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 29, 2010

The Sugarbush Draft Horse

The Sugarbush Draft Horse Registry

Ok, I have referred to these horses a lot, but I'm not sure that I've ever posted the link to the breed registry site.  Full Disclaimer here, I am the registrar of the breed.  I'll give you some background into how I got involved with these horses:

I started out as a horse owner with a couple of "nags".  My (now ex) husband and I decided to buy horses for our first aniversary.  Aaron (the ex) had grown up on an Arabian horse farm in Saskatchewan Canada. I had grown up always wanting horses.  Needless to say, when we decided we needed horses in our lives, Arabians were the breed of choice.  He bought Jaz (Leah's boy now) and I got Boo.

We kept our horses at a boarding stable.  It was a lovely place, run by a crazy teenage girl.  The boys were still weanlings, with Boo being only 4 months old, and Jaz being 6 months old.  Within 2 weeks, this horse I had been eyeing came up for sale, a lovely grey TB mare named Ash.  Ash was "unrideable".  Yeah, I was in my 20s, young, dumb, and luckily I was also mostly unbreakable!  I bought Ash and taught her to ride while I learned to ride.  One of the rare cases where green + green does NOT equal black and blue!

After that, I waded through horses for a while, before getting involved in helping people with problem horses.  It was something that started by chance, I didn't seek it out.  After I split with the ex, I met the man of my Dreams, Jae.  Jae is wonderful, he's supportive, and he didn't know a thing about horses.  His only "horse experience" was working on the computer system for a race track vet in Ontario.

Yeah, for those of you who notice details, my ex-husband was a Canadian, and my better half is Canadian.  Not sure how that happened, as I'm living in TEXAS! 

So one day, over a cup of coffee at IHOP, Jae and I were talking about dreams.  I mentioned that I always wanted to breed horses that were good for amateur owners, but athletic enough to go up the ranks in the English disciplines, like dressage and jumping.  When I got my first horse, like so many other people, I got a horse I could afford, and thought "well I can't ride, so why do I need to spend a lot of money?  I just need a safe trail horse!

Within 3 years, I was jumping.  I lucked out in a big way, because the untrainable grey TB mare I bought for pennies ended up being a jumper at heart.  She jumps ugly, but that's because she doesn't even give a real effort until about 4 feet.... and I am stuck at 2'6"!  The last time I tried 4 foot, I broke my thumb... and it was NOT an intentional jump.

So, I kept thinking that most of us want a nice calm mannered horse.  We want a horse that can do what we ask with out pain or discomfort.  We want a horse that we can fall in love with, spend our lives with, and hey, if we decide to show, it can do that too!  Add in some pretty color, and it'd be the perfect horse!

I stumbled upon Appaloosas.  My good friend down the road had a lovely Palomino mare.  She had the most amazing gaits, but she was green as grass, and he was a timid rider.  I offered to put some hours on her for him.  As a full time student, I had time to blow, and who doesn't want to ride all the time?  Later, the neighbor mentioned that the mare was a solid Appaloosa.  I was sold.

The little mare was so calm and trusting for her inexperienced owner, she had lovely gaits, and she fit most of my criteria for the perfect novice type horse.  I started looking into Appaloosas, and found that this is pretty typical for the breed, and even more so in horses with high percentages of app x app breeding.  When Jae talked me into starting a horse breeding business, I naturally went for the Appaloosas.  I had looked at warmbloods in the past, and TBs, and so many other typical sport horse breeds, but none were consistently predictable and novice friendly.

So, after working with the Appaloosas for about 2 years, I was in love, except for ONE little problem (no pun intended).  I got stuck at 15.2 hands.  I know there are taller ones out there, but I was fighting the size.  While looking at taller stallions, I stumbled upon this picture:

Talk about WOW!

That is the Sugarbush stallion Sugarbush Harley Quinne.  He was a magnificent horse, had wonderful color, and looks like he has good conformation, all photo issues beside the point.  I began looking into the Sugarbush draft horse, and learned that there are a handful out there.  The breed was officially founded in 1982, but it has over 50 years of breeding behind it.  From there, I learned about the Stonewall Sport Horses.  These started as Percheron/Appaloosa crosses, and were created for carriage use.  Currently, Friesian stallions are being used in the breeding.

So, I thought, hmm... I like draft horses, I really like draft crosses.  I'll try a breeding.  I did.  I thought, one breeding, and worst case scenario, I'll have a nice pet, and can place it in a good home, but at least I'll know if it works.  I researched for over a year, and ended up producing this:

As soon as he was born, I realized that I had a LOVELY horse.  Yeah, he missed the spots, but who cares???  From day 2 he was showing me that he had some moves, and by the age of 3 months, I was completely in love with him.  I kept saying, I'll geld him just as soon as I see a problem. He's 3, and I haven't seen a problem yet!

I dabbled for a couple more years, producing both Appaloosas and a Stonewall Sport Horses here and there.  Then one day I decided that I needed to look into a good heavy stallion to produce more, and to just focus on the Stonewall Sport Horses.  I contacted the breeder of that lovely leopard draft stallion.

Everett Smith is the breeder.  He is a wonderful man, and was filled with knowledge that he was willing to share.  I asked him about a good stallion, and he informed me that the last Sugarbush stallion was available for sale.  Everett was looking to retire.  He is in his 70s, and the drafts were just a bit more then he was able to work with.  After a few months of talking, I somehow ended up leasing the last of Everett's herd, which included 2 mares - one in foal, and a Stonewall Sport Horse mare.

