I Want To Be A Lipizzaner

I Want To Be A Lipizzaner

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent

Brent Pollard

The majestic Lipizzan horse is a sight to behold. One of its dressage gaits is called the levade. If you’ve seen a horse in a heraldic setting, you’ve likely seen something akin to this pose. The horse raises and draws in its forelegs, balancing its bodyweight on its bent hind legs. Lipizzaners are relatively few today, with about 3,000 of them in the world. However, owners prize them for their docile and highly obedient natures. These characteristics are something I wish to emphasize as I consider Jesus’ appeal for us to be “meek” or “gentle” (Matthew 5.5).  

The history of the Lipizzan breed goes back to around 800 A.D. Muslims invaded the Iberian peninsula and brought their Arabian and Berber horses with them. The Muslims bred their Arabians and Berbers with local Spanish horse breeds. One of the resulting horse breeds was the Andalusian. Fast forward to the late 1500s, and you find Archduke Charles II establishing a stud in Lipizza, Austria, known today as Lilica. He bred this Andalusian with Arabian, Berber, Baroque, and the now-extinct Neapolitan horses. The horses produced in Lipizza were equally at home on the battlefield and in aristocratic riding venues.  

In the same latter half of the sixteenth century, the Spanish Riding School began in Vienna. This school has trained these Austrian bred horses for over 450 years using the classical dressage, which the Greek, Xenophon, described. And that is the glue that brings this entire discourse together. Xenophon referred to properly trained horses, ready for battle, as praus. That is the Greek word used by Jesus in Matthew 5.5. So, if you want to see a horse that has been meeked, look at the Lipizzaner during its performance.  

Interestingly, with time’s passage, meekness has been equated to weakness or timidity. Surely weakness or timidity would not be a mindset needed for those wishing to enter the Kingdom. If a horse acted as the modern conception of that word, it would be useless. Is this desirable trait watered down due to its probable source of Psalm 37.11? David wrote: “But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace” (KJV).  

Newer translations of that passage, like the NASB1995, will substitute “humility” for the word meek. However, if you look to the original Hebrew, the term employed is anav. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon suggests that within this context, anav means “poor, weak, and afflicted Israel.”1 If you read the entire thirty-seventh Psalm, you note that David describes the destruction of evildoers, which creates a void to be filled by the anav (meek or humble) persons (Psalm 37.7-11). 

The problem with bringing David’s meaning to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is the Septuagint would have likely influenced Matthew as he recorded the words of our Lord, and it uses praus. Of course, it may be that Jesus quoted the Septuagint, too. Christ seems to do so on several occasions. As Koine Greek was the lingua franca, why wouldn’t He use the Septuagint in His public teaching? Ultimately, it matters little whether Jesus quoted from the Masoretic Text or the Septuagint since we must deal with the Greek in which the Holy Spirit wrote it for you and me today.  

As a quick aside, the church or Kingdom is not an institution that Jesus’ meek will be inheriting from defeated evildoers, as were David’s meek. Instead, Jesus built this institution Himself and now adds the saved to it (Acts 2.47). These saved may be sin-weary and spiritually afflicted upon entry (cf. Matthew 11.28-30), but Jesus adds them to a spotless church without blemish (Ephesians 5.27). Even if Psalm 37.11 was in the mind of our Lord when He preached, He made an entirely different application of it centered on the idea of the “meeked man.” 

Aristotle said that a meek man was one remaining between the extremes of cowardice and recklessness. In other words, a courageous man. 2 That takes us back to Xenophon and our Lipizzaners, the descendants of the Greek war-horse. What kind of a horse would Alexander the Great ride to glory on the battlefield? We know because historians have written much about him. The horse’s name was Bucephalus. Plutarch said Alexander perceived that Bucephalus was spooked by his own shadow and so situated the animal to face away from his source of fear. 3 No man could ride Bucephalus but Alexander. Alexander brought Bucephalus’ power under control. Following the body of knowledge passed down by such men as Xenophon, young Alexander meeked Bucephalus.  

So, what virtue was Jesus urging us to adopt? Naturally, we cannot physically become Lipizzaners. Still, we can discipline ourselves to become docile (i.e., ready to receive instruction) and highly obedient (i.e., willing to carry out those orders) as that magnificent horse. As such, we are equally as fit for service in the war against Satan as being a Barnabas to fellow Christians. Hence, a meeked Christian is far from poor and weak. He knows who holds his reins. As such, he enjoys what is his and what the Lord has promised him. Doesn’t that make you want to be like the Lipizzaner too?   

Sources Cited and Consulted 

1 “Strong’s Hebrew: 6035. עָנָו (Anav) — Poor, Afflicted, Humble, Meek.” Bible Hub, Bible Hub, biblehub.com/hebrew/6035.htm

2 Chaignot, Mary  Jane. “Definition of Meekness.” BibleWise, Biblewise.com, www.biblewise.com/bible_study/questions/definition-meekness.php

3 Wasson, Donald L. “Bucephalus.” World History Encyclopedia, World History Encyclopedia, 2 Feb. 2022, www.worldhistory.org/Bucephalus/

Kawsar, Iffat. “Lipizzan Horse: A Horse Dedicated to Spanish Riding School in Vienna.” The Vet Expert, The Vet Expert, 11 June 2021, www.thevetexpert.com/lipizzan-horse-a-horse-dedicated-to-spanish-riding-school-in-viena/.  

Photo credit: Max Pixel (Creative Commons)

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