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.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Breeding up a dieing breed

Ok, so I'm very in love with this breed, and not a lot of people know it.  There are 12 horses left.  That's it... TWELVE!  Most are related.  That means that it won't be easy to futher the breed without inbreeding, or cross breeding.

Since the breed started, cross breeding has always been used to keep the genetic diversity open.  I know that a lot of people think of cross breeding as BAD, and that anything that is cross bred can't be a purebred.  In actuality, that is not the case.

By definition, a "purebreed" is a group of individuals that when bred together produce a consistant and predictable offspring. 

No where in that definition does it say "a group of similarly bred" or "aminals of the same registry".  These are all concepts that have come to us from dog breeds, and are actually very modern in horses (excluding the Arabian).  In history, horses weren't even BREEDS.  They were types.  Warmblood isn't a breed, it's a type.  Think of other old time horse terms: Draft, Cob, Destrier, Palfrey, warhorse, gaited horse, carriage horse.  Even the (now) breed called The Hackney originally was not a breed but a type.  Hack-knee... a horse used to pull a smaller carriage with flashy and attractive knee action.

So, with the advent of the AKC, people began to think that you have to breed papered to papered to get papered.  Lets think about that for a second.  I like using Quarter Horses as an example, because almost every one has some familiarity with them.  So, what would happen if you bred a racing quarter horse to say, a halter horse?  What about if you bred a cutting quarter horse, to a hunter under saddle type?  Those types of breedings are not nearly as predictable as crossing, say, a Clydesdale to a Shire.  Even in AQHA, most people breed type to type, not just breed to breed.

(Both horses shown at right are registered AQHA.  They share some traits, but have many that are very different.)

The reasoning behind this, is that the Clydesdale and Shire are the same TYPE of horse, where the quarter horse has many types within the breed.  Most people are more comfortable with breeding breed to breed though, as they feel that this should have some guarantees. Hell, if it did, then all horse people would be making quality horses, and over population of poorly bred animals wouldn't be a problem.  Breeding is a very inexact science, and not for the faint of heart. 

So, coming into horses as a life long dog person, I had to set a lot of my biases aside.  I had to get used to the idea that it's OK to add in genes from a different breed.  Registries accept certain acceptable outcrosses so that they don't end up where the Sugarbush is now.  Or the Friesians... they have a LOT of genetic issues, and even state a coefficient of inbreeding as a selling point!  (Lower is better, but all Friesians are inbreed to some degree because of lack of genes out there).  The goal is to have a horse of an obvious appearance that is phenotypically different then other breeds.  The Sugarbush tends to have a lot of the Percheron traits, because that was one of the first crosses used.  But traits from Belgians (neck type) and Clydesdales (many show feathering) are also seen.  The silhouette of the Sugarbush is similar, but not exactly like any other draft breed.  Of course, as drafts, many of the breeds have similarities, because draft is a type that encompasses many breeds.

So as a breeder, I have to weigh the odds.  Is it better to risk genetic problems from inbreeding?  Or should I look outside the breed for traits that match what our breed should be?  As you can tell, I chose the later.  Although, in the future, I might risk the former, if the odds are stacked just right.  In the end, it's all about quality horses.

The Sugarbush descended from the Stonewall Sport Horse.  The Stonewall Sport Horses are a type.  Mainly a half draft with appaloosa coloring.  Pedigree is loved, but not necessary in the breed.  Instead of focusing on names on papers, the Stonewall Sport Horse people most often focus on conformation and ability to do the job the horse is bred for.  Since these horses were used as the foundation stock for the Sugarbush, they have always been accepted as a genetic influence.  This makes my life easier.  I can cross a draft to an appaloosa, get a Stonewall, cross those lines to a Sugarbush, and get a Sugarbush who isn't inbred.  It's a LONG process, but it's an option.  I can also cross an appaloosa to a draft, get a Stonewall Sport Horse, then cross that Stonewall to a draft, and have a horse eligible for Sugarbush Registration.  Both methods of crossing up will result in the horse getting generational papers (based on percentage of draft blood, and percentage of Sugarbush lineage).  It gets a bit complex, but it's a great way to keep the gene pool clean.

Our goal is to one day have enough genetics that we can breed only Sugarbush to Sugarbush.  I think it's a long way away, but I hope to see it in my lifetime.

