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 16, 2010

Training a horse to round

So, this weekend has been a busy one for me.  Sunday I rode Huck with my "Pony Party".  For those who don't know, Pony Party Sundays are when we invite friends to come up, and either ride one of our horses that matches his/her riding ability, or to bring their own.  We all practice in the arena, with every one sharing tips and knowledge in a friendly and informal way.

For me, this is great because I get ideas from those who are not "in the business" and always hearing "faster!".  Leah, Kris, Sarah, and my mother are the most common participants.  Well, I chose Huck for this Sunday, and Huck was PERFECT.  He didn't mind all the new strange horses with him, he did what was asked, and he even was a gentleman and showed off his "tricks".  Ok, not true tricks, but we did side passes, half passes, and just had a grand ol' time.

I think Rooster was even jealous!  He stood there watching us the whole time.  A little Jealousy won't hurt him though.  And my next ride on him was amazing.  He's working his little heart out for me.  I haven't had a serious tension issue from Rooster in almost a week.  We did have the car backfire/revving episode - where my neighbor made scary noises on the car, but Rooster just slowed and looked, but that was the last of them.

So, this week, I hope to get Rooster into some crazy new situations, and well, have a whole lot of fun with Huck.

Then there's Lady.  She's a lovely mare, and very easy to work with under saddle.  Her problem is that she's a bit confused about what we're asking of her.

Her owner plans to use her for dressage, and someone put a bit of reining training into her.  Well, and her natural inclination is to work on her forehand, with her head well behind the vertical, and her back hollowed out.  None of those are good traits in dressage.

Now, Lady is a good choice as a dressage horse though.  She does have a good talent for it, but she doesn't have the muscling to do it right, and at heart is a very pampered lady who doesn't believe she needs to do those "hard" things.  She has some evasions, but they are all very passive and very minor.

And yeah, all horses have evasions, it's their way of saying "I don't wanna!".  Bucking is just one example, but balking, head tossing, and even just those little annoyances a horse does when you ask it to work all fall under my category of evading work.

So Lady has been doing great.  I think I left off with her after our lunging session.  She decided that she did NOT want to work, so went into "I'm trotting and not paying attention to you" mode.  This is an evasion that is easy in the endurance bred type horses, like Arabian crosses, or Thoroughbreds (and many more, but you get the idea).  They trot because they don't have to think.

Well, I showed Lady that it's just so much easier to do what I ask.  If she wouldn't walk, then she cantered.  For me, that solves 2 things.  First, she learns to work at the pace I set when I set it (necessary for dressage) and second, her "punishment" of cantering helps to build up those back muscles that she needs to round her back and get on the bit.

When I took her out yesterday, she was dead on wonderful.  She walked when I asked, reversed when I asked.  Trotted.  Went back to a walk.  Cantered.... it was simply wonderful.  Then of course we had our "oopsie".  As I brought her back to a walk, she asked to stretch.  I let her.  She lowered her neck, and stretched all of her muscles through her back, but then she did something unexpected.  She swept her front legs out while walking to also get a good stretch in the shoulders.  I was slow, and....

Her foot clipped the lunge line, just stepping on the edge of it, and pulling her bit.  She stopped in a heart beat, tossed her head up, and my bridle did exactly what it is supposed to.... broke.  Right at the buckles for the cheek pieces on either side.  Her bit fell out of her mouth, and the bridle disentegrated in front of my eyes, and Lady turns to look at me as if to say "what did I do to DESERVE that?"

Ah, my poor baby.  I of course hurried over to reassure her (and get a hand on her since everything was now in pieces).  I checked to make sure she hadn't hurt her mouth, and luckily I had in a nice soft mellow bit, so she was fine.  A few cookies, a little pampering, and she was ready to change head gear.

Pieces together another bridle from what I had in the barn (most were too big for her dainty head) and got back to work.  Being the Lady she is, she never once held a grudge for the incident, and infact, got right into some wonderful work.

Now, to show you what I'm doing with her, I got pictures!  Here is Lady's favourite way to avoid getting contact with the bit.

You can see that she's horribly behind the vertical, and that is NOT what we want.  Notice my hands are open and high, this is encouraging her to lift her head while maintaining contact with her mouth.  In other words, ducking away from my contact like this doesn't do her any good, and so takes away the desire to try.  It ends up being more work then it is worth.

