A Note about Sugarbush Draft Horses

I see it over and over again, and no matter how many times it's said, it's still wrong. "Sugarbush Drafts are just an Appaloosa Draft Cross". Uh.... no. The Sugarbush Draft Horse was a breed created many years ago in Ohio. While the initial cross was made using Percherons to Appaloosas, in the many generations following, the breed has been solidified into a consistent type. Saying these horses are "just" a draft cross makes as much sense as saying that AQHA horses are "just" a Thoroughbred cross, American Cream Drafts are "just" a dilute Belgian, or that Morgans are "just" a grade.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Cloudy with a chance of rain

Yeah, so it looks like it's going to rain. Then it looks like it isn't. I KNOW that as soon as I tack up, the skies will open up, but there's plenty more to do with training then just working in the arena.

But first, last night. Dream, my beloved Appaloosa filly - well I guess she's a mare now, but she doesn't seem like it yet - decided to get cast in her stall. My better half, J, went outside after I was asleep to let a dog out. He heard a noise from the barn that didn't sound like a normal horsey noise, so off he went to investigate. He checked stall after stall making sure that all the horses were ok, and at the next to last stall there she was. My Dream, laying belly to the door of her stall, head under her water bucket, and legs all askew.

The noise he had heard was her trying to right herself, and hitting the bottom of the (now empty) water bucket. Poor thing was soaked all over her head.

With any other horse, this would be a nightmare. There was no way to get into the stall, and of course, J left his cell phone in the house. But it was Dream. He talked to her a second, then ran back inside to get me. I woke up to hearing one of the worst things ever, "a horse is cast in the barn".

So off we go, J heads out while I get dressed and put dogs up. Yeah, with 7 dogs in the house, someone will get into something, like garbage, or another dog. Not wanting to dawdle, I drug the alpha female out to the barn with me. Of course SHE thinks it's a privilege to go to the barn.

When I walk in the barn, there is J grabbing the necessary tools, and mutting to Dream so she knows he's around. Dream is one of those horses that knows help will save her, so she just waits patiently. I opened the stall, and had to think for a bit on how to get inside to assist her.Her front hooves were on the left side of the door, bent up and able to thrash. Her hind legs were stuck pretty good, but still had some room for a forward swing. The only way to get in, was to trust her to be calm long enough for me to climb over her 16 hand self. So, in I climbed.

Jae handed over the halter, ropes and such. When I went to put her halter on, Dream calmly lifted her head, then relaxed to wait. I laid across her to wrap a rope on her front down leg, then petted her neck while Jae reached across to put the rope on her downside hind leg. We quickly discussed the plan, to make sure we're on the same page, then pulled. As Dream rolled onto her back, she gave an effort, rolling right over. Easy Peasy! Only problem, now she was wrapped in ropes, and the way things were angled, we were trapped between her legs and the wall.

Being such an amazing horsey, Dream simply waited for us to undo her, then step around her. A little lift of the lead, and up she came. Lucky for me, there are no visible marks. We have no idea how long she was cast, but it could have been as long as 3 hours. I'm counting my lucky stars that she's such a calm and patient horse.

And so today, with unpredictable weather, I decided to do a bit of grooming, and basic handling work. Diesel, Ash, and Station had no problems, but were more then ready to run and play. Except for a bit of impatience in the cross ties, no complaints, but then again, they are old pros. Dream was achy, but still let me clean her hooves, and give her a good rub (massage) and recheck her for injuries. When turned out, she took off like a race horse, so obviously nothing too bad as far as soreness.

Rose got a good and thorough grooming, hooves picked out, and oiled. I spiffied up her mane and tail, spent some time deshedding her, and spraying her with coat conditioners and fly spray. She was an angel, so out she went. Rose is not normally an angel, so I have no complaints with her little bit of wandering in the cross ties.

Then, Katy. Ok, so I've been working with Katy for a while. She's a good girl, but she's 3, and seems to have decided that it should be called the terrible 3s. For a draft horse, she's awfully worried... of course in a draft sort of way. As J brought in the grain (hauled in by tractor because it's purchased in bulk) she even tried to do a bit of a levade in her stall. Not a real rear, but an attempt. A few words calmed her down though. After we unloaded the grain, I put Katy in the cross ties. She weaved, she jigged, she walked forward and back. *sigh* And she's usually so good.

