The search for a suitable kid’s pony is the ultimate test in matchmaking.
It’s a nearly impossible task to seamlessly align riding abilities of a child with the perfect safe mount and is a process that cannot be rushed. For experienced horsewoman Kerrie Sperl, this quest led her directly to Haflingers and then ignited a lifelong passion for breeding the iconic horses.
Today, she breeds premium Haflingers through her Joderrie Haflinger Stud in the Yarra Valley, but in the early 2000s she was on the hunt to find a horse for her then four-year-old granddaughter Teighan.
Kerrie first came into contact with Haflingers in 1984 at the Crackenback Cottage in the Thredbo Valley, where the horses’ hardiness and temperament was being harnessed on mountain trails.
“Temperament for us, was absolutely key,” Kerrie said.
“We had witnessed Haflingers’ superb temperament firsthand so that’s what attracted us to the breed. Also, they are very pretty, and every little girl wants to have a Barbie horse, don’t they?”
The search stretched out of state to Tasmania, with the Sperl family securing a 16-month-old gelding, Alistair, from breeder Carol Harvey.
Alistair and Teighan then grew up together with Alistair progressing well through his training, being broken in by Kerrie’s husband Erwin, to become a large part of their family.
“He was a bit too young for Teighan when we first purchased him, so we used a lead-line with him at Pony Club,” she said.
“He was a beautiful natured horse and went on to teach many people how to ride. He lived until he was 24, and in later years I was training him for Western Pleasure.”
Alistair was also quite the character.
On trail rides, where Kerrie was often confronted with pushy bike riders dinging their bell to whiz past her group – a situation which could make horses spook – Alistair was known to place his large hind-end in the middle of the track forcing them to stop before cycling past.
“He was a very special horse for us, and drew us to the Haflinger breed, which we just fell in love with,” she said.
At the moment Kerrie is breeding with two registered Haflinger mares: Starlight, who is sired by Aqua and out of Steinrochen and Stacia, who was also foaled by Steinrochen and is by Abendstern.
The stylish pair has harnessed the very best genetics and will be instrumental in driving Kerrie’s future stud program.
“In the past I have used imported Haflinger semen, and these two mares are by proven stallions that have come across to Australia from Europe,” she said.
“I love breeding because it means I can ensure I am capturing and enhancing the favourable traits I want in my horses. I have been breeding for many years, but I still find a huge joy when I see a new foal hit the ground. It’s just wonderful.”
Kerrie specialises in Western Pleasure, a perfectionist discipline dominated by Quarter Horses, but one she feels Haflingers could excel in.
“Western Pleasure is the ultimate act of horsemanship as the horses have to perform on a big loose rein, so they need to be listening to your legs and body,” she said.
“To compete, you need to have a registered Quarter Horse and be part of that association, but, I would love to see them establish a class where other horses can compete. Haflingers have the athletic ability, trainability, and perfect conformation needed to perform very well in this discipline.”
At the moment, Kerrie is working towards a goal of getting back in the saddle, as in recent years she has been through the throes of several surgeries followed by long rehabilitation and recovery periods.
She is counting down the days until she is well enough to ride her Haflingers again.
“Teighan has picked Starlight as her horse, so I will be riding Stacia, she is a beautiful mare so I cannot wait to ride again,” she said.
Kerrie reflected the past few decades she had spent dedicated to Haflingers had only strengthened her bond with Teighan, who she raised from the age of 12.
“It’s been wonderful, we used to attend clinics and schools together, and now she has kids of her own which will also get to enjoy our Haflingers,” she said.
Three-month-old Mackenzie has a little growing to do before she can ride, but four-year-old Hunter is already showing keen interest in being in the saddle.
“It’s a shame we lost Alistair, as he would have been the perfect horse for Hunter, however, we know our other Haflingers have that ideal temperament to be gentle and kind to a child like Hunter, while also performing well for an adult.”