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Lipizzan Horses and Dressage in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics: Our Experiences

I live in Houston, and I have worked as a nurse. My interests include art, traveling, reading, gardening, cooking, and our wonderful pets.

Dressage equestrian event seen during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics

Dressage equestrian event seen during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics

The Art of Dressage

Dressage is just that an extremely beautiful art form. Dressage riding and dressage horse training combine years of practice for both rider and horse to execute these seemingly simple and yet complicated feats of strength and endurance. It is similar in many ways to watching a ballet.

Our first experience with seeing this type of horsemanship was in Houston, Texas many years ago. We heard that there was to be a performance of the famous Lipizzaner horses and we eagerly purchased tickets. We honestly did not know what to expect, and as we looked down upon the horses and riders, we thought that not much was happening on the field.

It took a while with the help of an announcer on the public address system to understand the beautiful moves being made by the Lipizzan horses in conjunction with their riders to comprehend what we were viewing entirely. At that point we became enthralled!

When we had a chance to view some Olympic games in Barcelona back in 1992, we signed up to get equestrian tickets and ended up getting to see more dressage. We were thrilled!

Lipizzan stallion and rider performing

Lipizzan stallion and rider performing

Lipizzan Horses

  • Surprisingly there are only several thousand Lipizzaner horses in existence worldwide.
  • This is a special breed of horse which was developed in Slovenia and has become their national animal symbol. An image of this magnificent breed is inscribed upon one of their coins.
  • Like other warm-blood horses, a term designating that these were explicitly bred for sport such as dressage and show jumping purposes, these individual horses could quite possibly have become extinct during many different wars throughout history were it not for concerned individuals who went to extraordinary lengths to protect them.
  • During WWII General Patton did just such a thing and it became memorialized in a 1963 Walt Disney film titled Miracle of the White Stallions.
  • While the Lipizzaner horses do indeed look white, it is their hair which gives that appearance. Their skin is typically grey.

During the Lipizzaner show that my husband, mother, niece and I were watching we became more attuned to enjoying some of the movements that the horses with their riders were performing. Much of what they do is counter-intuitive and not the average pace, trot nor feat that a horse would ordinarily do.

Dressage Terminology

Riding horses was not something that I grew up doing. I have only been atop a horse a few times in my life, so I am far from an expert.

These are some of the different things that horses trained in dressage end up performing, and they make it look genuinely effortless. Once we learned some of this via the announcer watching the Lipizzaner horses and riders became even more fascinating.

  • Half-pass or Side pass: This is where a horse moves forward and sideways at the same time! When a group of them are doing it at the same time, it is a fantastic site to behold.
  • Piaffe: A horse doing this is lifting its knees up and down from left to right but staying in place. It is highly cadenced and enjoyable to watch.
  • Passage: The passage is where the horse looks like it is dancing! This is an exaggerated form of the Piaffe where the horse lifts it's legs very high up off of the ground in a trot mode while moving forward.
  • Pirouette: Just like a human ballerina; the horse spins around doing half or full circles with its back legs making small circle movements staying mostly in place and the front legs doing most of the whirling changes visible to a crowd.
  • Counter Canter: Here the horse's head, front legs, and body is slightly bent in one direction while traveling in the opposite direction. Like I said at the top...hardly the usual way of how a horse would move!
  • Flying Change: Here is where the horse appears to be skipping!
  • Extended Trot: This is just how it sounds. The horse's legs are stretched out in the front and the back as it trots in an elongated form.
  • Capriole: The horse has jumped up in the air with all four legs and then gives a kick with the back legs.
  • Levade and Pesade: Another move that the Lipizzaner stallions did was to look like they were just about standing upright with only their two back legs on the ground. They could hold that pose for an extreme length of time! The Levade is the hardest as it is performed at a 30-degree angle! The horse's back legs must have tremendous strength. The Pesade is at a 45-degree angle which is slightly easier considering gravity
  • Courbette: Here is another move the horses do on their hind legs. They balance with their front legs in the air and then jump forward which appears as hopping.
  • Reinback: This is where the horse walks backward.
  • Serpentine: The horses follow a weaving pattern that extends the length of the arena in which they are performing.

You can get some idea from this, the difficulty of what dressage entails. At Olympic events, the horses trained in dressage are expected to make frequent changes between some of these movements such as the pirouette, extended trot, half-pass, piaffe, reinback, serpentine and the passage.

