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History of the Haflinger Breed

The Haflinger is a living Tyrolean cultural asset

The historic development of the Haflinger breed is a success story that could hardly be more flawless: once a sturdy mountain horse that was mostly used for carrying and drawing, the purebred Tyrolean Haflinger has become an absolute world breed, a coveted universal, family and leisure horse with positive characteristics such as a calm temperament, a great willingness to perform, an excellent character, an attractive appearance and great resilience and easy to feed.

Over the course of its history, the Haflinger has now spread from being a local Tyrolean mountain breed to more than 60 countries on all continents. The Tyrolean Haflinger Breeding Association is the first real Haflinger breeding association in the world and the studbook in Zams from 1920 is the first Haflinger studbook. Parts of it are exhibited in the Haflinger Museum at Fohlenhof Ebbs. In 1946, the association in Tyrol was restructured after the Second World War and expanded with a rigid breeding programme and – looking to the future – with sufficient reference to the origins of the pure breed, it became the leading Haflinger breeding association in the world.

The Tyrolean Haflinger Breeding Association ensured the spread of the Haflinger breed by establishing Fohlenhof Ebbs as the world centre for Haflinger breeding. The Haflinger became a Tyrolean cultural asset and an ambassador for the country, with countless mares and stallions from the association area, which now comprises all of western Austria and the federal states of Tyrol, Vorarlberg and Salzburg, with more than 50 percent of the total Austrian Haflinger stock.

A horse from the Tyrolean Mountains

The breed was created in 1874 with the birth of the stallion 249 Folie from a Tyrolean mountain stud farm and an Arabian stallion in the South Tyrolean Alps. Ever since then, all stallions and mares can be traced back to this first registered Haflinger stallion. Contrary to many publications in numerous horse books, the Haflinger is not related in any way to a cold-blooded horse. The origin of the breed is a small, light, warm-blooded mountain horse. There were no significant cold-blooded breeds south of the Alps and – just as in Tyrol, the land of origin – the Noriker was barely present at all. That is understandable when one considers the geographical circumstances and the small-scale structure of the mountain farms. It would have been impossible to feed such a heavy cold-blooded horse there, and it would be impractical for use on the steep terrain of farms of only a few hectares in size. Around 1900 the breed had a withers height of over 150 cm and a maximum metacarpal bone size of 18.5 cm. During the Second World War, breeding made the Haflinger into a small square horse, and with the restructuring of the Tyrolean association in 1946, the rebreeding recommenced, to produce a large-framed, slightly rectangular horse. This return to type by Tyrol was conducted solely as purebred, which was made possible by the original type.

Organised Haflinger breeding began in 1921 with the foundation of the first Northern Tyrolean Haflinger Breeding Society. Haflingers have been registered without pause in stallion and studbooks ever since, and in the Tyrolean Haflinger Breeding Association they must be purebred back to the founder stallion. Today, all of the 7 bloodlines still exist, to which all Haflingers around the world can be traced back.

These seven Haflinger stallion lines all descend from Folie, five of which lines go back to the stallion liz. 42 Mandl, born 1904, and from this by 54 Genter, born 1897, a son of Folie. Only the A-line goes via Campi, born 1896, directly to Folie and the W-line via Sarn, born 1915, by 291 Jenner and liz. 252/233 Haflinger to 249 Folie. It was therefore especially important to continue the A-line, as it represents a completely different strain back to the stallion Folie. The founder of the Anselmo bloodline, which today is the most important, can be seen in the black-and-white photo from 1926. Today the A-line, which almost died out 50 years ago, is the most important stallion line in the world, including the World and European Champion Stallion of 2000, 2003, 2005, 2008 and 2010, liz.200/T Abendstern, on the right of the picture at the Haflinger Europa Show 2008 in Luxemburg.

