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Lipizzan Horses and Dressage in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics

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Dressage equestrian event seen during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics

Dressage equestrian event seen during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics

The Art of Dressage

Dressage is a beautiful art form. It takes years of practice for a rider and horse to execute seemingly easy but 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 some time, with the help of an announcer on the public address system, to understand the beautiful moves made by the Lipizzan horses, in conjunction with their riders, to comprehend what we were viewing. 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 breed of horse developed in Slovenia has become their national animal symbol. An inscribed image of this magnificent breed is on one of their coins. Like other warm-blood horses, 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 that gives that appearance. Their skin is typically grey.

During the Lipizzaner show that my husband, mother, niece, and I got to see, we became more attuned to enjoying the horse movements. 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. 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 sight to behold.
  • Piaffe: A horse lifts its knees up and down from left to right while staying in place. It is highly cadenced and enjoyable to watch.
  • Passage: The passage is where the horse looks like it is dancing! This movement is an exaggerated form of the Piaffe where the horse lifts its legs very high up off the ground in a trot mode while moving forward.
  • Pirouette: Like a human ballerina, the horse spins around doing half or full circles with its back legs making small circle movements staying primarily 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 are 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 do is to look like they are 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 attend some of the Olympic events in Barcelona, Spain, 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 city tour, as it was our first visit to Barcelona.

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

Olympic opening ceremonies ticket

Olympic opening ceremonies ticket

We were driven by bus for one hour out of Barcelona into the countryside to El Montayna, for the equestrian competitions. The bus trip was fun as we got to see more of the surrounding landscape.

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We had an English-speaking tour director so we could learn 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. 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 to watch the dressage competition.

Once on the grounds, we were free to move about and go where we wished. Many people were 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 stallion's performance.

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

The judges were 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 grading was on a scale of 0 to 10, 10 being the best.

Many qualifying events take place leading up to the Olympics, the final challenge for the best competitors worldwide showing off their years of training, all hoping to get those coveted bronze, silver, and gold medals.

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 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 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.


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, 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.