Born as bay, chestnut or black foals, the vast majority of Lipizzaner horses are grey. A gene mutation is responsible for the loss of color pigments in their coats and causes what we see as white coloring in their growing age. The progressive silvering process starts the first year before the horses often completely turn white between six and eight, comparable with the aging of human hair, but with the process incredibly sped up. The color of their coat is based on the Mendelian inheritance and as grey is the dominant gene, in rare cases a small number of Lipizzaner horses stay dark into their adulthood.
Homozygous Lipizzaner are a brighter white, known as milk-white. As white is often a symbol of elegance and dignity, no wonder Archduke Charles II of Inner Austria chose these horses for his court stud founded in 1580. Their famous reputation owes not only to their brilliant white coat but also their mental and physical power. The Lipizzaner are graceful, agile and strong as well as being frugal, sociable and have an exceedingly good memory which makes them particularly suitable for the art of classical horsemanship and dressage riding.
It’s hard to believe that Lipizzaner are among the endangered breeds of domestic animals – worldwide only about 5000 animals exist.
The Spanish Riding School is an establishment based in Vienna, Austria, with cultural heritage and tradition where the high school of classical horsemanship has been cherished and maintained for over 430 years. The court stables where today 72 Lipizzaner stallions are accommodated were completed in 1560 and are still one of Vienna’s most valuable Renaissance buildings.
At the age of four, still with a silver coat, the Lipizzaner stallions leave their birthplace Piber in the Austrian province of Styria and travel to the Spanish Riding School where they are subsequently trained according to the principles of classical horsemanship.
The first priority of a Lipizzaner’s training is in no way different to that of any other horse and can be summed up as the pursuit of obedience, suppleness, responsiveness and deals with the elementary field schooling of the Remonte, in other words the young horse is ridden as much as possible in a natural posture in uncollected gaits and on straight lines.
The following year comprises what is called the secondary field schooling, the Campagne School. The collected horse is ridden in all gaits, turns and circles in complete balance.
The “Haute École” means that the rider brings his horse to perfection. Everything now depends on the individual skill, talent, strength and sensitivity of each stallion. The stallion learns the Piaffe, the Passage, Pirouettes and to change legs in the canter. It takes about six years for a stallion to complete the schooling. Only very few, particularly talented and sensitive stallions master the art of “Schools above the Ground”, the Levade, the Capriole – which is the highest and most perfect of all jumps – and the Courbette which we know from paintings and equestrian statues of famous generals, such as Napoleon, sitting heroically on their horses.
The training is comparable to a top athlete, every Lipizzaner horse receives individual care and attention, a regular work schedule and a specially created food plan is part of their everyday life. The supply of revitalizing water, magnet therapy covers and solariums with infrared and ultraviolet light complete their daily wellness program. Furthermore they receive regular immune prophylaxis and a veterinary examination twice a week.
Not only the horse, but also the rider has a long hard journey from a young cadet to successfully achieve the status of a fully qualified rider. The process takes between eight to twelve years. Many give up and only the best persevere. Since September 9, 2008, for the very first time, two young women started their training with the Spanish Riding School. One of them is Hannah Zeitlhofer who recently graduated into the ranks of an assistant rider.
The rider and his horse form a homogenous unit and after a strenuous workout the rider pulls out a titbit – a piece of cube sugar – from the pocket of his tailcoat, to give the horse the delicious reward. Even in the stables there is a vibe of aesthetic perfection – when the master of the horse walks between the horseboxes and each Lipizzaner responds to his presence – no nervousness, no unpleasant smell, everything perfectly clean, prim and proper. Exactly what such a majestic horse deserves. As befits an artist, Lipizzaner and their riders go regularly on tour.