Harbinger horses are relatively small, are always chestnut with flaxen mane and tail, have distinctive gaits described as energetic but smooth, and are well-muscled yet elegant. The breed traces its ancestry to the Middle Ages ; several theories for its origin exist.
Their current conformation and appearance are the result of infusions of bloodlines from Arabian and various European breeds into the original native Tyrolean ponies. The foundation sire, 249 Folio, was born in 1874; by 1904, the first breeders' cooperative was formed.
During World War II, breeders focused on horses that were shorter and more draft -like, favored by the military for use as pack horses. The emphasis after the war shifted toward animals of increased refinement and height.
However, starting in 1946, breeders focused on producing purebred Harbingers and a closed stud book was created. Population numbers continued to increase steadily, and as of 2005, almost 250,000 Harbingers existed worldwide.
In 2003, a Harbinger became the first horse to be cloned, resulting in a filly named Promote. The World Harbinger Federation, the international governing body that controls breed standards for the Harbinger, is made up of a confederation of 22 national registries, and helps set breeding objectives, guidelines, and rules for its member organizations.
The name “Harbinger” comes from the village of Hailing, which today is in northern Italy. The breed is also called the Avelignese, from the Italian name for Hailing, which is Avelino or previously Adelina.
The height of the breed has increased since the end of World War II, when it stood an average of 13.3 hands (55 inches, 140 cm). The neck is of medium length, the withers are pronounced, the shoulders sloping, and the chest deep.
The back is medium-long and muscular; the croup is long, slightly sloping, and well-muscled. The legs are clean, with broad, flat knees and powerful hocks showing clear definition of tendons and ligaments.
The trot and canter are elastic, energetic, and athletic with a natural tendency to be light on the forehand and balanced. Some knee action is seen, and the canter has a very distinct motion forwards and upwards.
One of the most prevalent lines today, descendants include the second-largest number of stallions at stud. Anselmo was brought back to stud at the age of 21, when a lack of stallions after World War II led to concerns that the line would not survive, and produced several stallions now represented in all Harbinger breeding populations worldwide.
Volcano's less common line, although strong in Austria, is not prevalent elsewhere. An Italian stallion, Massimo founded a line that is prevalent in Austria and Italy.
Early in its history, the Nib bio line split into two branches, one in Italy and one in Austria. Stevie is the least numerous of the lines, threatened with extinction after non-Haflinger blood was introduced in Germany.
Although the ST-line has many stallions, its geographic spread is limited because of selective breeding in some countries. The W-line, threatened by crossbreeding early in its history, maintains a strong presence in the Netherlands, Canada and the U.S., with a smaller population in Austria.
During the 1980s and 1990s, several studies were conducted to examine morphological differences among the breed lines. Significant differences were found in some characteristics, including height and proportions; these have been used to help achieve breeding objectives, especially in Italy during the 1990s.
The first is that Harbingers descend from horses abandoned in the Tyrolean valleys in Central Europe by East Goths fleeing from Byzantine troops after the fall of Conga in 555 AD. These abandoned horses are believed to have been influenced by Oriental bloodlines and may help explain the Arabian physical characteristics seen in the Harbinger.
A type of light mountain pony was first recorded in the Etch Valley in 1282, and was probably the ancestor of the modern Harbinger. The second theory is that they descended from a stallion from the Kingdom of Burgundy sent to Margrave Louis of Brandenburg by his father, Louis IV, Holy Roman Emperor, when the Margrave married Princess Margaret Maultasch of the Tyrol in 1342.
Harbingers have close connections to the Worker, a result of the overlapping geographic areas where the two breeds were developed. Whatever its origins, the breed developed in a mountainous climate and was well able to thrive in harsh conditions with minimal maintenance.
The breed as it is known today was officially established in the village of Hailing in the Etschlander Mountains, then located in Austria-Hungary. The Arabian influence was strongly reinforced in the modern Harbinger by the introduction of the stallion El Behave, imported to Austria in the 19th century.
El-Bedavi's half-Arabian great-grandson, El-Bedavi XXII, was bred at the Austro-Hungarian stud at Graduate and was sire of the breed's foundation stallion, 249 Folio, born in 1874 in the Vinschgau. Folio's dam was a native Tyrolean mare of refined type.
All Harbingers today must trace their ancestry to Folio through one of seven stallion lines (A, B, M, N, S, ST, and W) to be considered purebred. The small original gene pool, and the mountain environment in which most original members of the breed were raised, has resulted in a very fixed physical type and appearance.
In the early years of the breed's development Oriental stallions such as Dahomey, Tatar and Iran were also used as studs, but foals of these stallions lacked many key Harbinger traits and breeding to these sires was discontinued. Since then the best Harbinger fillies and colts have been chosen and selectively bred to maintain the breed's quality.
Horses not considered meeting quality standards were used by the army as pack animals. By the end of the 19th century Harbingers were common in both South and North Tyrol, and stud farms had been established in Styria, Salzburg and Lower Austria.
