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, May 30, 2011

How to know if that gangly thing is stallion material

How do you look at something as cute as this and say "yep, that's a stallion"?  I mean ALL babies are cute, even the funky ones!

So what is it that makes some horses stand out to be stallions, and others have a very early appointment with the vet for castration?  First off is conformation.  Now, there's no hard and fast rule for this one.  If you have a young Percheron colt you will be looking at very different things then if you have a young Andalusian colt.  But you need to know what it is that YOUR breed needs.

And if your horse doesn't exactly have a breed, then you need to stop and be really honest with yourself about if he needs to reproduce.  This is the place I'm at for many of my horses.  The Sugarbush Draft Horse is a very small breed with too few bloodlines, so our books have been opened up.  Since we can't do a simple cross to get new members of the breed (i.e. Percheron/Appaloosas are NOT Sugarbush Draft Horses, but their offspring might be) we have to look at the foundation stock a bit differently.  And we have to be VERY aware of how this "no man's land" will affect our boy's futures.

That's Scorch up there - Rorschach's Slow Burn - at 3 weeks of age.  Cute isn't he?  I totally expected him to be born a gelding, but he proved me wrong.  I mean, first off, he broke one of the rules I was using to decide who to keep intact, and who not to - he doesn't have any pattern genes (all recessive).  So why is he now my Junior stallion?  Because that seems to be ALL he's missing.  And yet, Scorch is one of those horses with no real breed.  He's a Stonewall Sport Horse, which is a fancy name for a draft cross from LP lineage.  Any draft/appaloosa cross would fit.  So why did I decide to keep him intact?

Because he could be a sire of first generation Sugarbush Drafts.  We are gene locked, and need to have some genetic diversity from SOMEwhere, and the Stonewall Sport Horses are the best answer for that.  Scorch is looking like he might be just what I need to improve the breed and open up the bloodlines a bit, even though he's not the exactly color pattern I had planned on.

Remember, color is just hair, and it doesn't make a good breeding horse!  Sure, it can be one of the many traits you select for, but you need to know its place... at the BACK of the line!  Scorch though not only has the conformation traits I wanted, but also the personality, athleticism, and pizazz.

He has always been more people oriented then horse oriented, and yet very mannerly.  At a mere 2 months of age he would leave his dam and head across the pasture to see us.  Ok, so he's sweet.  But he'd be just as sweet as a gelding, so what difference does that make?

Well, there's nothing worse then a mean nasty stallion that hates people.  And yes, personality is partially inherited.  While some aspects of a horse's personality are brought out through that horse's experiences in life, many are triggered by the way the brain is built.  A good natured horse looks at the world through rose colored glasses, and we experience that as a sweet and loving companion.  A mean or bad tempered horse will be nothing but a handful to work with, and likely all of his offspring will have the same trait.  It's Murphy's law you know.... the thing you don't want is always what passes on consistently.

Then there is the way he moves.  All babies are fancy, so don't be shocked at those levades and canter pirouettes!  But as they age, they get bigger.  More mass means that the muscles have to work harder to achieve the same things.  If the horse keeps the good movement as he ages, then you might just have something.

For me, I look at horses with movement to be dressage or jumpers.  I want a horse that is easy to ride, and can pack kids around all day with out bouncing them out of the saddle, but still put on the moves when asked for something more advanced.  Natural collection, extension, lift, suspension.... it's all considered.  My boys have stages that they must pass.  First it's at 3 months of age.  Is he all I want in a stallion NOW?  If yes, then he gets to stay intact just a bit longer.

The next is about 8 months of age, usually fall of his weanling year.  Is he STILL what I want in a stallion?  If yes, then he gets a pass until the next spring.  After that, it's every Spring and fall that I look at him with a critical eye, and ask my friends and family for their opinion.  If his movement or manners are not exactly what I want, then he's a very nice gelding!

As a 2 year old I start looking at his conformation.  Yes, I keep it in mind before this, but around 2 is when you start to see the HORSE and not the foal.  If he's downhill I will forgive him, but a straight shoulder, a long or short back (excessive) or a bad hip means a visit from the vet.  Crooked legs are one that gets them gelded no matter what point of growing he's at. 

See, the point is, you want to IMPROVE your breed, not just make more of your breed.  Even with only a handful of Sugarbush Drafts left, I won't sacrifice the quality for the quantity.  Just think about how important the genes passed into the SDHRSugarbush Drafter might become known as the crooked legged horse, because most have them.  It's not about the NOW, it's about the future.

So, by this time, most of the colts born into your herd are now geldings, or should be.  At 2 years of age, you might still have one or 2 that you think have what it takes.  They need to be started in their training at this point.  No, I don't mean riding them, I mean basics.  Does the horse load into a trailer?  Does the horse stand tied?  Will he allow you to clip him?  If you don't have the time for this type of training, then your horse needs to be a gelding.  Even if he's THAT amazing, these are the things a stallion MUST have.

Just think about it honestly for a second.  If you don't have the time or ability to train your boy (or have him trained) to do these basic things, how do you think you will be able to train him to hand breed?  To be collected?  At breeding time there's a whole lot of hormones going on, and their minds are slightly lower then their heads.  If you don't have the manners instilled, you are just asking to have a human get seriously injured!

Then there's the reality check.  Why are YOU breeding horses?  Are you doing anything to make history?  No, I'm not talking about winning the second world war, but will any of your horses ever be more then a footnote in some horse's pedigree 50 years from now?  Will it be something to brag about?  This is where your breed plays a very big part.  If, say, you're breeding Quarter Horses, then there are SO many wonderful stallions out there that you really need to think about what you're doing.  Are you trying to breed for AQHA jumpers?  Well, I haven't seen a whole lot of stallions advertised for that, so if your horse is good enough to be a contender, then sure, keep at it.

But, on the flip side, if your horse's only accomplishment is that he made some babies, and you think you're going to sell those AQHA foals as the next Olympic dressage horse, well..... you need to think about that a little harder.

This is a very grey area though.  There are few Olympic level riders.  There are very few top level riders of ANY sport.  What we need are the "whole package" type horses that novice riders can use in their sport of choice.  If you think you have a horse that can consistently produce even mannered kid safe reiners, then by all means, try it.

