SALEM, Ohio – Synergy is the best way to describe the strategy behind the fledgling National Association of Spotted Haflingers breeding program and registry.
By combining the time-honored qualities of two diverse breeds – the stable temperament, consistent conformation and strong bones of the Haflinger and the beautiful markings, agility and speed of the Paint – the founder of the organization hopes to produce horses to appeal to multiple sectors of the equine industry.
Time will tell if J.P. Gantous’ dream will achieve reality.
First crop on the ground. The proof that the two breeds can merge into healthy, athletic offspring with classic color paraded around the first sale of NASH babies June 20.
About 75 potential buyers watched with curious, critical and calculating eyes as 10 fillies and colts were trotted out in the parking lot of the farm of Junior and Dorothy Beachy in Dundee, Ohio.
By the end of the sale, four of the youngsters had changed owners.
Prices ranged from $800 for an 8-week-old filly to $1,500 apiece for a yearling colt and a 3-month-old gelding.
The fillies and colts are the first of their kind to have been intentionally bred and registered as an entirely new breed. The young stock, ranging in age from eight weeks to 14 months, may have an interesting future.
They certainly have an interesting beginning, according to the registry founder.
Getting started. Gantous, who raised Paints and Arabians for years in North Lawrence, Ohio, began to notice Haflingers after he’d already gotten out of the horse business.
The small draft animals were used as beasts of burden for centuries by traders in the European Alps region. They gained popularity in the U.S. among the Amish.
As demand for the handsome horses grew outside the Amish community, breeders produced more Haflingers than could be absorbed by the market. Prices for top breeding stock fell dramatically in the last decade.
“Ten years ago a medium-quality mare would go for $5,000,” Gantous said. Five years later they were going for killer prices – a terrifying low for breeders.
On the Paint side. About the same time, Paints were in the same predicament, having become popular in performance sectors. Registered Paints are cross registered with the American Quarter Horse Association.
The American Paint Horse Association was formed in 1965, according to Wikipedia, because the AQHA refused to recognize horses “with color.”
Over years of breeding, some scientific studies found that tobiano Paints could be homozygous, meaning a homozygous Paint stallion will always throw foals with color. Tobianos have rounded markings with white legs and white across the back usually arranged in a roughly vertical pattern and more white than dark, with the head usually dark, according to Wikipedia.
Destiny? While both breeds were floundering in the quantity-versus-quality cycle, Gantous was perched on the edge of something big, but he didn’t know what it was.
“Haflinger horses absolutely fascinated me,” he said. He would stare at Haflingers at pasture, at work, at fairs, wondering why he was obsessed.
“I knew this horse and I shared a destiny, but damned if I could find it,” he said. “I thought ‘Why am I so attached to Haflingers? I can’t even spell it.'”
Rescue mission. He’d been happily out of the horse business for some time when he saw Patsy in the field and had to have her. For $600, he felt like he finally had part of the puzzle.
He boarded Patsy for six months before taking a trip south of Columbus, Ohio, where he saw Shamen Hawke, a homozygous Paint stallion, and it all came together.
“My chance was right here – to fire up a whole new breed of horse,” he recalled.
His vision, which he calls an epiphany, led him to buy the stallion and stand him at stud.
Expectations. Besides producing a well-muscled foal with strong bone and a good disposition, Gantous expects the crossbreeds will be excellent performers in most competitive worlds and give new purpose to the productivity of thousands of Haflinger mares and homozygous Paint stallions.
Haflinger mares crossed with homozygous Paint stallions may produce sound, sane performance horses for which there is a demand.
Starting a registry. Three years ago, the first NASH babies hit the ground and Gantous went into high gear to get a registry up and running. As of last week he had members in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky and Iowa.
Overall, NASH has about 50 foals registered. Gantous and those he works with have kept the registry fairly restricted. Breeding stock – only AHA registered mares and APHA registered stallions – must be approved by NASH.
The stallions must also be proven to be homozygous, he said. The animals are the foundation of the breed and Gantous wants to make sure the foundation is as sound as possible.
A ‘treasure.’ Pattie Bodine, an art teacher in Suffield, was tapped to use her calligraphy talents to hand-letter the first 100 registrations.
A believer in the project, Bodine bred her mare to Gantous’ stallion, Hawke, but the baby did not survive. Gantous gave her a foal he’d bred and the filly, Adaneedi Chetawn, has turned to be “an absolute treasure,” Bodine said.
She took advantage of the sale to talk to a number of Amish women who work with their husbands to raise the NASH foals.
“It was years before the Amish were allowed to own spotted horses,” she noted, because the hierarchy of the sect felt the animals were too flashy for “the plain people.”
But some of the bishops have eased up on the rules, Bodine said, so the breeding program became “more doable for J.P.” and his Amish partners.
Switching gears. Ron and Connie Osburn, who raise horses in Malcom, Iowa, attended the sale in Dundee and purchased an eight-week old NASH filly for $800.
Over the years Osburns have bred Belgians and spotted draft horses, but found Haflingers easier to handle, less expensive to feed and quicker to train. When the market for Haflingers went south, they decided to try the NASH combination and their first baby was born in the spring, with quite a few mares bred to foal next year, Ron said.
The Osburns have four APHA-registered homozygous stallions and are ready to reap the harvest in the coming years.
“Any time you use a Haflinger stallion or mare, you get their good disposition,” Ron said. “That’s hard to beat.”
It also makes training pretty easy. John Weaver, a breeder and trainer at his Sunny Acres in North Bloomfield, testified that the NASH babies are quick learners. He has a yearling he is already driving, he said. It’s just a matter of handling them every day.
There is a lot of potential for growth in the field. Size, speed, agility and unflappability are key resources needed – resources Gantous believes are bred into NASH babies.
No welcome mat. While Gantous has been breeding horses for years, he has never started a registry. There is no formula for the project and, although examples abound, not everyone is helpful.
The American Haflinger Association is not in favor of crossbreeding, Gantous said. An AHA spokesperson said the organization had asked him to not use the Haflinger name in the registry or at least to call the produce half-Haflingers. The representative was unwilling to comment further.
Questions remain. Because the breed is so young, there are a lot of questions unanswered. Will the color run true if two NASH horses are bred? Exactly where the babies will fit into the performance world is also up in the air.
It will be five generations before the registry is on solid ground, Gantous said. This year’s crop has to prove its usefulness to the industry and answer some of the other questions.
Meanwhile, a lot of believers will be working to make the best new breed registry they can.
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