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, March 1, 2011

Cruz's big day, not as well as I hoped.

This is Cruz.  Cute adorable little Tiger horse.  He's mastered the driving, and he's very sweet and well mannered on the ground.  But he's timid and insecure.

Today, Cruz got to carry a rider!  Yep, that is me.

When I back a baby (regardless of age) the first time, I always use a ground person.  I have a good solid halter on under the bridle, but all tack and ready to go.  I have a few safety precautions that I like to use. 

First, helmet!  Second, those reins are looped through the bucking strap.  This prevents him from catching a leg in them if I drop the reins for any reason.  Third, that ground handler is told exactly what to expect, what could go wrong, and how to handle it to keep the horse nice and calm and prevent any fear.  My goal is to use something the horse knows (leading) and slowly work away from the ground handler.  All horses learn at different rates, so I can never be sure how far I will get the first day.  The horse gets to make that decision.  When he's scared, I back off (to a point).

So, Cruz could care less about me putting weight in the stirrup.  You can see that he's a bit camped out in back, but I repeated stepping up and down a few times, and he was truly at ease for most of it.  This picture is from the first time, and his most tense for this part.

Once he was ok with that, I went on to step number 2, carrying all of my weight.  Now, I'm not a little girl, so for some horses this can be a shocker.  I have found a way that seems to work out, and gives me a middle step.  I lay on the saddle.  Trust me, it's not as easy as it sounds.  The idea is to rest my weight just below my chest, and balanced on the horse's back.  My legs are loose and out of the way, and my hands are able to touch the offside.  In this way I can get the horse to feel the weight, walk with the weight, and get exposed to something moving on their side.

Cruz aced this!

As you can see, he thinks it's a bit odd, and he wasn't sure who to listen to, me or Jae (his head man) but a few repetitions of it, and all was well.  We went left, we went right, we stopped and started.  I tapped, rubbed, and tickled.  He seemed like a pro!

So then I decided to move on to putting a leg over.

And we will NOT talk about how very unflattering that picture is for me!  (Ick, I can't bear to look!).

As you can see, Cruz wasn't so sure about the whole person on back thing.  I was up high.  I talked, and when he moved, I wiggled.  We spent some time standing and talking and petting, and he seemed to relax very nicely. 

I don't rush a horse at all.  It is my belief that this leads to bad habits and fear issues (which I often end up working out later!).  So it's all about baby steps at this point, especially with a horse like Cruz, who is timid and needs a confident leader to tell him it's ok.

Truth be told, I kinda expected him to spook a few times during this process, and I really didn't think I'd get this far with him!  Every step, he went from "oh no, is it ok?" to "ah, I can do that!".  When Jae asked him to step out, he did it eagerly and nicely!

As you can see, he's not really positive of himself, but he also doesn't look scared either.  We walked around a bit, and then I dismounted.  Now, swinging my leg over to dismount is one of the "explosion" points for most horses.  Cruz... stood like a champ!

So i got back on, and we went again.  At this point, I'm thinking, "the poor baby has to be mentally full, so we'll call it quits when we get to the center of the arena, and praise him well".  Sadly, that was not to be.

When we got to the center, I went to pull my foot out of the stirrup.  The leather creaked against the saddle, and I had moved my leg.  It was more then he could take, and he scooched.  In other words, he tucked his little hiney, and darted forward fast.  Not a problem, Jae had it handled, and all I had to do was be calm, confident, and QUIET.

I failed.  When he darted, I had too much weight in the right stirrup.  Cruz sucked his abs up, and as you can see, he's broad in the chest, and narrow in the hips.  The saddle slipped slightly to the right.  I leaned left to correct, and had to put my left leg on him, and he decided a monster was about to eat him!  He got so scared!

This is the point where I'm thinking, "ah man, and we were doing so well too, how do I save this with out terrorizing the horse?"  Well, since Cruz is only a little guy (as compared to some of my other 16+ monsters) there was a very simple answer.  Get off.  I looked at Jae in that slip second, and he looked at me, and I relaxed.  I know Jae will keep the horse off me, and not get upset.  I know Jae will quiet the horse, and reassure him with out praising him for spooking.  A nice quiet calm "ignore what happened" type of attitude.  I always think of it as "see pony, there's nothing going on here, what was all that about?"

