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.


  1. But Ebony was lucky and went on to live happily ever after with a little girl that loves her. No horse can ask for more than that.

    Glad to hear you were able to ride with no vertigo. How did your nerves handle it?

  2. Exactly. And she is such a sweet horse.

    As for riding, it was ok. I started off nervous, of course it was windy, and as I had to actually deal with the horse, and issues (In this case it's fitting a western saddle to Boo's back) I began to actually focus on the RIDING, and how the horse was moving, and not on me. Oddly, getting on and off a billion times helped.

  3. I so wish more people with colts believed as you do. Responsible breeding is the only way to go, and the most often missed.

    I hope Scorch proves himself worthy.

  4. This is - IMHO - a huge problem in the industry. Everybody think they'll make a mint with their ho-hum stud, and everybody wants to make new babies. We have had one baby here; I bred my [high spirited/skittish] purebred Arabian mare to a gorgeous [people friendly/laid back] paint stallion, and thankfully got the intended result. Taya is now a fabulous five year old, and still here with us (happily, we bred for keeps).
    Your man looks like he has a lot of potential; hopefully, the new baby will turn out to be your intended result too. Can't wait to see! :o)

  5. I so wish more people with colts believed as you do. Responsible breeding is the only way to go, and the most often missed.

    I hope Scorch proves himself worthy.