Dr Jaromir Oulehla, a veterinarian and former director of the Spanish Riding School and Federal Stud Farm Piber in Austria, flagged the decline of Lipizzaner breeding in his 1996 publication and queried how best to maintain the Lipizzaner in its current form in the face of a shrinking gene pool and economic pressures2.
Every classically bred Lipizzaner horse on earth today can be traced back to one of the six foundation stallions – Conversano, Favory, Maestoso, Neapolitano, Pluto, Siglavy – and a recognised mare family, traceable in an unbroken line back through the generations. Our Australian Lipizzaners can be traced back up to 35 generations, with many of our horses having a grandparent or great-grandparent from Slovenia, Hungary or Austria.
Like many other breeds, to maintain character, type and purity of line, the Lipizzaner horse must conform to a breeding standard. The original breeding standard for the Lipizzaner was devised 400 years ago with the objective of producing horses that fit the requirements of the Imperial Court of Vienna and the Spanish Riding School. This standard required Lipizzaners to be suitable for the rigours of the haute école and elegant carriage horses for royalty – quite the challenge when you consider the different conformational requirements for these two roles3.
Different stud farms value different traits in their horses and, because of this, deviations from the original standard are not uncommon. These differences have manifested as versatility within the breed – Szilvásvárad produces world-class driving horses; Piber produces horses against the original breeding standard, and Lipica walks a fine line producing classically bred horses that are able to compete in modern dressage and school the haute école movements4.
So where does this leave Australian Lipizzaner breeding? What is our objective when we produce a Lipizzaner? Are we choosing to preserve mare and stallion lines above all else, or are we choosing to chase the dream of the graceful, white dancing horse?
At the time Dr Oulehla published his findings into breeding standards, Piber preferred to lose a mare family than perpetuate a trait Piber saw as incongruous with the breed standard5.
Australia has a different view – in Australia, every Lipizzaner counts.