grey horses they have black skin and dark eyes. They (and all other grey horses) are born dark, usually bay or black and grow lighter as they mature. Most Lipizzans measure between 14.2hh and 15.2hh but those bred closer to the original carriage-horse type are taller, approaching 16.1hh. The breed has a long head with small ears and a deep jaw; the eyes are expressive and the nostrils flared. Their neck is arched yet sturdy, with low muscular withers and their chest is wide and deep. These horses have powerful shoulders, strong and sturdy legs, small tough hooves and a high, well set tail. Lipizzaners usually mature slowly but tend to remain active much longer than other breeds, it is not unusual for one to still be doing difficult dressage movements long into their 20s and living well into their 30s.
Young stallions arrive at the Spanish Riding School aged 4, it is there that they begin 6 years of training. During these 6 years, a horse will be trained to be responsive to its rider and to develop and maintain a free forward movement. The horse will be taught balance, turns and maneuvers and also the lengthening and shortening of its gaits. Once it has mastered these it will then be taught the highly complicated dressage movements that the school is most famous for. Such movements include the levade where the horse must stand on its hindlegs at a 30 degree angle and with front legs raised. Other movements include the courbette, a movement where the horse balances on its hind legs before jumping, keeping the forelegs off the ground and hind legs together. Although mares are trained to be driven and ridden under saddle, it is stallions that the school uses for its performances.
The Lipizzaner today competes successfully in dressage and driving as well as retaining its classic position at the Spanish Riding School.