Elegant Lipizzaner horses: the symbol of Slovenia

Published: 10.9.2020

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Elegant Lipizzaner horses: the symbol of Slovenia

On the occassion of the 440th anniversary of Lipica Stud farm, we take a look at the galloping white Lipizzaners, which are surely one of the most iconic beauties of Slovenia.

Elegant Lipizzaner horses: the symbol of Slovenia

Lipizzaner horses are distinguished by their elegance and are born with a gift for dance figures

One of the iconic beauties of Slovenia are surely galloping white Lipizzaners. Not many know that the elegant Karst horses, which can be found from Europe to America, Australia and Africa, originate from the Slovenian town of Lipica, after which they were named. Although they are present in about 20 countries, they are considered a rare breed of horse. The world knows them for their completely white colour, which they only get with age – they are born black, grey or brown. Their white colour was the main reason that the Habsburgs considered them the jewels in the crown of their empire, part of which were once also the Slovenian lands.

The Lipica Stud Farm, the original stud farm of the Lipizzaners and home to more than 300 horses, celebrates its 440th anniversary this year. This true oasis of the Karst is full of hidden places and exceptional views of the white horses grazing, playing or galloping across the vast meadows. Lipica has recently taken a big step forward in inscribing Lipizzaners on the UNESCO list of natural and cultural heritage of mankind, along with seven other countries. On the occasion of this year's anniversary, we spoke with professional Lipizzaner coach Birgit Fabris Sauer, who came to Lipica from Germany led by her love for a Lipica riding coach.

Spacious meadows are the most beautiful part of the Lipica estate

Lipica, which is just a stone's throw from Trieste, was named after the linden trees that adorn the spacious green estate of Lipica and are considered an emblematic Slovenian tree. In Lipica, you can experience the story of mythical white horses and their relationships with riders in a unique way. Horse-drawn carriage rides, cycling through the mighty avenues of maklens, getting up close with the horses, observing mares as they galloping through pastures, a classic dressage show and visiting the historical centre of the estate is for many an unforgettable experience of the Karst and Slovenia. The present-day area of the Lipica cultural monument has retained its shape and size from 1580, when the stud farm was established. Numerous stables, a mansion, a chapel, tree-lined avenues, walking paths and pastures attract visitors from all over the world.

Favourite riding experience on an open meadow

"The whole of Lipica is exceptional, both historically and spatially. However, when I go horse riding in the morning, soon after seven o'clock, my favourite place to go is a large open pasture called Mihlevc. That is where you get a view of the vastness of the estate. You can see the whole meadow and the majestic trees, maybe even some deer. It is an amazing experience for me, the most beautiful part of Lipica," says Birgit with fascination. Lipica carefully preserves its heritage and its typical landscape, which is inseparably connected with the Karst – a landscape that is just as miraculous and special as the Lipizzaners. It is a world of the mysterious underworld and deep karst caves shaped by the interaction between rocks and water over millions of years. Here, its characteristic architecture and character were dictated by the bora wind and the typical stone found here, a world with dry walls and many karst phenomena. No wonder that Birgit suggests saddling up and visiting the Škocjan Caves with the largest underground canyon in Europe.

Young horses are for old riders

Birgit participated in several international dressage riding competitions and, at Lipica, she is employed as a riding coach. “The most important thing is that the horse trusts you. It is also important to continue training horses that have already achieved a certain level of training. We maintain and develop their fitness levels and readiness to listen to the rider's instructions." During the conversation, she recalled a saying that experienced experts have about how a young horse belongs together with an old rider, or vice versa, how an old horse belongs together with a young rider. “An older rider has experience and knows how to train a young horse. This is why how we work with young horses is important, so that they have the right training from the very beginning. All our training efforts follow the principles of classic dressage and we will carry on with this method of work in the future.” She understands classic Lipica dressage as a way of training in which horses learn without strain, effort and stress. That is why, in her opinion, this is the only appropriate method for working with horses – for all breeds, not just Lipizzaners.

Lipizzaner horses are born with a gift for dance figures

In Birgit's opinion, every horse has his own personality. The main feature of all Lipizzaners is their snow-white colour, although, to the surprise of many, they are born dark – either black, grey or brown. They also differ from other horses in that they mature relatively late and are actually teenagers until the age of eight. To reach the highest level (Grand Prix), a Lipizzaner needs at least seven years of training, starting between the ages of three and a half and four. However, the effort invested is soon repaid, as they are then suitable for riding for a very long time. In Lipica they have horses that at the age of 22 still perform at shows for visitors that held three times a week.

When a white Karst horse floats above the ground

The 'Baroque figure' of the Karst white horses is something special. The Lipizzaners have a smaller body frame and are more muscular compared to other horses. Their beauty, elegance and pride find expression in figures such as the piaffe, passage and pirouette, and in the figures of the school above the ground, in which they shine like some fairy tale creatures. These are among the most demanding classic dressage figures, but they are easier for Lipizzaners than for other horses precisely because of their physique. “Lipizzaners already have these figures ‘in their genes’. We notice them in young stallions during their spontaneous play in nature, so it is not difficult to teach them to perform them upon the rider's signal. When you see a Lipizzaner in its greatest form – in the piaffe and passage figures – it’s really very, very nice to see. That's when they show their real beauty. Although the Lipizzaners have a smaller frame, it feels like they grow when performing these figures, becoming really big and strong. And these are the figures that are, to my mind, the most beautiful."

The charm and elegance of the symbol of Slovenia

The reputation of strength and endurance of these beautiful horses is certainly associated with centuries of life on the rocky Karst terrain. These strong and lithe horses were initially bred for both civilian and military purposes, but today they impress with their elegance in the performances resumed again in Lipica in the summer season. This year, when the stud farm celebrates its 440th anniversary, a number of events are planned in Lipica, and the renovation of the Maestoso Hotel is underway. In the future of the stud farm, Birgit hopes that even more visitors will come to Lipica to see the preserved tradition and feel the charm of the Lipizzaners, which are certainly among the most recognised symbols of Slovenia.

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