History of the South African Lipizzaners
The oldest human bred horse in the world, ancestors of the Lipizzaners, have been traced to Carthaginian and Roman horses at the time Julius Caesar was Emperor of Rome.
The Lipizzaner breed itself dates back to around 1562 when Archduke Maximilian started to breed Spanish horses in Lipica, a village in the modern day Slovenia. It was the need for military horses of unusual strength, loyalty and courage that inspired him to import Spanish, Italian and Arab-Oriental horses for his breeding programme. Out of this grew the famous white horse – the Lipizzaner – as we know it today.
These animals are characterised by a perfect and noble physique, graceful movements, the ability to learn, liveliness, good nature, courage, toughness and stamina. In appearance they resemble in every respect the typical baroque show and parade horses.
The history of the Lipizzaner horse is linked with an umbilical cord to the one of the famous Spanish Riding School in Vienna. The School dates back to the revival of the 'Haute Ecole d'Equitation' at the end of the 15th and beginning of the 16th centuries, as the Renaissance was sweeping through the royal courts of Europe.
The School takes the “Spanish” part of its name from the horses which originated from the Iberian Peninsula during the 16th century and which were considered especially noble, spirited and willing and suited for the art of classical horsemanship. Today’s Lipizzaner stallions are the descendants of this proud Spanish breed, a cross between Spanish, Arabian and Berber horses.
In 1729 Emperor Charles VI commissioned the architect Josef Emanuel Fischer von Erlach to build the magnificent Winter Riding School in the Hofburg Palace; it was completed in 1735. A portrait of the monarch graces the splendid baroque hall in which the riders of the Spanish Riding School train their Lipizzaner stallions and show off their skills to an international audience during the public performances.
Horses of Spanish origin were chosen over other breeds for characteristics they possessed which made them especially suitable for classical training. The Spanish Riding School of Vienna is the only riding academy in the world where the Renaissance tradition of classical horsemanship is preserved and cultivated to this day. The unique harmony of horse and rider achieved here is famous all over the world.
In 1944 a select few Lipizzaners were rescued from war-torn Europe and brought to South Africa by Count Jankovich-Besan. The stallions at Kyalami are direct descendants of those horses and their predecessors.
In 1951, Major George Iwanowski, a Cavalry Officer, left his native Poland to come to South Africa. He met Count Jankovich-Besan at the Royal Show in Pietermaritzburg, visited his stud and was offered a Lipizzaner to train, and thus ‘Maestoso Erdem’ became the first Lipizzaner to be seen demonstrating High School Dressage movements.
It was then that the idea was born, why not have a team of Lipizzaner Stallions able to give performances similar to those of The Spanish Riding School in Vienna. So the training of the stallions began.
In 1960 Major George Iwanowski began developing his equestrian centre in Kyalami : he gradually built up a team of eight stallions, which travelled countrywide giving performances and in 1969 he built the first indoor hall in South Africa especially for their training, still our home today.
In 1971 Colonel Handler, then Chief of the Spanish Riding School, opened our first regular Sunday performance here. Major George Iwanowski was closely associated with the team from then onwards.
He eventually returned home to his native Poland and was awarded full military Honours as ‘Colonel’ on his 100th birthday in 2007. He passed away in 2008 at the age of 101. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude for establishing the Lipizzaners here in South Africa.
The South African Lipizzaners Ltd, a Non-Profit Company, is dedicated to the advancement of this proud cultural heritage and the preservation of this most ancient breed of horse.
Over the years, the South African Lipizzaners have become an integral part of South Africa's cultural heritage.
Today, the South African Lipizzaners appear on film and television and at various public performances as well as their regular Sunday morning shows.