What to Know About the Haflinger Horse

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on January 10, 2023
5 min read

The Haflinger is a handsome horse breed developed in the foothills of the Alps. Every Haflinger horse has an eye-catching chestnut coat and a light, flowing mane and tail. The breed’s charming and gentle nature makes it an ideal family pet, though it can have a stubborn streak. Here’s what you need to know about Haflinger horse facts, history, and uses. 

Austrian horse breeders selectively bred the Haflinger to carry packs and riders over treacherous mountain trails in the Alps. The breed has many defining physical characteristics that distinguish it from other horse breeds

Haflinger horse conformation. According to the American Haflinger Registry, this breed should have an elegant and well-proportioned body. Stallions must have obvious masculine traits, while mares have feminine features. 

The Haflinger’s lean head has big ears, expressive eyes, and wide nostrils. The horse’s deep chest, muscular back, and prominent withers allow it to easily carry heavy weights. 

The Haflinger has straight, proportional legs with long pasterns and strong joints. The foreleg and hind leg join the hock at a 150° angle, and the hoof meets the ground at a 45° to 55° angle. The hooves are hard, round, and small.  

Undesirable traits for the Haflinger include a coarse head, shallow chest, weak joints, and stiff movements. Horses with too many undesirable characteristics shouldn’t be bred. 

Haflinger horse colors. The Haflinger only comes in chestnut. The modern Haflinger inherited this color from the breed’s foundational sire, a golden stallion named Folie. The shade of chestnut can range from light gold to liver. Its long mane and tail are flaxen or white. 

The American Haflinger Registry allows horses to have white markings on the head and one white leg. It discourages the breeding of Haflingers with color impurities like spots, a mane and tail that aren't white or flaxen, and more than one white leg. 

Haflinger horse gaits. The Haflinger’s gaits cover the ground efficiently and rhythmically. It has an energetic but relaxed walk. The trot and canter display the horse’s athleticism and are typically cadenced and smooth. The powerful hindquarters propel the horse’s body forward, and the front legs and shoulders move freely. 

The American Haflinger Registry considers the horse to have undesirable gaits if it has heavy, short, or stiff movements. The organization also discourages pigeon-toed, splay-footed, and rope-walking movements. 

Haflinger horse size. The Haflinger is a small but sturdy horse. Its height ranges from 13.2 hands (138 centimeters) to 14.3 hands (150 centimeters). The horse weighs an average of 770 to 1,320 pounds (350 to 600 kilograms).

The Haflinger horse excels as a family pet because of its gentle, people-loving personality. This calm and steady horse is hard to spook, so it’s a reliable mount for children and beginning riders. 

This breed is known for its adaptability, eagerness to work, and strong disposition. These traits make the Haflinger a useful driving, riding, and working horse. 

However, this horse can have a couple of challenging personality traits. Its intelligence makes it easy to train, but the horse may use its clever brain to get into mischief around the barn. The Haflinger’s strong will can turn into stubbornness. The American Haflinger Registry discourages the breeding of horses with undesirable temperaments.

The Haflinger horse is an ancient breed that first appeared during medieval times. Farmers bred early Haflinger horses in the Southern Tyrolean Mountains located in present-day Austria and northern Italy. The breed’s athleticism and surefootedness allowed it to carry heavy loads through the steep mountains. 

The modern-day Haflinger is a more refined horse that originated in the village of Haflinger. The breed’s foundation sire, 249 Folie, was born in 1874. This stallion’s father was half Arabian, and his mother was a native Tyrolean mare. Seven distinct stallion lines descended from Folie: A, B, M, N, S, ST, and W. All purebred Haflingers can trace their lineage to Folie through one of these bloodlines. 

Genetic research shows that the Bosnian Mountain Horse, Gidran, Noriker, Shagya Arabian, and purebred Arabian contributed to the Haflinger’s development. Today, four of these breeds are endangered, with the Bosnian Mountain Horse nearing extinction. 

During World War II, Haflinger breeders produced shorter, heavier Haflingers to meet the demand for military pack horses. After the war, enthusiasts returned to breeding the more elegant, taller Haflingers seen today. 

In 1958, Tempel Smith imported the first Haflingers to America. He began breeding the horses in Wadsworth, Illinois. Soon, more Americans imported Haflingers from Austria. In 1998, the American Haflinger Registry was founded.

The Haflinger is a highly trainable and versatile horse with many purposes. Common uses for this breed include: 

  • Combined driving
  • Draft work
  • Dressage
  • Endurance riding 
  • Show jumping
  • Therapeutic riding lessons
  • Trail riding
  • Vaulting
  • Western riding

The Haflinger matures more slowly than other horse breeds, so owners often don’t start training until the horse is four years old.

The Haflinger is a hardy and long-lived horse that requires less food than similarly sized breeds. The average Haflinger horse lifespan is 25 to 30 years. However, many Haflingers live into their late 30s and 40s and often keep working well into old age.  

Several health issues affect the Haflinger, including:

Equine degenerative myeloencephalopathy (EDM). Haflingers can inherit this neurodegenerative disorder. Symptoms of EDM typically develop before the horse reaches one year and include ataxia, abnormal gaits, and clumsiness. Experts believe that it’s unlikely that foals clinically diagnosed with EDM will fully recover. However, some horses have shown improved clinical signs if they receive immediate treatment with vitamin E after showing symptoms of the disease. 

Limbal squamous cell carcinoma. Any breed of horse can develop an eye cancer called limbal squamous cell carcinoma, but Haflingers descended from the A stallion bloodlines are more prone to developing this disorder due to a suspected genetic component. Researchers believe this condition may be autosomal recessive, meaning both parents must have copies of the gene to pass it to the offspring. Haflingers are frequently diagnosed with this cancer at a younger age than other breeds of horses.

The hardy and highly trainable Haflinger can be a suitable pet for horse lovers of all ages. The breed has a bombproof temperament, making it an excellent choice for beginning equestrians, families, and trail riders. And despite its stocky build, the Haflinger is surprisingly athletic, so it excels in many sports. If you’re looking for a versatile and lower-maintenance horse, you may find the Haflinger a great fit.