Fitness and Fatness
It’s time for Part 4 of my Haflingers 101 series! Previously, we discussed breed standards, history, and draft vs modern types – if you haven’t read those sections yet, I encourage you to do so in order to have the background info for this post.
If you’ve been involved with Haflingers for any period of time, (or you read my previous posts as I suggested, hehehe) you probably know that the Haflinger breed as we know it in the US can be described as having a “drafty” body type, or a more “modern” body type. These two types are characterized differently, of course – the modern type being a bit lighter, and the draft type being a bit stockier. It doesn’t have anything to do with fitness level, or amount of muscle and fat…or even what discipline you show them in; rather, it has more to do with height, body length, and bone – things that aren’t at all affected by weight.
So, knowing this, can you guess which body style these wonderful little horses would identify with most? Take a look at the following photos and keep your guesses in mind – I’ll reveal their transformation photos later. 😉
Haflinger Fitness and Body Changes
Bear with me for a second, and think of your horse like a human. If I have a long torso and short legs, for instance, I can exercise and it’ll start to change the way I look. My strength and improved posture will make me a bit taller overall, but I won’t be able to shorten my torso. Similarly, if I chose to do Pilates during my workouts, my body will look different than it would if I chose to be a runner, or a tennis player, or a gymnast. I can’t make my legs longer, yet I can make them stronger, and they might LOOK longer as I lose weight and gain fitness.
The same is true for your horse. An FEI dressage horse will look totally different compared to an Advanced Level eventer, but the reality is they are at the appropriate level of fitness for their chosen sports. If your horse has a long back, you might work harder to strengthen that part of him, and you can shorten his body through collection, but once he is out in the pasture again, he’ll still be as long as he always was – although your good training will help him stand taller and his new muscle will make him look more cohesive.
So, when you have a drafty Haflinger, that doesn’t mean he will never look as fit as his sportier counterpart. A healthy, drafty Haflinger can absolutely have a more defined “waist”, lose that layer of fat over his ribs and shoulders, and reduce that cresty neck! Because of his body type, however, he’ll still have that adorable, round, apple butt we love so much (it’ll just be more muscular and shapely), he’ll still be broad chested, and he most likely won’t have super defined withers *ahem* (but I’d put $5 on it that you’ll see more of those withers than you did before).
I often find photos posted on social media that are captioned something like “My drafty Haflinger”, and what I see is a horse that is sometimes just overweight – barrel protruding, fat deposits at shoulders, etc. In many cases, it’s likely that if the horse was put into some kind of fitness/training program, the owner might no longer see a chunky pony, but instead see a sleeker, stronger, healthier horse. In some cases – not all, but definitely some – they might realize what they actually have is a Haflinger with a more modern body rather than a draft body!
Now, remember – each horse is an individual. But here are a few signs that might help you determine if you need to up your horse’s fitness game or not:
Things that might mean your Haflinger is just carrying around extra poundage:
- Deposits directly behind the shoulders and below the withers (nope, that’s not muscle!)
- Extra cresty neck
- The barrel jiggles when he moves
- Hindquarters jiggle if you pat him
- When you look at him from behind, you see his barrel sticking out on either side
Things that might mean your Haflinger is drafty:
- Hooves bigger than many larger horses
- Shapely apple butt
- When looking at him from the front, there is a wide space between his front legs; his chest is very broad
- Very low withers
- Short, strong neck
- Conformation reminds you of a Baroque breed (Friesian, Andalusian) or Belgain/Shire/Clydesdale
The Easiest of Keepers
It’s not secret that Haflingers are easy keepers. They were bred to be able to thrive on the sparse mountainside, so our beautiful pastures can be a bit too much for them. This brings its own set of challenges for the conscientious owner!
Have you ever decided to buckle down and start getting your Haflinger in better shape? You might’ve done what many people do, with good intentions – exercise your horse regularly, and monitor their food intake like a hawk. Your Haflinger might lose some weight, but maybe then you hit a brick wall and finally throw your hands up and say, “Well, I guess he’s just built like that!”, and don’t push it any further.
If, at this point, your golden horse is down to a reasonably healthy weight, and he is not out of breath doing whatever you both enjoy doing, than congratulations! That’s a win.
If you want to take it a step further though, guess what? You probably can. It’s been my experience that Haflingers can hang onto their fitness levels for a long time – but getting to that point can feel like it’s taking forever. If you’re serious about getting this done, talk to your vet about what (if any) nutritional changes you can make to your horse’s diet, and discuss with him/her how to best begin to gradually increase your horse’s work level. I promise, you WILL eventually see a difference!
ALL Haflingers can be fat, and ALL Haflingers can be fit.
Now that you’re armed with all of this information, wanna see how well you did on our little guessing game? Take a look at the before and after photos of the Haflingers I showed you at the beginning of this post. Can you see how their bodies changed when they were fit? Would you change your answers to the “draft or modern” question?
If you have a transformation photo to share, I’d love to see it! Join me on Instagram and use #HaflingerFitness so I can find you and comment.
Special thanks to Susan Shapiro Segerman, Shannon Cain, Michelle Harper, Kim Phillips, Joanna Johnson, and Jessica Hanney for supplying these photos via the Facebook group, Haflinger Friends Worldwide!