Today the studbooks reveal lineages of up to 20 generations, which is a very large genealogical table for such a young breed. In 2005 an estimated 45,000 registered mares were covered worldwide by ca. 2,000 Haflinger stallions. In the same year, the world stock of Haflingers was almost 250,000.
These successful figures show the development of a small local mountain horse into an important world breed, which deserves to be preserved as a purebred, and developed and bred with pride.

From a working horse to a recreational horse

Originally, the Haflinger was used in high mountain areas as a light working horse on the small hillside farms, i.e., as a carrier supplying distant farms with food from the valley, and as a drawing horse for work on the steep fields.

This usage declined steadily after the Second World War with the onset of motorisation, even though the Haflinger is still used today to supply distant mountain huts, for the gentle transport of wood from steep or soft forest areas, or as a carrier for different armies around the world. However, this usage is very limited, so that new tasks had to be sought for the Haflinger, with its excellent characteristics, its calmness and tranquillity, and its child-friendliness.

These inner values, consolidated over generations, are understandable when one considers that it was mostly young people or the elderly who carried out the work on distant mountain farms 100 years ago, while the middle generations worked in the valley. These characteristics prompted the idea to rebreed the Haflinger to a leisure horse, as can be read in publications and books by the Tyrolean head breeder Otto Schweisgut from the early 1950s. It was a very long path to become a diverse riding and carriage horse, but it has now been completely in an extraordinary manner by the purebred Haflinger.

Breeding objectives of the Tyrolean Haflinger

Today the Haflinger is bred as a universally deployable leisure horse, which is why special characteristics for recreational riding and driving are required. For this reason, an outstanding character without faults, and a balanced temperament are especially important.

A harmonious physique, suitable for an all-round leisure horse, is desirable, along with the appearance of an elegant and dynamic horse. This includes a dry and expressive head with large eyes and a lot of charm. Breeding stallions and mares should have a distinctive expression. The desirable colour for a Haflinger is chestnut in all its forms, from light to dark, with slightly long hair.

Facial markings should be present, but are not obligatory. Leg markings are not desired, but are tolerated in accordance with the provisions of the World Haflinger Federation, in some cases without points deduction. The size of the Haflingers is between 140 and 155 cm. The head should be noble and dry, of a harmonious size appropriate to the horse, while the neck should be sufficiently long and light. Distinctive withers that stretch well into the back are desired, as well as a large slanted shoulder. The back should be of medium length, elastic and well-muscled, and it should combine oscillation, carrying capacity and balance when in motion. The breeding objectives also include a long, slightly tilted, not too strongly splayed or split, yet strongly muscled croup.

The foundation should convince especially with a correct stance, with clearly distinct joints. The gait should be correct, elastic and rhythmic, without any serious errors, and the horse should have a good ground cover and show great vibrancy. This type is shown to perfection by the world champion stallions and mares of the Tyrolean Haflinger Breeding Association, such as at Fohlenhof Ebbs, where many overall winners from the last 20 years can be seen. Four generations of world class stallions can be seen all year round on a visit to the Fohlenhof. These are joined by some of the best mares in the world, including 5 generations of a mare family and many other breed collections, with many current World and European champion mares. The breeding objectives have not changed over the generations, but have almost the same orientation as 50 years ago. However, the model of the modern purebred Haflinger horse certainly has changed: now, countless purebred Haflinger horses can be found in the Tyrolean association, which are very close to the breeding objectives, which was not yet the case 20 years ago. It is often difficult to reach the goal, but once success has been achieved, which is now the case throughout Tyrol, the breeder can be very proud of what he has achieved. However, it is not a time to rest on one’s laurels; instead, further development is a task for the future. Today, the purebred Tyrolean Haflinger is generally much larger, more elegant and charming than all crossbreeds, and that will remain the case in the future, thanks to breeding constancy and the preservation of generations.

The stallion 1074 Student in 1935 and the stallion liz.200/T Abendstern in 2008 as riding horses show the type in its development, but also the use of the Haflinger over 70 years ago in the same equestrian sports disciplines.