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.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Am I the only person addicted to the Weather Channel?

So, yesterday I had plans for a LOVELY day working horses.  It was cool, but humid enough to be tolerable (that means I didn't need a snow suit) and only 10% chance of rain.  Well.... I never thought that I'd be driven inside by lightning.  So, of course, I kept checking back all afternoon, and at one point even headed back to the barn, only to have more lightning strike.

Well, this is why I don't charge as much as other places.  I haven't spent the 100 grand to put in an indoor arena, so I am subject to the whims of the weather.  Most of my clients understand that, and work well with me on it.

So, that meant that Beaudreaux and Voodoo ended up with an extra long weekend though.  Instead of only 2 days off, they had 3.  Beaudreaux decided it was a good excuse to be BAD.  I mean VERY bad.  As I headed into the arena, he bolts past me and kicks out with both hind feet, at me.  I had to dodge.  Oh, that is SO not allowed!

The irony here is that I had him on a lunge just because I wanted to do some very nice and easy warm up work with him, because he had the long weekend.  It's a good thing I did!  I immediately put that boy to work, and worked him hard enough that he figured out his antics were NOT allowed.  Yes, that was a very sweaty pony.

He tried to kick out at me a couple of times, but the rest were half hearted, and I was ready for it, so able to reprimand him (the ugly seagul noise, and drive forward) immediately.  Once he was focused, and really regretting his bad manners, I climbed on.

He keeps doing this head shaking thing on me.  It comes and it goes, but it seems to be realted to stress.  Today, he was stressed after getting put in his place.  When I asked him to stand, he would do the flappy thing.  When we moved out, he was a lovely boy.  I mean he was just dead on for me.  We got some speed, and missed a few gait changes, but Beaudreaux was light and responsive.

It's things he does like this though, that confuse me.  He goes from doing something very bad for a child or novice rider, to being a complete angel, within seconds.  This makes it hard to answer some questions honestly, with out rambling on.  Like,  is Beaudreaux good for a novice rider?  I'd have to say no, but I think he COULD be.  He's just amazing 90% of the time.

Beaudreux got an equal amount of lunge work to correct the attitude, then we spent some time on standing at the mounting block and NOT walking off while I mounted (and I feel the burn from the ups and downs.  I will have skinny thighs one day!) and with gait transitions.  I am going to start playing with bits with him, as I think that might be a part of the problem.  He ended up working for well over an hour and 15 minutes (I didn't get a chance to check the time when we started, because of the misbehavior) and the last 45 minutes was flawless in his effort.  He never could consistently pick up the gait though.  We did a lot of "step up" and pace, only to return to a walk, and "step up" again.

Because of the hollering and bellering coming from the barn, Voodoo got the second work out.  Beaudreaux was turned out in his pasture, but he would NOT leave the gate.  Instead he called to Black Boy the whole time.

Voodoo on the other hand, was very well behaved at first.  Because of where Voodoo is on his training scale, we need to work on building muscles up.  This means lunge work to get the proper muscles.  By using lunge work to warm up, Voodoo gets more time working, with out being worn out and made achy from carrying a rider.  He's had some time off you see.

We had a few seconds of him lolly gaggin at other things (like Beaudreaux screaming for Black Boy) but it was only seconds.  For Voodoo this is a wonderful thing.  He was dead on with his upwards transitions, his downward transitions were greatly improved, and he reversed perfectly.... from right to left.  From left to right, we had some "oh, this isn't as easy" moments.  All in all it was nothing but honest effort, and a good hearted horse.

So then......

The mounting issue returned.  Remember those thighs of steel I talked about?  Well, I forgot to mention that I also have no legs.  Yes, Heather of the short legs here.  So, first he wouldn't step up to the mounting block.  When I went to stand beside him, he tried to turn away, or back away, or anything to prevent me from mounting.  He stopped that pretty fast once the mounting block was out of the question.  So up and down and up and down I went.  When he would stand and be good, he was praised.  When he was bad, he learned real fast that I can mount up while he's moving.  Oh, he didn't like that.

We got him standing, and then I headed back to the mounting block.  Yes, we learned again (!) that he has to stand there.  Love, hugs, and kisses when he would.  Work when he wouldn't.  And, no, I will NOT post the picture of me standing on the mounting block, and him trying to walk off while I am mounting.  It's not a pretty sight folks!

Now, standing to be mounted is one of Voodoo's known problems.  We've been through this before, but he's not a stupid horse.  If he thinks he can get out of work, well he'll sure try it! 

Finally, he just gave up.  Like all of a sudden there was a wonderfully mannered horse there, letting me climb up on him, and settle myself.  He has a lovely sweet way of going, and is a joy to ride.  The wind was kicking up though, and my arena sand was blowing in our faces, so we kept the work to some basics, which Voodoo needs anyway.

See, I believe that in so many cases, trainers push through the foundation work, and focus on the "fun" things.  Walk is a sadly neglected gait, and mounting... that's something that I often have to deal with fixing.  Unlike some trainers who say "we will be doing X by Y date" I take a different method.  I'm sure this is from my classical dressage up bringing, but I was taught that you deal with what you have, and only move on when the horse is able.

With Voodoo, we have some spoiled baby behavior to correct.  He spent some time trying to root me out of the saddle.  I simply locked my hand there, and let him pull.  When they get no response, the game becomes dull, and most horses will give up.  Voodoo was no exception.  Rooting lasted only seconds.  From there, we worked on seat and leg aids.  It was... rough.  Voodoo was trained to do all of his work from the bridle.  When he had nothing to listen to there, he got confused.  I began using slight and very light hand aids in conjunction with seat aids, and leg aids, and we got some lovely moments.

