Drug my rear out of bed late today. The horses weren't happy with me sleeping in either! Arrived in the barn to water buckets almost empty, and heads hanging over the door convincing me that they were STARVING. I didn't buy it, but I did feel bad for sleeping through the alarm.
My "assistant trainer" aka, my mother, was here today. She comes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to take a bit of the load off of me, help with ground work and grooming, and other basics. Keeping 18 horses in training (Yep, I'm SO behind schedule!) is a bit rough.
Then my dear Friend Leah called. It's her birthday! (Happy Birthday Leah!) She wanted to come over and try out my new and improved arena. Ok, it's not new, but it is improved. The previous owners weren't thinking right when they built it. For some reason, the arena was built on a slop, with the barn side fence line having a steep (18 inch) drop off. A complete nightmare, and that doesn't even take into consideration the gate issue it caused. So, J, being Mr. Perfect, agreed to move the fence line back for me.
The arena is now smaller, but it's still a very nice sized arena, and all of the footing is SAFE and USEABLE. 2 things I think are important in an arena. As an extra bonus, 3 out of 4 sides have good safe fencing now too. In a few months, that bad side is in the "project list" to be rebuilt and angled to be straight. Maybe I'm anal retentive, but I like my arena to be a rectangle!
So, while the horses finished their breakfast, we prepared for a ride. My work schedule for today was to ride Rover and Doodles, start Katy lunging, Work with Princessa on picking up her feet better (she gets so distracted) and groom up Princessa, and then some halter work with the baby, Streaker.
So, with Leah coming over, that killed 2 birds with one stone! Leah wanted to ride Rover, since he's simply amazing, and she didn't believe me when I told her how great he is. Mom was taking a lesson on Doodles, the super duper amazing lesson horse. Doodles is one of those rare horses that will baby sit the most ignorant rider, never spooks, tolerates all sorts of harassment and is happy as long as you say good boy, BUT, give him the proper commands, and he exceeds your expectations. He can jump about 18 inches, and does a solid training level dressage. With a rider who knows more, I've seen him do second level moves (but I'm not there yet, so can't get it from him).
Well, Leah brought over her western saddle. I wanted to try Rover in it, and see if it fit. My western saddle isn't wide enough for his back, and the poor guy has been ridden too long in ill fitting tack. He tolerates it, but suffers so much. Rover has the worst combination for tack fitting. High withers with wide shoulders. I hoped, but didn't believe that a full QH saddle would fit... lo and hehold it DOES!
So here's Leah on Rover. Handsome boy isn't he?
Rover is one of my sale horses. His previous owner was intimidated by him, and felt that he was "too much horse" for her. He was trained with the Parelli style, and gained a few bad habits. It didn't take long to convince him that I wanted something different from him. Rover just needed kindness and consistency with clear signals so that he knew what to do. Within 3 months he was minding my personal space, walking calmly on a lead, and focusing on what I asked him to do rather then lolly gagging around at what ever floated his boat. Some one in this horse's past trained him to the hilt. He's a well finished horse!
Rover's only issue is that he dumped a lot of weight while with his previous owner. It's obvious that it was not lack of feeding, since he was shiny and fit. From what she said, and his actions agree, he simply ran off all his weight when he was left alone. When he came to me, he preferred horses to humans, and would pace the fence line in his paddock constantly. If he was with another horse, then he was always following or trying to move that horse around.
I kept him up and alone for a week (this horse had all current vaccines, coggins, etc) and he never would stop moving. So I added a horse to his paddock, and he did just as the previous owner described. So, I decided it was time for "tough love". I turned Rover out in the big herd. That pasture is filled with alpha mares, many are drafts or draft crosses. Big girls who KNOW they are in charge. Rover swooped in, in his co-dependent way, and promptly was chased off. Day after day, he was refused to be allowed in the herd. Rover needed to learn how to be a horse, from real horses. He spent a month out there, until he finally fit in, and began to lose the anxiety. During this time I never worked him, only fed him up.
After that, it was time for him to learn to live with the boys. I pulled Rover out, stalled him over night, then the next day turned him in with the young stallions and geldings. This group of horses is in a smaller paddock, and basically is like a young stallion herd. Rover tried to bully some of the "younger" boys, including my 3 year old colt, Scorch. Well, Scorch is a Stonewall Sport Horse. He stands 16 hands, and weighs about 1200 to 1300 pounds. He's still growing, and he knows he's a big boy. Rover had no luck pushing him around. The 2 younger boys he could dominate, but like typical colts, they simply ran off and blew him off. No "big man" status gained from harassing them. Then, there's Boo. Boo is a 14.3 hand Arabian gelding. He's the most savy horse I have. Boo is the dominant horse in that herd, even though he's the smallest (yes, even smaller then the yearling!). The 1800 pound Sugarbush Draft stallion knows that Boo is the man, and NO one messes with Boo. But Boo is a fair leader.
Rover tried to bully Boo, and received a solid but not hard kick in response. When he tried to chase Boo, the little Arab just out maneuvered him, and came back. Yes, there were scrapes and bite marks, but nothing serious. I honestly believe that we do a disservice to our horses when we try to make them human. Learning how to act in polite horse society is something Rover had to have thrown at him hard.
But, after 4 months of herd time, Rover is a new man. He's not anxious to head to the pasture, he's not running fence lines, or fearing out when stalled. He has no problem focusing on me and what I ask him to do. So when he had finally gained enough weight to be ridden, I fully expected to have a slew of issues to work out under saddle.
To my surprise, Rover stood like a rock when being mounted. He walked on a loose rein, at the tempo I asked for. He trots nice and smoothly, and has a lovely small canter. He's amazing under saddle, and I can't seem to find a hole in his saddle training! When I told this to Leah, she was happy, but didn't expect him to be as great as I said. Today she learned.
Leah is an intermediate beginner. She owns 2 horses of her own, and has been learning horses from the ground up since she bought her first horse almost 4 years ago. Rover again proved me right. He was a doll for her, doing all she asked, and being as calm and saintly as I could dare to hope for. His training is done, all I have left to do with him is to build up those muscles that he lost from his anxious behavior. He's "ok" now, but what doesn't show in the pictures is that his topline is very under muscled, and he gets tired in a short time still. So lots of rides, extra grain, and he should be a perfect horse for a novice horse owner!
I mean really... just LOOK at this face!
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.