Because of that, I am on a mission to breed a completely unrelated bloodline of Sugarbush Draft Horses.  Something that will perfectly compliment Sugarbush Harley's Classic O's lines.  I've got a VERY nice start.  Rose, the mare from a few days ago, is one of the few pure Sugarbush horses that is a perfect genetic match to O.  No direct relations!  I want to make more of those.

So, when people wonder why I can't just have a couple of horses that I'm breeding, but instead have to work with larger numbers, that's why.  I'm breeding the last of the lines, while trying to breed up at least one, if not more unrelated bloodlines.  This means that I will be getting a few foals out of some horses, and then selling them on (to great an wonderful homes, of course).

Just think about it for a second.  I breed stallion A to mare B, and get foal 1.  I then breed Stallion C to Mare D and get foal 2.  I breed foal 1 to foal 2 and get a Sugarbush.  So, that means that I need SIX horses to get one.  Add in time to mature, and what happens with the generation after that.....

It's daunting.  It will be a lot easier with other breeders involved who can breed unrelated bloodlines.  Adding in new breeders makes me happy, because it means that I won't have to shoulder this burden alone.  I love each and every one of my horses.  I have no intention of over breeding, but there's no easy way to rejuvenate a breed on the brink of extinction.

I love this breed though.  There's nothing quite like it out there.  They are amazing, powerful and still gentle.  They are colorful and well built.  They have everything I ever wanted to see in a horse, all wrapped up into one tidy (large) package.  I'll gladly spend my life working to further the breed.  It's a cause worth living for.


  1. So, Scorch is or can be a part of this? Say, Scorch to Rose or Sweetie or Katy, and the foal would be a Sugarbush?

  2. Yes, exactly. Scorch is a Stonewall Sport Horse. Cross a Stonewall to a draft, and get a Sugarbush. Basically, it's all about the math, at this point in the breed.

    Scorch is 3/8ths draft. If crossed to Sweetie, the offspring would be 39/64th draft, or just a bit under 2/3rds draft. That foal would get papers with a registration number beginning with F1, or just enough draft blood to qualify as a Sugarbush.

    Papers are registered as F1, F2, F3, and ultimately, with out a prefix. These prefixes make it easy to track the introduction of genes, as well as potential inbreeding issues.

    For me, the beauty of this is that I have these lovely draft crosses that show so much potential in the sports I am interested in. At the same time, they are a necessary step in the Sugarbush Draft Horse.

    And yes, Leah, you're exactly right. Also, Scorch to Nazar would be an option to produce a Sugarbush. Or, I can breed for homozygosity (say, Scorch to Soli) and then breed that offspring to a Clydesdale, Percheron, etc. The trick is to not get too obsessive about percentages and/or color, and breed for an excelent quality horse.

    I mean, Look at O. He's simply magnificent. He sets a HIGH standard to meet, but I don't want to breed horses that are not of that quality, and end up dragging the breed down. My goal is to move the breed up.

    Clear as mud?

  3. By George, I think I'm getting it. Sorta.

    So why is Scorch only 3/8 draft and not 50%? Hex is 100%. I'm not getting the math.

    If I end up coming up with Kris, we can talk about it. Depends on when she wants to come and what Mr. Fry has going on whether I can lose myself in the vortex.

  4. Your mistake is thinking that Hex is 100%. She's not. She's 75% draft, and so is Jinx (full sisters). Nazar is also 75%. I happen to like that percentage a lot, since it makes for smaller horses, and gives me option on which direction to go.

    All 3 now have registration with Sugarbush, as foundation stock, as Everett thought they had great qualities to add to the breed. While they are registered with SDHR (after about 60 hours of pedigree research! But I did meet some really nice people from their pasts) I have trouble calling them Sugarbush horses, because I feel that is a bit dishonest.

    Anyways, half of 3/ths draft = 3/8ths draft. That's why Scorch, Diva, Rico and Olivia are all 3/8ths. If I broke it down, I think Streaker is like 15/32... close enough that I just call him half.

  5. Ahhh! I thought they were full drafts.

    O is like ... what 7/8 Percheron?

    See you Thursday?

  6. So both you and Kris are coming over. Sounds perfect!

    And O is 15/16th draft (about 93%). I'm not positive if all of that is Percheron. I think there are some others in there as well (didn't dig back in his pedigree before I answered).

    I had to take the day off for mud today. Doesn't bother me at all either... we really needed the rain!