Barcelona Olympics

My husband and I were so fortunate to be able to attend some of the Olympic events in Barcelona, Spain back in 1992. In addition to the Opening Ceremonies, we had equestrian, men's diving, and gymnastics tickets. We gave up the gymnastics tickets to take a tour of the city since it was our first visit to Barcelona.

Olympic opening ceremonies ticket

Olympic opening ceremonies ticket

As it turned out, this was a preliminary competition in dressage and not the finals, but it mattered not to us.

We were driven by bus for one hour out of Barcelona into the countryside to El Montayna where it was set up for the equestrian competitions. This was fun as we got to see more of the surrounding landscape.

We had a tour director that spoke English so we were able to hear about some of the sites we were passing.

One of the houses viewed from the road outside of Barcelona was her grandmother's home. It was built 100 years before our American Declaration of Independence!

There were security officials on horseback outside of the Olympic equestrian venue monitoring the crowds.

We had to pass through security to get onto the grounds where there were loads of tents set up where one could get refreshments, use Porto-potties, access first aid if necessary and secure a spot on the bleachers which had been set up to watch the dressage competition.

Passing through security to get to the Olympic event

Passing through security to get to the Olympic event

Once on the grounds, we were free to move about and go where we wished. There was constant milling of crowds in the tent areas as the day was hot and the shade was a welcomed respite. We certainly did our part to support the bottled water industry that day!

The bleachers were built up around the show ring and were out in the open. The people who had thought to bring hats and sunscreen lotion were smart!

We sat next to a couple from California who were knowledgeable about horses and in particular dressage. They were able to explain many of the technical details that were being judged that day. It had been many years prior when we had seen the Lipizzaner stallions performance.

It was wonderful getting to see the carefully controlled movements of horse and rider competing down below us.

The judges were set up in a series of three wooden huts at one edge of the ring where the competitors would do their maneuvers right in front of them.

The dressage event would be graded on a scale of 0 to 10, 10 being the best.

Many qualifying events would have been held leading up to the Olympics which is the final challenge for the best competitors from around the world showing off their years of training...all hoping to get those coveted bronze, silver and gold medals. Click HERE to see who won those 1992 equestrian events including those of dressage.

Getting to view a dressage event anytime makes for a most memorable memory. It is just about the highest form of horsemanship that a person is ever likely to see. Best wishes to those competing in the upcoming Olympic games long into the future!

Location of Barcelona, Spain

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 06, 2019:

Hi Rajan,

You are correct. It must take an amazing amount of effort to train the Lipizzan horses to perform those intricate moves in dressage. Once one realizes what is happening, dressage is beautiful to watch.

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on May 06, 2019:

I have never seen an equestrian sport event nor had an idea of the many moves dressage had, so this article on dressage and the specially-bred Lipizzan horses was a treat to read. It must take a lot of hard work from the rider as well as the horse to achieve perfection for such moves. Thank you for the wonderful pictures as well.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 07, 2013:

Hi Suzanne,

You are correct in that most mature in coloration as you described. Their skin actually remains grey but their hair turns to white with time. Glad that you liked this enough to share and pin. Thanks!

justmesuzanne from Texas on July 04, 2013:

A nice collection of information. I believe that Lippizans are born black and become gray and then white as they mature, but I am not sure about that. Voted up, interesting, shared & pinned! :)

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 27, 2013:

Hi Indian Chef,

Yes, by all means if you ever get a chance to see horses and riders doing dressage...do it. It is something that you will never forget. Thanks for the vote up, the 5 star rating and the share.

Indian Chef from New Delhi India on April 26, 2013:

Peggy, very beautiful pictures of not only horses but the houses too. I really wish that I might be able to see such horse show ever live. Voting it up and 5 stars and sharing here on hubpaes.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on March 02, 2013:

Hi moonlake,

Too bad that you missed seeing a performance by the Lippizan stallions. If you ever get another chance to see them in person...grab it! They are amazing! Thanks for your comment and the share.

moonlake from America on March 02, 2013:

Beautiful horses. They were here one time many years ago but we didn't get the chance to see them. Your hub is beautiful what a fun time you had. Voted up and shared.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 11, 2012:

Hi vespawoolf,

Those Lipizzan stallions are amazing to watch as they perform the intricacies of dressage. Nice that you saw it as a child.

Getting to see the venue as well as some of the competition during the Olympics in Barcelona was a real treat. Fortunately we were with people who knew much more than we did about this horse and rider competition and this made it even more enjoyable.

