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, February 1, 2011

The Calm before the Storm

Winter Weather Advisory for North Texas... yeah, that's me.  This thing blowing in is supposed to be GROSS.  First, the wind will hit, then the rain.  A few hours later (when everything is nice and soaked) the cold front will pass, freezing everything, and turning the rain into sleet/hail/snow or some type of very gross white stuff.  Oh, and I hate the cold.

So, knowing this was coming, I decided to work Monday (normally my day off) and take Tuesday off instead, since it looks like I will be house bound anyway.  I currently have 4 horses in for training with me.  Sadly, I completely forgot to get picture of the TWHs who arrived first, and are kinda my "easy" ones.  These boys are a true joy to work with.  Beaudreaux (pronounced Budro) is more of an old style walker, and makes me think of pictures of Midnight Sun.  Truly lovely, and very very sweet.  Black Boy is a more modern type - I can't recall the exact bloodlines - and so lovely, elegant, and noble.  Black Boy doesn't seem to be quite as affectionate as Beaudreaux, but is also a nice horse to work with.

For the last week, I have been going over what they know, trying to find holes in it.  They aren't so keen on the whole lunging thing, and the both LOVE to try to evade work, but nothing is really all that much of a problem yet.  Of course, they've been on "vacation" for a bit, so aren't able to work as long/hard as I'd like, but we're getting there VERY fast.  Right now, I can't tell if they are giving me fits because they are out of practice, or because I do things different.  Ok, "fits" is a bad word... more like, they question my commands a bit. 

But, horse number 3, my little Tiger Horse (and by comparison to the others, he is little) got his eval today.  Cruz is just as cute as cute can be!  Picture are from my camera phone, so not the best but:
This is Cruz.  Yeah, he's all distorted, so just ignore that, his head isn't that big, and his body isn't that small in comparison.  Cruz is here for saddle training.  His owner put some lovely ground work into him, and decided that paying someone else to eat dirt sounds like a good idea!  She works in a manner very similar to what I do, and I was very happy to see that Cruz responds easily to my mannerisms and commands.  He's a timid fellow though, and tends to be tense and ready to react, even though he tries so hard to stand still like a good boy.

I took Cruz over to the big scary white box there (the trailer, where I am currently working out of the tack room while my barn is renovated some).  I went through my "pre flight check" you know, "tieing" him up (he's not hard tied, just have the rope looped over) grooming him all over, and picking his feet.  Well, the tieing and grooming went well, and he was perfect on the front feet, but as soon as I reached for the back, I got the "OH NO IT'S EATING ME" wiggle.  This is the move that isn't a kick, but could easily turn into one.  I worked him through it, got him thinking, and though "Ok, problem number one to work on".  So of course, I reached for his hind foot again...... and he was perfect.  He did a mild version of the same thing on the other side.  Not sure how to get him to repeat that (gonna try another strange place tomorrow though) but I think most of it was nerves.

After that, we checked to see how he handled tack.  I kept adding so long as he acted "ok" with it.  Bridle, easy!  Saddle pad, no problem (it did get a hairy eye and needed to be sniffed though) saddle... well lets grab the heaviest, creakiest thing I own, the leather western!

Ok, my western saddle probably weighs about 40 pounds.  This thing is not light.  Just about every part on it creaks and groans, and I figured, if he can handle that, then he's been saddled before.  (Ok, I know his owner says he has... but sometimes owners lie, and I kinda like to know for myself).  Well, he leaned a bit, but his feet never moved, and he accepted it.  A few seconds there he looked like he'd LOVE to bolt away from it, but he didn't move.  A word of praise, and he was back to his normal sweet self.

Because the saddle wasn't a good fit for him, I just pulled it off (in a big sloppy dragging sort of way, to see what he did when the girth and such pulled across his body) and I decided to use a surcingle instead to see how he acted with something around his chest while moving.  We headed out into the arena, and as soon as I gave the command, he was away lunging.  Nice quick response to commands, turns on a dime, doesn't pull, doesn't fuss, just a pleasure in ground work.  We went over ground poles, and he listened, we stopped and stood, and he liked it.  But a few steps into this work out, and the surcingle started to creep.  With each step, it wiggled right back to his hips!

