Monday, June 14, 2010

Lipizzan Horse

Today, in a continuation of an unofficial World Cup theme, we celebrate one of the national symbols of Slovenia. Slovenia you see, is a small country of about 2 million people that has made it to the World Cup for their second time. Yesterday morning, they even won their first game... though they're in a group with England and the United States so future wins would be quite the upset indeed.... Anyway. Animals.

Image from AMNH
The Lipizzan (or Lipizzaner) is a breed of horse that is relatively rare. In fact, only about 3,000 of them exist around the world. The horse has its origins with the Hapsburg family, a royal dynasty that controlled various territories in Europe up until the end of World War I. In 1580, Archduke Charles II established a stud farm in Lipica, Slovenia (Well, it wasn't Slovenia then, but you get the idea) with the intent of creating first class riding horses. Lipica is also known as Lipizza in Italian, which is where the breed's name comes from. Lipizzans were bred from the native Karst horses, mixed with imported Spanish stock, Andalusians and Barbs.

Since the late 18th/ early 19th century all Lipizzans have been descended from 6 stud lines, and keeping those lines going has run into some problems. The breed has a rather interesting history of movement during warfare. The stud farm was relocated three times during the Napoleonic Wars and again during World War I, which left the future of the breed divided once the Austrian-Hungarian Empire was split up. Prior to WWI, all Lipizzans were bred in one location and were in private possession of the Hapsburg family. The division of nations forced the horses to be split up between multiple countries, which is how the current breeding farm situation is today. The horses were also relocated and dispersed during World War II. The original stud farm in Lipica still exists, and is still breeding Lipizzan horses after 430 years.

Image from Travel With a Challenge
Now that the history crash course is over, we can talk about the horse itself. Lipizzans are traditionally white in appearance, but are not "true white" horses, which is a genetic rarity. Grey, brown and black Lipizzans also exist. Foals are born with dark hair, which then lightens over time. The breed overall is slow to mature. It can take between 6 and 10 years for the coat to fully lighten, and the horses are able to preform well into their 20s. Lipizzans are exceptionally good as dressage, and are the sole breed used by the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. They are strong, muscular, yet graceful horses, capable of performing the Airs Above the Ground. An arena attraction, the "World Famous" Lipizzaner Stallions, has been touring for forty years, showing off the horses's feats.

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