Airs Above the Ground

Bloged in Spanish riding school by admin Tuesday March 6, 2007

Pluto, Conversano, Favory, Neapolitano, Siglavy, and
Maestoso.

Are they names of characters from one Shakespeare’s more
obscure plays? No.

But they are responsible for some of the elite performers
of their species.

Those six names belong to the six stallions from which
every Lipizzaner, the magnificent white ballet-dancing
stallions of the Spanish Riding School, is descended.

Pluto was a grey horse of Spanish descent foaled in 1765
at the Frederiksborg Royal Stud. Conversano was a black
stallion with Neapolitan ancestry, foaled in 1767. Favory
was a dun foaled in 1769 at the Imperial Stud Kladrun in
Bohemia.

Neapolitano, foaled in 1790, was a brown horse who came
from the Po region of Italy: Siglavy, date of birth
unknown, was a grey Arabian foal from Syria who arrived at
Lipizza in Slovenia in 1810, and Maestoso was a grey 1819
foal sired by Neapolitaner and born in Hungary.

The first and last of these stallions were born over
half-a-century apart; each of the six came from different
parts of the world; and yet the painstaking process of
missing and matching their genes with countless
forgotten mares descended from ancient Iberian horses has
resulted in a bloodline as exalted of that of any of the
world’s remaining Royal Houses.

The Court Stud of Slovenia was founded near the village of
Lipizza in 1580, when Shakespeare was a mere lad of
sixteen. In 1735, Charles VI of Austria established the
Spanish Riding School in Vienna, named for the Iberian
horses in the Lipizzaner’ history. It was Charles VI who
began keeping records of the horse’s pedigrees.

The Lipizzaner breeding operation remained at Piber
remained there for 340 years, and was moved to Piber,
Austria, in 1920. The Piber stud farm was chosen for its
climate and the rich soil of the area, which produced
top-quality forage.

The Lipizzaner breeding stock lived peacefully at Piber
until World War II, when for their safety they, and the
performing horses at the Spanish Riding School, were all
taken to Holstau. Only two hundred and fifty Lipizzaners
survived the war, and conditions in post-war Europe were
so bad that only the intervention of General George Patton
saved the horses from being seized as draft animals.

In 1948 some of the Lipizzaners were moved to the South
Mooi region of South Africa, where Major George Iwanoski
used one of the donated stallions to start the Lipizzaner
of South Africa School, the world’s second accredited
Lipizzaner Center.

The Lipizzaner stallions selected for the Spanish Riding
School performing troupe are all grey or white, and stand
between 15.2 and 16 hands, with a crested neck, back and
neck of equal length, and short legs which they can easily
tuck close to their bodies when they perform the “Airs
Above the Ground”.

There are only about three thousand purebred Lipizzaners,
although the breed is gaining popularity for use in
harness. And Slovenia has honored the horses by having an
engraving of two leaping Lipizzaner on their 20-Euro coin.

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