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 Haflinger horses 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, and today Haflinger horses stand out among the European warmblood breeds for their stringent examination and approval process. The first Haflinger horse breeds were imported into the United States in 1958.
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."
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 their 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.
Michael is fond of saying, "Our Haflingers and the Blue Ridge Mountain trails seem to go together like almonds and chocolate - that is, perfectly."
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."
The first Haflinger she purchased 19 years ago is 22 years old today, and still carrying riders, pulling carts, and introducing youngsters to the equine experience.
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 profess that 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. Timberwolves and elk were recently reintroduced to the forest, and its lakes are famous for freshwater fishing. "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."
The American Haflinger Registry has established detailed breed standards, some of which are excerpted here.
Color. Color may range from pale chestnut to dark liver chestnut, with pale mane and tail. Color impurities are undesirable, and will be judged as negative and strongly discouraged for breeding animals.
Size. The desired size is from 54 to 60 inches at the withers. Non-achievement of the minimum size should result in the horse being strongly discouraged from breeding.
Type. A desirable appearance of the horse is one of elegance and harmony: a lean and expressive head with large eyes; well formed neck; supple mid-section; a good croup, not too divided and not too short; a distinct musculature as well as correct, defined limbs with good joints. Stallions and mares for breeding should have clearly defined masculine or feminine features.
An undesirable appearance includes: a stout, plump, non-athletic appearance; a coarse head; unclear contours; undefined joints; coarse limbs; or a lack of defined masculine or feminine features.
Body structure. A harmonious body structure that's suitable for an all-around pleasure horse.
Movements. Hardworking, rhythmic, and swinging basic gaits are desirable (four-beat walk; two-beat trot; three-beat canter). Movement at a walk should be relaxed, energetic, and elevated; the trot and gallop should be supple, swinging, and light on the feet with a natural suspension. Some knee action is desirable, particularly at the canter, which should demonstrate a clear forward and upward springing sequence.
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 has 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 Bavaria 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, they added a pair of Haflinger geldings, Match and Mel, bought a cart, and ordered traditional Bavarian harnesses from Europe. The whole family learned to drive their Haflingers. Today, they're crowd-pleasers in Northwest parades: the horses, manes and tails braided with flowers and ribbons, pulling an intricately handpainted wagon.
"In Bavaria, Haflingers are called the 'farmer's friend,' because they go from field to town, from dressage to eventing to trail," Heidi says. "They're so versatile! We ride Western and English, and drive them both individually or as a pair."
Alexandra, who learned to ride on Match and collected ribbons at the county fair, says, "He loved food and me, and we became ridiculously inseparable. I'd ride him without any tack whatsoever, or stretch out on his broad back while he grazed in the pasture."
The Cascade Mountains near Leavenworth offer a treasure trove of trails for riders. The Forchemers often ride along nearby Icicle River, over logs and sandy banks, venturing into stands of Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. One ride they'll 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."
In 2002, Classy foaled the first Haflinger to be born on the farm, a delicate filly named Carisma AH. Heidi, Alexandra, and 4-H friends have done most of her training, a tribute to the willingness and positive work ethic of this golden breed.
Heidi Forchemer of Alpenland Haflingerhof offers these tips for finding a Haflinger Horse of your own:
• Find a mentor. Seek out a Haflinger owner or breeder whose interests include trail riding and/or trail driving.
• Know the standard. Study the AHR and World Haflinger Federation (www.haflinger-tirol.com/english) guidelines to familiarize yourself with breed standards.
• Connect. Look for a horse with a kind eye and calm demeanor; one that's interested in people.
• Inspect the feet. Haflingers have naturally tough, healthy feet.
Once you've found your Haflinger, invest in appropriate, well-fitting tack. Haflingers have short heads, so horse-sized headstalls are usually too large; Arab or cob headstalls generally fit well.
Haflingers also have short, broad backs, so saddles with a rounded skirt and full Quarter Horse bars are usually a good fit. Big Horn Saddles makes a saddle specifically for Haflinger Horses, widely available through tack stores and online. (One online distributor is Horse Saddle Shop; www.horsesaddleshop.com.)
Now you're ready for years of wonderful partnership with your golden Haflinger Horse!
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