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.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Rambling thoughts on Horse Safety

I have been working with horses every chance I could get from the time I could say the word "horse".  I have been training horses for 13 years, and in that time I've started about 40 under saddle, and put some saddle or ground time on many more.  Because I didn't start out with a spare million to get into horses, I did it the "poor man's way" and bought the best horses I could, and put the training on them myself.  In many cases this meant the rank crazy horse who had been mishandled.  Dangerous horses are a frequent thing in my barn, and I have VERY strict rules about them.

My point isn't that I'm some hot shot amazing trainer.  I'm really not.  I'm no different from any one else with half a brain, a healthy body, and the will to do it.  Horse training is NOT rocket science, it's just a very tenuous balance.  You have to weigh the risks against the rewards.  If your horse acts like it's going to buck, you have to decide if getting off NOW will mean that you'll have to deal with a bucking attempt every time there after, or will it keep your head in one piece.  If the horse is going to just buck every time because it learned that threat works, then you really didn't save your head - you postponed the smashing in.

But that's the hard thing.  In order to deal with a bad habit like that, you have to be able to ride through it.  You have to be HONEST with yourself and your abilities, and most importantly your fears.  I'm very open about my fears.  I hate buckers!  A horse takes off bucking, and I bail every time.  If you're looking for a trainer to work out the bucks, hire some one else!  But, rearing is not a big deal at all for me.  Flippers I don't like, but I'm not scared of.  I know flipping is way more dangerous then bucking in most cases, but sliding off a flipper is second nature to me.  I'm even BETTER at throwing my (not so small) weight against the horse's forehand to prevent the height in most cases.

We all have our things that just freak us right out.  For my mother it's size.  A big ol' size 8 shoe will have her timid in a heart beat.  For Jae, it's multiple horses.  Get a group of fillies being stupid, and he wants NOTHING to do with them.  The unpredictable nature of mares playing is just not something any one really wants to be in the middle of!  We all have things that our subconscious just will not allow us to approach rationally.  Knowing this, and being honest about it makes handling horses that much easier for everyone.

The hard thing though, is judging our abilities.  Of course the show ring is a tolerable place for that, since you have, well, a judge to give his/her opinion.  But, with all the fads, the various disciplines, and the politics it's not a perfect venue.  In my opinion the best way to judge it, is your confidence level.  If you THINK you can, then chances are, you really CAN do it.  I often refer to this as "a good day to die".

As an example, the first time I ever jumped a horse was not my idea.  I was cantering in a field on Ash, and there was the little trickle of water running across a low spot.  Maybe an inch wide.  Ash decided it was a steeple chase, and went FLYING over it (ok, so she made a very small stretch in her canter stride, but it felt huge!).  I pulled up on the far side, thought about it, and realized that my riding instructors had put a decent seat on me, and I COULD stay on that.  I had to do it again, and if I fell off, well, then it was a good day to die.  I turned the mare and we made a proper canter back at it, and I 2 pointed the "jump".  It was all of 6 inches, but I just knew in my gut that it would work out, and I'd stick it.  A few days later, I put up my first cavaletti jump.  8 inches, and we trotted it under the eyes of my instructor.  From there, I kept building up and up until I got to a point where I wasn't sure.  Now, my mare could jump the moon, so she wasn't an issue, and I "topped out" around 3 feet.  From there I worked with my instructor to improve my technique, and balance.  It wasn't something I did in a day, but rather over 3 years to go from 8 inches to 3 feet.  But I never jumped more then I THOUGHT I could.

At the same time, one of my instructors wanted me to take Ash around a 2 foot course the morning after a rain, on a grass field.  The footing was slick, and while we could DO 2 feet, I just had a bad feeling.  I said "no" and chose to work on flat work in the arena.  Another student did try the course, and her horse slipped in a turn and fell on her.  Thank goodness the only injury was a bruise, but it could have been horrible!  I listened to my gut, and it said the situation wasn't safe. 

I think that too often we're told to do things we aren't comfortable with, and because the "professional" should know best, we try them.  And then we get hurt.  On the flip side of that, some people just don't have the push to progress on their own, so it's the instructor's job to give a gentle nudge only when the student can definitely perform what is asked of him or her.

As you probably know if you follow here at all, I was recently injured in a very silly accident.  I made a bad calculation, thought I had more control then I did, and the whole thing ended up in a trip to the ER for me.  This is where that healthy body thing comes in.  I have ONE advantage over most people when it comes to handling horses.  I don't panic.  No idea why, but it's just something I have never done.  Even when I was between 2 horses kicking at me, I was completely rational.  I managed to dodge a ton of shots, and when I hit the ground, I was still looking for a way out.  There wasn't one, but I was thinking, not panicking.  What this means though, is I get hurt less, and heal faster.

I could probably be out riding right now, if it wasn't for the narcotic pain meds.  I refuse to ride "high".  I mean, I don't drink and drive, so why pop and pony?  It's just a safety thing for me.  I'm even limiting myself to what daily chores I do.  Stallion handling is Jae's job for now.  Grooming I only do with some one helping me (yes, I'm that stupid on this stuff).  But I can sling feed over a fence or catch up on my blog!  (Although the rambling nature of this post does testify to the affects of my medication)

But this sort of limitation is what makes a good safety rule.  It's easy to cheat, and say "just this once I'll ride the packer" or "Spot's always so good, I can take him out today", but why chance it? 