Just don't think you're going to get rich doing it.

Breeding horses is not a way to MAKE money.  If you do it right, you might just break even.  If you do it wrong, well, say good bye to your retirement savings! 

Once your little boy hits the age of 3, it's time to get into "real" work.  I start training my horses to lunge at this age.  First basic lunging, then ground driving, and once they are ready, they get to carry a rider.  I start all of this at 3 because many of my babies make the jump from lunging to riding in less then a month.  Others take longer.  It's never hurt a horse to back them as a 4 year old though, so what's the rush?

This horse does NOT have stallion quality conformation!
Again, this is another stage where you will see signs that you might own a gelding.  If you're not seeing moments of beauty, then you need to think about the rest of his career.  If his hormones are keeping him from focusing, how good will he really be later in life?  How will you market him? 

Remember, there are a zillion people with a colt that they couldn't afford to geld who will gladly take $100 for a breeding.  That is the low end you are competing with.  Stop and ask yourself what would make a mare owner choose YOUR boy over theirs.  If you are scratching your head, then you own a gelding.  There's nothing wrong with a gelding!  It's not like a badge of shame!

But a clean horse with a good color in a nicely set up picture does not mean that the horse is stallion material.  (Yes, those who know the horse above might be giggling now, as she is not a stallion, but you get the point).  Straight shouldered, back at the knee, franken-horse sized rump...But horses like this are advertised all over as potential breeding stallions for next to nothing.  This is what stallion owners are competing against, and "kinda" better is rarely enough to offset the "really low" price.  Any one looking for cheap will just look at dollars and color, not the quality.  And do YOU want your horse to be known for his babies out of wonky shaped badly built never trained mares?  Is it really worth the time, investment and money?

But, if everything works out well, you end up with a nice young stallion prospect.  Yes, he's still a prospect at this point!

If you really believe in him, then try a test breeding - but remember, you might get a foal you just can't sell.  If you can't afford to have a nice little pet pony around that's basically worthless, or you aren't willing to euthanize a horse with no future, then DO NOT test breed... ever.  Until you see what a cross will produce, you have no way of knowing what recessive genes are in there.  They may have laid hidden for many MANY generations, but Murphy's Law says that as soon as you can't afford a crappy foal, you will get one.

This is the point that Scorch is at currently.  I am waiting to confirm Amber in foal to Scorch, and in 2012, we will see what he has to offer as a breeding stallion.  If the foal is not what I'm expecting, then will be a wonderful gelding.  If the foal is everything I think it will be, then we will move on to the next step in Scorch's career.... marketing!

And for the rest of this year Scorch gets to enjoy his life in training.  He really loves his work.  He's everything I always thought a stallion should be (so far) and I do have high hopes for him.  He could be the answer to the genetic diversity that the SDHR is needing.  With that said, if at any time he shows me that he can't handle being a stallion (the manners, the offspring, or the training schedule) then he will be a VERY nice gelding.

Here's how I look at it.  By keeping Scorch intact, I am making his life harder then it would be as a gelding.  He lives in smaller paddocks, he has higher expectations on him, he always has to be perfect, and he can never just slum around with his herd.  If he's not making some grand change in the future of my breed, why would I want to do that to him?

On the flip side, the image above shows exactly what I mean by moments of glory.  THAT is what I want to add to the Sugarbush Drafts.  He is showing ability that is beyond even MY expectation, and if he can pass that along to his SDHR foals, then I truly believe that it will be an improvement to the breed.

A day for Memories, Memorial Day 2011

Many soldiers have laid down their lives so that we may be free.  They didn't fight for Republicans, or Democrats, or even the Tea Party.  They fought for us to have choices.

We're in the middle of a very politically tumultuous time.  Sitting on our sofas and posting on facebook or twitter, it's so easy to feel angst and hate for those who think differently then we do.  But that's not what this country is about, and that's not what our soldiers fought to protect.

Those soldiers didn't care if the guy standing next to them had a different idea about how to lower the deficit, or how to improve the job market.  No, they stood for the right to choose what you like, and to voice your opinion on it just as loud as you want to.  They believe so much in that right, that many gave their lives for it.

And today is the ONE day each year, that we -The proud, sometimes arrogant, and always right Americans - pay tribute to those soldiers.  It's because of them that we can be all that we are, and all that we complain that we are.  Stop and watch the political news, and then compare all of that open debate to what is currently shown in countries like Afghanistan or Lybia.  And just imagine living in a world where you can't say what you think.  Where you have to "agree" with the leader's ideas or risk having your family members killed.  It will make you appreciate just how free you really are.  And exactly why our soldiers work so hard - and even lay down their lives - so that we can stay this way.

As I watch the Lybia protestors stand up each day, knowing they will be shot at, and possibly killed, but willing to risk their lives for what they believe in, it makes me that much more amazed at our soldiers.  They rarely get the same press coverage, and when was the last time you can recall the public making a scene over how dedicated these men and women are to risk their lives.  Rather, we say the words, but are really taking it for granted.

People are willing to die for a taste of what we have, and our soldiers are the ones who made that possible, and work every day to keep it possible.  So how can we, the average American citizen, show respect and appreciation for what so many have died to give us?  By loving the life we have!

Whether it's taking the family to a ball game, spending some time at the beach, or the annual cook out, there's no better way to appreciate all that our soldiers have given us.

But while you enjoy your long weekend, just pause and give thought to those who paid the ultimate price for you.  You may not have even known them, but that is not what matters.  Because of those soldiers, our lives are just that much better.  We are free to bask in the sun, drink too much beer, and make sure Aunt Sarah never talks to us again because of our views on the president. 

Freedom is such a little thing, and yet oh so big.  It's so easy to overlook when we practice it, and to forget when we should share it, until it is threatened.  And if it ever is threatened, we know with out a shadow of a doubt, that our brave soldiers will be there to protect it, and to protect us.  A few words of thanks is such a small thing to give to them, but really, there's nothing that can compare to what they give to us.

So, to all those who have given their lives, all those who may, and all those who stand up for what they believe in, I thank you. 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The unspoken beauty of owning a stallion

Ah stallions, so majestic, so awe inspiring, and such a pain in the butt!

