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, November 6, 2010
New boarders, New behaviors, and a New horse under saddle
Friday morning I checked my email, and saw that Lady's owner was planning to show up. Yippee. No, seriously, she's a very nice lady. I had a few things to get done before I got onto horses (like picking up the clamps to finish stringing cable on the new paddock, so the fences would be finished!) and I got back just in time for Lady's owner to arrive. We talked for a bit, and then I realized that I was losing hours quickly, so grabbed Huck and started working him. Friday's schedule was supposed to be Huck, Rooster, Lady. I try to work them in a different order every day, so they don't start predicting when it will be their turn and learn problem behaviors.
At any rate, Huck started off great, then realized that he's a wee bit stiff from all the walk/trot work we had done the day before. I mean, a few days off due to weather, then right into transitions, and he's bound to be achy. I know I was! So, after a bit of walk/trot work, Huck decided to change the subject. He tried freezing. No, really. He wouldn't back, he wouldn't go left, nor right, nor straight. He totally was taking a nap while I'm tapping his side, and throwing all my "move your feet" tricks at him. Wow does that make a rider feel dumb!
What it ended up being, was a test. Who can be more stubborn...... and yes, I won. Eventually he decided to work with me and be a good boy. Well, kinda a good boy. Not nearly as good as he was the day before, just lazy.
After that, Lady's owner asked if she could see her horse worked, so of course I said yes. I told her that I had not ridden her horse yet, but if she was doing well on the lunge (I had only worked her one day before remember) then I planned to get on and see what she knew. MUCH easier when you have the owner there to ask questions. Well, Lady of course was a lady on the lunge, so up I went. We spent 45 minutes working on walk trot stuff, and learning to accept the bit. Lady doesn't fight me, but she is a bit confused. At one point I asked her to back up, and she acted like she wanted to do a rein back. Now, this is a future dressage horse... what is she doing trying to rein back? Then her owner reminded me that she had some reining training in her past. Ah HA!
Lady has lovely gaits! She's a pleasure to ride, and she's trying to do what I ask. She doesn't always 'get' it, but she's trying to do something. Super easy work for me.
Then there was Rooster. I had this thought over lunch: "what would happen if I treat him like a horse that has never been backed, and bring him up into the saddle a bit slower?" So guess who tried it?
Yeah, that would be me. I put a halter under his bridle, put Jae on the end of the lead, and did all the stupid stuff. I laid across the saddle, and had Jae walk off so that Rooster could feel me shift, yet look around and think it through. It was like a light bulb went off for that horse! His tension eased (not totally gone, but MUCH less) and he had a protector there on the ground for him! After a couple of those, I swung up and over, as sloppy as I could make it, brushing his rump in the process, and he stiffened a hair, but did not go into "OMG it's going to EAT ME" mode. Nice! I ended up riding Rooster around at a walk, mostly relaxed, and Jae walked along beside us. We got further and further away, and Rooster did not get more nervous. I think Rooster and I are on the downhill side of this issue!
Today was more of the same. Every one was a bit better, but still worked in the same vein. Huck was still lazy, but not as bad, and much less stopping and making me out patience him. Rooster was almost calm, but actually thinking, and Lady was... well.... a lady. She's giving me wonderful moments of contact, and trying to round her back (she's not at lifting the shoulders yet, but it won't be long before she tries).
AND, just to keep things interesting, since I was tired, I decided to make my 60 year old mother break out the 3 year old stallion. I mean, sheesh... I was TIRED.
Ok, if you think that was a mean thing to do, you're sadly mistaken. Mom asked if she could, and it's Scorch. He doesn't know he is a stallion, and he's better behaved then most mature packers I know. So, mom tacked him up, and while she got her helmet on and such, I walked him a lap around (I was the ground person for this). Scorch was like "ok, so.... why am I doing this again? I see the mounting block over there, can't we do FUN things?".
Headed over, and mom did the lay over trick, and I asked Scorch to step off. It was the cutest thing I have ever seen. His eyes roll back so he can see her, and his ears swivel to her, and he took the itty bitty smallest steps while carrying his shoulders braced out to hold her up. She hopped off, and said "hes' ready". Now, Leah has already sat on him once, so it's not like he's completely new to this, but that was 18 months ago!
I love this horse.
So, we spent about 15 minutes walking around, working from my commands into hers. As she picked up control, I would fall back to Scorch's shoulder. I still had the lead, just in case things went completely bad, but no one really thought they would. By the time we were finished, mom had Scorch walking off her leg, turning left, turning right, and doing a very very sloppy whoa from only her commands. And that baby's brain was full for the day.
Tomorrow is a day off for me, but Monday I'm back to work for makeup days. Can't wait to see how Huck and Rooster do after some rest (or maybe I'll ride Huck for my pony party... hmm.....). I'm seeing progress with every one, and I have to say, I like what I see.
Some days I feel like I should be getting more flash and showy stuff out of these horses then I am. But I have to remind myself that it's not really all about the flashy stuff. The most important part of training is the part that no one will ever appreciate. Being able to stand on a relaxed horse and do NOTHING. Hot blooded horses who fidget with every step are a dime a dozen. I specialize in relaxed thinking and calm horses. I've done this more times then I can count, and every time I do it, I feel bad that I'm not working on the fancy things every other trainer tends to work on. So far, I haven't had a single complaint by returning (or in many cases selling) a safe, sane, and gentle horse.
It's my honest opinion (and you know what they say about opinions: PG version - every one has one) that while mounting a horse and teaching it to stand, only to get off and repeat that over and over might be a bit dull, in the end, owning a horse that stands like a rock when you pull your tired bum into the saddle is priceless. Having a horse with smooth and gentle walk/trot/canter/halt transitions that can be attained from leg or voice commands is wonderful when you're watching your friends horse balk, and your friend is kicking their legs off just to get home. Having a horse that feels confident on the trails is SO much more fun then a horse that acts like it's about to hit the moon because a butterfly took off somewhere in China.
Sadly, I love working on the boring stuff. I love seeing the horses progress and mature under my guidance. I love seeing a fearful horse learn a different way to cope (my rider will take care of all, rather then RUNAWAY). I love the feel of a horse learning to perform a new type of movement. The feel of a soft mouth and the lift of the shoulders for the first time. Maybe I'm completely a dork, but I never wanted to be a big name reining/dressage/jumper/cutting/barrel/etc trainer. I always wanted to be the one to make a good horse.