Buying a Haflinger
You’re ready to purchase your first Haflinger Horse. You’ve made the right decision. You’ve seen the beautiful pictures of flowing white manes and tails. You’ve heard numerous testimonials from proud owners praising the incredible personalities of these loving horses. You also know about the Haflinger’s incredible versatility.
But what do you really need to know to make that first Haflinger purchase?
Now, you could use some advice for buying your horse. Here are some things you need to think about before making your purchase.
How tall does your horse need to be?
Traditional-sized Haflingers are often found at 54 to 57 inches. This is a wonderful size especially for smaller women and children to ride and you can usually find bargains for horses of this size. Today, Haflingers in the 58 to 60 inch range tend to command a higher price among breeders. They are a good riding choice for larger men and women. The taller horses can have a higher resale in today’s market, but I find many families and grandparents prefer the smaller ones. Taller ones are more commonly used for pleasure riding and sport horses. Both sizes make wonderful driving horses. If you plan to breed your mare, one strategy might be to get better quality in a smaller size. You can always breed bigger while trying to keep the quality.
It is important to note that for some pony shows and combined driving events, there are height cut-offs at 54, 56, and 58 inches. This helps maintain a demand for these heights. There still tends to be a greater demand for the taller horses, but there are not any hard, fast rules.
Do you need a registered Haflinger?
If you’re not planning to breed your horse, you really don’t need a registered one. But, if you can’t commit to keeping this horse for the next 30 years, you might plan to resell it at some point. Resale value should be higher for a registered horse. Since the turn of the century, supply has largely caught up with demand for Haflingers in the U.S. Actually, prices have fallen in recent years to the point where good, quality, registered Haflingers are a bargain. I would not recommend purchasing an unregistered in this market, unless the quality was fantastic. Update 2014- prices now seem to be rising modestly, Breeders have cut back. The market is correcting, and we continue to see a very strong demand for well trained Haflingers.
Do you want a mare, or a gelding, or a stallion?
If this is your first horse, you don’t want a stallion. Mares and geldings are both fine choices. Some people prefer geldings because they think mares are too moody. This has not been our experience. Most of our mares are sweethearts. They tend to be low key, while geldings seem to have more playful energy. Looking at stallions, we’ve seen some people successfully turn young retired stallions into great riding geldings. Because these are often well-bred horses, it is possible to find bargains this way, but this strategy is too risky for the novice.
Do you want pleasure style, or draft style?
Haflinger breeders often divide the breed into these two categories. The pleasure horse is more refined and bred for riding or sport. The draft type should be heavily muscled and primarily used for work or pulling of hitch wagons. Breeders of both styles appreciate the Haflinger's versatility, so both types are often ridden and driven. You should understand that often the lines between the two are not very clear. Some horses can be very heavily muscled and they definitely look drafty. Some pleasure horses are very refined and would make lousy draft horses. But a good many Haflingers fall right in the middle. The only thing that matters is how your dress them up and take them to the show. This is part of the breed’s versatility. Pick whichever style suits you and your needs. Market update 2014- The draft hitch breeders are often focusing on that 15 hand horse to match their hitch. They often sell off very good young horses because they only end up at 14.1 or 14.2. This is the perfect size for most families.
Will you be trail riding, competing in dressage, pleasure driving, jumping, pulling, or or taking the kids in parades?
The Haflinger breed is very versatile, so take your pick. But, you do need to think about the possibilities ahead of time, so you choose the right horse for the activity.
Do you need a horse that is family-safe, well broke, green broke, or can you train it yourself?
Haflingers are a relatively easy horse to train due to their calm nature. But in today’s busy world, many Haflingers have little or no training. You need to be honest with yourself. If you have little horse experience, you should probably start with at least a well broke horse. But you will need to be careful assessing a horse's training level. Many sellers will advertise, “been in parades” or "been on trails." You need to further investigate claims of this nature, as I’ve witnessed many people riding and driving green-broke horses in parades or on trails. Another thing to remember is just because you saw a picture of someone riding the horse, that doesn't mean it rides well. If the picture was of a child, it doesn't mean that your kid can ride the horse. Be careful. Ask lots of questions. Be sure to get a lot of details and some help if you need it.
Do you want an imported Haflinger?
