Intangible Cultural Heritage in Austria

Knowledge concerning the breeding of Lipizzan horses

Applicant: SHS/Bundesgestüt Piber
Province: Styria
Domain: Practices concerning nature

Across all of Europe, Lipizzans represent the only parade horse that has been raised in the traditional way since the Renaissance. The Lipizzans’ preservation is based on extensive knowledge about breeding, caring for, and training these horses, knowledge that has been passed on from generation to generation in a largely oral manner. The bearers of this knowledge in Austria are the employees of the federal stud farm in Piber, who have been breeding Lipizzans for the Spanish Riding School in Vienna since 1920. All of this stud’s employees come from the environs of Piber and feel a strong connection to the Lipizzan breed, an affinity that has sometimes even given rise to special vocabulary describing the horses—as in the common reference to their “Roman noses.” The Gstütler [stud farmers] receive years of training by experienced hands, years spent in direct contact with the horses. The basis for passing on the relevant knowledge consists in daily visits to all of the stalls and daily meetings of the employees, with the breeding herd inspected and discussed together on a continual basis. Alongside running the stud farm itself, international exchange with other Lipizzan studs is essential, since a clear “breeder’s eye” can only be maintained in constant contact with past and ongoing developments.

The knowledge required for the breeding of Lipizzans has to do with horse-breeding principles, species-appropriate horse husbandry and raising, suitable human-horse interaction, and training methods based on classic principles, as well as selection measures and trained breeder’s eye. The associated path of professional development consists of observation, processing one’s impressions, and schooling, and it requires years or even decades of training and experience. The learning process begins with daily work in the stables, continues with selection decisions, and ultimately results in the horses’ use at the Spanish Riding School. The breeding records in the studbooks go back several centuries, and in accordance with age-old tradition, these notes continue to be made by hand and in duplicate.

The training and professional development of the stud farm personnel is a mutual process, and the stud master organises work assignments so as to have young employees work together with experienced ones, allowing the former to profit from the knowledge of the latter.

The breeding results reveal themselves on the employees’ daily rounds, at the inspection and selection of three-year-old horses (when stallions are selected for the Riding School and mares for the stud farm), and in tests of the horses’ performance to determine whether they will be bred further. The annual performance test, the dispatching of the stallions to the “High School” of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, and the annual on-farm blessing of the horses on 26 December all help generate a strong sense of identity among the employees of the stud, while the annual autumn parade and the tradition of driving the horses down from the Alpine pastures in early autumn give the entire region a feeling of identity and continuity.