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.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Conformational Compatability

The Sugarbush Draft Horse is a small breed, with only 13 horses in it.  The horse pictured here is Sugarbush Harley Quinne, the sire to our last stallion, Sugarbush Harley's Classic O. Harley is considered to be a wonderful example of the breed, both in conformation and color (I didn't know him personally so can't talk about his temperament). 

When I found out about these horses in late 2007, I thought "oh they are lovely, but too heavy to be a good sport horse".  Then I did a cross using one of my draft mares to an Appaloosa stallion and loved the result (Scorch) so began looking into them as potential cross breeding options.

I leased a few horses from Everett Smith, with the understanding that I would sell them rather then ship them home.  I found out that while they are large, they are also amazingly sound, and proportionately they are better built to handle the stress of sport horse activities.  (Similar weight to warmbloods, on more dense legs).  I purchased one myself, and seriously thought about buying more, but I know that I can't keep ALL of them for myself.  That would do the breed no good if one person had all of the best horses.  Instead, I'm trying to breed up to the same level, and increase the genetic diversity out there.  Needless to say, my experience with a few of this breed has made me a believer and a complete convert.

Now, breeding up sounds "easy" but the project has taken on a life of its own!  I now have 3 stallions, with a 4th on his way (co-owned) this year.  Each of these stallions ads something to the genetics that I require.  From Spot's shoulder, movement, and personality, to Quagga's athleticism, intelligence, and color patterns, and of course Scorch's all around amazing combination of Spot and the draft traits.  Scorch is my second generation stallion, and while he missed the color, he got every thing else.

The new colt coming is an American Cream Draft.  While he has a ton of coat color modifiers, we are most excited about his conformation!  This little guy is built like a dream, and will increase the percentage of draft while adding most of the conformational qualities that seem to be unique to only American Draft Horses (sloped shoulder, short back, etc).

Of course, he's still a baby, and so many things could result in him being gelded (cryptochid, monorchid, behavior, maturing differently then expected, etc) so he's a bit of a gamble, but one that has been well thought out and planned.  As a side benefit, he will also be able to help the American Cream Draft horses when he's publicly available at stud.  I have yet to find an ACD stallion that advertises breedings by AI and looks as good as this guy, but hey, I might be biased.  Foals from him crossed to a registered Belgian Draft mare have an 85% chance of being eligible for ACD registration.

So how do I pick who gets bred to whom?  It's all about what we have in the breed, and matching traits on the specific horses.

This year, I am breeding all of my heavy mares (Draft, or high percentage draft cross) to Sugarbush Harley's Classic O.  This will give the breed a nice boost in population (4 new registrable horses) and might give me a few more O daughters to work with in my personal program.  While the world is hoping for a lovely loud colt, I am hoping for lovely daughters.  Personally, I have always felt that the dam line is one of the most important things to a program.

I am also making one cross to Scorch this year, my Amber Champagne quarter horse:

This cross should produce a wonderfully refined sport horse.  It could be a fancy color (black, champagne, or dun) or it could be bay (I love bay). It could even have spots (Since Scorch is LP/lp) or it could be solid.  My reasons for making this cross though, is the conformational compatibility of the 2 parents.  If I got the worst parts of each horse, I'd still have a very nice foal I believe.  About the only thing I really am hoping to change is more bone and larger hooves then what the mare has.  Scorch's Draft ancestry should guarantee that.

If the resulting foal is a filly, she will likely be a keeper, and replace her mother in the breeding herd.  This gives me a step closer to creating 100% draft bloooded horses.  While this cross will only be a very small step forward, crossing the resulting filly (assuming it is such) to a draft horse would give me more then 50% draft blood - the requirement for Sugarbush Foundation registration.

