Hailing from the Italian-Austrian Tyrolean mountains, the Haflinger horse breed is one of the most versatile equines in the world. These horses may not be large, but they can perform in nearly every type of major equine sporting event.
With years of rich history (and plenty of energy), Haflingers are an excellent choice for experienced equestrians that love competing. This guide will tell you everything you need to know about the Haflinger horse!
Haflinger Horse Characteristics
Haflingers have several characteristics that have been shaped by their time riding in the Tyrolean mountains of Austria. This breed has sturdy hooves for navigating rocky terrain, large eyes with a wide field of vision, and powerful hocks for precise movement.
This breed consists of seven stallion lines that can trace their roots back to the foundation sire of all Haflingers. Halfingers from different stallion lines might vary slightly in appearance, but they are still of the same breed.
Haflinger Horse Size
Haflingers are small horses, typically standing 15 hands tall (60 inches). Some believe this makes the Haflinger a pony, but they aren't quite short enough to be classified as such. A horse must be shorter than 14.2 hands to be considered a pony.
Many Haflinger horses might stand closer to 14.2 hands tall, but since the breed's average height is 15 hands, they just barely qualify as horses. The Haflinger's compact size is partly due to their origins, as they had to cross narrow paths in the mountain regions of Austria.
Haflinger Horse Personality
Haflingers are generally a calm and affectionate breed, but they can have strong personalities. Some Haflinger horses might try to test their boundaries with a trainer. If this is your first experience with horses, consider consulting a professional equestrian to help you with your Hafl.
Also, keep in mind that the sex of a Haflinger can affect its temperament. A stallion used for breeding is often quicker to buck than a gelding (a castrated equine).
Haflinger Horse History
The Haflinger breed is from the Tyrolean mountains of Austria and Northern Italy. Since the villages of the Tyrolean mountains connected to narrow mountain paths, the villagers needed a strong, surefooted horse to navigate the region. They quickly found that Haflinger horses were well-suited to the task.
One of these Tyrolean villages was named Haflinger. The village of Haflinger no longer exists, but it was located in what is now known as Northern Italy.
This breed's origins can be traced back to the Middle Ages, but the foundation stallion wasn't born until 1974. The founding stallion, Folie, was a half-Arabian mix that carried the distinctive Halfinger traits we know today. Folie became the foundation stallion for all purebred Haflinger horses.
During the first and second World Wars, the breed's history was greatly affected by its primary location on the Italian-Austrian border. In the first World War, Haflingers carried soldiers on the battlefield. Their military service did not significantly impact their numbers, but the post-war Treaty of Saint Germain did.
This treaty redefined the native Tyrolean borders. South Tyrol ceded to Italy, and North Tyrol remained in Austria. Unluckily for Haflingers, the mares resided in South Tyrol, Italy, while the stallions stayed in North Tyrol, Austria.
During World War II, the already-diminished Haflinger population took another hit. Haflingers were used as packhorses, and German stud farms bred them to be short and strong, similar to a small draft horse. After the war, the Haflinger Breeders' Association of Tyrol was established to protect the horses.
Haflingers first came to America in 1958. The horses became popular immediately, proving to be strong driving and trail riding steeds. Today, Haflingers are still a favored choice for nearly every major type of horse event.
How to Care for a Haflinger Horse
Haflingers require a healthy diet, regular exercise, and routine grooming. Be sure to take your Haflinger to an equine veterinarian at least twice a year. If you pay attention to your horse's needs, it will stay with you for years to come!
Register your horse with a breed association if you own a Haflinger stallion or mare. This will not only provide you with valuable resources for your horse, but the records will also help the breed as a whole. Even if you don't enter your horse into any breed association events, you can provide it with adequate exercise through riding.
Haflingers were bred for trail riding, specifically through mountain ranges. Taking your horse on a long stroll through a mountain trail is an excellent way to ensure your Haflinger is healthy and happy.
