GERMAN summers spent cantering across a grassy field flanked by Munich’s mighty Isar River left a lasting memory of the Haflinger breed on Petra Munnoch.
Growing up in Bavaria’s capital, Petra worked summer jobs at the Tierpark Hellabrunn Zoo leading Haflinger horses for kids’ pony rides, and, on occasion, the staff were permitted to take the workhorses out for trail rides along the Isar.
A teenager at the time, Petra had bonded with the hardy Haflingers as they showcased their gentle and kind nature for inexperienced riders in the busy zoo, and on the trail, where the horses could stretch their legs, she noted their energetic spirit.
“It was such a wonderful summer job as I had always been horse mad,” she said.
“In Germany the reputation for Haflingers is they are a sturdy, gentle horse that’s a good dooer. I believe they are exceptionally versatile as well, if you want to jump with them you can, you can do dressage or vaulting – it’s whatever you want.”
Before her 16th birthday, Petra alongside her elderly grandparents, who adopted and raised her, had moved to Australia where they had extended family.
The shift to bustling Sydney for a horse-mad teen was made seamless thanks to a chance encounter between Petra’s sister-in-law and Australian Haflinger pioneer, Eve Paxton.
“My sister-in-law was at a saddlery in Terry Hills talking to the owner about her German niece, saying I had just moved out and loved Haflingers,” Petra said.
“Eve Paxton was in the saddlery, she overheard the conversation, she heard “young girl, German, loves Haflingers’, and thought, ‘I must meet this girl’.”
From there the two exchanged details, and the following weekend Petra was on Eve’s property in Duffys Forest building the foundations for a long-standing friendship.
“The rest is history,” Petra said.
“From then on, I was out there every weekend, helping her with her horses, we went to shows together and I rode and showed her horses, we became very close friends.”
Eve was always trying to gift Petra one of her horses, but Petra was reluctant, as the costs of agisting and caring for a horse in Sydney is expensive and she felt she couldn’t afford it.
However, in 2005 Eve was diagnosed with bowel cancer, an aggressive disease which eventually took her life within about 12 months. The shock diagnosis prompted Eve to reiterate she wanted Petra to have one of her horses, in particular, a young mare called Misty.
“She told me she really wanted me to have Misty, so I agreed. She’s such a sweet, kind mare and has loved every discipline we have tried. She’s been the love of my life,” Petra said.
In the early days, Petra joked her close bond with Misty could be annoying at times, as the young mare struggled to be away from her.
“I can remember at our first outing I asked my friend to hold her while I went to the judging tent to pick up my dressage test, but I had only walked about 20 metres and looked back to see my friend grass skiing behind Misty as she was trying desperately to get to me,” she said.
“In the end I took her with me to get my test. She mellowed a lot with age, but we still have a close connection.”
Misty is now 20 years old and enjoying retirement, she was recently bred to stallion Spartacus, a proven Haflinger with Austrian bloodlines bred by Heather Payne and currently standing at Fernances Creek Haflingers.
Spartacus is by Serpico and out of Stacia, and in Petra’s opinion, the perfect match for Misty as the union has produced Myrtle her four-year-old mare currently being broken in.
“Spartacus is tall and athletic, a modern type of Haflinger, which has made Myrtle an elegant type with beautiful delicate characteristic – she’s very pretty,” she said.
Myrtle has a vibrant spirit and has embodied her mother’s work ethic, as she’s a young mare willing to learn, which means her training is progressing well with Scott Brodie, at Sutton Forrest.
“Scott focusses on classical dressage, he has a kind and gentle training approach, and the last time I saw her she was having her first ride, which went very well,” Petra said.
Petra is eager to see what discipline will suit Myrtle best, but is hoping to try Equitation, a Spanish style of riding where horses gracefully complete obstacles.
“I already think she will be up for a challenge like Equitation, just like her mum, she seems to be a horse ready to work hard and learn,” she said.