Artus and Stacey 2

Breeding Haflingers among proudest achievements for 90-year-old horsewoman

VIBRANT memories of riding to school, driving heavy horses on her family’s dairy farm and a thrilling stint as an amateur jockey are among the recollections 90-year-old Heather Payne draws upon when reflecting on her lifetime spent with horses.

However, it’s her efforts importing and breeding premium Haflingers – which played an instrumental role in developing the Australian Haflinger breed – that Heather says she is most fond and proud of.

Retired in Arcadia NSW, Heather is an Australian Haflinger Breeding and Sports Association stalwart as her now ceased operation, Heather’s Haffies, created an immense legacy of bringing world-class bloodlines to Australia through importing premium European mares.

Heather has always adored horses and recalls her family telling her the only place they could keep her quiet when she was a baby was when she was aboard the local baker’s horse.

“Horses were a way of life then,” Heather said.

“Riding was very different in those times. I grew up in The Great Depression, and I believe my parents couldn’t afford saddles, so my brother and I rode bareback, often through tough country and virgin scrub on the edge of the Strzelecki Ranges.

“I do think riding bareback gave me the skills to become an excellent rider.”

Growing up Heather was one of the top riders in her district, and she excelled through the ranks of Pony Club, eventually catching the eye of racing trainers. Her impeccable timing and light hands meant she soon had offers from many trainers to ride trackwork, so waking up before 4.30am to ride her bike to the Epson track to work multiple horses before starting her job as a dressmaker became the norm.

By the age of 22 Heather was married and focusing much of her time on growing her own family and honing her skills as a dressmaker, while horses were never completely out of her life, as she could always ride with friends, she didn’t own her own horse for decades.

Eventually Heather moved to bigger acreage, and when her children were still yoing, and she was in her 30s she purchased a horse for herself. Then, in the early 2000s, when looking for a suitable horse for her grandson Louis, Heather stumbled across the Haflinger breed by chance.

“Louis decided he wanted to become a cowboy,” Heather said.

“This was a surprise to all of us, as his father is a banker and musician, but we all embraced his ambition, so I began looking across different breeds to find something suitable.

“We found Haflingers are the perfect all-rounders as they can do dressage, all aspects of Pony Club and are excellent harness horses. They are very intelligent and don’t spook easily.”

While Louis’ cowboy aspirations propelled the family’s interest in the breed, Heather admits, it was “Grandma who soon became hooked on Haffies”.

An Australian Haflinger mare, Madelaine, was purchased for Louis but after Heather attended the World Haflinger Show in Ebbs in 2005, she became determined to import and breed Haflingers.

“I was amazed by the European horses, they had remarkable temperament, a beautiful elegance, fineness and height, and I knew this was what we needed in Australia.”

So, at the age of 72, Heather became involved in the Australian Haflinger Breeding and Sports Association in a big way, starting her own stud, stepping up to be the group’s Vice President and initiating plans to import horses for her own breeding program.

Steinroschen was the first mare Heather imported, who landed in Australia in-foal to Abendstern, the iconic World Champion Haflinger stallion.

Steinroschen was a cornerstone to Heather’s Haffies, as she soon foaled Stacia, who embodied the elegance, height and temperament Heather was striving to breed. Stacia then foaled Spartacus in 2013, whom Heather considers to be her proudest achievement as a Haflinger breeder.

Spartacus is by Serpico, and a stallion still standing within Paul and Sharon Groves’ Fernances Creek Haflingers breeding program.

“Spartacus has had a big influence on the Australian Haflinger breed, and it has been wonderful to see his lovely foals perform well and to know he is being well looked after and reaching his potential for his owners Paul and Sharon,” she said.

Heather has watched Haflingers become more prominent in Australia and feels privileged to be among the breeders who have helped further progress the breed.

“Most of my early hopes for the breed have now already been realised during the 20 years I have been involved,” she said.

“The Australian Haflinger Breeding and Sports Association has made great progress in upgrading our horses’ height and conformation. This is only due to the dedicated members who have imported some 30 horses from Europe, or purchased imported semen, then had thorough breeding programs to ensure foals were born safely in Australia.

“We have imported the best genetics from Europe, which has resulted in our Australian horses becoming taller, finer, and very comparable with the best of the best abroad.

“Today, I believe Australian Haflingers are proving to be very desirable as mounts, while also being loving companions to their many owners.”

Andrea MacCormick


Heather Payne