Horse Inspiration: The White Lipizzans of the Spanish Riding School

Lipizzaner horse

Lipizzan stallion. Photo via wikipedia.

Lately I’ve been wanting to try a different approach to my dressage work with Pip. We’ve been practicing movements required for the highest level of dressage–Grand Prix–but we keep bumping into the same gaps/challenges in our training that prevent us from making significant progress.

One way I stay motivated and on-track in my riding is by watching performances by top horses and riders. This helps me create visuals that I carry with me in my mind and try to emulate as I ride. However, as impressive as the top dressage horses and riders are (that is, those who work collaboratively without abusive tactics), it’s not very realistic that my 14h draft pony will ever be a Totilas or a Valegro. There’s a pretty big gap between Pip at his very best and an Olympic horse at their very best.

So, I went on a search to find some new role models to reinspire our dressage work. My search led me to the white Lipizzaner stallions of the Spanish Riding School. These Lippizaners represent hundreds of years of classical dressage tradition as well as showcase the historical military application of dressage. Here’s some footage of them in action. Note how the stallions are obedient, precise, and strong:

The Lipizzaners are a Baroque breed. Pip more closely resembles these horses in shape and disposition than he does a modern dressage Warmblood. Like the Lipizzaners, Pip is the type of horse you could ride into battle: he’s compact, tirelessly cooperative, and hardy (this may not be the case for your average Warmblood horse in dressage competition today!).

To progress in our dressage, Pip and I are learning how to long rein (see 6:36 of the above video for an ex. of long reining). This means that instead of riding him, I walk behind Pip and give him cues from the ground with two reins. This exercise has provided a few benefits for us so far:

  • Long reining gives me a new perspective on our dressage work. I can see all four of Pip’s legs, and I can better time my rewards when he does things correctly. It’s often easier for me (and many riders) to see the desired response than to feel it as must be done when riding.
  • Pip must maintain a high degree of collection in the canter. He has to canter slow enough for me to walk behind him. Right now we can only do this for a few strides before he trots or speeds up to a pace that I can’t keep up with. This is a sign that when I ride him I’ve been heavily supporting him with my leg/reins/seat to create the slow collected canter under saddle. Long reining will require him to balance himself.
  • Pip and I have to learn to communicate in a new way. The aids in long reining are a bit different than the aids used for riding. Learning a new way of communicating from scratch is a welcome shift in our regular routine and in the long run will help us understand one another even more.

In just a few sessions Pip can already perform his passage via long rein. He can also turn in small circles both directions, halt, back up, and has quickly learned to lavade. He can do a few steps of piaffe and a few strides of canter. My main goal is that he will learn to sit and reach forward with his hindlegs better in our collected work–like you see with the talented white stallions of the Spanish Riding School. We’re going to keep up the practice; I’ll report back!

What do you think of the Lipizanners and the Spanish Riding School? Feel free to share your comments below!

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