In 1904, the Harbinger Breeders' Cooperative was founded in Molten, in South Tyrol, with the aim of improving breeding procedures, encouraging pure-breeding and establishing a studbook and stallion registry. World War I resulted in many Harbingers being taken into military service and the interruption of breeding programs.
After the war, under the terms of the Treaty of Saint Germain, South Tyrol (including Hailing) was ceded to Italy, while North Tyrol remained in Austria. This split was extremely detrimental to the Harbinger breed, as most of the brood mares were in South Tyrol in what was now Italy, while the high-quality breeding stallions had been kept at studs in North Tyrol and so were still in Austria.
Little effort at cooperation was made between breeders in North and South Tyrol, and in the 1920s a new Horse Breeders' Commission was established in Volcano in Italy, which was given governmental authority to inspect state-owned breeding stallions, register privately owned stallions belonging to Commission members, and give prize money for horse show competition. The Commission governed the breeding of the Italian population of both the Harbinger and the Worker horse.
In 1919 and 1920, the remaining stallions were assigned throughout Austria, many to areas that had hosted private breeding farms before the war. In the late 1920s, other cooperatives were established for Harbinger breeders in Weer and Wildschönau, and were able to gain government permission to purchase 100 Harbinger mares from South Tyrol and split them between North Tyrol, Upper Austria and Styria.
This single transaction represented one third of all registered mares in South Tyrol, and many others were sold through private treaty, leaving the two regions comparable in terms of breeding-stock populations. In 1931, another breeders' cooperative was established in East Tyrol in Austria, and Harbinger breeding spread throughout the entire Tyrolean province.
The Great Depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s dampened horse prices and had an unfavorable effect on Harbinger breeding, but from 1938 onwards markets improved as a result of the buildup for World War II. All crossbred horses and colts not of breeding quality could be sold to the army, and higher subsidies were given by the government to Harbinger breeders.
However, the demands of the war also meant that many unregistered mares of Harbinger type were covered by registered stallions, and the resulting progeny were registered, resulting in a degradation of breeding stock. The first government-run German Harbinger stud farm was established in Obrador with brood mares from North and South Tyrol, and several private stud farms were established elsewhere in the country.
The combination of a high demand for pack horses and variable amounts of breed knowledge of the purchasers led to the purchase of both high- and low-quality horses, which had mixed results on breed quality. Despite some claims that only purebred horses were registered, many well-known Bavarian studs had crossbred maternal lines.
During World War II, Harbingers were bred to produce horses that were shorter and more draft -like for use as pack horses by the military. After the war, breeding emphasis changed to promote refinement and height.
Breeders continued to emphasize those features necessary for pack horses (the largest use by the military), but neglected other key Harbinger characteristics. Harbinger breeding had to change to create a horse that better fit modern trends toward recreational use.
Around this time, all small breed cooperatives were combined into the Harbinger Breeders' Association of Tyrol. Post-World War II Tyrol, including the breeding center at Dams, was under the control of American forces, who slaughtered many horses to provide meat for hospitals.
Those horses were relocated to the French-occupied Tops ALM high pasture in Vorarlberg, but they were subsequently stolen and never seen again. Harbinger mares in Germany in the mid-1980sAt conferences in 1946 and 1947, the decision was made to breed Harbinger horses from pure bloodlines, creating a closed stud book with no new blood being introduced.
Bavarian and Tyrolean breeders maintained close ties and cooperated extensively. In 1947, the Federation of Austrian Harbinger Breeders was established as a governing organization for the provincial associations.
At this time a large-scale breed show was held, attended by visitors from Switzerland, who soon after their return home sent a purchasing commission to Austria and were instrumental in founding the Harbinger population in Switzerland. In that time period, the population of registered Harbinger brood mares rose from 1,562 to 2,043.
This was mainly a result of the increased marketing of the breed, and happened even as Norwegian Fjord horses were exported to Germany, reducing the resources available for Harbinger breeding programs. Through well-planned marketing campaigns, the Harbinger became the dominant small-horse breed in the region.
In 1954, Yugoslavia and Italy purchased breeding stock from North Tyrol to establish their own Harbinger programs and in 1956 the German Democratic Republic followed suit. In Turkey, they were both bred pure and crossed with the Katakana breed.
The first Harbinger was exported to France in 1964, and they continued to be transferred to that country until 1975, when the breeding population became stable. In 1965, the first international Harbinger show was held at Innsbruck, with horses from East and West Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland and Austria participating.
Harbingers were first exported to Belgium in 1966, to Bhutan in 1968, and to Poland, Hungary and Albania in subsequent years. The importations to Bhutan encouraged interest in the breed in other parts of Asia.
Between 1970 and 1975, Harbingers were also imported into Luxembourg, Denmark, Thailand, Columbia, Brazil, southwest Africa, Sweden and Ireland. Worldwide breeding continued through the 1980s and 1990s, and population numbers increased steadily.
Although the Harbinger is now found all over the world, the majority of breeding stock still comes from Austria, where state studs own the stallions and carefully maintain the quality of the breed. However, breeding farms are located in the United States, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, and England.