Any horse breeder knows that it's always a big debate whether to own your own stallion, or simply buy breedings to an outside stallion.  The number of mares you want in foal seems to be the deciding factor, unless you're insane like I am, and are trying to revive an entire breed.

While stallions are just a horse, and not really any different then any other horse, they do require a bit of special thinking.  You can never forget that your big boy is very much a BOY, and has a brain about on level with a 12 year old boy.  Girls... girls..... junk food.... girls... video games.... get in fight with my buddy to see who's cooler, so we can impress the .... girls girls girls.

I am currently in the process of raising my first home bred stallion.  That's him up there, my baby Scorch.  All of the other boys I own (and yes, I have more then one stallion) I purchased or inherited as mature horses. 

Spot was purchased as a 9 year old.  His last owners kept him in about a 40 x 40 pen for most of his life.  Of course his pen was next to a line of other stallions, and breedings took place directly outside of the pens.  The boys were barely handled for much more then breeding, although they all did have proper ground manners.  The result of this, well Spot freaks out when out in a larger paddock.  Anything larger then an acre is terrifying!  But an arena is nice and safe, and he just loves to work.  Spot will gladly ignore all the mares if he's being worked under saddle.  It's the geldings that get to him!  He hates other male horses with a passion.  If he's not sure of a horse's gender, he assumes it's a male.  Good ol' Spot will GLADLY lunge over the top of a 6 foot fence to try and bite the horse you're leading down the alley.  Yeah, it's annoying, and I have yet to figure out how to break him of it.  But I can say, Spot does know that "DO NOT" means not to do it.  He also knows that lunging at a horse I'm leading is likely to get him in BIG trouble.  The downside?  He doesn't think any one else is nearly as terrifying as I am.

Quagga I inherited from my mentor when she passed away.  Sig did a wonderful job with him.  He's a perfect gentleman, very easy to handle every day, and even easier to handle when hand breeding.  Downside to him is that he's white.  Like, really, he is white!  Needless to say, as his picture shows, he stains, he's always dirty, and he's rarely in "show off" shape. 

I have been working with Q to get him used to other boys.  He's learned that playing over a fence line is pretty good, and will actually engage in mutual grooming.  My next step is to see if he can be turned out with another stallion.  Maybe a gelding herd?  I'm working on finishing a paddock with enough room, gates, and exits to make this test.  Until then, it will only be a theory, as I've been warned that he's fine over the fence, but aggressive when mingling.  Also, all that pink skin of his, well, yeah, he sunburns.  My small paddocks for single horses don't have trees, so he either has to be turned out at night, or in the run in pen.  The run in pen is adjacent to the arena, so riding with a stallion showing off next to you... not exactly the most fun thing ever.

And then there's my last boy, Scorch.  He was born here, with an audience of 7 people, and was raised to be a stallion.  From day one he learned that he will NOT be bad in hand, that he can not run me over, and that he has to learn more, ahem, manners, then the other horses.  When I say "drop" I mean it's cleaning time!  Scorch is 4 this year, and has bred for his first time, so he's a real stallion now.  I am refusing to allow him to learn the "real" stallion bad manners though.  He still gets turned out in groups, and he still gets in trouble for paying attention to the girls.  But my training is paying off.  When I hand bred him, he would walk up and stand next to the mare as quiet as I please, and not make a sound or move to her until I said it was "ok".  I'm pretty sure that will translate under saddle as well, but he's not that well trained yet.  (I tend to go very slow with the draft crosses in their training.  I'd rather he's sound at 30, then showing a year early).

And of course I have baby Rico.  Technically he's a stallion, although he's only a 2 year old, and isn't quite sure about girls yet.  Still, he has to be handled like one, and can't be run in the main pastures (because I'm NOT wanting to have 14 foals next year).

Normally Rico gets to play with his brother Scorch, and that keeps both boys happy and well socialized.  The downside is that they only have a small paddock still, and so they get very little grazing and other "normal" horse activities to keep them happy and content.  Rico has also been raised to be a very nicely mannered boy, but he is a bit more stubborn then his brother.  When Scorch tries to talk to the girls in hand, I can simply say "unh uh!" and he's back to trying to impersonate a gelding.  Rico, well, he has to try it twice.  I wouldn't call him bad at ALL, but his big brother does make him look like a gawky second child. Ok, it's also true that I'm just in love with Scorch, but never mind that.

My point is, that all these boys are a handful!  My mother has bursitis in her hip, and a torn tendon in her shoulder.  In other words, there's no way she can handle a horse pulling or pushing on her with out suffering for days after.  So, we've made the rule that she doesn't handle the stallions.  Even the best boys tend to be a bit higher strung then a gelding or mare.  The always hope that THIS time when you lead them out of their paddock, that it's breeding time.  Never mind that they always breed in the same place, and have a special halter (or in Q's case a stud chain).  They still HOPE.  Some times that hope manifests as darting in a circle around me.  Or, maybe it's trying to rear and scream their heads off. 

Now, both Spot and Q suffered injuries when they were younger that have left them as barely riding sound.  In Q's case, I think he could be restarted, but the "what if" gets to me.  What if he steps wrong and fractures his stifle again.  What if that old break can't take the weight of my not so skinny rump on him?  What if he tries to be a show off under saddle like he is on the ground, and breaks something ELSE?

Spot though, he's sound enough to ride, but he's not sound enough to show.  He has an irregular gait now, that doesn't bother him at all.  He's always sound for the first 10 minutes, but add a rider, and some collection, and it's very obvious.  I had his leg Xrayed, and the old break was so obvious.  It was a bad accident!  His dam stepped on him as a 3 month old, and pretty much shattered a few small bones in the pastern, and he had a green stick type of fracture in the cannon bone.  Vet checked him for pain, and said that he's not painful at all, but the calcification has fused a few smaller bones resulting in a lack of mobility.

So here are 2 boys that can't be kept in pasture, and can't work as lesson horses (dur!) and only breed a few mares every so often.  But they have to have individual paddocks, have no grazing so need hay to supplement that, and of course, their hormones run them into the ground every spring leaving me trying to just keep their weight on them!

