The Lipizzaner horses at Tempel Farms perform the quadrille

The Lipizzaner horses at Tempel Farms perform

Dressage is one of the most unique Olympic sports. Some horses, like the Lipizzaners at Tempel Farms, in Old Creek Mill, IL, turn the sport of dressage into an art. They can dance to classical music. WFMT visited Tempel Farms to see how everyone on two legs and four keep the ancient art of dressage alive today.

The horses at Tempel Farms are of the Lipizzaner breed, which traces its lineage back to the 16th century. The breed is named after the place where it was developed: Lipizza, or modern day Lipica, Slovenia.

Lipizzaners look distinctive because of their Romanesque noses, large eyes, broad chests, light coats, and muscular appearance. Originally, they were bred for both warfare and display.

But Lipizzaners aren’t all brawn and no brains. They are smart and sensitive animals, and can be trained in dressage. According to the United States Dressage Federation, “Dressage is a French term meaning ‘training’ and its purpose is to develop the horse’s natural athletic ability and willingness to work making him calm, supple and attentive to his rider.”

Some horses, like Lipizzaners, can be trained in advanced dressage movements and do complex, choreographed routines. The horses at Tempel Farms dance to the music of Mozart, Strauss, Tchaikovsky, and others, in performances that are open to the public. Learn more about their training in the video below.

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The principles of dressage can be traced back as far as classical antiquity. One of the oldest surviving documents on the subject is Xenophon’s On Horsemanship, which dates to around 350 B.C.E. His principles of accentuating the horse’s natural strength and grace, and training through positive feedback and touch are still used today.

The classical art of dressage was revived in the Middle Ages, as horses became increasingly involved in warfare. Horses would wear heavy, elaborate armor like the riders they carried, and were incorporated into military parades as displays of power. In the Renaissance, rulers became increasingly interested in combining equestrian displays into festivals and celebrations. By the 16th century, when the Lipizzaner breed was developed, dressage reached new heights, and horses were fully incorporated into large-scale spectacles through equestrian ballets.

In fact, the word “carousel” comes from elaborate equestrian displays popular among ruling classes centuries ago. Groups of riders would gather in groups to perform routines. Often, each group had a theme, reflected in the costume of the rider and the horse, and through other elaborate carriages or floats.

If you think wedding celebrations today are over the top, imagine gathering twelve groups of friends on horseback, with each group themed to a different sign of the zodiac, to perform equestrian ballet with costumes, floats, and music for your nuptials!

The image gallery below displays some of the more lavish carousels and equestrian ballets recorded, most from French the court of Louis XIV and the Saxon court at Dresden. One of the largest collections of surviving objects used in equestrian spectacles is housed in the Dresden State Art Collections, and can be viewed in a virtual tour here.

Dressage in the Renaissance and Baroque Eras

Today, there are over 11,000 Lipizzaner horses registered with the Lipizzan International Federation worldwide. Lipizzans horses are given two names – the first referring to the stud, and the second to the mare – to trace their lineage back to one of several originals dynasties that date back to the 16th century. One of the most famous centers for breeding and training stallions is the Spanish Riding School, which has been in operation for over 450 years. You can enjoy pictures of the Tempel Lipizzans, which trace their heritage back centuries, too, below.

Lipizzaner Horses at Tempel Farms

To learn more about the Tempel Lipizzans and Tempel Farms, located just outside of Chicago, visit the farm’s website.


Collaborative arts programming is made possible by the Richard and Mary L. Gray Artistic Collaboration Fund.