She used to move like this almost constantly.  Now she does this a bit in our warm up walks, and every so often through out the ride.  I have more time of a decent contact with her then I do with her behind the vertical.

And her next problem is that she hollows out her back.  See how her body is almost making a U shape?  Yeah, we don't want that either.  Horses who move like this are straining their back, allowing their hind end to fall out behind them, and often they are heavy on the forehand.

You might also notice that I have Lady in some fancy looking bell boots.  That's because she CAN overreach, and clip her front hooves.  Because all this rounding stuff is new to her, she isn't yet as graceful as she will be.  I think a lot of the reason she hollows out is because she's worried she will hit herself, and so keeps her front and hind ends as far apart as possible.  She really likes the bell boots, and has already learned that hitting them is no big deal.  It's saved us a lot of worry about leg injuries.

So, what does it look like when she's working like I want?  Well, it's a lovely picture indeed.
Isn't that a pretty Lady?

At this time, she is doing the hollowing out and ducking behind the vertical in her warm up work, and I don't mind that.  Not for this stage of her training.  She has to get her muscles all ready before she starts doing her gymnastics.  I have the walk pretty much where I want it.  When I get her in front of my leg, she is now taking contact and moving out.  She's not as forward as I want yet, but when asked, she tries.  To me, it feels like she has trouble with remembering to round, take contact, AND move out all at the same time... it's too much for a pony to remember!  But, she sure tries to do anything I ask of her.

And when she starts to lose that frame (a frame should come from the back and hind end, not the head!) we just back up until she lifts her shoulders, and do it some more.

Now, trotting.... she's better, but not there yet.

Here was our moment of glory.  This is what I want her to do at the trot, but she has trouble maintaining.  Well, I'd love to have even more, but we must build muscles.

At this point in her training, I feel confident that her owner will be able to put her into dressage lessons, and learn how to ask this of her, and actually get it.  Not 100% of the time, but often enough to move forward.  And that's the real goal.  

From here on out, I believe that I need to get her muscles up to hold this lovely frame at the walk and trot, and to start holding it at the canter.

Yeah, Lady's canter.  It's up... well, she has one now!  When she arrived, there was no canter.  She would almost fall into a gallop, until she tired, then drop back into a trot.  Right now, I can get a canter consistently.  It's not a pretty canter at all, but it is a canter.  She's very heavy on her forehand, and very hollow.  The more trot work she does though, the better the canter will get, with out allowing her to get some very bad habits, so that is what we've been working on.

I also have to mention here that as we finished up out lesson, a cold front was blowing in.  That means wind, dust, scary noises, and I wasn't prepared for it.  Lady was lovely and didn't care at all, but me!  I was cold when we finished.  I'm wearing a second layer under my riding attire there, but I had taken off my gloves because it was so nice when we started.  

And in case you're wondering about my awesome looking riding shirt there, well.... I'm gonna let the world in on a secret.  For cheap riding attire, that is designed not to creep up, but also is casual enough that you aren't feeling silly when you go into public, check out dirt bike riding gear.  Those shirts are amazing.  They are vented (which didn't help me, but are great for fall) are made of a lovely light weight material that doesn't seem to attract dirt (and I am ALWAYS dirty) and are often as cheap as 15 bucks if you get the out of date styles.  Oh yes, and color... wow, dirt bike riders LOVE colors.  I started stealing Jae's because I hate having my hiney hanging out, and found that they are wonderful to ride in.  

And, for Lady's Owner... here are a few more images of your pretty girl from our session yesterday:


  1. I keep looking at these pictures wondering where my HAIR went. Ha, it's in a braid that is over my shoulder.

    And I have to mention that I know how horrid my position is. In many of those shots I'm trying to get her in front of my leg, and rounded, so am doing things an instructor would kill me for!

  2. Love the pictures where she's "there" - just soft and round and perfect! Dawn tends to duck behind the vertical too, so I know what you're dealing with.

  3. Thanks Kate. That whole behind the vertical thing is so hard to work a horse out of normally. I've been lucky with Lady, in that she's really just confused and trying to please, so a "good girl" helps her so much. She knows when she's still trying to find it, and when she's there.

  4. You not only look great in that shirt, but you look really sharp in that helmet.....like a true professional :)

    Nice job!

  5. You not only look great in that shirt, but you look really sharp in that helmet.....like a true professional :)

    Nice job!