When you groom your steed, check for abnormalities on its back, legs, ears, and in its mouth. These areas are the most prone to developing issues and injuries. Abnormalities may include lesions, wounds that don't heal, hardened skin, or inflammation.
Haflinger Horse Training
Haflinger horses are incredibly versatile animals that respond well to training. While many horses are bred to perform a particular skill set, Haflingers excel in multiple events. The American Haflinger Registry (AHR) oversees many sporting competitions for this breed, including:
- Pleasure Driving
- Farm Team
The Haflinger is so flexible because it is a gaited horse that is not confined to a strict walking style. Gaited horse breeds have a certain "gait" or style of walking. This gives the animal a graceful, controlled, and aesthetically pleasing movement.
For many horses, being gaited means they are limited to events that favor their movement. For example, Tennessee Walkers are expected to have a strict four-beat running walk. The Haflinger has the best of both worlds because it has a smooth and energetic gait, but it is not locked into one specific walking pattern.
Whether you're training your horse for driving, hitch, or jumping events, the best place to start is with the animal's gait.
Refining the Gait
The worst way to train your horse's gait is by trying to force them into the proper movement. Instead, go at the Haflinger's pace to avoid exhaustion and frustration. Since there are so many different equine gaits, we'll focus on this breed's weakest walking style: the canter.
Haflingers are typically not the best at cantering, so this is a great opportunity for training. Use these exercises to train your horse's canter:
- While moving in a circle, have the horse alternate between a trot and a canter. Repeat this exercise with walk-canter-walk transitions
- Lengthen and shorten the horse's canter to practice control
- Leg-yield (moving forward and sideways simultaneously) into the canter
Just because the Haflinger breed is talented doesn't mean they're easy to train. While these horses respond well to training, they require a professional equestrian. If you're just starting out with horses, consider contacting a trained expert for some assistance.
Nutrition and Feeding for a Haflinger Horse
According to the Humane Society, horses should eat 1-2% of their body weight in roughage every day. Roughage can include hay or chaff (chopped straw), and it is the cornerstone of every equine's diet. However, it is not always the only form of nutrition that a horse needs.
Some breeds need grain feeds, which contain specific nutrients that the horse may be lacking. Haflinger's typically don't need a grain supplement, but some horses' lifestyles might warrant additional nutrients. If so, choose a low-sugar and low-starch grain to combat polysaccharide storage myopathy.
Haflingers are generally not large horses, so they might benefit from horse pellets in a slow feeder. A slow feeder helps with portion control, and it forces the horse to take small bites. Many of this breed's health problems are exacerbated by obesity, so make sure you keep a close eye on its eating habits.
Coat Color And Grooming
Haflinger horses are always chestnut in color. However, chestnut is a broad color category that can include light golden or liver chestnut shades. The mane and tail are white or flaxen.
The Haflinger's thick mane, tail, and forelock (similar to bangs on human hair) require regular grooming. Invest in an effective leave-in detangler spray and a sturdy mane and tail comb to protect your Haflinger's beautiful hair. Shampoo your horse's hair the same way you would wash your own.
Make sure you thoroughly blow-dry your Haflinger's hair. Since this breed has a thick mane and tail, moisture can easily become trapped close to their bodies. This can potentially lead to fungal or bacterial infection, so be sure you thoroughly dry your horse before you finish grooming.
Otherwise, you can groom Haflinger horses the same as other horse breeds. Hose them down after training and brush them every day. First, use a bristled brush to remove dead skin and loose hair, then finish with a soft brush to rid your horse of dust.
Haflinger horses are typically hearty steeds, but they can be prone to some health conditions. If you own mares or stallions for breeding, make sure you screen them for diseases. Testing for health issues will reduce the chance of a foal being born with an inherited condition.
The American Haflinger Registry's official breed standard requires that horses be resistant to diseases. If your aim is breeding, a health screening is required for registration with the American Haflinger Registry (AHR). The screening is necessary because the AHR studbook only includes purebred Haflingers without genetic conditions.
