Riding through history at the
Original Lipizzan Horse Farm
Slovenia’s National Treasure
Welcomes Visitors to Tour and Stay
Images and maps courtesy of Lipica Stud Farm
In 2018, the Lipica Stud Farm celebrates 438 years of illustrious history. For most of that history, this elegant, orderly estate has been the private breeding preserve of noble families and noble horses. Today, commoners and heads of state all have equal opportunity to stroll the well-tended grounds, visit the spotless stables and paddocks, and witness the famous Lipizzan horses in action. Vacationers may even linger a few days in the aristocratic atmosphere of times past and enjoy a glimpse of the good life, while they follow the story of the dazzling white horses with the dancing feet.
In 1580, Archduke Karl, son of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor, Ferdinand I, founded the Lipica Stud Farm to breed horses for the Spanish Riding School in Vienna and the Royal Court stables. As The Rough Guide to Slovenia recounts, “That the Lipizzaner has survived at all is remarkable, having been evacuated to southern Hungary during Napoleon’s occupation in the late 18th century, divided by the Italians and Austrians during World War I, and then seized by the Germans during World War II.” Despite the odds, the farm persisted in Austro-Hungarian hands until World War II, after which it became part of Yugoslavia. For the past ten years this national treasure of Slovenia has been state-owned, located just two kilometers from the Italian border in the southwest corner of this diminutive country.
Today there are about 400 horses roaming the estate, divided between show, competition and riding horses. Of course, there are plenty of young ones that are just having fun growing up in this beautiful setting. Their carefree lives in the herd last for three years, training begins at four years old, and they are only ready for performance at age seven. The Lipizzaner live for 25 to 30 years on average, usually performing into their early 20s.
What is a Lipizzaner Horse?
Despite competing claims from Austria and Italy over the geographic origin and lineage of this breed, it is now established that the original stud was created at the Lipica Stud Farm and all present horses stem from that blood line. Beginning in the 1580s, horses of Spanish, Arabian and Berber stock were bred with the tough and muscular local Karst horse, to create the Lipizzaner strain. Relatively small in stature with a long back, short thick neck and powerful build, this horse is born dark in color, gradually becoming lighter as it matures, and finally adopting the pristine white coat that is its hallmark around the age of five or six. These distinctive physical traits are complemented by a beautiful sense of balance and rhythm, a lively, high stepping gait and an even temperament. With such qualities, the Lipizzaner have for centuries excelled in both carriage driving and as show horses.
Guests with more than a passing fancy for horses may book a horseback ride or a carriage ride around the estate or even riding lessons with Lipica’s expert horse trainers and dressage specialists. Visitors who want to keep their feet firmly on the ground will enjoy an informative walking tour of the extensively-landscaped grounds, impressive stable facilities with plenty of snow white horse flesh to stroke, and, if timing is right, a delightful demonstration of horse and rider skills in the indoor or outdoor arenas. Tours and shows are offered year round, but at different times depending on the season. Carriage rides and horseback rides for guests are mainly scheduled between May and September.
However, horses are not the only attraction of the stud farm. Located in the vicinity of one of its oldest stables, there is the art gallery of Avgust Cernigoj with the permanent exhibition of the Slovenian artist’s outstanding works. The gallery Kos offers works of art and objects of the local craftsmanship, and sculptures abound in the park of Lipica. The 18th century church of St. Anton Padovanski is part of the Lipica tradition where wedding ceremonies are still conducted. Additional gift shops and eateries mean that visitors may easily spend a pleasant day just strolling and relaxing in the manner of Archduke Karl and his friends four centuries ago.
Always the most westernized and liberal of Yugoslavia’s former republics, Slovenia and its homogeneous population of two million bear virtually no physical or psychological scars from ten days of war and 64 Slovene casualties. This was the sum total of their 1991 war experience. Adopted into the European Union in 2004, it is today a sweet secure country, full of colorful history and spectacular natural attractions ranging from the picturesque Julian Alps to the unique, accessible cave systems of Postojna and Skocjan. Trains, countrywide busses, car rentals and small-group tours are all good travel options. The Slovene capital, Lublijana, is a charming, strollable medieval city not to be missed. Once away from tourist areas, not a lot of English is spoken. Though usually adequate, restaurant cuisine and 3- to 4-star accommodations are not a strong feature of the country at this early time in its development as a tourist destination.
Follow Up Facts and Contacts Lipica Stud Farm, www.lipica.org. Located on the estate for those who would like to sample everything there is to do over a period of days, the Hotel Maestoso is an excellent option. For complete Slovenia travel information, Slovenian Tourist Office, New York is the best option, actually a travel agency specializing in the region, www.slovenia.info. Visitor visas are not required for citizens of most European countries, Canada, the USA, Australia or New Zealand for a stay of up to 90 days. Best Seasons: Weather is most reliable from May through September. Shoulder seasons mean less European tourists, less intense heat than July and August, and better hotel prices. In-country travel and tours: Slovenia is entirely suitable for independent travel and small-group tours such as offered by ElderTreks, with its physically-active Slovenia/Croatia itinerary, offering 21 days of rich nature and culture exploration. An extensive visit to the Lipica Stud Farm is included in the ElderTreks itinerary. Enjoy another adventurous senior travel feature article about exploring Slovenia and Croatia on a small-group ElderTreks tour. Recommended guidebook: The Rough Guide to Slovenia by Norm Longley (third edition, 2010), readily available in local bookshops and online bookstores.