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.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A man and his horse

So, as you might have noticed, I "accidentally" purchased Poko, with the intentions that he would be a wonderful horse for Jae, my better half.  So, this morning I asked Jae if he wanted to take a spin, if Poko was working well.

Now, I kinda left him no room to back out.  I had Poko haltered, and leading behind me, when I mentioned that I was going to be working him, and Jae should make a lap and see how he felt.  I would have ridden Poko regardless, but it seemed like the right day to push a bit.

I tacked up Poko and took him for a spin.  Shockingly, he was light and responsive on the bit (for Poko, which is about the same as all normal horses).  He was listening, and in a great mood.  I put about a 5 minute warm up on him, and asked Jae if he wanted to try.  Now, Jae is a tall boy.  I stand 5'6", he is 6'1".  Poko is all of 14.2.  Looking at that picture, you can guess how wide he is!

Now, if you compare how Jae looks riding Poko to me, well I think Jae fits better.  I look like I have no legs!  And as you can see, mom was riding her mare (in the back ground there) and Poko was still being sweet and well mannered.

Here's the most interesting thing of it all.  Poko kept drifting over to the gate for me.  Now, I don't mean a slight drift, I mean half passes and side passes heading to the gate, trying to give me a "subtle" hint.  I kept having to ride him through this.  For me, this was his only problem today.

For Jae... he never tried this once!  At once point, Jae even tried to trot.  He clicked Poko up to a small trot, and the big lug chose a tiny little trot, and as soon as Jae wobbled, Poko slowed back to a walk with no command from a human!  Yes... Poko.  I think this was Jae's 3rd time on a horse (it might be a couple times more then that, but definately less then 10 rides in his life).  Jae is a natural calm and relaxed rider.  He's got a natural seat and a good feel, and isn't afraid to fall, so I am willing to let him try (or put him into) situations that might be too much for most novice riders.

Leah always said that Poko loved Jae, and today we just proved it to be true.

Now, from those pictures, you can see that it was a gross day here.  We had a few moments of mist, and a ton of wind (wind + arena sand = BAD) so I ended up with a long lunch.  Black Boy was VERy distracted by all the wind today.  I had a lot of moments where he completely wasn't paying attention to me, and I ended up doing more lunge line work to get his focus back on me, then I actually was in the saddle.  Id get him working, the wind would gust, and my herd would run, and there went his mind.  Yeah, my whole herd was out playing, which never makes training easy, but is actually a good thing to have to work through.

Now, Beaudreaux is getting a few days off for a booboo.  He has been a saint about his meds, and even let me clean up his owwie with out too much fuss.  He does get annoyed when I take too long, and tries to paw and dance when tied.  I figure this is a good chance to work on patience with him.  He got a lot of pampering though, and that seems to make it all better.

And then the Voodoo.  Voodoo has been getting the basics this week.  I have been tacking him up, and doing ground work with him so far.  This lets me feel him out, and identify specific issues.  So far, he's been better behaved then normal, so I had this thought.  Every time he's been wiggy, it's been when we have a lot of people and horses around.  When his person takes him to the round pen, he behaves.  So, is it stage fright?  Is it a problem on focusing?

I tried lunging him in the icky weather.  This means distractions!  Now, I can't be positive, but like BB, Voodoo was very distracted.  Granted, the weather today was perfect "any horse will be bad and spooky" weather.  If I kept giving commands fast enough that he had to focus on me (whether that's keeping the pressure on, altering the gait, or reversing) and he was better.  Give him a chance to look around, and he started to fall apart.

Tomorrow, I'm going to lunge him again, and then the plan is to ride.  Now Voodoo is well broke, but he needs to get up to the next level.  His person wants to do some small local shows, and Voodoo is a bit hot and unpredictable for that.  He'd make a NICE show horse, but he needs more experience.  I'm getting the gut feeling that all of Voodoo's issues are symptoms of the same problem, lack of focus.  He's never had to concentrate on a task.

Does that sound familiar?  It's kinda the same problem Poko has.  When he gets bored, he gets bad.  Of course, Voodoo's manifests in a completely different way, but both horses were taking advantage of their rider being unable to stop them.  They start acting up, and the rider feels like she's about to fall off, and the horse wins.  There's 3 options for this.

1.  Sell the horse.  A perfectly acceptable option, but the hardest I think.

2.  Send the horse to a trainer, and have the problem fixed.  This is probably the easiest and wisest option for most people.

3.  Learn to ride better.  Yeah, easier said then done!  It takes YEARS to learn how to ride out some of these issues.  Bucking, rearing, spinning.... I've been riding for eons, and I started training horses 13 years ago (mostly for personal use) and I still can't handle a bad buck.  Rearing doesn't phase me, and I'm even ok with flippers (dunno why, but I'm just not scared of that).  Spining, well, depends on how good the horse is.  A slow spin is easy, but no WAY could I ever be a reiner!

