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The Haflinger Horse in its Country of Origin

The Haflinger horse originates in the Alto Adige Italian region (Sutirol) and is undoubtedly linked to it. The tradition is that a type of mountain horse which was not so tall but quite stocky, had lived in that area near Hafling since the Middle Ages. It was a descendant of a well-known horse breed imported from the Kingdom of the Burgundians. It is also said that in 1342 the Emperor Ludovick IV gave the horse to his own son Ludovick (Margrave of Brandeburg) as a gift for his marriage to Margherita Maultasch, Princess of Tirol. But apart from tradition, it is certain that the indigenous population of horses traditionally bred in the region, ever since those remote centuries, was employed to carry the goods across the Alps along the passes and paths through the valleys of the rivers Adige and Inn.

Down through the centuries the horse population in Sudtirol underwent many influences, mainly due to the importation of a number of horses from the East, where the lords - who owned the castles which we can still admire today in the Alpine territory - used to travel to, for trading purposes.

The breed took its name after the town named HAFLING, near Merano. The Hafling Horse or HAFLINGER always indicated the mountain horse bred in those areas, a horse that was used for work and was not such a heavy animal. The term AVELIGNESE simply results from the Italian version of Hafling, namely Aveligna or Avelengo.

At the beginning of the 19th century, as the road network developed, the original pack- horse was not strong enough to be used as a draught horse. Thus, it was frequently cross-bred with heavy individuals, until the Ministry of War in Vienna became concerned with the horse dimension, since its excessive weight made it no longer suitable for military purposes. In 1873, after having overcome the reluctance of the peasants, the Austrian Government introduced into Sudtirol the eastern stallion El Bedavi XXII (registration number 133), born in 1868 from the Park of Studs of Radautz (Bucovina). El Bedavi XXII was a direct descendant of the pure Arabian El Bedavi I, born in 1837 and coming from the Studs farm of Babolna (Hungary) from the stock of El' Bedu.

In 1874, a local brood-mare, belonging to Josef Folie of Schludens in Vingschau, was bred with El Bedavi XXII and a very beautiful colt was born in that same year. The proud breeder named the colt FOLIE after his family’s name.

Folie (registration number 249) had a sorrel coat with mule stripe inherited from its mother and this trait was transmitted to most of its descendants. The strength and the typical characteristics of the Haflinger mountain horses were thus combined with the eastern charm and elegance of its father. The stallion Folie was employed in the stud farm of Laas, managed by the breeder Rochus Eberhofer, for at least 19 years from 1878.

Folie was the origin of the modern Haflinger breed and the story of the selection of our Horse thus began.

The Austrian Government, convinced of the beauty of Folie’s traits, bought all the colts that kept its characteristics.

After twenty years of activity of the first group of stallions, descendants of Folie, the transformation of the Haflinger Horse into a sturdy horse had been avoided. On the contrary, now it was a horse suitable to be mounted. On Easter Monday, April 7, 1896, on the occasion of the Tyrolean National Holiday organized to celebrate the opening of the Passeiertal Road, and thanks to the support of Princess Pauline von Metternich and to the intervention of the renowned writer Carl Wolf and Mr. Von Leon, the first rustic gallop horse race of the Haflinger Horse was organized and won by the farmer Mathias Zoggeler from Hafling. Even today, the Haflingers are mounted by jockeys wearing the traditional costumes of the regions of origin at the Merano Racing Track twice a year, on every Easter Monday and in October.

In 1897, a special committee urged by the South Tyrolean Count Friedrich Hartig, a military man and convinced supporter of the Breed, recorded 220 brood mares in a first Breeding Register of the Haflingers. Again thanks to Hartig’s intervention, on May 2, 1898, the Austrian Ministry of Agriculture granted (by a decree) the official recognition of the Haflinger Breed. Since 1899, the policy of the Austrian Government has aimed at encouraging the breeding of the Haflingers, especially by granting allowances to the owners of the best brood-mares mating with good stallions, and by purchasing annually colts for the re-population of the State Studs. Private breeders were entrusted with the management of stud farms with state-owned stallions, the activity of breeders of private stallions was encouraged, and Alpine pastures were devoted to the rearing of colts. Fairs with valuable prizes were organized.

Starting in 1904, the genealogical register was updated by the Society of The Haflinger Horse of Molten (Meltina), while the coverings of the stallions were recorded by the Deposit of Studs of Stadl Lampach in Austria; for the first time all the Haflingers were branded.

The First World War, during which the Haflingers were employed by the Austrian Army, ended with the Treaty of Saint Germain by which South Tyrol was annexed to Italy.

Perhaps at first, the Italian authorities did not understand the importance of this horse breeding and the serious difficulties resulting from the new political situation. Paradoxically, most of the stallions were in the Austrian Deposit, whereas a large part of the Haflinger brood-mares were owned by South Tyrolean breeders. Faced with the risk of scattering the livestock resources, Austria purchased the brood-mares from the South Tyrolean farmers (1927), while the Stock of Studs in Alto Adige needed to be re-established.

These were difficult times, since the number and the quality of the Haflingers had decreased due to the war. In addition, the allowances for the breeders granted by the Austrian government were no longer available.

