American Haflinger Alliance

Day 6

Saturday September 24- FILLY SALE DAY!

The Big Day had finally arrived and we were up early, breakfasted, and over to the Fohlenhof by 8 am. The approximately 90 sale fillies mostly arrived before we did to be identified, checked in, receive a cursory veterinary inspection, then stand tied for up to several hours in the central riding hall while potential buyers discussed their merits. These weanling fillies, some of whom had been cavorting on the alm with their mothers only a few weeks earlier, were remarkably poised as they exited their trailers (mostly European lightweight models pulled by passenger cars) and began the process of being inspected, auctioned, and sold to new owners. There was very little whinnying and baby horse shenanigans: the fillies seemed to know it was important to be on their best behavior.

The first curious thing we learned was that each filly had her auction catalog number cut into her right hip hair with a pair of scissors, using Roman numerals. A gentleman with steady hands and excellent barbering skills identified each filly in this manner as she arrived at the Fohlenhof because, although every registered Tyrolean Haflinger is microchipped, the 90 weanling fillies were startlingly similar in appearance. If they wore ID tags that could come loose, it would be very difficult to figure out who they were whereas the Roman haircut made it easy for buyers to identify each filly at a glance.

Beer was served early and often, and there was much laughter and discussion as the fillies entered the riding hall one at a time to be briefly inspected by several veterinarians for general health. If passed (and only a couple fillies were held back) they then entered the huge riding hall and were tied to one of three long wooden fences, in catalog order for buyers to observe. It was surprising that such young horses generally stood quietly in the chaotic surroundings but the baby horses were brave and true, waiting for the auction to start in the Fohlenhof presentation arena at 10 am.
Before we describe the 2022 sale itself, the origin and structure of the auction is worth noting. With more than 1,000 members, the Tyrolean Haflinger Breeders put forward their best young stock for inspection by the Association’s expert horseman to be considered for the filly sale. To be accepted for the sale, the fillies must be graded as Class I, Class IIA+, or Class IIA based on a conformation, temperament, movement, and breed quality rubric. It is an honor for breeders to have their farm’s young stock accepted into the sale to represent their mares and breeding programs, all sired by approved stallions.

The approved stallions- 22 of them in 2022- stand at the Fohlenhof and at various member farms throughout the Tyrol region to be accessible to as many breeders as possible. Stud fees for Association members are a very reasonable €280 currently, which allows breeders the chance to make a tidy profit if their stock is deemed quality enough to sell at the Fohlenhof weanling sales. This year, the filly sale average set a new record of nearly €4,800, and the sale topper, the spectacular filly Titania (liz.542/T Manhattan x E20034/T Talissia) consigned by Familie Scheiber in Obergurgl, brought down the gavel at €16,700. (If those names sound familiar, Titania was one of the fillies we previewed during our stay at the Edelweiss & Gurgl Hotel on Tuesday, and her dam, Talissia, was one of our Alps trail riding horses that morning as well!)

Each class of fillies has a minimum starting bid at the sale, and a reserve bid amount that guarantees a filly achieving that price will change hands. Fillies are cataloged by sire line (there are 7 Haflinger sire lines A, B, M, N, S, ST and W which are reflected in the horse’s names) and are then sorted and sold by class. For example, this year the M line fillies were sold first, with 5 Class I fillies presented, followed by 2 class IIA+ fillies. (There were no M line class IIA fillies this year.) Organizing the sale this way is very helpful for bidders because they can see each sire line’s offspring presented in groups as similar as possible, a way to compare apples to apples, as it were. The most represented sire line this year was the ST-line with 31 fillies cataloged, with the B-line stallions represented by a mere 5 fillies.

All in all, the organization of the Tyrolean Haflinger Breeder’s Association is clearly designed to produce consistent and excellent horses which was obvious when looking at the stallions and later the fillies. Horse breeding in Europe seems to be a scientific pursuit of excellence with carefully planned breed objectives and matings, versus emotional breeding where any mare owner can choose any popular or nearby stallion as in the US. The Tyrolean Haflinger Breeders have clear objectives in producing horses that are correct and in demand in the marketplace, and their members respect the Association’s rules to produce and market young horses that advance the objectives of the breed.