This boy is going to need a breast plate to keep anything up by his withers!  His heart girth is much larger then I expected, and his hips are lean and narrow, stuff just can't help but shift back.  At any rate, here I was standing in the arena with a young horse that I really don't know, and a belt around his waist, and nearing the family jewels.  A step or 2 more, and I'm likely to have a bronc (and really, who could blame him).

Instead, I asked him to stop, and reached around to remove the surcingle.  You know how you have to tighten a buckle in order to get it released?  Well, as soon as I added tension his eyes got big, but a simple, "It's ok little man" and he relaxed, and turned to watch me remove the funny thing.  As a test, I simply let it fall to the ground in a jingling mess.  He didn't even notice.

We did some more basics, and I found that while he WILL walk when I ask, and he will canter when I asked, he wants to trot.  Now, he's supposed to be gaiting, not trotting!  Of course, his attention was all over the place too.  Cars drove past, and he had to look.  Train honked, and he's breaking forward motion.  In my arena, there's a lot of outside activities, and it's easy to see when a horse needs to learn to focus.  Cruz was honest, but he acted like a young horse (which he is).  Brought him back up, and did the "post flight check" with more grooming, and again checking his feet, and the baby boy just began to relax into the attention.  One of the riding students showed up, and she loved on him with us (my mother is always present for the first day of working a new horse... just in case), and in a very short time, he was thinking that life is GOOD with 3 ladies scratching ya all over.

After that, I got onto training horse #4.  For those of my friends who read Barn Door Tagz over at Leah's Blog this face might look familiar!
That is the Rock Star himself, Mr. Pokey Pony, aka Poco.

Poco is here on a vet prescribed "work his ass off" program.  Yes, I called the vet to make sure that I'm on the same page as everyone else.  90% of Poco's problems are well.... Poco.  He's a Loco Poco!  Recently, he has been giving Leah more fits then usual.  Last weekend (like 8 or 9 days ago now?) he started acting up with her, and when I got on, he acted like he had a sore... back/leg thing.  On palpation by me (i.e. not a vet!) he was sore on his left side, near the hip, and he lunged out weird.  He didn't want to swing his back legs apart, and he wouldn't pick up the proper lead.  Poco normally doesn't have either issue, and I've known this horse for years now.

So, the vet found mild arthritis, and tons of attitude.  He wants to get Poco's head working first (so 2 weeks of work him until he begs me to stop) and then re-evaluate.  Of course, any unusual changes are to be reported.  This weekend he arrived (Friday I think) and he got his first dose of "hard work" by a reunion with his old buddy Scorch!

Now, Scorch spent a winter over with Leah not too long ago (was that just last year?) and these 2 were the best of buds.  I tossed Poco in, and the first thing Poco does, was walk up to the now 16.1 hand stallion that Scorch has become, and KICK him!  I'm thinking "oh no, if Poco's in charge, he won't learn a THING!".  Ha!  After the second show of attitude, Scorch proved that he really is a man, and fought back.  Well.... normal gelding dominance type of stuff.

Keep in mind now, that Leah was in on all of these plans before we did them!  I would never just toss some one else's horse in with a herd of bachelor colts, and my young stallion prospects are kept with my more dominant geldings in a herd setting.  Scorch has only recently risen to the "top" position, and he's a very laid back type of guy.  These are not breeding stallions, just prospects waiting to earn the right to breed later on.

Well, all weekend, Scorch has given as good as he got.  Oddly, it's Poco with the bite mark!  On the end of his nose!  (Check the above pic, and you'll see).  I saw that happen too.  Poco bit Scorch's neck HARD, so Scorch stopped, leaned into Poco, and grabbed his nose.  Poco yanked back... and waa laa... instant boo boo to appologize to Leah for!  Uh... Sorry Leah!

At any rate, Today I started the Poco work out program.  Poco got haltered, and a bridle over it (because I wasn't too sure how he'd lunge off either, and wanted to have options available).  I started out lunging in a nice circle, and Poco (being the super horse he is) just gets going.  First cantering, then hitting a nice ground eating trot, and holding.  He made lap after lap, and never showed a sign of fatigue.  Ok, so lets up the ante.