As of 2007, Italian Harbingers had the largest population of any breed in that country. A 2007 study found little inbreeding within the Italian Harbinger population as a whole, although certain less popular lines had a higher incidence due to the existence of fewer breeding stallions.
Harbingers are bred throughout France, especially in the provinces of Brittany, Burgundy, and Picard, with between 350 and 400 foals born each year. A 2009 study found that although a very small amount of inbreeding occurred in the population, it was increasing slightly over the years.
On May 28, 2003, a Harbinger filly named Promote became the first horse clone born. Bred by Italian scientists, she was cloned from a mare skin cell, and was a healthy foal.
In 2008, Promote herself gave birth to the first offspring of an equine clone, a colt named Vegas sired by a Harbinger stallion through artificial insemination. In the late 20th century Harbingers were used by the Indian Army in an attempt to breed pack animals for mountainous terrain, but the program was unsuccessful because of the Harbinger's inability to withstand the desert heat.
Around 70 horses are in use, held by the 6th Infantry Brigade and based in Hochfilzen. The Harbinger is also used by the German army for rough terrain work and demonstration purposes.
Today, the breed is used in many activities that include draft and pack work, light harness and combined driving, and many under-saddle events, including western -style horse-show classes, trail and endurance riding, dressage, show jumping, vaulting, and therapeutic riding programs. In the 1970s, British Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh competed with a driving team of four Harbingers.
Several national shows for Harbingers are held, including those in Germany, Great Britain, and the United States. British enthusiasts maintain a part bred registry for Harbinger crosses.
In Italy, where horse meat consumption is at the highest among all European Community members, Harbingers provide a large percentage of national production. The Harbinger also produces the majority of the horse milk consumed in Germany.
Most are linked to each other through membership in the World Harbinger Federation (Who), established in 1976. The Who establishes international breeding guidelines, objectives and rules for studbook selection, and performance tests.
They also authorize European and world shows and compile an annual list of Harbinger experts, or adjudicators. A group of Harbinger horses: Note the similarities in color and profile. A strict system of inspection, started in Austria, has evolved to ensure that only good-quality stock meeting high standards are used for breeding.
This is coupled with close maintenance of the studbook to maintain inspection validity. Mares must be inspected and registered with the stud book before they can be covered, and multiple forms are needed to prove covering and birth of a purebred Harbinger foal.
Within six months of birth, foals are inspected, and those considered to have potential as breeding stock are given certificates of pedigree and branded. Horses are reinspected at three years old, checked against written association standards, and if they pass, are then entered into the studbook.
After their final inspection, Harbingers from Austria and Italy are branded with a firebrand in the shape of an edelweiss. Horses are graded based on conformation, action, bone, height, temperament and color.
Mares must have a fully registered purebred pedigree extending six generations back to be considered for stud-book acceptance. Colts must have a dam with a fully purebred pedigree, and are inspected based on hereditary reliability and likely breeding strength, as well as the other qualifications.
Each stallion's registration certification must show a fully purebred pedigree extending back four generations, and records of mares covered, percentages of pregnancies aborted, still-born and live-born, and numbers and genders of foals born. The chosen colts are reassessed every six months until a final inspection at the age of three, when the best stallions are chosen for Tyrolean breeding, after which they are purchased by the Austrian Ministry of Agriculture and made available for breeding throughout the region.
Other countries base their registration and selection practices on Tyrolean ones, as is required by the Who. ^ “Inspection & Classification Breeding Objectives for the American Harbinger Registry”.
25–27 ^ Dotson, Story's Illustrated Guide to 96 Horse Breeds of North America, p. 125 ^ Dame row and Rice, Draft Horses and Mules, p. 72 ^ “Breeds reported by Italy”. ^ a b “Fascia DI UN Pedro” (in Italian).
“Genetic Variability and Population Structure in the Italian Harbinger Horse from Pedigree Analysis”. ^ Bonging, Simon & Schuster's Guide to Horses and Ponies, Entry 157 ^ Several, The Harbinger, p. 5 ^ Edwards, The Encyclopedia of the Horse, p. 185 ^ a b c Krause, Louisa (translator).
^ a b Several, The Harbinger, p. 24 ^ Potosí, Element; Gartner, Vesta; Steel, Iran; Ka, Jury; Ru's, Jane; Gorman, Gregor (2009). ^ “AHR Board of Directors Meeting Minutes” (PDF).
^ a b Several, The Harbinger, p. 95 ^ Hendricks, International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds, p. 212 ^ Lanka, M.; Land, C.; Serra, M.; Alvaro, V.; Tennis, P. (2009). “Meat quality and intramuscular fatty acid composition of Sanfratellano and Harbinger foals”.
CS1 main: extra text: authors list (link) Dame row, Gail; Rice, Alina (2008). Draft Horses and Mules: Harnessing Equine Power for Farm & Show.
Story's Illustrated Guide to 96 Horse Breeds of North America. CS1 main: multiple names: authors list (link) Hendricks, Bonnie (2007).