The sale program began with a spirited marching band playing loud and clear to get our bidding blood flowing, and then introductions of the Tyrolean Haflinger Breeders Association’s officers and guests took place before the first group of fillies entered the arena. At the sale, each sire line’s offspring are paraded in front of the audience as a group, then leave the arena and return individually as bidding begins. Fillies are presented in a small arena with low fencing by two handlers (one to hold the line and one to encourage forward movement) and gently longed while bidding takes place. Bidding is in German and all bids are displayed in real time on a large digital board behind the auctioneer. Most fillies had just a few minutes in the spotlight, and all 90 were sold by about 2 pm after bidding began around 10:45.

All bidding is in euros (€) and fortunately for those of us math-challenged, one euro was almost exactly one dollar on sale day. This was a historically advantageous exchange rate which may have encouraged some of us to dream big, do stuff, and have fun when it came to attending a horse auction. More on that later. There are no bid spotters in the crowd; the auctioneer had excellent vision to spot the yellow numbered paddles that registered bidders hold aloft to indicate a bid.

Class I/starting bid €1,600 /sale obligatory bid €4,000
Class IIA+/starting bid €1,200/sale obligatory bid €3,000
Class IIA/starting bid €1,000/sale obligatory bid €2,000

As noted, the sale’s high seller was lot #1, Titania, who garnered that impressive €16,700 bid. Each sire group and each lot came to the arena under cloudy cool skies, but bidding was fast and enthusiastic. The American Haflinger Alliance group were easy to spot in the stands with our turquoise backpacks (every member of the group received a backpack before leaving the US, featuring our logo Haflinger, Sassy, leaping over snow-capped Alps on a bag filled with snacks and travel accessories) and we definitely garnered attention when AHA! members Dirk and Karen Young/Twin Birch Farms purchased lot #17, the lovely Lakosta (liz.541/T Stracato x E20425/T Landera) presented by Jennifer Zebisch of Imst- a filly we met at the very first farm we visited the previous Monday! Karen and Dirk had been thinking about this special ST-line Class I filly for days, and just had to bring her back to the US. They also purchased lot #82, Taja (liz.471/T Amerigo x E20495/T Tennasy) a pretty A-line class IIA+ youngster consigned by Familie Müßifang, in Thaur, another outstanding Tyrolean filly.

Sadly, the filly that our beer-fueled syndicate had decided to bid on was not at the sale, a disappointment to those in our Haflinger Alliance group who were ready to become fractional owners of a Haflinger filly that would fulfill our wildest souvenir dreams. Lot #50, Hannika (liz.483/T Narkas x L20555/t Havanna) an N-line Class I filly, bred by the Familie Hochfilzer from Söll (visited by our group on Wednesday) was kept home for the farm’s veterinarian to check a minor skin irritation. As we know, horses are capable of making you change your plans with a moment’s notice, and so we enjoyed the sale, and learned a tremendous amount, but were a bit heartbroken that ‘our’ filly was not presented. We did get to see several of Hannika’s half-sisters at the auction that were lovely and sold well.

Time moved quickly as golden filly after golden filly passed under the auctioneer’s gavel, and soon all 90-some lots had been presented to bidders. After the sale, many of the fillies were turned out in large group pens with 20 or more young horses together- we quickly understood why their shaved hip numbers were necessary once their halters came off as it looked like a sea of identical Haflinger fillies!

Our group were able to go see both of Karen and Dirk’s new purchases (horses for export were stabled in individual stalls) and take celebratory photos to remember a very exciting day. Then it was time for farewells as some of our AHA! group were leaving to head home while others stayed longer to celebrate the Fohlenhof’s 75th Anniversary the next day. There were heartfelt goodbyes as we had become quite a tightknit group over the previous week, bonded by shared adventure, schnaps and schnitzel, and a love of Haflinger horses. Our group was a bit smaller for a wonderful dinner at a local restaurant Saturday evening where we discussed both the events of the day and our plans for Sunday.