Because there are fewer than 4,000 Lipizzans worldwide, they're not well represented in every venue and consequently, many people don't know a great deal about them and how they differ from "normal" horses (and they do differ in many respects). As a devotee of the breed since my youth (and my viewing of "Miracle of the White Stallions"), an owner for nearly 30 years and breeder for roughly 10 of those, I have a bit of experience with them on many different levels. On these pages I will attempt to answer the most common questions I receive about Lipizzans. If you have a question not addressed here, please email me and I will try to answer it.
Your horses seem to do very well in the evaluations judged by Dr. Oulehla - have you ever considered having them evaluated by anyone else to see if they're really that good?
Of course we're very pleased that Dr. Oulehla likes the type of Lipizzan we breed. At this point in time we see no reason to change to another evaluator and for several reasons. First, I don't think there's anyone in world better qualified than Dr. Oulehla. Why do I say this? He was named to head the Lipizzan stud at Piber (the only supplier of horses to the Spanish Riding School) in 1983 then was appointed Director of the Spanish Riding School as well in 1985. A crisis in the breeding of the Lipizzan led to this appointment of one person to head both institutions and Dr. Oulehla was the man deemed able to deal with the crisis. He held these positions for 18 years, until his retirement in 2001. Consequently you're not likely to find any other single person who has seen so many Lipizzans from conception to Grand Prix and since we breed our horses for dressage, not driving or any other endeavor, we feel strongly that he's the man to keep us on the right path. Second, the U.S. is a big country and the Lipizzan is scattered across the land in small pockets. Since few breeders have other breeders nearby it's easy to become myopic - after all, we all love our horses. Without the opportunity to compare them to others of their breed it's easy to overlook and thereby preserve minor faults until they become big ones. So I feel it's very important to maintain consistency in the way in which our horses are judged so that breeders can more easily maintain consistency in their own herds. Bringing in an evaluator who might prefer the driving type or some other type of Lipizzan would only spawn confusion and serve no purpose. Eventually I agree that it would be a very good idea to bring in additional judges but I'd really like to see every Lipizzan in N. America evaluated by Dr. O first (I realize that's an ambitious idea and not likely to happen). Lastly, the Lipizzan is one of only a few breeds that was created by a purpose, not for a purpose. At the beginning of the Renaissance, when it became nearly a requirement that every gentleman of noble breeding study the art of riding, the Lipizzan didn't exist. The breed came into existance by being one of if not the most suitable mount for manege riding. It wasn't developed by a need for a superb driving horse or a cross country mount or any other reason. Thus the Lipizzan excels at dressage, especially the upper levels and is unmatched in the highly collected movements. Why have the horses inspected by anyone who is not totally immersed in this type of riding?
I'm 5'10" and Lipizzans are so small!
Ah, but they're the biggest "little" horse you'll ever ride! Remember that the riders at the Spanish Riding School are all men and that the tallest horse in the quadrille is 15.2hh (in order to be in the quadrille, a stallion must measure between 15.1hh & 15.2hh). The Lipizzan is a very big bodied horse and will take up a tremendous amount of leg. I have a broodmare who stands a whole 14hh (when she needs her feet trimmed) and she weighs 1050lbs (on a scale at the vet school). Lipizzans from 14.2hh upwards are quite large enough for me (a long-legged 5'6") and most anyone who tries one of the "little" horses comes away with a different attitude. As an aside, I once had several warmblood horses, all of which were in the neighborhood of 16.3hh. I had noted that many of my warmblood-owning acquaintences were intimidated and even fearful of their horses but it wasn't until I actually owned and rode warmbloods that I understood why. I've often had exuberant young Lipizzans and other smaller breeds jump imitation courbettes or other "airs" they invented on the spur of the moment and always laughed at their antics. However, my warmbloods were a different story. The conformation of these horses was such that the barrel was still getting wider at my knees with the result that any attempt to strengthen my seat by closing my knees would only result in my seat being pinched up out of the saddle and becoming increasingly precarious. Since the security of my seat was seriously compromised I was not able to deal with a disobedience in as straightforward a manner as I was used to with my smaller horses and I was a considerably less effective rider because of it. Add to this the fact that I have never enjoyed horses that take a great deal of driving to get them to go forward and you'll understand why I soon sold my warmbloods and went back to my little Lipizzaners. It's like going from driving a Mack truck to driving a Ferrari.
