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.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Purpose bred Draft Crosses

Recently, it seems that the horse owning public has a hate on for cross bred horses. I'm not sure why. People complain about poorly bred horses, and people complain about over breeding, and then they complain about the high price of quality horses.

I chose to breed cross bred horses, in my case Draft Crosses, mainly because I have a degree in biology, 4 years of study of genetics, and a life time of studying horse breeds in general. I think I know my stuff. Am I perfect, oh no! I make mistakes, I learn from them, and I place my "mistakes" in quality homes, often at a loss for me. I do this because I am a responsible breeder.

Oh yes, and all of my horses are welcome back, at any time, and for any reason. Even if that means just so that I euthanize them, and save them a trip on a double decker!

But, the reason I chose draft crosses is because I thought about it. Most riders will never reach GP levels. There's nothing wrong with that! We have lives, we have jobs, and sometimes we even have families! I know, horse people with lives outside the barn... crazy stuff!

But the draft crosses, when purposefully bred, can be excellent mounts for mid level riding. Many well bred draft crosses go on to the higher levels, although that is not the norm. The upside though, is that it is much less expensive to register, breed, and promote a draft cross. Not because they cost less to care for, but because of the registries, and their requirements.

Look at the warmbloods. To keep a stallion, you must have him inspected (wonderful idea!) but that costs a LOT of money. That means training ($) showing ($$) and in some cases, a high caliber handler ($$). Then you have to advertise him to pay all of that off, because using an approved warmblood stallion just for your own program is a money losing proposition. So there's more money laid out in advertising. THEN if you get people interested in breeding to your horse, you naturally pass on those costs to them, thus resulting in higher stud fees.

I think that is a great system, for most people. I mean, most people do not understand conformation. That's why you get so many people saying they want a horse of a certain color, or breed, and not talking about performance qualities. Look at the Gypsy Vanners. They are wonderful pet horses, but they are mainly sold on their looks (hair) and not on their show abilities.

But, for the small number of people who have the knowledge to pick the diamond out of the crap, there's a more cost effective way to go about it. Take Quarter Horses. They don't have inspections, they don't have requirements to breed (except pedigree) and there are zillions of bad ones out there. And yet, there are breeders who consistantly produce quality horses, out of known and sometimes unknown bloodlines. Those breeders know a horse, and know how to pick the good ones.

Breeding cross bred horses is similar, but harder! First, you have to know a good horse. After that, you have to have a basic understanding of what happens genetically when you mix up 2 things that are not alike. Breeding a Percheron to a Thoroughbred does not guarantee you a nice horse! If the mare has a straight shoulder (common in drafts) then the foal could as well. You have to think about what happens if the foal inherits all of the bad traits of both sides.

This is how I breed. I look at the worst case scenario. What happens if the foal gets the worst head, worst neck, worst shoulder, worst personality of both of its parents? Would it still be a good horse? Would it be a great horse? Would it be an embarrassment to have on my farm? Is it possible that mixing the 2 parts would result in a franken-horse??? You know, those "lovely" draft crosses that got mom's big feet, on dad's tiny little legs, with mom's jug head, on dad's pencil neck, and mom's HUGE rump next to dad's itty bitty shoulder.

Then there's knowing your stock. For most of my horses, I have a really good idea of what they will produce. The cross that made Scorch is a perfect example. I know that Spot, my stallion, throws certain traits, such as his shoulder angle. He's very consistent about this. Why? Because he's from a half sibling mating, where both siblings had very similar nice conformation. Before I purchased him, I looked at his production record. He had 24 foals on the ground. All 24 had Spot's shoulder. So, I know that his shoulder is a trait that is LIKELY to be inherited when cross breeding.

Then there's the dam. She has a great personality (which the foals learn a lot from as they are sucklings, so it's very important). She has a lovely neck, lovely legs - nice, clean and straight. I know that the commercial cross is well used in Canada (Clydesdale/Hackney) and her breeding is very similar to that. Since my stallion has a lot of TB in his background, I can look at what happens with a TB crossed to a commercial horse, to get ideas of how consistent the resulting foals are. Those consistencies let me understand the strength of inheritance of certain genes, and allow me to stack the odds in my favor.

By using my knowledge, my training and education, and most importantly my farm, I can keep costs low. I can use stallions and mares that aren't high costs, but are good quality none the less. In many cases, I purchase breeding stock that is untrained, and train them myself. I purchase young stock, so that I get a cost break by raising them and training them myself. My education and training allows me to do this, and gives me a great chance at actually getting it right. And my farm. My property was purchased below market value, so my mortgage is low. I buy supplies in bulk, keeping costs low, I have a staff of full time workers (myself included) who are dedicated to the business. Ok, mainly because they are family, but still.

All of this adds up to horses that cost thousands less to produce. With lower costs, I can make a profit (the thing that businesses need to keep running) on horses, while still selling them for prices that most people can afford to pay for a luxury. Reading a recent thread on the cost to keep a horse for a year, I was shocked to learn that some farms spend over $5,000 per year just to care for a horse! My costs are between $750 and $1,000. Why so low? Because I have the necessary skills to do much myself.

With 4 years of vet tech experience, I can keep my vet costs low, with out neglecting care. I give my own shots, I do most of my own emergency care, such as maintaining IVs, wound treatments and such. That doesn't mean that I don't pay the vet... oh no, I spend a LOT of money with my vets. But, instead of paying for boarding and the clinic to do most of the maintenance care, I can do that instead. That's often thousands saved on vet costs. I have enough education in the field to keep up on deworming protocols, feed innovations, and how to determine if my hay is good enough quality to be fed.

It's a lot of knowledge to acquire. It's a lot of time spent researching things, roaming forums and university sites, and TONS of time spent keeping my physical skills, such as riding, up to par. Do I make mistakes, OH YEAH! But I also learn from them, and make sure not to repeat them.

In the end, I am able to use all of this to make good horses for moderate prices. There's no way that I could do this as a hobby. It just takes too much time and effort. It really is a full time job, and then some. As an example, I spend 6-8 hours per day training horses. I spend 2 hours feeding/checking horses. I spend a bare minimum of an hour cleaning stalls (and that's if the weather is nice enough for the horses to be pastured 24/7, because someone always needs a stall). I spend 4 hours a day researching current topics and trends. Now, add that up. That's a bare minimum of 13 hours per day that I "work". I do this 7 days per week. That's a minimum of 91 hours per week!!! That's like 2 full time jobs!

Granted, I love my job. Not many people can say that. But I do work. I work hard! I do this to make a living, and have a quality life style. I'm lucky in that my better half is also working with me, so keeping my family life sane coincides with my working hours.

So don't think that every one who breeds cross bred horses is just a back yard breeder. Yes, my horses are in my back yard. I also have more money invested in my fencing project then most people do in their cars. I breed these types of horses because I think they are needed and desired by the horse owning populace. I breed these types of horses because I believe in them more then I do other breeds or types. I breed these types of horses because they are damned good horses.

Basically, I am no different then any other sport horse breeder.

1 comment:

  1. OK, you made me LOL: 'You know, those "lovely" draft crosses that got mom's big feet, on dad's tiny little legs, with mom's jug head, on dad's pencil neck, and mom's HUGE rump next to dad's itty bitty shoulder.' Love it!!

    And YES, you have bred some incredibly beautiful horses. I pray everyday for your success and am grateful that I have you and your family as friends. I'd prolly be dead in a ditch without you.