I slipped off, of course on the wrong side!  Cruz's inclination was to face his handler, which meant swing his hind end over where I hit.  Lets just say I didn't stick around on the ground long enough to see if that happened.  Jae told me that Cruz was pretty good though, he leaped forward, and hopped a time or 2, and then sought a human (him) for reassurance.

Worst part of the fall?  I came off chest to ground.  I turned my head, but my helmet visor threw dirt right into my nose and mouth, and when I got up, I inhaled... lots of SAND!  I did wind myself a bit, because I hit my chest, but nothing bad.  Oh, and my buckle left a bruise.  In other words, headache, sandy nose, and ONE bruise.  Yeah... that doesn't really count as a fall, and it really doesn't count as being thrown.

But, that also means that Cruz couldn't quit. We have to end on a good note, and dumping a rider is not it.  I did a few more lay overs, and we walked around.  I despooked and wiggled, and he was all good.  Rather then tempting fate, I decided to let his brain stew on the whole concept of a rider astride for a bit, and figure we'll pick it up again tomorrow.

I have also decided that I will ride Cruz last, just incase.

Now, Poco is no longer in training, as I'm sure you know.  BUT, I have a "replacement" for that spot.  VooDoo is a lovely seal bay tobiano Saddlebred horse, owned by another of my friends.  Our goal is to get him show ready, and work out some attitude.  His owner is also taking lessons, and we plan to make them into one hell of a team.  Voodoo got his "eval" today, with basics on how I do things.  Yeah, it was rather boring, and since he's been here a while, it was nothing spectacular at all.

The walkers, well, they deserve their own post, but I figure Cruz's first time ridden gets priority.  Both of them were good though.  Beaudreaux was much better then last time, especially after the "weekend'  (My weekend is Sunday/Monday) and Blackboy is getting better every day.  My plan is to have Nita (my mother and assistant trainer) ride him, and see if I can get the 2 walkers working well in the arena together.  BB hasn't broken gait on me yet, but I also haven't pushed him too hard yet either.  Beaudreaux has, and Beaudreaux is a bit sensitive about getting back under saddle.  I have decided that this lip flapping is a sign of concern for him.  He only did it a couple of times, but it always happened when I pushed what we did last time a bit further.

I have to say though, I am really having so much fun with the gaited horses!  I find myself with this silly gin on my face as I zip around the arena on them.

I love all my boys (well, not MY boys, but you know what I mean) and I'm so happy to be seeing progress.  I hope Cruz really shocks me, and takes it all in stride tomorrow, and makes me eat my words!

And tomorrow.... I have another surprise! If all goes well, I will have a very lovely Appaloosa gelding here.  Only a few more days (ok 12) until daylight savings time!  I'm SO excited!


  1. Hey my 'weekend' is Sunday/Monday too!

    Well that was a pretty good first ride on Cruz, things could always go worse.

  2. Glad you're okay. Working through it today might be the best thing for it, as long as you're just bruised.

  3. You are so much braver than I am!! You know what, he really looks pretty good there (and so do you). I am so sorry you had to bail and I 'm so glad you aren't hurt too badly. Thanks for all you have done for him.

  4. Pippin says: Ah, Cruz, I totally understand where you are coming from. Just when I forget about that person up there, out of my line of vision, I feel something move. It takes me a minute or two to realize it is my human, not a cougar. It is sooooo strange to feel weight up there, to hear funny sounds from back there and to have everything shift and move. I'm getting used to it. You will too. Then you can have fun with your person.

  5. I like your method. A lot of it sounds like my way of backing youngsters. Unfortunately, you can't predict a moment like that. I think it was well handled by all of you. I imagine inhaling sand sucks though. Better luck next time!

  6. How old is Cruz? He looks so tiny. Nothing at all like Baby Daltrey. lol!


  7. I like your method. A lot of it sounds like my way of backing youngsters. Unfortunately, you can't predict a moment like that. I think it was well handled by all of you. I imagine inhaling sand sucks though. Better luck next time!