During the 1990s conflict in Bosnia, the world watched in horror at the suffering inflicted on innocent civilians. But humans were not the only casualties.

Bosnia’s once-proud tradition of horse-breeding now lies in tatters, and all that remains of the Lipizzan line is 58 starving horses, abandoned by their owners and their country to scrape a meagre existence at the run-down Vucijak Stud Farm in eastern Bosnia.

The illustrious history of the Lipizzan makes this situation all the more tragic. The purebred Lipizzans at Vucijak are of the same breed as those found at the famous Spanish Riding School in Vienna, and anyone who has seen the graceful dance of their Viennese cousins would be moved by the conditions in Bosnia.

A modern tragedy
Threatened many times throughout history, the latest conflict to put the Lipizzan at risk began in Bosnia in 1992. At that point, the state-run stud at Vucijak housed almost 200 horses.

After the war began, the farm was largely abandoned, and the horses were left to survive on what little food the stud’s former workers could bring them. More than half the herd died of starvation and disease, and there were even rumours that desperate Bosnians had to resort to eating some of the horses.

The stud farm was privatised in 1995 after the war ended, but problems continued. The new owners, made up of a group of shareholders, neglected their duties. More horses died, and the demoralised stud farm hands received only sporadic payment. By 2002, less than 60 horses remained.

Now, the stud farm is nearing a state of complete collapse. The few buildings in good condition have been turned over to pig farming and the horses have been crammed into a smaller building.

Inside, the stallions are tied up in ramshackle stalls all day without exercise. The roof is about to collapse, the barn is disintegrating and birds fly in through broken windows and holes in the wall. Even on the pasture, the horses have to compete with cattle, which neighbouring farmers graze illegally on the stud’s land.

The horses have not received proper veterinary care for a long time, and they haven’t been treated for parasites for more than a year. The stud lacks the equipment and hands to grow its own food, so the horses are fed on dusty, old hay.

The history of the Lipizzan

  • The Lipizzan originated in 1580 in the village of Lipica, Slovenia, when Archduke Charles II created the breed as a horse for royal use. He put imported horses from Spain and the Arab countries to local horses known as Karsts, and it was from the Karsts that the Lipizzan inherited its high, stepping gait.
  • The Lipizzan spread out in stages throughout the territories of the Hapsburg Empire, and stud farms were established in Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia.
  • Throughout its history, war has threatened the Lipizzan. During World War I, the breeding stock had to be relocated to Laxenburg, near Vienna, to protect the horses from harm. The foals were placed in another imperial stud farm at Kladrub, in the Czech Republic, and after World War I, only 208 Lipizzans were known to exist.
  • In 1943, the Lipizzan breed again faced extinction when the German High Command seized most of the horses from the countries they were occupying.
  • In 1945, horse enthusiast General Patton instructed the US army to return the mares to their previous homes, thus securing the future of the breed.

    The precious few

  • There are an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 purebred Lipizzans left in the world. In south-eastern Europe, fewer than 1,000 remain: approximately 80 in Slovakia, 80 in Hungary, 40 in Romania, 100 in Slovenia, 200 in Austria (at the Spanish Riding School) and around 60 in Bosnia (at the Vucijak stud farm).
  • The Lipizzan is a successful competitor at all levels of dressage and driving.

    Background to Bosnia

  • War in Bosnia began in 1992, following a referendum on independence from Yugoslavia. The three main ethnic groups – Serb, Croat and Bosnian Muslim – all disagreed on the future of their country.
  • Tens of thousands of civilians were slaughtered as the warring sides attempted to ethnically cleanse their territory. Conflict ended in 1995 when NATO successfully negotiated a ceasefire.
  • Today, there is still a great deal of distrust and the ethnic groups live separate lives, further complicating attempts to rebuild the country.
  • The infrastructure is still in pieces, with unemployment running at around 42 per cent.

    What you can do to help
    Funds are urgently required to ensure the horses’ survival until the Bosnian authorities can take over the farm. Vincent can be contacted at: Trive Amelice, 29, 78 000 Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Tel.: ++ 387 (0) 51/308 007), email: vincent1@inecco.net
    Alternatively, funds can be donated directly through the Lipizzan International Federation, email: appeal@lipizzaner.org.uk

    Useful information
    The Lipizzan International Federation website contains a wealth of information on the
    Lipizzan breed. For more information, visit: www.cilyblaidd.btinternet.co.uk/lif.htm

  • This article appeared in full in HORSE (July issue)

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