So how do I decide if a cross is a good one?  First off, lots of research!  What do the stallions parents, grand parents, and great grand parents look like?  How about the mare's?  I do have a weak link from the mare's dam (decent, but downhill) while I am compensating for by Scorch's amazing uphill-ness (no, that's not a real word, but it sure sounds good!).  In the last 3 generations, if I take the average of the traits, I can make a good guess on what will be passed on.  Remember, that's only a guess, and guessing is a lot like gambling - a great way to lose money!

But seriously, the best way to pick a cross for me, is to make a franken horse picture.

I took the worst parts of both horses, and "blend" them.  This is Scorch's big head on Amber's little neck which is also a bit of a short neck (for the parts blended).  Amber's shoulder and tiny legs on Scorch's longer back and waspish waist, and of course, Amber's wimpy tail just to "round it out".  But seriously, tha'ts not all that bad is it?  Now, I actually prefer Scorch's hip angle but Amber's hip muscling, but I can't make that with photoshop.  I mean, I have leet skillz and all, but there's a limit to my uberness!

While I don't always play with photoshop with all of my horses, I do this mentally on each new cross.  What's the worst case scenario - because Murphy's law says that's what you'll get.  In this case, I can live with it, and I think the result will be a whole lot better in reality.

Now when crossing light horses to heavy horses, the task is not nearly as easy as a few seconds with an eraser brush in photoshop.  Look at the cross that produced Scorch:




You can see the sire's shoulder there, and Sire's much shorter back and hip angle, but dam's muscles on the hip.  Neck is a bit of both, and head is an awful lot like mom's but refined.  Front leg's are from the sire, with dam's hooves (sized properly) and hind legs are the dam's with sire's hooves again sized properly.  Of course, that's really simplifying all of his traits, but you get the idea.  Now, due to the sire being a half brother to half sister breeding, and reviewing 24 of his past foals (from before I owned him) I was positive I'd get the shoulder, back and hip angle.  He's put it on every baby he's had to some degree.  Is Scorch perfect?  No, but he's really nice.  Since I've never met a perfect horse, I'm ok with that.

On the flipside, I could have gotten things a whole lot worse from that cross.  If I wasn't so sure of the inheritance of certain genes, I would have worried that the dam's shoulder was too straight, her back too long, and the sire's neck being too short.  All of those traits on the same foal, and it would have been a nightmare!  That's where the research part comes in.

You can assume some things are "dominant" by looking at ancestry.  If the shoulder keeps coming though, regardless of parent (Great great grand dad to great gramma to mom, to son, etc) then it's a good bet that it's more likely to be inherited then the other mate's trait in that category (in this case shoulder).  Remember, this could be either a good trait, or a bad one!  Some times that short neck, or long back, or those sickle hocks keep appearing generation after generation.  In that case, sell the horse (or never buy it) before you breed it!  Getting a baby that is a conformational wreck means you will be stuck with it for about 6 years, until it's a well broke and nicely trained horse.  And then you MIGHT find it a good safe home for a tenth of what you've invested in it.

The time and effort to research suddenly seems a whole lot cheaper and easier, doesn't it?

And while I breed non traditional crosses (i.e. these aren't your standard horses) I still breed for quality and a type of horse that the market will desire.  Even if I plan to keep the horse, there's always the chance that something will happen.  As many of you know, I was in a serious accident recently.... what if I had died?  Do you think my family would keep every last horse I owned?  NO!  Many would be headed to nice new loving homes, and the more marketable they are, the better homes they will get.

Trust me, no one will turn down a $100k horse priced at $500 with reference check.  Breeding amazing horses doesn't mean they have to cost an amazing amount.  It doesn't mean that they have to have the hottest names in the breed ring this year (because by the time the horse is 10, that hot name won't be so hot).  It just means that a nice well built horse, with good training and sound conformation is ALWAYS in vogue.  This is what I hope to get, even in the foals that won't move my personal program forward.  Those are offered for sale, and they are still good enough to be either exceptional riding horses, or breeding stock in some one else's herd.... and sometimes both.


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