Yes.  Stallions like to run to impress the girls, and some won't even stop to eat.  Notice the difference in weight in the 2 pictures above.  He's shown in wraps only about 2 months after this lovely picture of him playing "pig boy" in the catch pens.  As soon as breeding season is over, he goes back to eating, but while mares are in heat, he will NOT stop moving.  He runs past the feed bucket, grabs a bit, and keeps going.  I gave up on keeping round bales with him, as they'd rot before he would notice they existed.  A few flakes of hay at meals he will grab and run though.

So yeah, it costs more to feed a mature breeding stallion.  Probably double of what it costs to feed a lactating mare!  Your other option of course, is to simply stall him so he can't run.  But I can't bring myself to do that.  I know that many horses live just fine spending most of their time in a stall or small paddock, and yet, it just doesn't seem right when I actually HAVE the room.

And lets not forget about housing.  Stallions require 6 foot fences in most states.  I'm not sure of many that actually enforce that though.  Now if you're boarding (even if that's for breeding), well then you need the fences just incase of a law suit (because a too short fence is a great way to win a case against you).

That's Scorch behind a 6 foot fence.  Yes, he's 16.0 in that picture (and the pen is actually below the level of grass by about a foot... long story, and I didn't build it like that).  And don't even THINK that something like T-posts and mesh will hold a stallion.  Oh no, they are great at breaking fences!  This pen Scorch is in has been rebuilt a few times.  Once was because "O" simply walked through the gate at the back of it, breaking all the welds and much of the pipe on his way to flirt with a mare.  Let me put that to you clearly:  A stallion walked through a 3 inch metal pipe section of fence, and snapped it to bits while I watched.  He never even acted like it was work.

So yeah, that gets to be pretty expensive after a while.  Every thing for the boys has to be special built, extra tall, and extra strong.  When they are draft and draft cross stallions, it needs to be even bigger and stronger!  Needless to say, a lot of people find that it's cheaper to simply buy breedings because of this.  And a lot of stables refuse to board stallions because of this.

But does that make them bad horses?  Oh no!  If you're willing to deal with all of that (and can afford it) then they are wonderful animals to have around.  The problem I see most often is that people tend to think of horses like dogs.  They think, but we had an intact male dog, and he wasn't a problem!  Well no, but he weighed a fraction of what YOU do.  A normal light horse stallions weighs almost 10 times what most of ladies would like to weigh, and a draft stallion is twice as big!  If your personality isn't strong enough to stop that horse, your muscle sure won't!

So why have a stallion at all?  Well, it seems like for many people it's a status thing.  The whole "I CAN HANDLE IT" mentality. If you're breeding less then 4 horses a year though, it's cheaper for you to buy breedings.  In order to have a stallion MAKE money, you need to do a few things.

First, ADVERTISE!  Yes, that means spend money.  You have to get the professional pictures, or try to do it yourself (that means buy the camera, learn to use it, and learn to edit those pictures).  Then there's the videos.  For boys like mine, that's a killer, since they both are lame rather often due to old injuries.  I sure wouldn't try to sell them as being sound and fit either - that's just unethical!  But, a quality video can cost over $200 (and usually more) and you'll need a new one every year.  And then there's the ad space.  Are you going to buy print ad space in magazines?  Online ads?  List your boy with one of the many horse for sale sites?  That gets pricey pretty quickly.  I mean, the guy above was listed on my local Craig's List.  Does he just scream "bring your mare to ME" in your opinion? 

And you need to have your boy certified and trained to be collected for AI.  There's a few vet visits and vet fees involved with that, but with out it, you'll probably rarely sell any breedings to him.  Most mare owners do NOT want your pretty hunk of horse flesh biting, kicking, or otherwise damaging their beloved baby.  I mean, how would YOU feel if their mare kicked your pretty boy and scuffed him up or lamed him? 

Then there's the showing.  In my opinion showing is another form of advertising.  You are simply proving that your boy really IS good enough to keep his family jewels.  Getting your horse ready to show can get really expensive really fast.  Training for him, for you, and then show fees, show clothes (both human and horse) and travel expenses... while it's the best form of advertising, it's also one of the most expensive.

So, with all of that in mind, I often wonder why people think that their stallion is every going to make them money.  Oh sure, SOME stallions do!  But look at McQuay stables, and Gunner.  How much money did they spend on him in order to make that kind of money on his breeding fees?  How often do you see his image in magazines?  Being local to the farm, I can also tell you that they have bill boards up advertising him and their farm.  What does it even cost to have a bill board for a couple of years?

And yet, we need the stallions.  If dedicated horse lovers weren't willing to put their money where their heart is how would we ever find quality stallions to cross our mares to?  For most of us, it's a labour of love.  For me, it's all about genetic diversity for the Sugarbush Draft Horses.  I am almost past the stage of needing the Appaloosas (hence my sale) and I will not be maintaining another light stallion in the foreseeable future.  For me, the work is to break even on the boys through foal sales. 

But with all that said and done, stallions are not big evil fire breathing dragons!
They just like to PRETEND they are.  This is O and Scorch playing after being stalled for a week due to bad weather.  As you can see, it's really an impressive sight.  Needless to say, the whole time I was thinking "oh PLEASE don't hurt each other!" and my mother had the sense to snap a picture.

Stallions need to be treated different then other horses to a point though.  If you can keep them with other horses, then you should.  Not all stallions can deal with that, and most stallion owners aren't willing to risk their investment on a possible accident.  I mean, look at those boys in the mud!  What if one had slipped?  What if he broke a leg?

And for many people, their attitude terrifies them of actually using the horse as a HORSE.  Scorch is a great example of how gentle and NORMAL acting a stallion can be.  Here he is on his second ride, carrying my mother.  In the pen behind him are a bunch of mares, but he didn't pay any attention to them (I swear he got his work ethic from his sire).  He wanted to please, he tried as hard as he could, and he did exactly what we asked of him.

Sure, he's going to do some "boyish" things occasionally.  As a stallion owner though, I have to set the rules, and I have to maintain the rules all the time.  If I let him scream on the lead once, then he will try it every single time there after.  Trying to "not make a scene" or ignore it is not going to work.  Scorch will try to figure out why he got away with it once, and will try it every single time there after - because that's what stallions do!  They call to the mares hoping to get a response.  Breeding is their first instinct.  The hormones are strong in this one (read in yoda voice).

