Breed evolution: The picturesque mountain villages and farms of Austria and northern Italy are considered to be the birthplace of the Haflinger. Noble, copper-colored horses are frequently found in early 1800s' artwork from the Southern Tyrolean Mountains of Europe.
Alpine villages accessible only by breathtakingly steep and narrow trails required surefooted equine travelers. Over centuries, the mountain horses that evolved in the region carried riders, pulled carts, and packed goods over trails at dizzying elevations with steadfast reliability and resilience. And their sweet, calm natures endeared them to the families that owned them.
The modern-day Haflinger Horse was christened in 1874, named for the Tyrolean village of Hafling, then an Austrian territory, but today located within Italy's northern boundaries. At that time, a refined mountain mare, bred to a proud Half-Arabian stallion, produced a colt named Folie. Today, all purebred Haflingers trace their ancestry back to Folie, through at least one of seven stallion lines.
After World War II, the Austrian government took charge of breeding the Haflinger Horse. Today, the Haflinger stands out among the European Warmblood breeds due to the stringent examination and approval process. The first Haflingers were imported into the United States in 1958.
Owners tell us: Ruth Schwab is managing director of the American Haflinger Registry, which represents 9,000 members and 20,000 registered horses. The AHR offers popular recreational riding programs that award year-end prizes and recognition to members who pleasure ride and drive their Haflingers.
"I've never known horses quite so people-oriented," says Schwab, a lifelong horsewoman. "They'll mug you for attention! Currently, my Haflinger is teaching me to drive, patient creature that he is. Whether your interest is trail riding, driving, or simply owning a delightful family horse that you can trust with your children, Haflingers do it all with a smile."
Internationally acclaimed horsewoman and teacher Linda Tellington-Jones has a great appreciation for the Haflinger Horse. She frequently uses them in her seminars and clinics in Germany and Austria.
"They're a truly wonderful breed!" she exclaims. "For their size, they have great weight-carrying abilities and strength. They're excellent in the mountains -
they were bred to be great pleasure riding horses. Because of their lovely calm, they also make particularly fine therapeutic riding horses."
When Charles Bobo was stationed in Austria at the end of World War II, golden horses used by the residents of pretty mountain villages and farms caught his eye. When he returned stateside after 30 years in the Air Force, Charles and his wife, Francis, founded Foothills Farms in South Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains. In 1969, they bought a three-quarters Haflinger gelding.
That was just the beginning. Ten years later, the Bobos purchased an eye-catching purebred Haflinger mare named Celota, from an Amish friend in Ohio. She was bred to a top stallion of the breed, Alpen Konig. Celota's colt, and many more to follow, were the foundation of the family's Haflinger herd, which today numbers 32 horses.
One of the Bobos' former stallions, Arlin, was the first U.S.-born Haflinger stallion to be inspected and approved in the United States. Today, Arlin's sons and daughters grace the rolling countryside at Foothills Farm.
The Bobos' son, Michael, took over management of the farm in 1990. His pride and joy is the driving school his family founded in 1982. Students make the pilgrimage to South Carolina from across the country to learn to drive the Bobos' golden horses.
Says Michael: "Our Haflingers and the Blue Ridge Mountain trails seem to go together like almonds and chocolate - that is, perfectly."
On the trail: Ingrid Krause grew up in Germany, where Haflinger Horses were a common sight. Today, thanks to her Happy Haflinger Farm of Middleton, Wisconsin, the breed is increasingly recognized and appreciated in the United States.
"I'd owned Warmbloods and Thoroughbreds, but when I was pregnant with my son, I wanted to get a horse that was easygoing and not high maintenance," she says. "So I got into Haflingers, who are easy-keepers, smart, and can do anything you ask. They were everything that I wanted in a family horse."
Krause, the events coordinator for the Haflinger Owners of Wisconsin, organizes four trail rides/drives per year. Trail riding is the most important element of her training program, which encompasses every discipline, from dressage to jumping.
"I have yet to see a Haflinger who doesn't like the trail," Krause says with a lilting accent. "It keeps them fresh. They have a natural curiosity and take obstacles, from water to ATVs, in stride."
Six years ago, Krause hired Haley Madden to start a young Haflinger. Today, the University of Wisconsin journalism major is still at Happy Haflingers, juggling her studies with her love of training horses and teaching children to ride.
"When I first worked with Ingrid's Haflingers, I was impressed by how brave they were," Madden says. "Even the youngsters handle new things in their environment with a calm sensibility. Haflingers are very sane horses, who take the responsibility of carrying riders seriously. And their personality is fun; they love to have a good time."
Both Krause and Madden say their favorite trail ride is at Nicolet National Forest in Wisconsin's northeastern woods. At least once per year, they organize a large group of Haflinger owners and head to the Spur of the Moment Ranch, where cabins are available and horses rest comfortably in paddocks or stalls.
"The Nicolet National Forest offers over 650,000 acres of great trail riding opportunities," Madden says. "Trails wind through tall pine trees, and in autumn the sugar maples, aspen, and oak trees are a spectacle of blazing color.
"But the best sight is 20 golden Haflingers on the trail."
Standing in the quaint downtown of Leavenworth, Washington, a charming village of Bavarian-style buildings nestled at the foot of snowcapped mountains, it's easy to imagine being in Europe, near the birthplace of the Haflinger Horse. Heidi Forchemer owns a popular Bavarian restaurant in the village and a herd of Haflinger Horses at home.
"My mother grew up in Bavaria," says Forchemer, who speaks fluent German. "During travels to Bavarian and Austria, I fell in love with their Haflinger Horses."
When her children, Maximillian and Alexandra, were old enough to lobby for horses of their own, Haflingers were a natural choice. In 2000, the Forchemers founded Alpenland Haflingerhof, or "Haflinger Farm in the Mountains," with two honey-gold mares, Call Me Classy WBF and Hannelore 3RF.
The next year, the Forchemers added a pair of Haflinger geldings, Match and Mel, bought a cart, and ordered traditional Bavarian harnesses from Europe. Not only do they drive their Haflingers in Northwest parades, they also ride their golden horses in the Cascade Mountains.
A favorite ride is along nearby Icicle River, over logs and sandy banks, and into stands of Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir.
One ride the family will never forget was on the Ancient Lakes Trail, near Quincy in central Washington. "It was super windy, which rattled branches and horses," Heidi says. "For lunch, we paused at a lake. Across the water, a large group of riders was also taking a time out, and had ground-tied their horses.
"Suddenly, a very impressive gust of wind swept by, and most of their horses took off, racing up a narrow trail on a distant hillside. You should've seen those riders scramble! We were very happy with the way our Haflingers stood their ground."
Selection savvy: Heidi advises those in the market for a Haflinger to first find an owner or breeder whose interests include trail riding and/or trail driving. Also, study the AHR and World Haflinger Federation guidelines to familiarize yourself with breed standards. During your active search, look for a horse with a kind eye and calm demeanor, one that's interested in people. And keep in mind that Haflingers have naturally tough, healthy feet.