P.S. The acceptable size range for Lipizzans is 14.3hh - 15.2hh 1/4" for stallions and mares tend to be smaller. The quadrille size requirement is so that the horses give a uniform appearance. During his visits to the U.S., Dr. Oulehla has repeatedly emphasized that the Lipizzan should not exceed 15.2hh 1/4" and has gone so far as to recommend that horses over 15.3hh not be accepted for registration. The breed is not intended to be large and unfortunately, when it becomes too large it loses some of its best characteristics - i.e. soundness and temperament. I have also seen oversized Lipizzans that had poor breathing function. If you want a 16hh or 17hh horse, find a grey warmblood!
I'd like to have a Lipizzan but I'm interested in competitive dressage and I understand that they don't extend very well.
Nothing could be further from the truth! However, one needs to understand that correct extension only comes from correct collection and this is usually missing, regardless of the breed of horse. What usually occurs in the dressage ring is a lengthening of stride rather than a proper extension. It you watch closely and/or observe photos, and you drop an imaginary line from the point of the hip to the ground, you'll see that the hindleg steps very little, if at all, in front of this line. The action of the hindleg behind this imaginary line is entirely a pushing effect. However, the amount that the horse steps in front of this line results in carriage for that period of time. A correct extension requires the horse to step well in front of the line dropped from the point of the hip and results in tremendous loft and a long moment of suspension. When the hindleg largely pushes out behind the horse it can result in a long and attractive stride but it lacks the "air time" of a true extension and the horse's front feet will frequently snap rather dramatically upwards as a result of the front leg being prematurely straightened in the knee. In a true extension, the front leg remains flexed slightly at the knee until just before the hoof strikes the ground again. So-o-o, to try to shorten this dissertation slightly, your Lipizzan will not have a good extended trot if he's not correctly prepared and trained in the basics and has developed carriage. But neither will your warmblood - you'll just be able to fake it easier with the latter. However, when that same warmblood reaches Grand Prix competition you'll find yourself leaving the room for a snack when he's asked for the highly collected movements such as piaffe, passage and pirouettes, because the collection is absent and these movements become a mere caricature of what they should be. How often have you seen a warmblood at the highest levels laboring to produce the required number of steps of piaffe?
The Lipizzans I've seen aren't very high quality - they toe out or in and have a lot of foot flight deviation.
There are a couple of factors at work here. #1 - the quality of Lipizzans in the U.S. has increased dramatically in the last 10-15 years. That's when Dr. Jaromir Oulehla, Director of the Spanish Riding School and the Piber Stud Farm, began coming to American to evaluate the Lipizzan horses here. Serious breeders have their horses inspected each time he comes and take into account his observations when making breeding decisions. I remember at the first evaluation someone asked Dr. Oulehla if he would ever consider taking a horse from America to Vienna and he answered with an emphatic, "No!" Thus it was particularly gratifying when, at the 2003 evaluation at our farm he suggested that it might be nice if our young stallion, Pluto Gisella, (that he had just awarded a score of 93.5%) might stand in Europe after a few years of breeding in America! At the 2005 evaluation he even state, "You should be selling stallions to the Spanish Riding School." (I have it on tape!) Dr. Oulehla has since retired but still returns to the U.S. every other year to evaluate Lipizzans. #2 - The Lipizzan is bred as a performance animal not, as many breeds of horses in years passed, for display at halter. The foremost consideration in selecting breeding stock has always been the trainability of the horse. Indeed, the Spanish Riding School has always selected its breeding stallions from among those trained to the highest performance standards. While perfectly straight legs and movement are always desirable, the temperament and ability of the horse to be trained to the highest levels is far more important. So if I have an individual that toes in or out a little and paddles a bit, I don't panic if that horse has a good character and moves well. By the same token, I don't care how straight the legs are if the movement is no good and he's surly and sour to deal with. A horse with very good movement will rarely have any really serious conformation faults. Remember also that our American idea of "perfect" conformation comes largely from the Thoroughbred industry where horses are subjected to tremendous physical stress when less than 2 years of age. Since it is traditional to wait until the Lipizzan is 3 1/2 - 4 years old before beginning his training, he's physically more mature and able to deal with the stresses imposed. Another notation about foot flight deviation - much of it is generated in the shoulder and is caused by tension. I once had a stallion with very straight legs that, when tense, looked like an eggbeater coming down the centerline! However, when he was relaxed and moving forward correctly, his movement was quite straight.