But, if you're able to keep the rules the same, then they are wonderful.  In many cases the concern over legal action or accidental foals results in a horse that is better mannered then most people's pets.  A well handled stallion is usually very kind and friendly, and nothing to be afriad of.  And yet I still hear people tell me that they were scared of stallions until they met Scorch.  He is very good at changing people's minds like that.

For me, I allow mumbling while in hand, but not screaming (ok, I just hate screaming in my ear).  I allow them to get "on the muscle" but not to prance or try to go faster then me.  I allow any antics they want if they are loose and playing though, but add a human to the mix, and they are "working".  I don't care if that means I'm picking up a bag that blew into their paddock, they are NOT allowed to kick at me, rear at me, bite at me, or other forms of "horse play".  They know it, and so I have never had a problem. 

I often see people who are scared of their horse though, and so let the stallion get away with all sorts of bad behaviors.  If you can't handle it, either sell him or geld him.  It's really that easy.  I promise you that the boy will be JUST as happy as a gelding, and in many cases more so.  Think about all the back yard stallions.  The get to breed one mare a year, and then live the rest of their life locked in a small paddock.  How would you like to live like that?  One day a year you get to go out on the town, but then the rest of the time you're locked in your bedroom.  Not even the whole house, just the bedroom, and you never ever leave it.  You even have to crap in the corner of it.  Sounds like most people's version of hell, right?

Actually, I trust my stallions to behave better around people then I do most of my other horses.  If it wasn't for the whole legal aspect of it, I would probably let more people handle them and actually interact with them.  As it is, I don't keep them isolated, but I also make sure to have them up and out of the way before people arrive.  It's extra work, but in the end....

THIS is the reason I own stallions.  Not to make money.  Not to become famous. 

I own my stallions because I want to see the Sugarbush Draft Horse live again.  Because it takes multiple generations to "breed up" to a Sugarbush Draft Horse, I need multiple generations of stallions, and their offspring.  Spot and Quagga can produce foals that can cross back to other stallions, like Scorch or O.  When those horses get old enough, then I will be gelding Spot and Q, and looking at a new generation of stallion, but that's still a ways in the future.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Long long ago, in a pasture far far away.............there were SPOTS!

How often do you think about where your horse's traits came from?  Never?  Rarely?

Well, when your horse has spots, it tends to be a common thing.  See, the ApHC did a great job of marketing back in the day, and somehow we have now come to call all polka-dotted type horses "appaloosa" colored.  Ah but it wasn't always so!

Ever wonder where my blog name "Pinzgauer" came from?  Well, that's what the ancients called this color pattern in its many forms.  Then history happened, and some guy makes these amazing all terrain vehicles, and named them after a pretty horsey.  Now when you think Pinzgauer, very few people think spotted horses.  In reality, the Noriker horse is still referred to as the Pinzgauer.

Because I'm a complete dork - as y'all should know by now - I tend to over research things.  This whole thing started when some one asked me if a Knabstrupper was descended from the Appaloosas.  Oh my!  (If you don't know, they aren't, the Knabstrupper came first.... well before the new world was found).

So, lets start at the beginning, because this really is a very cool story:

In Lascaux Pech Merle, France (thanks for the correction by Dominique Cuyvers) a picture of some very appaloosa colored horses was found on a wall.  For many years it was assumed that this was proof that the pinzgauer color pattern was a very old one.  The Appaloosa people (big A means breed) thought this was great news and wonderful history for their horses.  Sadly, it was later discovered that the spots were added long after the original painting was finished.  Still, a few thousand years after caveman is still a LONG time ago.

So we know that spotted horses were in Europe at some point long long ago, but where did they come from?

Around 1000 BCE we find the first true evidence of the pinzgauer pattern. In the Fergana Valley, in a country called Uzbekistan, there is very good grazing.  This area was very secluded, and at the time controlled by nomadic people who depended upon their horses for their lives.  Ample rainfall, and lush soil meant that the horses born and bred in this valley grew to be massive animals.

Now keep in mind that in other parts of the world at this time, most people were using donkies and onagers as beasts of burden because they were superior to horses.  Horses were small fragile things with short legs and little stamina, for the most part.  Of course, the Arabians were just being started as a breed, and the Celts had a cute little pony with a smooth flowing gait, but those were few and far between.  Few people had ever seen or heard of the celtic horse, or the Arabian horse, or the strange horses in the fergana valley.  Horses were only really good for one thing..... food.

Now the green dot on the map up there is where the Fergana Valley is located.  Right in the middle of central Asia, and next door to China.  Around 112- 101 BCE, a Chinese emperor named Wu Ti found out about these horses.  He wanted them!

These horses were ram headed, strong and big boned.  They were large enough to carry a man.  Accounts vary (depends upon what you believe I suppose) as to how the emperor acquired these horses, but acquire them he did.  Shortly after, we begin to see art of horses in China with polka dots.  Tapestries and statues from that point on used the polka dots as a common theme in these horses, and many texts reference their "coats of gold".

Oddly, these gold horses bred very true, not like palominos today.  Many people believe that this is a reference to the color we now know as Champagne.

The Chinese word for horse is "ma" and these horses were named the Tien Ma, or the heavenly horse (literal translation).  Ironically though, the Chinese nuclear program is also called Tien Ma.  Strange how the military keeps naming their programs after these pretty ponies!

But, of course the Chinese weren't the only people to find out about these new fangled animals.  The Persians also learned of their existence, and soon acquired some for themselves.  Knowing a bit about the history of the Persians at that time, I would assume that it was not a friendly trade.  These horses became well known in a small place called Nisaia, and most of the world knew them as the Nisean horse.

These amazing horses were used by the Persians to pretty much conquer the world.  Remember that movie "300"?  Remember the bad guy in that, Xerxes, and all of his strange animals that he used?  Well, his army was mounted on these beauties, and it was a huge military success.  Since it took a while for the Persian Empire to cross Asia, a few civilizations had sprung up by the time they reached Europe.  Of course Xerxes wasn't leading the Persians the whole time, but he did play a famous role in spreading these horses around.

