Lipizzaner Centre, Kyalami

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Rearing horses at the Kyalami Lipizzaner Centre. Photo courtesy ifijay

The Lipizzan or Lipizzaner, in Slovene or Croatian, is the oldest breed of horse in the world. These magnificent horses are born bay or black and become lighter each year, fading to white between six and 10 years of age. In Kyalami, the parade horses that you can watch performing are direct descendants of Archduke Maximilian II’s, and his brother Archduke Charles’s, breeding programmes. In 1562 in Lipica, Slovenia, horses were required for military engagement and Lipizzaners were bred from Spanish, Italian and Arab bloodlines, ensuring strength, bravery, loyalty, ability to learn and even temperament.

The Renaissance at the end of the 15th and start of the 16th centuries saw a revival of Haute Ecole d’Equitation, or “high school” that demonstrates movements of classical dressage particular to the famous Spanish Riding School in Vienna. The royal courts of Europe favoured horses of Spanish origin for characteristics that made them suitable for classical training, which was highly stylised and controlled. This heritage of traditional horsemanship – dating back well over 400 years – combines grace and nobility and blends horse and rider in perfect harmony in world-famous baroque shows.

Kyalami Lipizzaner Centre. Photo courtesy ifijay

The Lipizzaners arrived in South Africa in 1944 when Count Jankovich-Besan sent a select few horses overseas to escape from Austria, which was in the grips of the World War II. In 1951 the count met Major George Iwanowski at the Royal Show in Pietermaritzburg and the Polish army officer was offered a horse to school. After mastering the high school dressage movements, Iwanowski was tasked with developing a team of performing stallions following the lines of the Spanish Riding School.

The indoor arena where you will see the Lipizzaner show is the original hall built by Iwanowski in 1969 for the purpose of showing off the high school movements of his team of eight stallions. Training and performances were closely monitored by the Spanish Riding School, and its chief, Colonel Hans Handler, opened the first Sunday performance in 1971. After retiring from the programme, Iwanowski, the founding father of Lipizzaners in South Africa, returned to his native Poland where he was recognised by the Polish government for his work with the dancing white horses. He was promoted to the rank of Colonel. He died at the age of 101.

A visit to Dahlia Road in Kyalami to watch a Lipizzaner performance on a Sunday morning is a must. You can witness famous “airs above the ground” movements such as the courbette, in which the horse raises himself on his haunches and leaps forward, and the capriole, originally intended to decapitate foot soldiers on the battlefield, but now an exhibition of the horse’s strength and coordination. The performance lasts about 60 minutes without an interval. After the performance the riders and stallions can be met in the courtyard where refreshments are sold under the tree and a second-hand book stall is open to browsers. You can also meet and give the horses carrots in person, which is one of the highlights of the experience. There is a jumping castle for children. The Lipizzaner shop sells branded clothing and souvenirs.

Admission

R110 for all at the door, while children under three get in for free

Visiting hours

Sundays at 10h30

Directions

Take the Allandale/Kyalami turnoff from the N1 highway and head west down Allandale (which becomes Kyalami Road). At the race course, turn right, then turn left at the second traffic light and follow the signs

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