Haflingers originated in Austria. The Austrians breed many wonderful haflingers and have a terrific system for breeding and selecting top individuals within the breed. Many of our best horses in the U.S. were imported from Austria. We also import terrific horses from Holland, Germany, Canada, and Great Britain. Some sellers will use the imported label like a brand name. It can have a positive influence on resale value. But, we also breed many fabulous Haflingers in the U.S. If you live in the U.S., you will probably find it easier to keep track of the top stallions in this country as well as the top breeding programs. This can be a big help for you when selecting a quality horse. It is fairly expensive to import a horse, so we might assume that no one would import a low quality horse. This is only an assumption, find out more about the quality of the horse. Update- There are a lot less imported offered for sale the past few years. The market hasn't justified importing many horses, but you still could find one offered for sale.
Do you need a great pedigree?
Pedigree starts with the stallion (or stud, sire, father). You should be able to find out some basic information on your horse’s sire. What farm did he come from? Did he sire any notable offspring? Did he win in the showring? Did his parents win in the showring? What was his breeding fee? Most stallions will be out of sires with some degree of fame. (This is a simple, but very important point. Let’s review- The father of your horse’s father [paternal grandsire] should be a terrific horse. In most cases, he should be famous within the breed.) Your horse’s sire should also be out of a quality dam (mother), but you may have trouble finding out much information about the dam. You may find out about her sire, her show winnings, classification score, breeder, or importer. Occasionally, people will also advertise the sale price of a mare. All of these things may be clues as to the quality of the mare. But, they really only amount to clues and may not tell the whole story. Try to find someone you trust with knowledge of the breed, and search through a breed magazine to find breeding programs you respect. These may be your best guides when trying to figure out a pedigree. (Also remember, Haflinger horses often have a two to four letter suffix at the end of their name. This will indicate the breeder. When you stick with horses from highly respected breeders, you’ll usually be doing OK. It's not difficult to figure out who the top breeders are by asking around, searching the internet, or checking a breed magazine. We don't want to offend any Haflinger breeders, so we won't give you our personal list of top breeders here, but if you call or email us, we might be able to help you find a breeder in your part of the country.)
Do you need terrific conformation?
The bad news is: It takes years to become skilled in judging conformation. You’re probably not great at it. The good news is: Horse connoisseurs are just as snooty as wine connoisseurs. You may not be as unskilled as you think. We live in a society where we are bombarded with thousands of pictures of beautiful horses. Most of these horses got their picture taken because they have pretty good conformation. Therefore, your brain probably has a pretty good idea of what a good horse should look like. Get some help from a friend with horse experience, get some books, get whatever you need. Also, pay very close attention to the legs and feet. You don't want an unsound horse. (As the buyer, you’re the one that really has to think your horse is pretty. Get as many other opinions as needed to make yourself comfortable.)
Several universities have online guides which can help you get started judging horse conformation. Spend some time reviewing these.
How much should I pay for my Haflinger?
Tough question. Let’s start by looking at recent auction prices as a guide. Last year, you could find quality weanlings, out of good sires, from good breeding programs starting at about $600. Of course, you would have to raise them and train them. In the past very top Haflingers would sell for $20,000 or more. But auctions are risky for sellers too. So most people aren't putting the very top Haflingers in auctions. Although some of our top Haflingers in the breed today were purchased at auction as young unknown horses. Most horses at auction bring less. $2,500 - $5,000 would have bought you a quality gelding depending on training and other factors. Many good mares also sold for $2,500 - $5,000. Auction prices will give you a rough idea of the market. But, private sale prices are generally higher. This is for two reasons. Sellers are scared to put their very favorite horse in an auction where she might go cheap. And auctions have more of a “buyer beware” atmosphere, so there is more risk. If you go to a reputable breeder to buy a horse privately, and week later, you decide you hate the horse, you may be able return it. Of course, you should not assume anything. Always talk to the seller before the purchase about what will happen if you are unhappy with the horse. A week is usually a very fair trial period but you should agree on a trial period before the purchase. Don’t expect to bring the horse back in a year. When the sale is over a long distance and trucking is expensive, these types of trials are trickier. Be sure you and the buyer have an understanding. In conclusion, expect to pay more for a private sale. A rough estimate is that private sales are often twice the price of auction horses. This is justified due to the riskier nature of auctions. Many buyers just won't consider an auction.