Before Xerxes, most peoples had small ponies that were short and strong.  Remember those mongols?  Yeah, their horses had nothing on the Nisean horse, and yet the simple fact that they had them was such a success, so just imagine what a "war horse" would do?  And of course, the Persian Emperors were not stupid.  In order to control the land they just conquered, they had to do something nice to make the people of the area like them.  In many cases they left behind a Nisean mare or colt of poor quality.  These culls were still vastly superior to what the native inhabitants had access to, and the foals that resulted from their cross breeding led to the creation of many horses that today are distinct breeds.

Now,  those getting Nisean infusion into their herds didn't complain about boring colors.  For them, it was an insane technological advance, kinda like going from using a wheel barrow to a tractor with front end loader.

And of course, time tends to pass, and horses tend to breed, and things change.  The Greeks received a rather nice share of Persian horses to augment their herds, and soon became one of the most civilized societies.  As they advanced, so did their horse care, and knowledge of selective breeding.  Then they began to make advances on things like horsemanship and riding.  Soon the Greeks and Romans were the new super powers (ok, I'm not a huge human history buff, so I'm shoving this all together) and they were moving around the area.  As we know, the Romans also were a conquering nation, and of course some of their fine horses were lost in the battles, and picked up by the local farmers.  These horses still had the occasional spotted pattern, and of course could pass it on.

Now, it's important to keep in mind the idea of horsemanship at this time.  People didn't have "breeds" they just had types of horses.  There were horses you ride, horses you fought on, and horses to do work.  If your plow horse doesn't have enough stamina, then you bred it to a horse that did, and used the foal.  Of course because they didn't have a whole lot of veterinary knowledge, and definitely no deworming, horses didn't live all that long.  Well, people really didn't either for that matter!

But the point is, that cross breeding was the ONLY breeding.  You bred for a machine, not a companion.  Oh, I'm sure that some people had affection to their horses, but it was not the normal thing.  Alexander the great had Bucephalus (Ox Head) who was a Nisean horse, or a direct descendant of one.  We know this because he was known to have "knobs" on his head which gave him his name.  These knobs were a holdover from the original horse of the Ferghana Valley area, and their "ram heads".

Sadly though, Bucephalus wasn't spotted, and really has very little to do with the history of appaloosa color, except that he's useful in helping to trace the ancestry of the Nisean horse into what would become the Spanish horse.  These is a gap in documentation of LP patterned horses through this time, as few horse colors are mentioned.  We do know that the Greeks and Romans had them, but lineage was really not an important thing in horse breeding at the time.

But, those Grecian and Roman horses were the ancestors of the Spanish horse, and we know that they were related to the Nisean horse, and that the Nisean horse had LP color.  Interestingly, the Spanish horse was commonly seen and painted in appaloosa color patterns.  Of course, when you aren't selecting for color, you tend to blend multiple patterns that can easily hide pinzgauer type coloration.  Grey, tobiano, overo, cremello... these all can so easily hide a small blanket, or a bit of roaning.

So, along comes the Spanish horse, and it's amazing beauty..  These amazing horses were used by royalty, and quickly became the "to have" type of horse!  Every Lord and Lady wanted to have a fancy horse, and most of them were Spanish horses.  Again, this is not a breed, but a type of horse.  Just as we have "draft" horses and "gaited" horses today, they had Spanish horses, which were the same type of large category.  Think of it the same way we have "stock horses" today.

The louder and more glamorous your horse the better.  The fops wanted to be noticed, just like teenaged boys today trick out their cars with accessories for their accessories, back then bling on your horse and by your horse was desirable.

And then a few things changed.  Suddenly it became to be considered poor taste to have these loud colored horses, and garishly colored clothes.  Grey became all the rage, and blacks, and boring bays.  Horses began to be bred for a lack of color, as those loud horses dropped in value, and as many good horsemen knew, there's nothing to cover up loud patterns like grey!

And around this time, some Spanish woman sent some Christopher guy to a new place in some boats.

Well, when you have a super long sea voyage ahead of you, and are likely to lose a ton of your livestock on the way there, you're not exactly going to be as concerned about fashion are you?  Guess where all those loud colored but basically worthless horses went?  Yeah, on the boats.  Better to get a little money for your worthless goods, then to have to pay to keep feeding them.  And better to get a LOT of nice horses for little money when no one will be there to judge your fashion tastes.  Many others of course went onto dinner plates, so the poor horses that spent weeks upon weeks sea-sick were the lucky ones.

So, the Spanish begin colonizing the new world, and many of the lords who traveled over wanted to be sure they had a nice comfy ride to carry them around.  Those fancy Spanish horses were just the thing!  Top quality horses in bad colors work great when no one is around to see your fashion faux pas.  Of course there were some "Indians" running around, and of course a few people died and left their horses behind.

This is how the appaloosa colored horses got to North America.  The natives, being a spiritual people, often put value on the interesting colored horses.  Whether that was palomino, pinzgauer, or pinto, different tribes found different favorites.  Most tribes didn't worry about selective breeding, as anything that wasn't good quality fed their children.  Other tribes worked to master the art of horsemanship, as it gave them a wonderful military advantage.

And so the horse became yet another bartering item between nations.  This time it was Native American nations.

By the 1700s the Nez Perce had horses in the Palouse valley, and these horses were supposedly rather well bred, according to the American explorers (well, the "white man" at any rate).  Although by this point a word for the type of color pattern was no longer common language.  There was piebald, which refered to a party colored horse, with black and white coloration like a magpie, and skewblad which refered to a party colored horse of any other combination.  Of course, the story, and debates about what happened to the Appaloosa of the Nez Perce is as varied as ApHC breeding programs, but we do know that in the end the US Calvary won, and decided to disperse the herds.  One of the ways they did that was by cross breeding to draft horses.

Ah, but we seem to forget our history so often, and try to put our modern feelings on historical actions.  Why would the Calvary do such a thing?  Why not just keep the horses for themselves, and their own use if they were so great?  I have yet to hear any answers to these questions, and we can all speculate all day long.  So lets just take a few things into consideration.

