The Lipizzan or Lipizzaner, in Slovene or Croatian, is the oldest human bred horse in the world. These magnificent horses are born dark in colour and become lighter each year, fading to white at between six and ten years of age. At the South African Lipizzaner Centre you can watch these beautiful horses performing the elegant dressage shows for which Lipizzaner horses have become world famous.
In 1562 in Lipica, Slovenia, the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Maximilian began a horse breeding programme that mixed Spanish, Italian and Arab bloodlines to breed horses that were unusually strong, brave and loyal and had an even temperament and ability to learn. These horses became known as the Lipizzaner. Soon the Haute Ecole d’Equitation, or equestrian high schools, became popular across Europe inspired by the Spanish Riding School in Vienna where the Austro-Hungarian court trained its lipizzaners to perform dressage.
Lipizzaners arrived in South Africa in 1944 when Count Jankovich-Besan sent a select few horses overseas to escape the dangers of war-torn Europe. In the 1950s the horses came into the care of Polish officer Major George Iwanowski who mastered the high school dressage movements made famous by the Spanish riding school. By 1969 Iwanowski had a team of eight highly trained stallions and an indoor arena was built at the stables in Kyalami to show off the Lipizzaner show. In 1971 regular Sunday Lipizzaner performances began and these still continue to this day.
During the Sunday Lipizzaner performance 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 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.
Shows take place every Sunday at 10:30am. For more info and ticket prices, visit www.lipizzaners.co.za.
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.