So, I brushed her down first, trying to get the last of her winter hair out. I have to say though, that this year her color is amazing. She's covered in white spots, and roaning nicely. Her neck is much more proportional to her body, and she has a lovely elegant look. I always love spring shedding time because I get to see how much the young horses have changed.

When I sprayed Katy with the coat conditioner (a home concoction of mineral oil, mane and tail conditioner, Listerine) she pranced and jigged. So I had to spray more. I'm of the mind that the best way to lose fear of something is for the handler to calmly but continuously inflict the stimulus on the horse. The trick here is that the handler can NOT react to the horse's anxiety. If the handler gets annoyed, worried, or even scared of getting hurt by the horse, then do not try this at home!

In an one on one setting, the horse looks at it's only "herd" (the handler) as its leader. If the handler is anything but calm, then the horse senses that its fears are justified, and reacts appropriately. Fight or Flight. If the handler acts, and truly believes that there's no big deal, then the horse tunes out the stimulus. This can be seen with a herd of horses next to train tracks (which I have!). At first, a horse might run from the scary horn, or engine noise, but when the rest of the herd doesn't budge, the frightened horse will stop and graze. It doesn't take long, and the horses all ignore the trains passing.

So, needless to say, Katy is now a very slick and greased up "little" girl. Every time she jigged, I just kept spraying that area. Then I would brush in the CC (coat conditioner) and move to the next section. By the time we finished, she didn't mind the spraying. So, I moved to picking her feet. Now, Katy has her ups and downs on her feet. Usually she's great, but add a bit of stress, and she's like an untouched baby. Today, the first 2 feet were perfect. I guess after that, she remembered that she was supposed to be stressed out, and foot number 3, the hind left, she kept swinging at me.

Kicking is something that I DO NOT tolerate. Not even a threat of kicking. So swinging her leg at me was not tolerable or ignorable. I would ask her to pick up her foot, and Katy would, then she'd swing, and hop over with her outside hind. I went back to basics, and grabbed a lead rope, and slipped it around her pastern. Using the rope, I would pull her leg up and forward, while standing at her shoulder. With this method, she can swing all day long, but can't put the foot down unless I let her, and best of all, she can't clip me with it.

I guess this is a good time to mention that I have only been kicked by a horse twice in my life, and neither really counts as a "kick". While working as a vet tech, an 8 hour old foal flipped a hind at me after he was released from his IgG blood draw (I was holding him while the blood was drawn). And a foal born here had a tantrum when being moved, and threw a kick out at me, hitting me hard enough that I had to check my shirt to see that there was indeed mud on it. He never really touched ME, just my clothes.

Of course, I can't count the number of times I've been kicked AT. I honestly believe, that my time is comming... and when I do get kicked, I'll most likely end up with a short stay in a hospital... all my kharma given at once. =)

But, there I was with Katy, standing at her shoulder, lead rope in hand, letting her figure it out. When she stopped swinging, I of course would praise and lower he hoof, and repeat. When she would thrash (calmly, since she is a draft horse) I just ignored it, giving neither disaproval, nor praise....

... another point here. Calming a horse that is misbehaving like this... it's my pet peeve! The horse doesn't realize you're trying to calm it down. Calming through attention is a human concept. To the horse, you're PRAISING it for acting badly. At the same time, you do not want to punish for an honest mistake (like fear) so the best thing to do is simply act calm, and like nothing at all is happening. When you get a positive response, then you praise. ONLY praise things that you want a horse to do again.....

So, Katy eventually figured out that swinging wasn't getting her any where, and stopped. At that point I was able to clean out her hoof - since she DOES know this drill - and move on to the last hoof. Lucky for me, the last foot went with out issue. Katy was praised for being a good girl.

A bit more grooming, and a check of the time, and Katy was returned to her stall. I spent enough time with her and her hoof issue that it was almost horsey dinner time. She'll get a repeat tomorrow, and then turned out.

Interestingly, all of this took long enough that I was tired before I finished the last horse, Princessa. Now, Princessa has NO problem with staying in the barn, and being thrown extra hay for her "troubles". I figure, at evening feed, I'll clean up Princessa then, and again tomorrow before turn out.

Yep, tomorrow, Sunday, my day off! Ah, how I love days off. Time to lazily clean stalls, catch up on a few horses, and um... oh wait... isn't that like a normal day?

Granted, I have to say, I LOVE my job!

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