Along with the lease, Mr. Smith had asked me to take over the registry.  He wanted to see the breed continue, but drafts have fallen out of favor, and the breed had fallen to record low levels, only 12 horses left!  It would take a life time to rebuild the breed!  Unfortunately, in this day and age of designer breeds, the Sugarbush Draft Horse was so often mistaken for a fly by night draft cross.  This really hurt its image!

Well, when the horses arrived, I at first though, "WHAT have I gotten myself into?".  Then, with love and training, I saw what Everett had seen.  These are the most amazing horses I have known!  They have gaits like a warmblood, with reach and suspension.  They have the draft horse mentality, all love and effort, and not too much attitude.  And of course, they are simply lovely!

I have now thrown myself full force in getting these horses recognized by the public, and working hard to help resurrect the breed.  Luckily, the standard for the breed is pretty open.  Cross a Sugarbush to a draft, and you get a full registered Sugarbush.  Cross a Sugarbush to a light horse, and you get a Stonewall Sport Horse.  Cross that Stonewall back to a draft, and you get a Sugarbush with generational papers.  This allows the gene pool to stay open enough, while still maintaining the desired traits.

I have every intention of breeding a few of my highest quality Stonewall Sport Horses back up into the SDHR, but I won't breed horses that won't have homes, and the economy isn't supportive of heavy breeding right now.  Ok, that, and I have a TON of horses to work already.  The horses I have here are mostly offspring of O, or the one purebred mare that isn't related to him, and produced the other 2.  I would love to sell those mares to homes that are as obsessive about the breed as I have become, and would produce a handful of quality, well thought out foals, themselves.

So check out the registry's page and see more picture of these gorgeous horses!


  1. Gorgeous!

    I enjoyed reading about how you got started and what your ambitions are, too.

    I've always had an interest and a love for draft horses. I just wish they could have the same body, stockiness and gentle willing nature....but in a package that is under 15hh. lol!


  2. Heather, Lisa took a BAD dump off her paint mare, Baby Doll. She really struggled both physically and emotionally. She decided BD wasn't the horse for her and now she has the sweetest girl named Apache. She's like me: likes being closer to the ground.

    Although I must say, as SWEET as the Sugarbushes and Stonewalls are, the height isn't so bad. They are so solid and steady.

  3. I was reading the Laughing Orca Ranch blog earlier. Love the name by the way Lisa!

    That's actually one of the things I like best about the Sugarbush Drafts though. They are shorter then most drafts. Granted, that means only in the 16 hand range, not the 18 hand range!

    I am sorry to hear about your fall Lisa. Grats to you for getting back in the saddle, and sticking with it! Just remember to go at your own pace, and never let any one or any preconceived notions make you feel rushed at regaining your confidence. Even I often feel like I'm pushed to do more, and do it faster, but it's not good for horse or human.

    As I always say, only try the scary stuff when it's "a good day to die!". For some reason, those are the days that it seems to work out the best. Our instincts really do know more then we do.

  4. Wow, love the spots on that stallion! I love Appaloosas but have never owned one. Did have a paint/App cross once. she has app spots inside her paint spots!
    What a wonderful breed of horse! I think I would LOVE this kind of horse. I don't need another horse though, one horse and one donkey is all I need right now. Gilly is a rescue horse who I was told was Tennessee Walker (mother) Quarter Horse (father) but there may be some draft in there from his size. He also has a very kind gentle nature and have big lofty suspended moves.
    I just found your blog from Lisa (Laughing Orca Ranch) I will read more and catch up.
    By the way, interesting name you have Pinzgauer; we used to have Pinzgauer cattle here on our farm. Wonderful cows!!!

  5. Thanks Jane for stopping by!

    Pinzgauer is the name used to refer to the Noric draft horse - an Austrian draft horse with Appaloosa color. Before the New World was found, horses with appaloosa coloring were called "tigre" in french, or "pinzgauer" in German, so I thought it fitting.

  6. I am in love! I love drafts and I love 'loud' color. The stallion is gorgeous!
    Many years ago I found an appy with blotches all over - he was very tall and thin and he just looked like some sort of clown - not regal and stately like Harley.
    Thanks for sharing your background info.


  7. We have really enjoyed hearing the story and learning the history on these magnificent horses. We look foreward to bringing Rose home and sharing a lifetime of experiences with her and with you.

  8. I'm a big fan of drafts and draft crosses, although I've never had one. I've also a big fan of apps, but again I've never had one although I rode a wonderful one when I was a teenager who was amazingly athletic and would jump anything - he's the only horse I've ever jumped over 5 feet on, and it was effortless. Love the color/temperament/size combo of your horses - I wish I had room for more but I've got 5 on my plate already.

  9. I just found this on the Sugarbush's, and I find it fascinating!! Good luck on getting the breed back on it's feet! I really hope other people will see them and appreciate them for what they are. I think the app/perch cross is very, very, nice, but maybe that's because i'm partial to percherons. :)

  10. I just found this on the Sugarbush's, and I find it fascinating!! Good luck on getting the breed back on it's feet! I really hope other people will see them and appreciate them for what they are. I think the app/perch cross is very, very, nice, but maybe that's because i'm partial to percherons. :)

  11. How can I find out more information about getting a sugarbush horse?  I would love to have a mare to breed and help continue the breed....

  12. There are a couple of SDHR fillies for sale in WI (I think it's WI).  You can check the SDHR facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/SugarbushDraftHorse to see some listings.  We also have classifieds at the registry website (www.sugarbushdrafthorse.com)  although I'm thinking that the 2 newest girls aren't listed yet.

    Or, email me at heather@ironridgesporthorses.com for a few leads and a longer (it can get indepth) discussion about how to get involved.