Again, Count Hartig had the merit to involve the new veterinary surgeon of the Province, the Italian Pietro De Paoli in this undertaking. In January 1921, a Special Provincial Horse Committee was established. It was supposed to organize the breeding of the Haflingers with all the allowances and grants that were enforced before the war. Thus, in the autumn of 1922 the first show of breeding studs had a remarkable success both in terms of public and of trading. Meanwhile, the fame of the Haflingers was spreading throughout Italy and in 1924, in the light of this success, the Special Provincial Horse Committee was turned into a permanent one. The Society for the Promotion of the Avelignese Horse (S.I.C.A.M.) was founded in Merano and had more than 500 members.

In the meantime, De Paoli personally committed himself to this task and in 1923 he published a most beautiful monograph on the Breed, which has been re-published several times. De Paoli managed an information and promotion office in Bolzano with the aim of selling horses in the rest of the country. Meanwhile he was the one who convinced several outstanding personalities in the political and economical field to become attracted by the blond Haflinger. The Royal Family purchased Haflingers for hunting too, while the crown prince Umberto Di Savoia was the guest of honour at the gallop horse race on April 28, 1923. In addition, De Paoli showed some examples of the breed in agricultural fairs in Milan and Turin. With regard to the selection, De Paoli had the great merit of eliminating the crossbreeds with the heavy Noricum Horse, since the Austrian administration had not been able to actually enforce its prohibition.

In 1929, the Provincial Horse Committee examined about 1000 Haflinger brood-mares and chose the best ones. 330 mares were recorded and registered in the first Genealogical Book, which was published in 1931 by the Royal Deposit of Studs of Ferrara (the jurisdiction of which included Alto Adige), with the title "Book of Origins of the Haflinger Breed in Italy." It was a "closed" book, listing the best individuals from which all the Haflingers must descend. 40 stallions were also listed in the book: 18 horses of state property, 17 privately owned by breeders of the Alto Adige area, 4 of Austrian ownership and 1 belonging to the Albanian Government.

In the first half of this century, the Haflingers spread all over Italy and the selection was performed by the Deposit of Studs, later transformed into the Institute of Horse Growth. In the province of Trento, the Haflingers were employed for agricultural work, especially that connected with wine production. In 1931, Haflinger breeding studs were employed for the first time by the Institute of Santa Maria Capua Vetere in the stud farm of Piano del Conte (Potenza), thus spreading the Breed in that province, and giving it a new boost in 1952 by the importation of a number of brood-mares. The Institute itself contributed to the creation of the famous selection nucleus of San Marco dei Cavoti (Benevento). In 1932, Haflinger stallions began to be active in Lombardy, while after the Second World War new breeding farms were installed in Tuscany.

During the German occupation in the Second World War, the Breeding was followed by the North Tyrolean Karl Thurner, to whom we owe the individualization of the traditional "blood lines." The creation of these seven lines (A,B,M,N,S,ST and W) which were functional for over time selection, was carried out by trying to single out the groups of stallions descendants of the founders of the lineage (Anselmo, Bolzano, Massimo, Nibbio, Stelvio, Student and Willi — all descendants of Folie) which unmistakably transmitted certain characteristics, with the purpose of finding a solution to the problem of consanguinity and help the breeders to choose the stallions to mate with their own brood-mares. Of course over time, as genealogies became increasingly wider these traits were subject to changes and the uniformity within the lines has decreased, but today, the breeders traditionally still identify their horses with the bloodlines as if they were a surname.

During the Second World War however, the Breeding of Haflingers underwent a huge blow mainly because the German Army took the best individuals. After the War, the Institutes for the Horse Growth resumed the selection, while the co-operative associations of Breeders of Alto Adige constituted in 1953 the Provincial Association of Breeders of the Haflinger Horse in Alto Adige. The Association actively promoted the Breed and organized the Breeders in the area of origin.

On December 20, 1971 the Associations of Breeders of the Provinces of Arezzo, Florence, Grosseto, Pisa, Pistoia, Rieti and the Provincial Association of Breeders of the Haflinger Horse in Alto Adige met to create the National Breeder Association of Haflinger Horse - Italy (Associazione Nazionale Allevatori Cavalli di Razza Haflinger - Italia), officially entrusted with keeping the Genealogical Book from 1977. In 1973, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests issued the first Regulations for the Genealogical Book, fixing the Breed Standards and the requirements for the registration of studs in the book; the regulations underwent various modifications until the current Regulations of the Genealogical Book was issued in 1995. After the 80s, the selection underwent a radical revision dictated by the necessity to re-examine the goals for the modern utilization of a horse that is suitable for recreation and tourism. To this purpose, the Central Technical Committee of the Association ordered the general revision of the Studs in 1991 for selecting the best breeding stallions. The revision of the Studs, a courageous innovative choice that was made despite a lot of opposition, proved to be an indispensable starting point for the requalification of the Breed. The introduction of modern selection tools (Linear Morphological Evaluation Form, Genetic Indexes) gave unexpected results within a few years. The face of the Italian Haflinger has changed its morphology with a remarkable improvement while maintaining the typical traits of the Breed in the Country of Origin.

Presently, the Haflinger is found in all the regions of Italy and has become the Italian breed with the largest number of horses.

Stefano Viliani