A couple more tips on Haflinger prices: The most common request from people looking to purchase a Haflinger is for a "safe Haflinger my kids can ride." The demand for horses that meet this criteria exceeds the supply, so these horses will fetch a premium price. As a rough guide, we usually tell these people to expect to pay about $4000-$5,000. Some people get lucky and find this type of horse online and in newspapers for $1000-$3000. If you can only spend in this lower price range, we encourage you to be patient and careful. Many horses which are listed as riding horses have not been ridden in years. Be sure to ask your seller who rode the horse, when, and with what frequency. Get very detailed specifics. For $4000 and a little luck, you may be able to find a trustworthy horse which has really been ridden safely. It may or may not get you a purebred, a pedigree, or great conformation. These things may add to the $4000 starting price. Many reputable breeders will start pricing their horses at around $5000. Also know that most U.S. Haflingers live in a belt between New York and Iowa. The further you live from this region, the more you may have to pay for a horse. For example, if you live in California you may need to add $1000 for transportation or buy in the local market which will can be pricier. Good luck, and do your homework.
What do you want for color, facial marks, etc.?
Haflingers come in a wide variety of chestnut colors. They can be found in near brown, and dark copper tones all the way to near palomino. The color is your choice. Their manes and tails should always be very light to white. Facial markings such as stars, snips, and blazes are also your choice. You will find that many people in America have recently preferred the blaze on the face. These things may affect resale value, but it always depends on the buyer’s preference. There are things that are undesirable, such as black hairs in the mane and other odd markings. These undesirable colors will reduce the value of a horse. If you are not planning to breed or show, and a few black hairs in the mane do not bother you, you may find yourself a nice bargain.
What's the next step?
Review these questions to develop an idea of what type of Haflinger you're looking for. Also take the time to prioritize the traits that are important to you. Print out this list and your answers to use as a starting point for discussions with your seller.
Some Additional Tips if You are Buying Your First Horse
You should consider investing in some training videos or books before buying the horse. Study these books and videos as a family if you are buying the horse for a child. It will be an exciting activity to help you pass the time as you anxiously search for a horse. You may not realize it now, but you need to learn the basic skills of a horse trainer. Horses learn constantly, as children do. This means, like it or not, you will become a trainer as soon as you begin handling the horse. The issue is that many people accidentally teach their horses bad manners without realizing it. Even if you buy the sweetest and best trained horse in the world, this can happen. I'll give you a couple hypothetical examples below so you get the idea.
Two weeks after you buy your horse you realize he is nipping at your fingers. He didn't do this before and the previous owner didn't mention this bad habit. What you don't realize is that you were so excited to get your new horse that you couldn't resist hand feeding him treats very often. He now associates you with treats and he's just nibbling on your fingers as he searches for that next treat. It is a behavior that needs to be corrected.
Another possible scenario could be that your young daughter was riding the horse shortly after you bought it when your horse stepped on a big rock that hurt his foot. The subtle pain caused him to hop up uncomfortably. Your daughter didn't know that he stepped on a rock, but the hop scared her a little, so she decided it would be best to get off him right away. She was a little afraid to get back on, so she decided to take him back to his stall immediately. She gave him some grain like he always gets after his ride. She doesn't understand that the horse is learning this, "If I buck up my heels a little bit, she will get off and I'll get that yummy grain right now. I think I'll try that again."
I could make up endless scenarios like this but the point is this: as an owner you need to be able to examine yourself to see what you are teaching your horse. The training videos will really help you to learn to think like horse. They also give you ideas to correct bad habits before they get worse.
What you may not realize is that training is extremely rewarding. It's a great family activity, it's not really that complicated, and there is nothing quite as satisfying as successfully teaching your horse a new skill or correcting a bad habit. You may get really hooked on the training. I'll give you an example. I had a prospective buyer come to me. She had no horse experience, but she was determined to do things right. She had purchased a Clinton Anderson video on foal training. She decided to buy a foal contract for my next foal. She trains passionately and sends me regular videos showing the amazing things her young horse can do. This approach takes patience, but she is having an absolute blast raising her foal and she will end up with an amazing horse.
In addition to the training materials, you may want to consider working under the direction of an experienced trainer until you get the hang of it.
Best of luck to you!
If you would like more help from us, call or email us. We would be more than happy to discuss these or other questions you might have. We often know of some good horses that are available around the country.