I lunged him over cross rails.  This in theory should make him think about his feet, and what he's doing.  Poco didn't even bat an eye, or alter his gait.  He just kept on truckin'.

Ok, well, he's mature, so....I had mom set up a jump.  Just 2 barrels on their sides, with rails crossed.  The center of the jump was about 12 inches.  Oh boy!  That got Poco's attention!  He wanted NOTHING to do with jumping!

We went inside, outside, and in crazy leaps to avoid the jump.  He yanked, he pulled, and never once was he scared.  It was all just "I don't WANT to do that!".  So, I pushed.  At one point, Poco got all up in my face, and I mean literally bouncing his forelegs off the ground, right infront of me, within touching distance.  He was trying to intimidate me, and he was NOT happy.  I just kept giving the same nice, clear command (to walk) and he worked so hard to win.  Finally, he swept out into the circle he was supposed to be in, but of course, at the ground eating trot.

About the 3rd time over the jump (and yep, he did jump it a few times, and looked pretty decent doing it) he broke into a sweat.  From there, it was all downhill for him.  Through out the whole ordeal, I kept asking him to listen to me, and do something easier, but he prefered to "fight" it out.  Poco doesn't LIKE the easy way out - a man has his pride you know!

An hour and 15 minutes after entering the arena, Poco was truly done.  He started doing all that I asked, and gave me the licking, chewing, and lowered head I like to see.  And, in true Poco fashion, he made sure I knew it was ONLY because he was tired.  He wasn't perfect after that, but he would walk and halt as I asked. 

Not sure if you can tell, but it wasn't raining, and that's a SOAKED pony!

Of course, this ended up being a wonderful chance to show my mother how to properly "cool out" a hot horse in the winter.  You can't let a horse that wet just dry on his own.  With temperatures in the 40s, and expected to start dropping rapidly at any time, he had to be nice and dry.  While I hand walked him until his breathing was under control, mom grabbed towels.  We then rubbed him as dry as possible, then brushed him out, while making sure to keep him moving just enough so his muscles wouldn't cramp up.  By the time we were done, he only looked tired, not like a soaking wet mess of a horse.

A few hours later, when crossing the paddock, Poco was still very humble.

But tonight, we have a very ugly storm coming (well, it's rain/sleeting as I type).  Poco is all tucked in nicely in the barn next to Zire, Beaudreaux and Black boy.  Cruz is stalled between two mare who think he's adorable, and who could care less about the sound of rain on the roof, and the barn is packed full of ponies happy to be warm and dry.  Once this front passes, I will be making another check of them, to make sure no one is overly worried, and then hitting the hay.  I completely expect to wake up tomorrow to a very white winter wonderland (but I'm hoping I'm wrong!).

It was a bit of a crazy day.  Getting all the horses worked, the last stall (number 12!) finished, the blankets repaired and ready to go, the horses all moved around so that every one has shelter AND will be allowed into it, and packing up everything that could maybe possibly blow away.  I've been running non stop since about 8am, and I can't help but sit back, and think "I can't believe I get to do this for a living!". 

I figure the days in my life are like Pizza.  When it's good, it's REALLY good... and when it's bad, it's still pretty darned good.


  1. Cruz is way better looking than those pix. They make him look wonky, and he's really not.

    I'm delighted with the way this is playing out for Poco. This is the best thing for him. Lisa (Laughing Orca) struck a chord in a comment on my blog, and I realize I've been way too easy on them all, even the baby. I've had a couple close calls lately that have brought that home. I need to keep my objectivity for their sakes and mine.

    It's easy to forget the nature of the beasts. They are large animals that needs firm, consistent handling, even when they seem to be behaving more like lapdogs than horses. This is my wakeup call.

  2. Your workouts sounds like our workouts!! Great Blog...please keep sharing!!

  3. Sounds like a great day all around

  4. BTW - when was that photo taken of that chestnut appy....did the owner bring him to you that thin?

  5. BTW - when was that photo taken of that chestnut appy....did the owner bring him to you that thin?