I don't like riding mares and I can't keep a stallion where I board.
There's nothing wrong with gelding a Lipizzan! There, I've said it. While the temperament of the Lipizzan is such that even the stallions are pretty easy to deal with, they do have their moments, especially in their youth, and not everyone wants to put up with even mild testosterone rushes. For those that cling to the idea of having a breeding animal that will help pay for itself, you might take a lesson from modern Morgan breeders. An equine reproduction veterinarian I know tells me that it's becoming more common for Morgan breeders to freeze semen from their 2 year old colts, then geld them. If the gelding goes on to have a stunning show career they have his future sons and daughters on ice - you can have your gelding and breed him too!
Speaking of mares, I hear that Lipizzan mares are very difficult to train.
Mares of any breed present a greater challenge than either stallions or geldings and with good reason. But if you understand and are considerate of the nature of a mare, you will find the rewards are great. A well-trained Lipizzan stallion or gelding will die for you, but a well-trained mare will kill for you! It is the nature of a mare to say, "No!" and to mean it. After all, in the wild she lives with a sex mad maniac in the form of the herd stallion that's always wanting to show her his etchings. She must say no 11 months out of every year and she must convince him that she means it. Consequently, when you train a mare, she's going to be more determined in her resistance. Let's face it, no horse has ever filled out an application to become a Grand Prix performer - an application to be a pasture ornament would be more up their alley! When a mare's resistance is met with patience and persistence she will eventually acquiesce. The really nice thing about a mare is that once she says, "Yes!" she means that too and you rarely have to take that hill again. With stallions, it's exactly the opposite. They yield much more readily but since in nature they must continually look for an opening to become the herd leader, they'll behave the same way with you. Just when you think you've overcome a discipline problem, your young stallion will, in effect, say to you, "How about today? Can I be boss today?" Often those unfamiliar with stallions take this as a personal affront when it's just the nature of the animal. After these two examples it's obvious why geldings of all breeds are so popular - they've got nothing left to live for but food and a few horse treats will get you anything you want!
I've heard that Lipizzans are easier to sit on than warmbloods and therefore better for people with back problems.
The answer to this is yes and no. Many warmbloods, due to incorrect training, move with stiff, unyielding joints, creating a very jarring effect. An incorrectly trained Lipizzan will also be jarring to sit on! Because the Lipizzan is relatively stronger (for its size, obviously) than the warmblood, it tends to use its joints more efficiently. But one should understand that the horse must be correctly prepared in the basics before you should "sit" on him at all (I mean sitting trot here). If you observe a young horse just beginning his training on the lunge you'll note that the hindleg tends to step forward to a point just under the point of the hip (see extended trot question above). When this is the case, the power generated by the hindleg acts in an upward motion through the limb, into the pelvis and is felt by the rider like a pile driver hitting him in the back. The resulting motion and jarring of the horse's back is literally impossible to sit on quietly (it's why God invented the rising trot). To try to sit on this movement is abusive to horse and rider alike. Rather, put the sitting trot away until the horse has developed the strength and discipline to begin to "carry" himself (and the rider). Carriage is the result of the hindleg stepping beyond the line downward from the point of the horse's hip. Even a small step in front of that line will produce a very notable softening in the movement of the horse's back - it is the addition of "springs." However, much to the dismay of the rider, when he feels that softening and tries to sit on it it will suddenly disappear! The key is not to overdo it - when you first begin to try to sit on your young Lipizzan (or warmblood, or quarterhorse, or......) sit only for three steps then immediately go back to the rising trot. Several strides later, if all went well initially, sit three steps again. Do not sit more than three steps until the horse is able to carry you those few steps without any change in his speed or the soft feeling through his back. When he accepts three steps try sitting for five steps. Again wait until he accepts five steps calmly then sit for seven steps. Continue in this manner until you can sit on him for half a large circle with no change in the horse - then he is ready to carry you. Remember also, that even a small change in the weight you ask the horse to carry can make him sore so don't overdo what seems to you to be a very simple exercise. Today before your ride your horse do 10 squat-thrusts. Tomorrow tell me how you feel.......
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