The average person at the time used horses for a living.  Whether it was to haul a cart or carriage to travel in, to pack heavy supplies, or to plow fields that would feed their family, horses needed traits for more then just riding.  Because of this, Americans had already begun to cross breed the European Draft horses, such as the Percheron and the Belgian, with more common light horses.  These draft crosses were great all terrain vehicles!

Why a draft cross?  Because they could do it all.  They pulled enough weight to plow the field, then could be hitched up to the carriage for church on Sunday, and if you needed to put a saddle on one, well, it would fit!  Ever try to saddle a full size draft?  Yeah, not as easy as it sounds.  Lets not even talk about mounting an 18hh horse with no mounting blocks!

I mean, you don't think that the Quarter Horse just appeared out of nowhere do you?  It was most likely the result of breeding these draft crosses down to a lighter smaller horse with all the qualities needed on a homestead.  Have you ever compared an old picture of a quarter horse to a modern picture of a Belgian Draft cross?  Yeah, it speaks volumes!

So, it's very likely that the Appaloosas were crossed for use, rather then for revenge.  Granted, this is only a theory, and has so much less romance about it, but it was a pretty common practice at the time.  So then these horses were cross bred to the neighbor's horse, and so on for a few more decades.  Eventually, some one found a very nice, very pretty horse, and wanted to make up a breed.  Because in the early 1900s, horse breeds had only recently become all the rage!  Only one downside here.  When people breed for USE, they tend to forgive a bad color.  Look at Plaudette!

Plaudette there was an ancestor to many well known Quarter horses as well as Appaloosas, and as you can guess by looking, some Paints as well.  She carried splash white, tobiano, and LP evidently, because her kids got a bit of it all.

So as news of this fancy new breed for polka dotted horses came around, people began to register their horses.  Many of these horses had no known lineage, but they did show color.  As you can also guess, many of them also showed some draft traits.  Some more then others. 

And because the breed started in the west, as the horses traveled east, the oldest, and draftiest went first.  Keep the better bred offspring, and sell the flawed parents on to the next enthusiast.  So, by the time these horses hit Ohio, there was a whole jumble of types that only had polka dots in common.

And some crazy boy up there thought "hey, those would cross great on my draft horses for my carriage company".  So, if you ever wonder where the draft crosses and their descendants went, well that's where.  And today, those descendants are the ancestors of our beloved Sugarbush Draft Horses.

I have to admit, there's something kinda amusing about the Appaloosa being the Indian's horse, and the Sugarbush Draft being the cowboy's horse.  Or is it just me?

It's all related really.  The Spanish horse later divided into a few breeds, such as the Andalusian (or PRE), Lusitano, and Lipizzaner.  Some where along the lines, one of the pretty spotted horses was left in Denmark, where it became the first Knabstrupper.  And of course, there are the intentional crossbreds, such as our Sugarbush Drafts, the Pony of the Americas, minitature horses, and the Gypsy vanner/cob.

The Noriker is a unique one, as it's one of the early breaks from the Appaloosa lineage.  Those fine LP colored horses were crossed into drafts in Austria, and the color still crops up occasionally today.  Of the breeds that still carry LP colors, only the Appaloosa and the Knabstrupper breed selectively for color.  Many of the Appaloosa and Knabstrupper descendants do as well (POA, Colorado horse, etc).  And for clarification, I call the Colorado horse a descendant of the Appaloosa because they were formed after the Nez Perce's horses had gained a variation of that name.  The ApHC was actually formed after the Colorado Ranger Horse Assoc.

I admit, I don't know all of the breed histories, only that which leads to my polka dotted monsters.  Still though, it's interesting to see how LP coloration tended to follow the best horses of the times from the early history of humans and horses until today.

Friday, May 27, 2011

My frustration with the Pintaloosa thing in ApHC

Recently there has been a big trend in my Appaloosa boards about "Pintaloosas".  Many people don't truly understand the genetics of color, and get confused (how can you NOT?) and so think that this is some how an easy answer.  Sadly, it's really not.

The spot in this image is actually not a pinto spot, it's a mismark.  Mismarks are caused by suppression of the pattern gene.  On the molecular level that means something made the pigment migrate in that area, where it was restricted (white) in others.  These types of genes are called suppression genes, or suppressors, because they suppress the white pattern.  These suppression genes are what leads to those BIG polka dots that we so love to see on the LP colored horses.

On the flipside, this mare has pinto genes.

What, can't see any pinto markings?  But I can!  That blaze, those socks... and on her offside there's a very blue eye.  This mare is Daltrey's dam, and he proved her ability to pass on that splash at higher levels.  While he doesn't meet the "minimum" for pintaloosa, he's very close.  Daltrey has 4 knee high white socks, a very large apron blaze, and 2 ice blue eyes.  He got all of that because of his mother who looks to be a completely normal colored Appaloosa.

But splash is only one of the "pinto" genes that people have trouble understanding.  The other is sabino.  Now, most people don't know that there are MANY types of sabino out there, I want to say 8 but could be wrong.  All of those sabinos are variations of a theme when looking at their pattern, but genetically, we have no idea how similar they are.  One could be a vision gene, another a metabolic gene, and yet another a neurotransmitter.  See, it's important to realize that color is a side effect of the genes, and not the main purpose.

But sabino isn't exactly a true pinto gene.  Unless you'd call this foal a pinto?  Her white socks are well below the hocks, and while she has a misplaced spot in her blaze, it is still within the limits of most registries.

These face and leg marking genes were never told that they are supposed to meet a minimum line, and they aren't intelligent.  They simply do what DNA does.... replicate.  The expression levels of the white can be controlled, but you'd pretty much need a few years of study to understand all the nuances.  And lets be honest, who besides me really is that into DNA?  Most horse breeders don't want to worry about 50 genes everytime they think about breeding!  We want safe and happy foals with good conformation and a wonderful future.

So, it seems that in the ApHC there's a movement right now to get rid of "pintaloosas" and restrict all "pinto" genes.  Well, how exactly do you do that?  In the ApHC currently, more horses HAVE those pinto genes then do not.  So do you remove all the registrations from pinto carrying horses?  Do you refuse to register their offspring?

