Haflinger

  • HEIGHT: 13–15 hands
  • PLACE OF ORIGIN: The Tyrol region of Austria and Italy
  • SPECIAL QUALITIES: Attractive, sturdy small horses with an excellent disposition; always some shade of chestnut or sorrel with white or flaxen mane and tail
  • BEST SUITED FOR: Pleasure, competitive, and hitch driving; pleasure riding, packing; farmwork; lower-level dressage; eventing and jumping; all-around family horse

Long ago, high in the Alps of southern Austria and northern Italy in an area known as the Tyrol, a breed of beautiful, strong, sturdy horses arose. Early settlers in the region, the Ostrogoths, who were driven there by Byzantine troops after the fall of Conza in 555 CE, crossed their Arab-type horses on native mountain ponies. The resulting horses remained isolated from other breeds for hundreds of years due to the mountains.

A stallion sent as a wedding gift to the margrave (military governor) Louis of Brandenburg in 1342 appears to have influenced the further development of the breed. Arab blood was introduced again with the half-Arab stallion El Bedavi XXII beginning in 1868. His son Folie, foaled in 1874 out of a native Tyrolean mare, became the foundation sire of the modern Haflinger. Folie was a chestnut with a white mane and tail. Inbreeding to this horse fixed the color in the breed. All modern purebred Haflingers trace their ancestry directly back to Folie through any of seven different stallion lines, denoted A, B, M, N, S, ST, and W.

In Austria, these horses are sometimes described as being “a prince in front, a peasant behind,” because they have a beautiful head with a long, flowing mane combined with incredibly muscular hindquarters. They are still used as all-purpose animals for plowing, carrying packs up steep mountain trails, and skidding logs, as well as serving as riding and driving animals. One American breeder appropriately refers to them as the “tractor of the Alps.”

Members of the Family

The Haflinger was an integral part of traditional Alpine farm life. Families housed their animals underneath the main living quarters, and the rising body heat from the animals helped to warm the house. Because the horses were essential and so intimately connected with the families in many ways, they were always carefully selected to have a gentle disposition and a willing nature. When the rest of the world began to use mechanized farm equipment, Tyrolean farmers stuck with their sturdy horses, which were more efficient on the small, steep mountain farms.

During World War II, Haflingers served as military packhorses, traveling to some of the coldest and most difficult fronts of the war. During the war years, breeding efforts in Austria shifted to produce a draftier type of horse to accommodate military use. After the war, the Austrian government took over Haflinger breeding, and the emphasis returned to a more refined type. The Austrian selection process is one of the strictest in Europe, and the results show in the consistent quality of the horses.

The first two herds of Haflingers exported to the United States arrived in the 1960s. One herd went to the state of Washington, the other to Illinois. The breed is now found all over the country, though they are especially popular in Indiana and Ohio, where the Amish use them for driving and farming. Haflingers make excellent all-around family horses for many riding and driving sports.

All Haflingers are some shade of chestnut or sorrel with a light mane and tail. Many have a blaze.

Breed Characteristics

There are two types of Haflingers. The heavier draft type is used for farmwork and in parade hitches. The pleasure type is a little lighter, longer legged, and longer necked. They make superb driving horses, good event ponies, and fine low- to medium-level dressage horses. The Haflinger has rhythmic, ground-covering gaits showing a little knee action, particularly at the canter.

Haflingers are exceptionally long-lived. They mature slowly and in Austria are not commonly put to work until they are four years old. They often remain sound and strong for decades, even into their forties.

Conformation

Haflingers stand between 13.2 and 15 hands, but owners usually refer to the height in inches. Typical weight is 900 to 1,000 pounds. They are solid horses, yet elegant and refined. Stallions should have masculine features and mares should exhibit undeniably feminine lines. The head is small, refined, and well proportioned, often showing Arab influence. The poll should be light and the ears correctly positioned. The eyes are large and positioned well forward. The nostrils should be large and wide. The neck is of medium length, narrower toward the head, with freedom through the jowls. The shoulders are large, well muscled, and sloped. The chest is deep and broad. Pronounced withers reach far into the medium-length back, which is muscular with a long, well-shaped, slightly sloping croup. The legs are clean with well-formed, clearly defined joints.

Haflingers have a broad, deep chest and a powerful hind end, making them suitable for light draft work as well as for riding and driving.

BREED ASSOCIATION FACTS AND FIGURES

According to the American Haflinger Registry (founded in 1997):

• About 18,000 horses are registered in North America.

• Some 2,000 foals are registered each year.

• There are strong concentrations of Haflingers in Ohio and surrounding states, but the breed is now be found almost everywhere in the United States.

Color

Haflingers are always chestnut, although the color may range from rich gold to chocolate. The mane and tail range in color from flaxen to white. White blazes on the face and white on the lower legs are common and often desired.