Around here at Iron Ridge Sport Horses my rules are easy.  Always have some one with "eyes on" if you are handling a horse.  That could be some one cleaning a stall, mowing the yard, or what not, but they must be able to see you every 30 seconds.  Always have a plan for the worst.  I never leave the farm with out a vehicle left here.  Every one has a cell phone, and keeps it on them (well, they SHOULD... Jae is bad about this one).  And if you're going to do horse things, just tell some one.

Dangerous work is always done with a "ground man".  From backing a horse for the first time, to teaching a horse to pick up its feet.  There is some one within arms reach ready to shoo the horse off you and haul you to the ER.  Do I need it often?  Nope!  But as my accident proved, it's always a good idea.  If mom wasn't "eyes on" then no one would have been there to chase the mares off my head.

In the end though, if you REALLY want to be safe around horses, then buy the stuffed or plastic kind.  There's no way to prevent accidents 100% of the time.  We take animals that weight from 700 to 2500 pounds, and want them to act like humans.  Their brains are the size of a golf ball!  There's just no way that they can grasp all the nuances we wish they could.  My liability waiver spells this out in very great detail, and I've had many people tell me "I almost don't want to ride now!" after reading it.  That's the whole point.  We horse people have chosen one of the most dangerous sports there is, and some how we expect to come out the other side unscathed.  It's not a realistic expectation.  Instead, we should worry about limiting the injuries to minor ones (bruises and bumps not broken bones and lacerations!)

I still believe though, that at the end of the day, if we trust our instincts, do what we know we should be doing, and don't let peer pressure push us further then we should, then we end up with one of the most rewarding experiences that any human can have.  There's nothing like the feel of the wind on your face from the back of a horse. 

12 comments:

  1. Sounds like we have very similar views. I ride about 100 horses a year and many of them are problematic or completely green. Safety is always big around here and it sounds like you have a great set of ground rules.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great post. I too, do it the "poor woman's way" and train myself. But only my own horses. I've never had the extra funds to send horses out, but I've had training help.
    I prefer buckers over rearers because I've had more experience there. And my worst wreck was by my own miscalculation. What keeps me getting back on is that I'm not happy if I haven't been in the saddle.
    I like your ground rules.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I've decided that I'd rather not deal with either buckers or rearers, given the choice, thank you very much. My old carcass can't handle all that nonsense. The ground sure seems to be getting harder.

    I even wore a helmet on Saturday when I was antagonizing Baby D. I need what few brain cells I have that survived the 60s & 70s.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Interesting post. I don't know if this is worse, but I also don't panic when I've been in a dangerous situation or injured by a horse, but my mind sort of goes blank.
    Everything happens so fast and even afterwards I don't recall much that happened.
    Maybe that's just a protective measure that the brain does to keep us out of shock?

    ~Lisa

    ReplyDelete
  5. Ha Leah, next we need to get you a full face one, so you don't end up like me!

    Lisa, I honestly have no idea. I blank out like that when I take a fall. I decide I'm going to bail/lose it and just go numb both physically and mentally. One minute I'm about to fall, the next, it's over.

    Usually with ground problems I'm a dodging little brat. I always find my "escape route" before heading in, even if it's just lunging in the round pen. I think that planning for the worst is kinda the best way to do it.

    Heh, and look at what happened when I didn't! Lesson learned!

    I'd also like to apologize for the random meandering of the above post. It's really kinda all over the place, but at least I warned y'all in the title!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Pinz it wasn't anywhere near as meandering as you think it was lol

    I too am a firm believer in "go with your gut" Whether that be horses, the people in my life, or handling the drunks at work.

    Hey if you have time, and focus, can you do a post on "varnish roan"? Unless you already have and I somehow missed it.
    Thx :)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks Cdn! My brain is feeling rather mushy lately, but I can't sit around and do NOTHING all the time.

    Headed to the dentist now to learn what I can learn about the inside of my injury. Depending upon how bad they jack me up, I can probably do Varnish roan today for ya.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hahahah, "it's a good day to die" is exactly how I got through the first two years with Dixie. She's not that dangerous, and I'm not very good, but I sure thought that every time I climbed up. Eventually it got shortened to "it's a good day!"

    Rearer over bucker any day.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Interesting post. I don't know if this is worse, but I also don't panic when I've been in a dangerous situation or injured by a horse, but my mind sort of goes blank.
    Everything happens so fast and even afterwards I don't recall much that happened.
    Maybe that's just a protective measure that the brain does to keep us out of shock?

    ~Lisa

    ReplyDelete
  10. Sounds like we have very similar views. I ride about 100 horses a year and many of them are problematic or completely green. Safety is always big around here and it sounds like you have a great set of ground rules.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thanks Cdn! My brain is feeling rather mushy lately, but I can't sit around and do NOTHING all the time.

    Headed to the dentist now to learn what I can learn about the inside of my injury. Depending upon how bad they jack me up, I can probably do Varnish roan today for ya.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Interesting post. I don't know if this is worse, but I also don't panic when I've been in a dangerous situation or injured by a horse, but my mind sort of goes blank.
    Everything happens so fast and even afterwards I don't recall much that happened.
    Maybe that's just a protective measure that the brain does to keep us out of shock?

    ~Lisa

    ReplyDelete