Yeah, those ideas are probably a great way to kill a breed, in my opinion.  If you remove papers from every horse showing sabino or splash white traits, then you've taken out about 75% of the population.  If you prevent foals from being registered who carry one of those genes, then you're creating a HUGE surplus of unwanted foals, as a good 75% of THEM will carry one of their parent's genes.  The ApHC registrations would plummet, and the members would bail out in droves.  Not exactly a very sound business plan.

I mean, who wants to become involved in breeding horses when you have only a small chance of success?  Who wants to dump a thousand dollars into producing a foal, only to have it come out worth little more then half of what you spent?  Hell, it's cheaper to BUY other people horses then to breed them at that rate!

Now, maybe this would be a great idea for reducing the number of unwanted horses...... but do you really think that any one would stop breeding?  Oh no!  Instead, they would simply register those babies elsewhere.

Here's another one.  This lovely ApHC mare carries splash AND sabino.  Her 4 ankle white socks and her thin strip of a blaze seem like they are completely normal, and not a problem, and yet, it's a mixture of both of those evil pinto genes.  She has produced a lovely high white near fewspot colt for me, who was within the ApHC registration guidelines, but again, just barely.

Zire had inches to spare on his white though, but still he showed 4 high whites, an apron blaze, and a small dash of blue in his right eye.  He's built like a dream, with a lovely personality, and everything you could want, and he's homozygous for LP.  I thought some one would snatch him up in a heartbeat as a herd sire, but instead, he went with out many inquiries for years.  Now as a lovely 3 year old gelding he's going to make a lovely performance horse.  It looks like a barrel horse (and here's hoping he wins a LOT).
Zire, my splash/sabino LP/LP gelding
So, because of all of this, I'm getting really tired of the ApHC.  It seems like in most circles you can't win!  Either your horse isn't bred for performance, or your horse isn't foundation bred enough.  If it IS high percentage of app x app breeding, then it's not the right foundation lines, or it doesn't have enough big money horses in it... because those are all crossbred.

Is the Appaloosa  a great breed of horse?  YES!  But seriously people, why do I want to make more?  Their market is down, and the best breeding stock is too "plain" to be used as breeding stock (solids crossed to fewspots), yet if you use the loud colored ones, you get more plain ones (solids/fewspots).  And all of this over HAIR?

But here's a horse that looks like she'd be ok, right?

Yeah, uh, NO.  With only a few minimal markings on her, this little girl carries sabino as well!  Her flame shaped star screams that.  She has a minimal lacey blanket, so the color people don't like her either, but look at those legs!  She's square, she's nicely put together, and probably one of the best horses I've bred, and yet it's all about the color.

And her sire was a fewspot, and dam is a supressed leopard, so her minimal coloration is actually a big surprise.

On the flip side of that, there's this kid.  He's a bit straight in the shoulder, he's too pointy in the croup, and ever so slightly sickle hocked.  Crash was close but not quite.  Don't get me wrong, he's not a BAD built horse at all, he's just completely and totally average in his conformation.

But check out that blanket!  Wowza!

I had way more interest in this guy, then I did in the filly above (and he's now sold into a lovely home).  In fact, I made a man very mad when I wouldn't postpone his gelding.  He saw that pretty color, and wanted to use Crash as a breeding stallion, even though he's not ApHC registered.  To me this says that what matters to Appaloosa lovers is NOT the registration or the quality of the horse, but rather how loud it is.  Color patterns, even with as much as we know, are still a gamble.  Does mom throw her E or her e, does dad pass on that PATN1 or not?

I've never been into gambling, not with real money at any rate.  And horse breeding IS real money.  My horses need food, farrier, vet care, and so much more.  I have to maintain and improve the property, I have to advertise, and I have to train them.  All of this means money.  Who in their right mind would go out and just hand a stranger $500?  Not me!  I kinda need that money to keep up with my pony addiction problem!

So what incentive do I have to breed Appaloosas?  None.

Instead, I can breed Stonewalls that can produce first generation Sugarbush Drafts, and increase the gene pool of that lovely breed.  If I get a solid there, it's STILL a lovely horse, and still gets drooled over by perspective buyers.  When it grows up, it will be just as good as the leopard standing next to it in the show ring.  Because after all, it's just HAIR.

Needless to say, now that I am slimming down my herd, it will be the Appaloosas that I am most willing to drop the price on.  At this time, if some one makes me an offer that includes a good home, if the horse fits, I will likely take it.  I care way more about where my babies will be in 20 years then much else.  I'm just tired of the ApHC and the drama going on in the ranks.

I always see ApHC people wondering what it will take to bring people back into the breed.  Well, for me, it is consistancy.  I don't care what other people are doing, but I want to know that MY type of horse can be profitable and valuable.  I want to know that if I bring a new life into the world that it won't end up starved to death in a hoard's pasture some where down the line, because it was so "pretty" and yet no one else wanted it.

If you can't keep registered horses more valuable then unregistered ones, then there's a problem with your registry.  I hope that we never see this problem in the SDHR, and I work hard every day to remove all of the preconceived notions spread by those who don't know a thing about genetics.  As horse people, we should first care about conformation and temperament.  If the horse is too nasty to be handled, then it is NOT a quality horse, no matter how pretty it is.  If the horse is built too poorly to stand on it's own feet, then it is not a quality horse, no matter how pretty it's color.

If you want to see what a quality horse looks like... well the horse below is a quality Appaloosa!

Oz is an 11 year old ApHC gelding, stands 16.0 hands, and has been packing kids around for years.  He's as sweet as can be and is nothing but heart.  His bloodlines are lovely!  And yet, poor Oz sat in a pasture for a few years doing very little (previous owner had a bad car accident) and now he just needs a tune up, and I'm out of commission.  He came to me to be trained, and I can barely sit on a horse right now with out getting vertigo.  (Yeah, it's still here, but less frequent).  His owner is also getting out of ApHC I believe, so I hope every day that this guy gets a great home.

It seems like lately, all the signs are telling me to let the Appaloosa people do their thing, and just to focus on the Sugarbush horses.  I love them so much, and it seems like there's a higher quality owner looking at them.  I like knowing that my babies - that would be any horse that has been on my property - will live a long and happy life.

It's never just one thing is it?  Between my accident, my mother's health issues (arthritis), the trends in the ApHC, and the recent interest in the SDHR, my program is changing.  And I hope that it's for the better.