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on December 11, 2012:

I saw lipizzaners perform when I was just a little girl, and I still remember some of it since it was so impressive. I enjoyed the video you added--such an elegant and dignified sport. What a wonderful time you enjoyed at the Olympics!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 25, 2012:

Hi Dolores,

That is an accurate way to describe what these horses do in dressage. It is very much like watching an equine ballet. Amazing! We did have a great time at the Olympics. Thanks for your comment.

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on October 25, 2012:

Hi Peggy - what a beautiful hub! You must have had a wonderful time at the Olympics. Watching the film, I was amazed seeing the horse jump and kick out behind; it reminded me of ballet.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 12, 2012:

Hi Michelle,

Dressage is so beautiful to watch and you are correct...it is a great combination between the talented horses and riders to accomplish that beautiful feat. Thanks for your comment and share.

Michelle Liew from Singapore on October 12, 2012:

This is beautiful and informative. The animal lover in me says great work to the horses and trainers! Thanks for sharing this unique hub, and I share too!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 27, 2012:

Hi Eddy,

Nice to know that you enjoyed this hub about Dressage and information about Lipizzan horses + our Olympic experience watching dressage being performed. Thanks for your comment and the 5 star rating.

Eiddwen from Wales on September 27, 2012:

So truly wonderful and I voted a five star!!!

Great work as always and enjoy your day.

Eddy.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 21, 2012:

Hi sgbrown,

It IS amazing to watch the Lipizzan horses performing dressage both in person and also on television or in videos. You quite possibly even got to see the intricate patterns of movement even better on television. That is often the case whether watching sports events or many other things. Glad that you liked this hub. Thanks for your comment and votes.

Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on September 20, 2012:

I have only seen these beautiful horses on tv. It must have been so amazing to see them in person. Wonderful hub!voted up and awesome!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 03, 2012:

Hi Suzie HQ,

What a wonderful way to explain dressage..."poetry in motion." That is a good description. Seeing it during the Barcelona Olympics was wonderful and the first time we saw the Lipizzan horses performing dressage in Houston, Texas...it was also fascinating to watch. Thanks for your comment, votes and the share.

Suzanne Ridgeway from Dublin, Ireland on August 03, 2012:

Hi Pegggy,

What a wonderful subject for a hub! The Lipizzan horses are truly stunning to see and I never knew it was from Slovenia they hailed! Fascinating read! Dressage in The Barcelona Olympics must have been amazing to be at, I have seen dressage in the Dublin Horse Show and have been transfixed by the poetry in motion displayed.

Beautiful photos showing your experience in Barcelona, mega votes and sharing!!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 26, 2012:

Hi agilitymach,

That is interesting that you mentioned similarity in dog training to that of teaching horses to do dressage. Lots of time & effort for both I can well imagine. Thanks for your comment.

Kristin Kaldahl on July 25, 2012:

Great hub..full of information and photos. As a dog trainer who competes in dog obedience, we see many similarities in obedience to dressage. Dressage is an amazing sport with it's formality and extreme difficulty. Thanks for posting your experiences. :)

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 20, 2012:

Hi teaches12345,

Yes, getting to see the Lipizzan stallions performing was a treat indeed and of course watching the Olympic dressage competition outside of Barcelona was a once in a lifetime treat. Glad that you liked this. Thanks for your comment.

Dianna Mendez on July 20, 2012:

How fortunate you were to have experienced this beautiful event. The Lipizzan is such a beautiful example of what a horse is about: strength and beauty. Lovely photos of Barcelona and the horse.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 20, 2012:

Hi Ruchira,

Glad to have you along as one of my armchair travelers. I am doing much more of that these days also because of hubbers and their writings about parts of the world I have never seen. Those Lipizzan horses trained in dressage as well as other warmblood breeds are fantastic to watch. Thanks for your comment and the shares!

Ruchira from United States on July 19, 2012:

thank you peggy...thanks to you I have travelled virtually in many parts of the world and am aware of this awesome talent by the horses.

voting it up and sharing it across

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 19, 2012:

Hi Pamela,

So nice to know that you learned a bit more about the Lipizzan horses & other warmblood horses that compete in dressage competitions or merely perform dressage for people's enjoyment. It is beautiful, isn't it! Thanks for your comment.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 19, 2012:

I have always been fascinated by these horses and this is an awesome hub. You chose a great topic to write about and I learned several things I hadn't known. Awesome!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 19, 2012:

Hi alocsin,

It will be fun to watch the dressage events during the London Olympics as well as so many of the other games. Often one actually sees things better on television as compared to being there in person as far as seeing the up close detailed work. So, like you, I look forward to watching a lot of TV in the days ahead. Nice that you have also seen the Lipizzan horses perform. That is a treat! Thanks for your comment, votes & the share.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 19, 2012:

Hi AliciaC,

Explanations of what the horses and riders are accomplishing with dressage really helps those who are unschooled in what to look for...especially at first. Once one realizes the intricate work being done, it becomes so beautiful and amazing to watch. Thanks for your comment.

