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The Haflinger is a mountain horse breed that was used mainly as a pack horse, but also as a draft horse by small farmers. Originally bred in the Sarn Valley in the Tyrolese Mountains, in today’s Italy and Austria, this sorrel, sometimes chestnut, horse with flaxen mane and tail can carry or pull heavy loads up and down the steepest mountain slopes.
There are many, often conflicting, theories regarding the origin of this breed, but not much evidence. Most of the handed-down historical information has some credit regarding this issue; none by itself, is providing the answer for the origin of the Haflinger
There is an East Gothic influence. there are the horses of an ancient Rhaetia-Roman region. There is the foundation of the village of Hafling in the 8th century by German settlers, And there is foundation stock from Burgundy given as a present by Emperor Ludwig IV to his son, Count of Brandenburg, when the latter married Margarete Maultasch, the Duchess of Tirol. All of this is most likely viable information as to how the breed emerged and was developed, including the theory that the Alpine mountain region itself shaped this breed from Noriker (draft) stock due to the harsh conditions high up in the mountains.
Regarding the absolute origin of the Haflinger breed, it is relevant and undisputed that in northern Tyrol, a small version of the Noriker was bred, while in southern Tyrol, a lighter, smaller strain was bred which showed some oriental influence.
In the Haflinger breed, there is just a trickle of oriental blood, no matter what fancy stories may suggest. Well into the 20th century, Haflingers looked a lot like small, sorrel Norikers, and even today it is not hard to find individuals betraying a draft heritage.
The breed must have got its name rather recently, because the Topography of Tyrol, published in 1847, did mention the small horses, but not the name it is known by today. The assumption that this breed was named for the stallion Hafling , born in 1897, may well be true, but it is commonly thought that the village of Hafling is the source for the breed’s name, Haflinger. These discussions are nonsensical, though, as it is likely that the stallion was named after the village.
Hafling was by Folie, a stallion by a half Arab named 133 El Bedavi XXII, which was bred in the Main Stud Radautz in what is now Rumania. 133 El Bedavi XXII was out of a Hungarian mare, his sire was an original Arabian named El Bedavi. Folie’s dam was a mare that belonged to a farmer by the name of Folie; some want her to have been an orientalized mare, but she may as well have been a mare of the Noriker strain.
THE MODERN BREED
Huge steps have been made to refine the horse and make it more suitable for the demands of the recreational industry. Many are ridden by leisure-time riders, some even in various sport disciplines. The sad truth is, however, that a large number are bred to go to slaughter houses every year in horse-meat eating countries.
Today’s Haflinger shows less draft horse influence, although the cloven rump is still a common characteristic.
In their homeland in the Alps, these horses are kept in warm conditions in the wintertime, living in stalls or stables under farmers houses instead of out in the severe mountain weather, yet the young stock spend the summer on the Alm , Alpine pastures, where the thin air develops their heart and lungs and the native grasses and plants, unfertilized and untampered with, offer very healthy feed.
In some areas, the introduction of Arab blood has been tried, but the results were rather dissatisfying.
The Bavarian and the Westphalian breeding regions in Germany have been among the most successful in modernizing the Haflinger breed.
Those bred in Austria are all branded with the Edelweiss Brand the Edelweiss being a rare, white Alpine flower and Austria’s native flower with a letter H at its center; those bred in other countries carry their respective brands.
More than anything, pony characteristics dominate Haflinger conformation now. These horses are bred in many different countries in Europe and abroad now this breed is considered a pony breed.
The color is always sorrel with flaxen mane and tail, but some strains have produced chestnuts, too. White markings must be reduced to a star and/or a snip; white on the legs is discriminated against.
The breed is around 14 hands in size, although some geldings can easily reach 14.3 hands. They typically have comparatively heavy bone, thick mane and tail hair, broad hooves (which is atypically for a mountain horse, indicating the draft ancestry). They have a medium-length, fairly heavy, arched neck, short back, and heavy rear end.
The head varies some, most of the time showing predominantly pony characteristics. The Haflinger is of rounded, compact form, big-bodied, stout, with a muscular and powerful back that is especially strong and muscular over the loins. The horses have reasonably ground-covering gaits. They are of a fixed type of unmistakable appearance.
With the traditionally strong bonds between the mountain farmers and packers and the horses they depended on, it may come as no surprise that we have a very people-loving equine in the Haflinger. However, in their original, dangerous job on narrow mountain trails, they had to rely on their own senses, too, so a certain obstinacy can also be encountered with them if they fear their safety.
Traditionally a versatile and willing worker, the Haflinger will draw a sleigh, pull wheeled vehicles or work in forestry or on the farm. Generally, they are not worked until they reach the age of four, but they are known for their longevity.
They are now found around the world, being used in a variety of events, with their best performances in trail riding, driving, varied draft work, and packing. Their lovely coloration, soundness, willingness to work and their temperament and inclination to be family horses endear them to the global world of horse lovers.