Even a previously healthy, full-grown, purebred Haflinger can experience conditions such as laminitis, equine metabolic syndrome, or polysaccharide storage myopathy. Let's take a look at the symptoms of these illnesses so that you can spot, treat, and possibly prevent them from occurring in your Haflinger.
Laminitis affects the tissues (or laminae) of a horse's hooves. The laminae bind the hoof wall to the pedal bone (known as the coffin bone for our U.K. friends). In a Haflinger with laminitis, the horse's weight can cause the pedal bone to sink or rotate within the hoof.
In more serious cases, the pedal bone may penetrate the sole of the horse's foot. Laminitis is a potentially fatal and extremely painful condition. Symptoms can include lameness and shifting weight.
The exact cause of laminitis is still unknown. However, it has been associated with diseases that cause inflammation and hormonal imbalance. Laminitis could also be linked to mechanical overload.
Mechanical overload refers to a horse that has experienced a leg fracture or infected joint. This causes the horse to place all of its weight on the opposite leg. Over time, this could lead to laminitis.
Make sure your Haflinger has plenty of rest if they experience a fracture or inflamed joint. Overworking the animal could worsen the problem or result in an entirely new disease like laminitis. Treatment typically involves medication, foot support, corrective shoes, and changes to the horse's diet.
Equine Metabolic Syndrome
Equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) is a collection of clinical signs rather than one particular disease. Previously known as hypothyroidism, EMS is characterized by obesity, laminitis, insulin resistance, infertility, altered ovarian activity, and increased appetite.
This syndrome can usually be seen in horses when they are between 5-16 years old. Changes to the animal's diet and increased exercise can treat the condition. The best way to prevent EMS in your Haflinger is to ensure they maintain a healthy weight.
Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy
Polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM) is a metabolic disease that can cause high muscle glycogen. This means that there is too much sugar in the horse's body and an unusual form of sugar stored in the animal's muscle tissue.
The signs of PSSM usually manifest during training. Symptoms involve muscle stiffness, sweating, and reluctance to move. Since sugar is the largest culprit in PSSM, you can reduce the risk of your horse contracting the disease by feeding them a low-sugar diet.
Similar to laminitis and equine metabolic syndrome, the best treatment for PSSM is ensuring your horse maintains a healthy weight. A good diet based on the animal's size and activity level, combined with routine exercise, can help keep your Haflinger healthy and happy.
How to Get a Haflinger Horse
If you're ready to start shopping for Haflingers, you're in luck! Websites like eHorses and EquineNow are the fastest and most convenient way to connect with equestrians and find Haflinger horses for sale. Expect to spend between $3,000 and $7,000.
While $5,000 is the average cost of a Haflinger, you can find them for as cheap as a few hundred dollars and as high as $9,000. Since these horses are meant to be purebred, their ancestry can impact the final cost. A Haflinger that is not purebred won't cost as much as one with a strong lineage.
The horse's discipline and breeding potential can also affect the price. A Haflinger mare or stallion could cost more than a gelding. Once you've purchased your Haflinger, register it with the American Haflinger Registry.
The American Haflinger Registry is the most prominent authority on this horse breed in the United States. They have slightly higher standards than some horse registries, but this is only to ensure the breed's strong stallion lines are preserved.
With a registry, you can stay updated on breeding information, health concerns and connect with equestrians. If you ever plan to enter your Haflinger into a conformation or sporting event, the AHR often oversees several competitions.
More About This Horse Breed
Since they were first discovered in their native Tyrolean mountains, Haflingers have shown that they are among the most talented breeds in the world. Their lineage is Austrian and Italian, but these steeds developed a special identity with their fierce skills.
If you require a breed that can go riding on a mountain trail, train for a dressage event, and assist a farm team, the Haflinger is the equine for you. Register your steed with the American Haflinger Registry to get connected, and start showing it off!