SALEM, Ohio – Good things come in small packages for Phil and Marge Greenisen.
Their small packages are Haflinger horses, although many may not consider a horse that weighs 1,300 pounds a small package.
Haflingers can do the work of draft horses, but they don’t embody the typical draft horse image. At least not physically.
At 56 inches, they seem small compared to draft breeds like Clydesdales and Belgians, which stand about 76 inches tall and weigh more than a ton.
The Greenisens run a small breeding operation, Greenisen Haflingers, on 103 acres just outside of Salem, Ohio.
They currently have eight Haflingers – five mares, one gelding, one stallion foal and one filly foal.
Unique. Haflingers are known for their distinctive coloring – white, untrimmed manes and tails accent their golden chestnut-colored bodies.
Their attitude also makes them stand out. The Greenisens say the horses are people-friendly, curious and easy to care for.
Above all, versatility dominates Haflinger style. They can pack up to 300 pounds or be used for light harness and combined driving, western and trail riding, endurance riding, dressage, jumping, vaulting and therapeutic riding.
The American Haflinger Registry says Haflingers show “surprising athleticism” for their size.
“In the Haflinger, you can find about any kind of discipline you’re interested in,” said Phil.
Phil and Marge have been showing Haflingers for 12 years. They attend the National Haflinger Show every year and they show at some county fairs. Both wish they had time to show more, but jobs off the farm keep them from participating as much as they would like to.
Haflingers healing. Therapeutic riding shows Haflingers’ humanitarian side. Since they are steady, calm animals, people with physical and mental disabilities can ride them for therapy.
“People, unless they’re afraid of them, generally relate well to horses,” said Marge.
Nerves of steel. She said it’s difficult to spook a Haflinger because they are quite relaxed most of the time.
“Different ones get excited about different things,” she explained. “Some get excited about Holstein cows.”
In 2002, Marge’s 93-year-old mother wanted to see a baby horse. Since she couldn’t walk out to the field, Phil and Marge brought a mother and daughter pair to her near the house.
The foal, Queane, showed great interest in her new audience. The Greenisens said they had to work hard to deter Queane from walking inside to have a look around.
Making friends. Phil and Marge agree that it’s difficult not to get attached to their gentle animals. For them, selling the horses is one of the hardest parts of the business.
Also, keeping them thin can be a constant challenge. “They get fat walking past some hay,” said Phil. Being “easy keepers” makes the horses gain weight quickly, he said.
Brothers in business. Phil and Marge have been in the Haflinger business since 1988. They bought their first registered horses in 1989.
Phil and his brother, Joel, were partners at first, but they divided their interests in 1991 when Joel moved to Ypsilanti, Mich. They dissolved their partnership amicably and both continue to raise Haflingers. Joel is president of the American Haflinger Registry board and the representative to the World Haflinger Organization. Phil is an Ohio Haflinger Association trustee.
Family history. Phil and Marge’s farm has been in Phil’s family for decades. There have been horses on the property for four generations.
In fact, the Greenisens have a Shetland mare, Shadow, that is the only remaining descendent of the pony Phil’s father received on his sixth birthday in 1912.
Routine. The Greenisens put their horses out to pasture every day and bring them in at night. The horses don’t mind inclement weather and Phil said they would much rather be outside than in the barn.
Centuries of living in the mountains of what is now Austria and northern Italy made Haflingers well-adapted to rugged climates.
As much as they love their horses, Phil and Marge enjoy other Haflinger owners even more. “Nice people seem to be attracted to the horses,” said Marge. The Greenisens’ Haflinger social circle stretches across the country.
Lady Luck smiled. Haflingers can be purchased for any amount a buyer wants to spend, according to Phil. A young gelding can be bought for several hundred dollars while adult Haflingers can go for thousands.
The Greenisens consigned a mare, Quite Noble, that sold for $15,600 at the registry’s sale in Ashland last year. “We were just fortunate,” said Phil.
He added that Quite Noble had a good pedigree, good bloodlines and an ideal condition for a 2-year-old.
Yet, the Greenisens were still surprised and take no credit for any specific planning to bring the bid that set a registry record.
Haflinger history. The first Haflingers can be traced to medieval times. Some villages and farms in the southern Tyrolean Mountains were accessible only by narrow paths, so villagers needed a sure-footed horse for transportation.
The Tyrolean village of Hafling inspired the name Haflinger.
The first official documentation of modern Haflingers dates to 1874, when a Tyrolean mare gave birth to the foundation stallion, Folie.
A half-Arab stallion sired Folie and all purebred Haflingers must trace their ancestry back to Folie through seven stallion lines.
Naming process. As a breed rule, all stallions’ names must begin with the same letter as the name of the stallion that sired it. All fillies’ names must begin with the same letter as the name of the mare that gave birth to it.
Haflingers came to the United States in 1958, and according to the registry’s Web site, no other breed can beat them in rate of growth.
Numbers going up. There are approximately 14,000 registered Haflingers in North America.
In 2002 alone, the breed organization registered 2,250 Haflingers, compared to 1,856 horses registered in 1999.
Today, the majority of Haflingers come from Austria, but they can be found worldwide.
Even though the numbers are multiplying quickly, Phil said many people still don’t know much about Haflingers. He often has to tell people that they are a pure breed and are not ponies or miniature Belgians.
Amish influence. Ohio has more Haflingers than any other state, but Indiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania follow closely.
The Amish population in these states contributes to the large numbers. In the United States, Amish account for 38 percent of Haflinger owners.
Get the details:
* Ohio Haflinger Association
746 Northwestern Ave.
Wooster, OH 44691
* American Haflinger Registry
2746 state Route 44
Rootstown, OH 44272
(Janelle Baltputnis welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 21, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)