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.

Friday, May 21, 2010

How to get long manes and tails

Ok, one of the questions I am asked most often is "How did you get so much HAIR on an Appaloosa???"

Now this isn't a great picture, because he is moving, and his hair is flopping, but the horse pictured is Rorschach's Slow Burn. I call him Scorch. Scorch here is a 3 year old Stonewall Sport Horse stallion. His mane falls to his shoulders, and I don't keep it up, I don't keep him in pasture braids, and I let him run freely with my other boys, including an 1800 pound Sugarbush stallion.

Evidently a lot of people assume that horses with the Appaloosa gene can't grow hair. I beg to differ. I have 3 "types" of horses on my property. Appaloosas, both ApHC and IPSHR (sport horses), Stonewall Sport Horses (draft crosses) and Sugarbush Draft Horses (full draft), and I also have some horses of "other" breeds, including grades, quarter horses, and thoroughbreds. Of those horses, the ones that have a wimpy mane are most often horses with no appaloosa gene (LP).

A few things that you need to know. Horses who carry a dominant copy of LP (for more info on Appaloosa genetics see The Appaloosa Project) tend to have more trouble maintaining their long hair then others, and those who have black mane and tail hair are even more susceptible. Here's why: Appaloosa colored horses roan out. When a horse changes the pigment production from a color to white, the hair often becomes brittle and breaks off. For some reason, black pigment tends to make the hair more brittle then red pigment.

Armed with that knowledge, someone who desires to have a horse with super hair has options. First, to have a horse with long mane and tail, you usually want it to also be thick. Long on it's own isn't nearly as lovely as long and thick. Why do you think Gypsy Vanners and Friesians are so popular? Hair!

In order to have long and thick hair, a horse must have the genetics for it. With out genetics, you have no basis to build upon. There is no miracle cure, no magic bullet. Now, assuming your horse has genetics for good hair, but still doesn't have it, what do you do?

The absolute most important thing is nutrition. With out good balanced nutrition your horse can only build so much. You can't ask the body to make good muscles and good hair when you're giving it only a part of what it needs. So, make sure your horse is receiving proper protein, and the necessary amino acids and minerals to maintain a healthy body. "Common Wisdom" says that high protein makes horses hot tempered. This is not always true. I admit that it's likely there's a horse out there somewhere that reacts poorly to protein, but the logic behind that statement is the same as saying "My kid gets all hyper when I feed him a balanced meal, so I just make him eat candy all day". Protein is what cells use to run on; to grow.

Most people though, they tend to like cheap feeds. Sweet feeds, pure grains, and pelleted grains are some of the most common feeds for horses. All of these feeds are high in carbs - the same thing that sugars are! When the body breaks down the carbs, it results in sugars that make high energy. Regardless of the protein calue of these feeds, when the horse is pumped up on carbs, the horse will tend to be hotter. Lower "protein" rated sweet feeds and grains simply have more fiber fillers, but still have a ton of high energy carbs in them.

So, move your horse to a low NSC diet. These diets are very healthy for the horses, and have all the necessary parts to build good bones, muscles and HAIR! A good choice is a ration balancer. While each bag costs more then the cheap stuff, you feed so much less that per month you will be saving money. Other options are pure forage diets, such as pasture, hay, beet pulp, soy hulls, and the like. For me, I like the soy hulls. The feed I use is made of soy hulls, sunflower seeds, and barley. The barley is used for binding the feed into a pellet and is the least used product. Barely, as a pure grain is high in carbs, sunflower seeds are high in fat, and the soy hulls are high in necessar amino acids and fiber. Horses get the most nutrition from fiber sources (like hay) because of the way their body is designed.

Fat is also important, but in equal proportions with the necessary amino acids. Those amino acids are the building blocks. Think of it like a house. You start with wood, nails, concrete, and you end up with a lovely building. You can't start with grass, mud and twigs and get the same result; you need quality building materials, and you need them in the right proportions. Amino acids are the building blocks of life.

