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.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cool, Windy, and Sunny..... In horses that means acting up, right?

It's just a bit warmer then the last few days.  The wind is blowing annoyingly (sand in the eyes, YUCK!).  And, the sun is out.  In my history, that has always meant "time to be bad" in any horse's mind.  So of course, this morning the owner of The Mustangs calls me and says he's coming out to see how they are doing.

Gah!  The weather is set up for my failure!

So, I finish up my paper work (i.e. inside chores) have some fun playing phone tag with Verizon (now they are billing me for services I'm not getting) and head out to the barn.  I finish up my chores there, and it's still morning.  Since the Mustang's owner won't be out until after noon, I get Lady ready to ride.

Well, I tied her to the trailer (My trailer is acting as my tack room during the most recent renovations) and start to groom her up.  Yeah, she's acting all flighty.  Won't stand still, keeps trying to paw, and swinging from one side to the other.  Looks like a great chance for a lesson to me!

I grab my dressage whip.  No, don't freak out yet.  As Lady would paw from frustration, I would use the whip to touch her leg, and give her a negative noise.  For me that is the "annnhhhhhhh" sound, like a seagull makes.  The touch shows her what she is doing wrong, the negative noise makes her not like it.  She decided that was no fun.  So we had to deal with stepping over, and then back and then over.  I simply made her stand where I wanted, and when she tried to swing into me, I just pushed on her side.  When she stood nicely, she got praise and a cookie.  When she pawed while standing straight, more bad noise, and a touch.  Within 5 minutes, she was being a very good girl.

So, I groomed her up, tacked her up, and grabbed the lunge line.  After a bit of laziness (windy, cold.... isn't she supposed to be spooky?) I got some canter work on the lunge.  With her fancy new bell boots, she didn't over reach and hit her self, so could think about how to not hit herself.  I saw moments of a lovely canter!  She's weak in the lower back, so can't round very easily (yet) but she gave me moments!

So I hopped on.  What a lovely ride!  She was right there for me.  Now, Lady tries to evade contact by ducking behind the verticle.  Lady is going to be a dressage horse (and a good one) so this is BAD.  I rode around with my hands up near my chest to prevent the ducking, and kept asking for more forward.  She gave it to me more times then she didn't.  By this point I'm thrilled.

Then, to work on strengthening her back, we did yo-yos.  This is a simple exercise that in my opinion is not used enough because it's a bit boring.  We walk forward at a nice march, then halt, and then back up.  When a horse backs, it is natural for the horse to lift it's shoulders, round the back, and bring its legs under.  In other words, it's collected.  I would immediately ask Lady to walk on, and to maintain that frame.

Let me clarify.  By frame, I mean her back and body, not her head.  A rounded neck is not a sign of true collection.  It's just a sign of a rounded neck.  Lady was able to carry herself properly for 5 to 10 paces, then she's start to lose it.  We would again yo-yo, and get a few more steps.  As she tired, we walked out, and worked on accepting the bit with out ducking behind the vertical.  I would say that we spent an honest 45 minutes doing this, with much walking on a loose rein in between.  By the time I was done, Lady was just starting to accept the contact (light contact, but still!) and was walking with a nice rounded back (shoulders weren't truly up, but she was trying) and stepping out.  And she was one tired girl!  I expect her to be a bit sore later today, and have my brushes and liniment ready to go.

So, I ended up with a few moments before Huck and Rooster's person arrived.  I grabbed Scorch, and gave him some loving.  I figured if I got him tacked up, I'd get my chance to ride, and if not, then I'll ride him tomorrow.  Well, just as I got his mane braided and out of my way, I saw the Mustang's Owner drive past.  Patted Scorch, and said "tomorrow bud".

Keep in mind, I've already tempted fate.  It's "bad horse" weather, and I had a great ride.  By this point I'm expecting the mustangs to be basket cases.  It's Murphy's Law after all!  So, the first thing the owner says to me is "I want to see you catch Rooster".  Ha!  My buddy?  My pretty lil red headed man?  Sure!

I grabbed a halter, and headed into their pen.  Now, normally Rooster walks up and meets me half way, so when he didn't, I completely expected him to decide to run off and play instead.  I'm thinking "this horse is about to make me look like a Liar."  But nope.  Rooster was just talking to a bud over the fence.  He let me walk right up, put on the halter, and walked out with me as calm as can be.

We tacked him up, and I tried to remember every bad thing this horse still needed work on.  Of course, I'm like a nervous mommy by this point, waiting for her kid to perform on stage.  They aren't mine, but that doesn't mean I don't love these horses!  Well, The Owner gets on, and Rooster is just a bit flinchy still.  Bummer.  He's been so good about that lately.  Then again, it's a bad horse day.

Owner rode off, and I could tell from his seat that he was ready for the worst.  Rooster started to get nervous too, and here I am with visions of a blow up.  Then the owner relaxed, and it went beautifully.  No, not perfectly, but very well for my little spit fire.  Got Huck out, and tacked him up, and the owner's friend rode Huck.

The boys did good.  All of my training stuck.  While it wasn't perfect (Huck was lazy, Rooster wasn't as calm as I'd like) it was still in the "not too bad" category.  I hoped on to ride Rooster at the owner's request, and I'll be honest here.  The stirrups were about a half hole too short, and when I asked for anything over a walk, I was riding as if I was bareback.  I'm not that great without my stirrups!  But no one seemed to notice, and every one seemed pleased with the horses.

I of course have a whole list of new things to work on.  First, and biggest:  When the horses were in the arena together, they gravitate toward each other regardless of the commands given.  That needs to change.  I watch Rooster try to cut Huck off, and Huck kept swinging over in his circles into Rooster's path.  The rest were little things that I've been working on, that still need more work.  Huck's transitions are SLOPPY, Rooster needs to relax more still.

And let me mention here that I simply adore the owner of these horses.  Right now, I am so happy with my clients.  I have two really super people who really care about their horses.  The Mustang's Owner is a perfect gentleman.  Old school type, you know, the kind that doesn't come along any more.  And Lady's owner is a wonderful person ready to learn anything and with her horse's well being above anything else.

So, the day ended with me not having to work as hard as normal because the owner did.  I get a few hours to sit on my bum and drink coffee!  I like Coffee.  And, it looks like my - er I mean THE Mustangs will be with me another month. 

Now, if I can just figure out how to get pictures while I ride.  Ok, truth be told, I actually have a plan.  I am going to try to video my rides, and get some short clips of the work sessions.  I'm not sure how much of the arena I can cover from a still video camera, but I figure it should be interesting at least.  If nothing else, it will be great to see things from a different point of view.

Oh, and that weather?  Yeah.... maybe it's only MY horses that act up in this type of weather.  The client horses were so good.


  1. You always say that if something's going to happen, it will be on days like that. Mine get goofy, too.

  2. Great progress! My horses act up too but Rooster was surprisingly good in the wind on Saturday. I wasn't sure if I was going to ride and decided to tempt fate with just a bareback pad but he was good as gold, even cantering uphill.

  3. Great progress! My horses act up too but Rooster was surprisingly good in the wind on Saturday. I wasn't sure if I was going to ride and decided to tempt fate with just a bareback pad but he was good as gold, even cantering uphill.