Feeding Your Haflinger

Haflinger Nutrition

First, a little history.  The Haflinger breed began when the stallion 249 Folie was born in Schlunders, South Tyrol in 1874.   His parents were a half-arabian stallion, 133 El Bedavi XXII, and a “Tyrolean” mare whose predecessors were “oriental” ancestry mountain horses.

What does this have to do with feeding?

Everything.   When you look at the conditions in which the Haflinger breed was developed they needed to become hardy, easy keepers.  They were selected to thrive in high mountains with heavy winters.  Their forages were cold weather tolerant and slow growing grasses.  Then came the world wars where the breed was selected even further for hardiness and the ability to work hard with meager rations.

Today here in the United States few horses receive meager rations.  Sadly, few receive hard work.
So how do we adjust feeding to keep our Haflinger healthy?

One, learn to recognize a healthy body condition on your horse.

Body condition influences everything in your horse’s life, from reproductive efficiency, to performance, to good health.

Ideal Horse Body Condition Scores

Most horses, including performance horses and growing horses, should be in a body score of 5-6. For optimum reproductive efficiency, broodmares should be a 5-7, and not allowed to lose condition such that they are below a 5 during breeding season. Horses over a condition score of 7 may be at a greater risk of developing metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance.  This is a serious risk in the Haflinger breed as their need for LOW SUGAR feeds is already recognized.

These areas of the horse’s body are the best indicators of Body Condition:

  1. Along the Neck
  2. Along the withers
  3. Crease down back
  4. Tailhead
  5. Ribs
  6. Behind shoulder
  7. Poor
    Extremely emaciated. Spinous processes, ribs, tailhead, hip joints, and lower pelvic bones project prominently; bone in withers, shoulders and neck are easily noticed. No fatty tissue can be felt.

2. Very Thin

Emaciated. Slight fat covers base of spinous processes, transverse processes of lumbar vertebrae feel rounded. Spinous processes, ribs, tailhead, hip joints, and lower pelvic bones are prominent. Withers, shoulders and neck structure faintly discernable.

3. Thin

Fat buildup about halfway on spinous processes. Transverse processes cannot be felt. Slight fat covers ribs. Spinous processes and ribs easily discernable; tailhead prominent but individual vertebrae cannot be identified visually. Hip joints appear rounded but easily discernable; lower pelvic bones not distinguishable. Withers, shoulders and neck accentuated.

4. Moderately Thin

Slight ridge along back. Faint outline of ribs discernable. Tailhead prominence depends on conformation, but fat can be felt around it. Hip joints not discernable. Withers, shoulders and neck not obviously thin.

5. Moderate

Back is flat; ribs easily felt, but not visually distinguishable. Fat around tailhead feels a bit spongy. Withers round over spinous processes; shoulders and neck blend smoothly into body.

6. Moderately Fleshy

May have slight crease down back. Fat over ribs spongy; fat around tailhead soft. Small fat deposits behind shoulders and along sides of neck and withers.

7. Fleshy

Might have slight crease down back. Individual ribs can be felt, but noticeable filling between ribs with fat. Fat around tailhead soft; fat deposited along withers, behind shoulders and along neck.

8. Fat

Crease down back. Difficult to feel ribs. Fat around tailhead very soft; area along withers filled with fat. Area behind shoulder filled with fat, noticeable thickening of neck. Fat deposited along inner thighs.

9. Extremely Fat

Obvious crease down back. Patchy fat appears over ribs. Bulging fat around tailhead, along withers, behind shoulders and along neck. Fat along inner thighs may rub together. Flank filled with fat.

Saddle Fit

Unfortunately, I see and hear MANY questions about saddle fit being an issue.   Many Haflingers are maintained at body score 7-9.  If your Haflinger has a WIDE BACK and MINIMAL withers your first question should be how to properly feed your Haflinger and YES, absolutely, how to exercise it.

What to offer a mature Haflinger horse?

Hay or rough forage.   A tested low sugar grass hay is great.  When it comes to hay or forage there are varieties to choose from.  They are broken into three categories:

Legumes (alfalfa, clover, trefoil)

Grasses (Orchard, Timothy, Bermuda, Rye, Teff, Fescue, Brome, Blue grass and many others)

Grains (wheat, oat, barley, rye grain, Triticale and others)

Horses need a protein level based on their growth, age and usage (10-18%).  Legumes contain the highest protein levels.  Grass hays protein can vary widely so get to know your grasses.  Grain hays are generally lower in protein and HIGH in sugars so these should be avoided when feeding most Haflingers.

Meadow grass hay is generally great.  Generally high in minerals, low in sugar and balanced protein.

Teff or Timothy grass hay is great.  These grasses are most often low sugar and balanced minerals.  Their protein levels are good for horses not being used often.  More protein may be needed by including a legume hay if your Haflinger is being exercised well or is growing.