So, now that you have proper nutrition, the next thing is keeping what hair the horse grows! Often, when I get in a rehab horse, its mane and tail are in such pathetic shape that I simply cut it off. For me, this is the easy way to go about it. Trying to reclaim hair that has already turned bad is a nightmare. It's easier to start from the skin, and work out. I always leave enough tail hair though to allow the horse to swat flies, even if it's the ugliest little wisps of nothing.

Once you've begun your hair crusade, you need to make sure that the hair bed is in good health. I like to use Listerine to clean the mane bed and tail bone. This disinfects the skin, kills off all the bad microbes that cause itchiness, like fungus and bacterial infections. Many people recommend MTG, but I personally am not a huge fan of it. I think it smells horrible, it can cause reactions in some horses, and it can't be used in the sun. I'm in Texas, we always have sun!

I also use leave on conditioners in the mane bed and tail bone. They are as good for the skin as they are for the hair. I like to slather it in, and give a good massage, and the horses usually love this part as well. I try to treat the skin at least once per week, and it makes a noticeable difference in what hair grows in, and how nice it looks.

So, once you have some mane and tail, what to do to keep it? I have a few simple (or not so simple) rules.

1. Wash with shampoo only when absolutely necessary!

Shampoo tends to strip the natural oils from the hair. These oils protect the hair in the horse's living environment (i.e. sun all day, wind, dust, etc). For the most part, when I wash my horses, I am only hosing them off. Horses are washed before photo shoots, before a client views them, and before a show of any kind. I also do twice yearly baths with anti bacterial/fungal shampoo in spring and fall to reduce chances of winter skin maladies.

2. Only use baby oil or mineral oil when the horse is already WET.

And I mean wet with water, not sweat. Mineral oils (and baby oil is a mineral oil) seals the hair shaft. If a dry brittle hair is sealed in mineral oil, then no moisture can get to it, and all further efforts are wasted.

2. Use conditioner liberally on the roots, and mildly on the ends.

Not sure why, but every one wants to coat the ends of the mane and tail in conditioner. Maybe it's because the length is considered the important part? At any rate, you want to give the goods (conditioner) to the growing part, and make it as solid as possible for when it's the long part.

3. Brush only when you HAVE to.

Brushing breaks hairs. If you have knots, be sure to use a silicone free detangler, such as Mane N Tail detangler. Apply liberally, then work out the knots by hand. If you have a horrid knot, or a rat's nest, then wash it with shampoo to remove the mud that often is causing the knot, apply tons of conditioner, and slowly work it out. You will often need to wash and condition multiple times during the detangling phase. When finished, apply conditioner, and leave alone. For me, I only brush the horse's mane and tails when they are coated in detangler, and again, only when necessary.

4. Trim off dead ends.

Trimming off the scraggly ends, and burnt tips leaves the horse with an overall impression of more hair. It's an optical illusion, but it presents a more appealing picture.

5. ALWAYS remember that the roots are the most important part of the hair.

I use Listerine liberally, and have my own Listerine/detangler/conditioner mix made from low cost store bought items mixed together and shaken well. I apply this with a spray bottle directly to the roots, and massage it in. This keeps the microbes down, keeps the skin and hair shafts well moisturized, and in many cases adds a bit of body to the appearance of the hair.

Now for those appaloosa colored horses with black mane and tail, it is likely that the horse will shed it's mane and tail around puberty. Most commonly 2 to 4 years of age, but often with mares it happens when they are bred for the first time. You can't stop this process, and the hair usually grows back in white. Just take it with a grain of salt, feed the horse properly, and maintain the new growth like I mentioned above, and you will soon have a long flowing white mane and tail. In some cases the horses just won't GROW anything, and for these select few, I add an additional iodine supplement.


It is possible that this can cause issues with the unborn foal. If you do decide to use an iodine supplement, talk to your vet first, as there can be side effects. For me, I use an iodine salt that is most often sold as a cattle supplement, another that I have heard good things about is the supplement "Source". My vet has approved this, and I only use it on horses that the above methods do not help. Iodine has been thought to not be processed properly by horses with the LP gene (see Appaloosa Project for conversations on this).

Remember the most important thing to good hair is that your horse has the proper genetics and gets the right nutrition.

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