He will listen to the aids, but he's very insecure on what they mean, so at this stage, any honest effort got him praise.  Because his owner had just started learning this concept, and started with backing, Voodoo has that down very nicely.  When he got confused, we went back to what he knew, and built on that.  Of course, this is not glamourous work, cantering off into the sunset, but hey... it's why I make the "big bucks" right?

To end with, I decided to put on some more mounting.  I figure, hey, we want to make sure this idea of standing still is THERE.  Well, it was, but we ran into a few snags.  Talked with his owner about how to go from here, and what she wants to do, and it looks like we're on the same page.

From there, I had plenty of daylight left to work BB!  Yep, good as gold.  This is going to be a boring report, but BB was a doll.  He tried everything I asked, he loved his pampering, but like Beaudreaux, he keeps missing the gait transitions.  I have to say, I am not a fan of riding the pace.  Wow is that weird!  BB is at the point where the bad behavior is gone (seems to be... where's some wood for me to knock on before I jinx myself?) and we can start working on a correct and proper gait, and his saddle aids.  This horse is a good horse, but he's going to be ridden by an adult novice.  He needs to have everything SOLID.  I can't tell you how many times we went from walk to a gait, back to walk.  These are a variation of the yo-yo I use.  The main part of a mature horse chosing the right gait, is the transition.  BB prefers to have his face free (which is strange for a walker, most need to be bridled up, or collected) but he also has to have the proper amount of forward.  Too much, and he gets pacey, too little, and he won't gait.    We seem to have worked through the "I don't wanna" thing he had yesterday, and ended up with a lovely work session today.  Sorry, no pictures today, as my camera person headed back inside.  I haven't yet learned to take pictures of myself riding a horse!

And the rain held off.  As you can see, it was grey, cloudy, and gross... and I kept checking the weather channel, but thankfully, it looks like we have a lovely week ahead of us to get some work done!


  1. Whenever I'm not actually watching something on TV, I have the Weather Channel on for background.
    I've read a lot of articles by top trainers saying that the walk is the most neglected gait by most riders and therefore the hardest to master.

  2. They're just guessing like everybody else, I think.

  3. When BB and Beaudreaux's owners come and pick them up, are going to show them what you've accomplished, or just let them load them up on the trailer like you did Cruz? Wasn't my horse supposed to have learned something in the 6 weeks he was at your barn? Instead, he's at least 50 lbs lighter and in poor condition even though he wasn't worked. To add insult to injury, you still have my Coggins and evidently aren't returning it. I wish 2 or 3 weeks in you'd have realized my horse was beyond your capabilities and just had me come and get him, instead of just taking my money and giving us nothing in return except a skinny and sad horse. He is home now, happy and gaining weight back. I will never trust anyone with my horse again unless he is close by and I see him at least once a week!

  4. I read your story over on the gaited blog...your story obviously has holes in it and seems to be somewhat convuluded. AND, if people will look at the arrival photo of Cruz, he appears THE SAME, other than having some more muscle mass in the shoulders. Which means, he was worked with...and you said yourself that YOU could have done the lunging and whatnot work with him instead of paying a trainer, but yet your own words were NOT TO PUSH HIM...is that correct or not? The person who said SHAME ON YOU for not going and checking on your horse was totally right. Plus you didnt relay the entire story to your "friends" over there did you? You were given progress reports and were asked how you wanted training to proceed for Cruz..everything was done your way, yet you never took the time to show up for his investment. You were even given training time for FREE. I think the real truth is that Cruz is more horse than YOU can handle, but you just want to blame it on someone else. Boy Rita, you sure do play the victim part great.

    I also think its sad that Heather wasnt consulted about this first instead of you blatantly slandering her name. There are two sides to every story and Heather deserves her side to be heard too. Im surprised you havent been slapped with a defamation of character lawsuit, b/c Id wager Heather has every contact with you down on paper and can PROVE that she did everything YOU asked her to do!

  5. Rita, my 10 year old stallion just went out for a refresher course and guess what? They LUNGED him for every day of the 30 days he was there. They didn't get on him until he'd been there for almost 3 weeks. Did they teach him anything "new" -- no. Did they start to get him muscled up and his cardio up and going? Yes. Was I there EVERY DAY -- absolutely!

    You had every opportunity to see Cruz any time you wanted -- you declined. That's on you. The day you picked him up, you spent time with the OTHER horse you brought over and then AT YOUR CHOICE left without seeing what Cruz knew because YOU were running late, not because Heather couldn't/wouldn't show you.

    The intake picture of your horse shows a completely different story than what you'd been passing around on the gaited site.

    Step up and take responsibility for what YOU didn't do -- don't drop it in Heather's lap.

  6. I need to address Rita's comment. I own the Gaited Saddlebred gelding currently at Heather's for training. I also own the Mustang she has listed for Sale. Please read her bio on him- I have him for sale because he is too much horse for me and I have many years in the saddle. In truth, he and I are not a good personality fit. Just like some people don't get along, some horse and owners don't get along, the bond is not there. That said, Rita, I would like to speak to your "issues" as a fellow gaited horse owner. I am at Heather's many times a week watching her train my horse, I speak to her daily regarding his progress and I watched her work your horse. He is a lot of horse. He has built muscle and if you notice his chest area it is strong. This comes from hours of foundation work which Heather did on the ground. If you can do it on the ground safely, you can be safe in the saddle. Cruz did not learn quickly. He was reactive and had a strong "spook" factor. All horses, like people are different. To fix this takes time. And she spent the time. I know it. I saw it. I don't know you but I know your horse and unless you are one heck of an amazing equestrian good luck with him.

  7. It sounds like despite the weather you got some good work accomplished. Could the head shaking be related to wind? A friend has a horse who has a neurological condition and the wind aggravates it.
    Friends and I were just discussing how trainers can accomplish their work in inclement weather w/o an indoor arena. Now I know!