Lipizzan - History - Wartime Preservation

Wartime Preservation

The Lipizzans endured several wartime relocations that prevented extinction of the breed. The first came in March 1797 during the War of the First Coalition, when the horses were evacuated from Lipica. During the journey, 16 mares foaled. In November 1797, the horses returned to Lipica, but the stables were in ruins. They were rebuilt, but in 1805, the horses were evacuated again when Napoleon invaded Austria. They remained away from the stud for two years, returning April 1, 1807. However, following the Treaty of Schönbrunn in 1809, the horses were evacuated three more times during the unsettled period in Austria, resulting in the loss of many horses and the destruction of the studbooks covering the years prior to 1700. The horses finally returned to Lipica for good in 1815, where they remained for the rest of the 19th century.

The first evacuation of the 20th century occurred in 1915 when the horses were evacuated from Lipica due to World War I and placed at Laxenburg and Kladrub. Following the war, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was broken up, with Lipica becoming part of Italy. Thus, the animals were divided up between several different studs in the new postwar nations of Austria, Italy, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslovia. The nation of Austria kept the stallions of the Spanish Riding School and some breeding stock. By 1920, the Austrian breeding stock was consolidated at Piber.

During World War II, the high command of Nazi Germany transferred most of Europe's Lipizzan breeding stock to Hostau, Czechoslovakia. The breeding stock was taken from Piber in 1942, and additional mares and foals from other European nations arrived in 1943. The stallions of the Spanish Riding School were evacuated to St. Martins, Austria from Vienna in January 1945, when bombing raids neared the city and the head of the Spanish Riding School, Colonel Alois Podhajsky, feared the horses were in danger of being destroyed. By spring of 1945, the horses at Hostau were in danger from the advancing Soviet army, which might have slaughtered the animals for horse meat had it captured the facility.

The rescue of the Lipizzans by the United States Army, made famous by the Disney movie Miracle of the White Stallions, occurred in two parts: The United States Third Army under the command of General George S. Patton, was near St. Martins in the spring of 1945 and learned that the Lipizzan stallions were in the area. Patton himself was a horseman, and like Podhajsky, had competed in the Olympic Games. On May 7, 1945, Podhajsky put on an exhibition of the Spanish Riding School stallions for Patton and Undersecretary of War Robert Patterson, and at its conclusion requested that Patton take the horses under his protection.

Meanwhile, the Third Army's United States Second Cavalry, a tank unit under the command of Colonel Charles Reed, had discovered the horses at Hostau, where there were also 400 Allied prisoners of war, and had occupied it on April 28, 1945. "Operation Cowboy", as the rescue was known, resulted in the recovery of 1,200 horses, including 375 Lipizzans, Patton learned of the raid, and arranged for Podhajsky to fly to Hostau. On May 12, American soldiers began riding, trucking and herding the horses 35 miles across the border into Kotztinz, Germany. The Lipizzans were eventually settled in temporary quarters in Wimsbach, until the breeding stock returned to Piber in 1952, and the stallions returned to the Spanish Riding School in 1955. In 2005, the Spanish Riding School celebrated the 60th anniversary of Patton's rescue by touring the United States.

The Lipik stable in Croatia had been taken by the Serbs to Novi Sad, Serbia during the Croatian War of Independence (1991–1995) where the horses remained in exile until 2007.

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