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on July 18, 2012:

I've actually had the pleasure of watching Lippizaner stallions in a horse show when I was very young. I still remember how beautiful they were. Your hub signals me to be on the lookout for dressage in the London Olympics. Voting this Up and Useful. Shared.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on July 18, 2012:

This is a very enjoyable hub, Peggy. I appreciate the details about the different dressage moves. I love watching dressage - it's such a graceful activity. I had the same experience as you - when I first saw a dressage competition on television I couldn't see that much was happening and didn't find it very interesting compared to show jumping. As I started to watch closely, though, I saw how intricate and graceful the movements were, and now I love to watch dressage!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 18, 2012:

Hi Billy,

I surely do not have a vast knowledge about dressage but enjoyed learning about it when viewing the Lipizzan stallions performance in Houston, and then getting to see the competitors during the Barcelona Olympics. It is so beautiful to watch! Glad to hear that you liked this article. Appreciate your comment.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 18, 2012:

I love this sport; you did a great job of detailing it for those of us who do not have a vast knowledge of it.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 17, 2012:

Hi Cheryl,

They were here in Houston many years ago. Perhaps they will return again someday. If so, be SURE and get some tickets. The Lipizzan stallions are amazing to watch as they and their riders go through their paces. Thanks for leaving a comment on this hub about them and the dressage we saw during the Barcelona Olympics.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 17, 2012:

Hello Esmeowl12,

Nice that you have also seen the Lipizzan horses perform. Have you written about your viewing of the dressage competition at the Atlanta Olympics? If not, it might be interesting to share. Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 17, 2012:

Hi Gene,

Getting to see the Lipizzan horses performing in Houston was also a once in a lifetime experience. No matter where they perform it is fantastic. A number of different warmblood horses perform the dressage in the Olympics. Once one understands dressage...at least a little bit about it...it becomes fascinating to watch and wonderful to appreciate. Speaking of appreciate...thanks for your comment! :))

Cheryl J. from Houston, TX on July 17, 2012:

Another great hub on the art of dressage. The moves are very unique and incredible. I would love to see the Lipizzan horses perform in the future. Very interesting information, photos and videos on this memorable event.

Cindy A Johnson from Sevierville, TN on July 17, 2012:

I love dressage. We have seen the Lipizzan stallions ourselves and they are so majestic. We also saw a few moments of the dressage competition at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta (long story there).

Gene Jasper on July 17, 2012:

I was priviliged to see the Lippizanners in action and it was thrilling. Sad to say it was in Cincinnati, Ohio and not in some exotic locale but they were so beautiful and it was a once in a lifetime experience. Great Hub, Peggy.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 17, 2012:

Hi Mary,

Nice that you also got to see a performance by the Lipizzan stallions. They truly are magnificent! Glad that you liked this look at the dressage competition for the Barcelona Olympics. If I had a camera like that guy in the photo, just imagine the pictures that I would have had to share! Germany took the top honors that year in dressage.

I would also like to see that entire movie someday...The Miracle of the White Stallions. Am sure it is great! Thanks for your comment.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on July 17, 2012:

Hi Peggy W, you did an outstanding job on this Hub (as ususal). I enjoyed the Walt Disney movie clip with Robert Taylor. I remember him from years past in movies. I'm going to try and rent that movie and see the entire movie. I don't remember the movie at all.

I was fortunate to see the Lipizzan horses when they came to Atlanta, Ga for a performance. My husband who was a lover of the horse explained to me what each horse was doing as it performed. They truly are a majestic animal.

I also enjoyed your photos. I thought it was interesting that the U.S. only won 2 Bronze medals in the competition.

This Hub was not only beautiful, it was educational as well. Thanks.

I voted this Hub everything except funny, and will certainly share so others can read this great Hub.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 17, 2012:

Hi chrisnstar,

You are correct in that originally some of the dressage moves were taught to horses that would be involved in war. Now, of course, it is mainly for show...and beautiful it is! Thanks for the first comment on this hub article.

chrisnstar on July 17, 2012:

Thank you for this lovely hub. How lucky to see the Olympics! I think dressage means to teach or to learn. Dressage moves were designed for war horses but every horse and rider benefit from learning basic dressage.