Orchard hay....sometimes great.  Orchard hay can be low sugar or high sugar.  It can be low protein or high protein.  This widely grown grass hay spans the nutrition tables due to the farmer’s choices while it is growing.  Well fertilized and maintained Orchard fields when cut in a low sunlight time of day can be the ultimate hay to feed.   (low sugar, great mineral and nutritional balance and medium protein) Orchard hay grown in a stressed environment or poorly maintained by the farmer can be low nutrition and high sugar.   So this variety of hay should be TESTED or water soaked before being chosen for feeding your Haflinger.

Bermuda grass.......sometimes great.   Similar to Orchard grass it is subject to many growing factors and farmer choices for the final products sugar, protein and nutritional panel.

Rye grass hay.....generally a terrible choice.   This grass is one of the highest natural sugar grasses

Fescue grass.....generally a poor choice.   Fescue is a naturally higher sugar grass, it also has seasonal issues with endophyte fungus. 

3-way or 4-way forage hay....generally a terrible choice.   These, although generally less expensive per ton/bale, are grain varieties of hay and are high in sugar and low in protein.

Alfalfa.....sometimes great.  This legume hay is high in protein and one of the highest calories per pound hays you can feed.   GREAT for endurance or race horses.   Terrible for stall pets.   Don’t feed high calorie hay to a horse that will not have the need for those calories or your horse’s body score will climb towards a 9 in no time at all.   If your Haflinger is nursing or gestating this is a fantastic choice!

All GRASS hays are  NOT created equal.

One great resource to read is  https://www.safergrass.org/

Become familiar with the look of different grasses




So, why concentrate on feeding low sugar hay to your Haflinger?

Our breed has been “designed” through selection for hardiness and they like to eat consistently.   I receive emails and calls asking how to curb the destructive behavior of Haflingers being boarded and confined to a stall.  These horses benefit from getting low sugar hay so they can receive a bit more volume of hay.  They also benefit by receiving their hay in nets or slow feeders which make them nibble and prolong their eating time-frame.



If you have little or no choice in your purchase of grass hays learn about soaking the hay before feeding to strip the sugars from the hay.   https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5e7fddf934de306c2b8cc313/t/5e8c854b6287ed280335cd71/1586267468259/SoakReport.pdf

Now, how do I manage my Haflinger herd?

A Herd that goes from 20-30 mares, geldings, stallions and foals? Haflingers growing, horses in work and also vintage equines?

First.   I LOVE to find extreme low-calorie hay.   Hay that was rained on before being baled so the farmer had to roll it again and now its brown and ugly and, of course, the sugars were soaked out.  Generally, this is call COW hay (careful to ask about weedy hay also being called cow hay, as that is seldom good).

I can place these bales out for the Haflingers to FREE FEED on without worry about them getting overly fat.  Then, I supplement with a legume hay in small quantities to elevate their nutrition and protein.

Another choice is grass “straw” from the farmers cutting the seed heads off the hay and only leaving the stems for the bales.   When this is done testing your bales for nutrition levels is needed so you can supplement your horses.   This also is for my pasture horses not my stabled horses.

My stabled horses receive either Teff or Timothy or Meadowgrass hay as the staple of their diet.  Supplementation with alfalfa for broodmares or growing foals or horses in endurance training, as well as a vitamin/mineral balanced pellet.

I do use hay nets in my barn.   My vintage equines and any Haflinger needing to GAIN weight will get soaked CUBED alfalfa/Teff with beat pulp pellets and RICE BRAN.

Rice bran is my overall choice for a weight gain feed.   It is 13% protein and 13% fat.  It does NOT spike the sugar levels.

What are some metabolic issues Haflingers (and most all horses) have.



EMS, Equine Metabolic Syndrome, horses need to limit/manage NCS (nonstructural carbohydrates)

ID, Insulin Dysregulation, Horses with ID have high insulin and glucose concentrations circulating in their blood

PPID, Pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction.   20% of aged horses and donkeys contract this issue.  Some younger horses also.  One of the primary ways to maintain it, low sugar diet.


The answer to most ALL of the metabolic issues for maintaining a healthy horse? Keep the forage intake low in nonstructural carbohydrates, keep the horse exercised and maintain a healthy weight.

Last, many horse owners do not recognize the level of ulcers within our equine friends.   I had a huge scare when my favorite stallion seemed to colic mildly and often.   Long story short.  He had ulcers.  He never showed any signs other than he was one of my harder keepers.   Now I know it was stress and he was internalizing it.   This was also before I started using hay nets or free feeding low calorie big bales.  He is one Haflinger that HAS to be on alfalfa for the calcium (similar to a human taking TUMS) so he receives soaked alfalfa/teff cubes as his forage intake.

Ulcers, Horses are designed to be grazers with regular intake of roughage. Since the horse’s stomach continually secretes acid, gastric ulcers can result when the horse is not eating regularly due to there being less feed to neutralize the acid.  Providing lower calorie feed or using a slow net/slow feeder will both assist in preventing ulcers.



Hope this helps.   Knock on wood.  I have NOT had a horse colic, develop an ulcer, founder or become higher than a body score 7 since I began feeding my Haflingers with these methods.  Nine years and counting...... Holly