Now, ideally, everyone should combine #2 and #3, and it'd all work out.  But this is the real world, and we don't all get to ride 8 hours/day, 6 days per week (like, ahem, I do!).

Using Poko and Voodoo as examples (with no offense to their owners, and not a bad thought, but they are great examples!) they show the various levels of bad.  Poko was a pro at being a lot of horse.  He is smart, to the point of being too smart.  He always knows what buttons to push, and how to achieve that "he's going to kill me!" feeling.  Voodoo, not so much.  Voodoo isn't nearly as logical as Poko, instead Voodoo is an emotional horse.  All Voodoo cares about (right now) is what Voodoo feels.  Voodoo is lazy, so Voodoo acts up.  If the human is worried, then that's not his problem.  If Voodoo is having fun, then he's great.

The difference here is that Voodoo is an easy fix.  Get him in shape, show him that being challenged is fun, and that success equals good things for Voodoo!  On the flip side, Poko is a HARD fix.  There's 1 option that I know of.  Out ride him, and completely control your emotions.  This means his rider needs to always be calm, and be "just fine" with the idea that we might eat dirt.  As soon as the rider gets nervous, Poko "pushes" a bit more, until he wins.  Voodoo on the other hand, "wins" when he gets praise, or anything else he likes.

Now, at this point, I'm only working on a theory with Voodoo.  Next week I'm going to be testing it.  My goal is to set him up for success.  Make sure we have a lot of good boys, scritches, and loving, and see how hard Voodoo will work for more of that.  Wish me luck!

And of course, my last horse of the day this week has been Cruz.  I totally admit that I waited for the wind to die, and that meant I was starting to run out of daylight.  I didn't push him as much as normal because of the bad weather, but I did do a lot of the same.  More driving, more leaning, and a whole lot of tack slapping.  I have to say, he seemed very calm, and he was being VERY good for me.  My problem is, that he only seems to spook (and hard) when he has 2 scary things at once.  Riding is one, and well... a windy day....... Yeah.

My goal with Cruz is to make this all a pleasant experience for him.  I've spoken with his owner, and he's going to be getting more learning and growing time.  Now, he looks like a kid, but he's almost 4, so I think he's just one of those slow maturing boys.  He's SO sweet.  I can't stress enough how adorable this horse is!  And truth be told, I really really want to put a leg on each side, and have at LEAST one successful walk around on him before he heads back.  I think having some time to mull that over will do him a world of good.  As well as more time in the hands of his owner, who is an excellent trainer herself, and can only do more good with him. 

And my dear Ozzy got postponed today.  Too windy, too much sand blowing, and I just flat ran out of time.  Besides, it's not fair to eval a horse on a day like this.  Fingers crossed that tomorrow is better.

But I admit..... THIS made my DAY!

And like a man, his only complaint..... is that he hates my saddle.  After the ride, we tried HIS saddle on Poko.... and it fits!  It's got a ton of padding, and needs to break in, but it's going to fit that horse like a glove.  Now I just need to buy him an Aussie girth to go with it.  Where do you find a nice Aussie girth?


  1. Wow, I love that picture of Jae on Poko. How fun is that?? I am guessing he rides an Aussie saddle? So does my husband, and he hates riding in anything else. Here is a link to a website with Aussie girths.

  2. I always knew Jae would do well with Poko. You are very right that you need to totally empty your mind when you ride him, because he will pick up on the slightest bit of anxiety or uncertainty and push it as far as he can. Poko is a "no prisoners" kinda guy.

    Unfortunately, it was to the point where he was totally blowing me off. I would try to ask nicely, and he blew right through it. Toward the end, every ride was an upper body workout. It's not right to be on a horse's face constantly like that.

    It's sad that the wonderful bond we had on the ground didn't translate to the saddle, but it is what it is. I think you'll agree it was only a matter of time until I got seriously hurt. I'm so happy he's found his rightful place.

  3. I also just had a thought about your three options if you have a horse like Voodoo or Poko: #2 is not going to do you much good if #3 is also your problem. All that happens then is the horse behaves just fine for the trainer, who (one assumes) is a strong rider, only to return to his old tricks if #3 is not also addressed.

  4. I agree with what Leah said about needing to work on #3 for #2 to have any lasting effect.

    Love how good Poko is for Jae. Kinda like "Pie's horse" Applejack, he challenges me but is sweet as can be for my beginner hubby.

  5. Wow, I love that picture of Jae on Poko. How fun is that?? I am guessing he rides an Aussie saddle? So does my husband, and he hates riding in anything else. Here is a link to a website with Aussie girths.