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.

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.

8 comments:

  1. A well-mannered stallion can be a wonderful thing, and one that hasn't been properly trained or handled (either mistreated or babied) can be a nightmare. Your reasons for having stallions are very good ones, but too many people with stallions either shouldn't be breeding them (plug ugly backyard stuff) or are into the "I'm so cool look at me with my stallion".

    Drift isn't a stallion (although he wishes he were) but he can still be a handful when the mares are in heat. I have no interest in having a real stallion - mares are enough, and geldings are great.

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  2. I was just going to ask if you were planning on gelding Spot and Q. Sounds like a good idea and you've already planed for it. I really like the looks of Scorch and O. They just have that "je ne sais quoi" that makes them very appealing as stallions.
    I think you meant to compare stallions to a 15-16 year old boy, too. My twinlings are 14 and are pretty typical for their age and their man focus is video games, challenging themselves and heading outside for new adventures. I've been told by friends with 16 yer old boys, that's the age where girls become a primary focus. Makes sense. I remember my high school years. lol!

    Oh, and you listed almost all of your stallions. You forgot to mention your wanna-be stallion, Poco! lol! Are you working with him yet? I know Leah can't wait for the drama to unfold. :)

    ~Lisa

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  3. They are going to be gelded YET, but pretty darned soon I believe. And while Spot may be sold into a herd sire position, Quagga stays here. I promised Sig that he would be safe and loved for the rest of his days. As she was planning on gelding him when he was older, I feel comfortable doing the same.

    I can't tell you how tempted I am to buy these "studs" listed for sale on Craig's list, geld them, train them, and sell them as nice pets - once they know a thing or 2 about manners! If only I had more time, money, and pretty much everything else! =)

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  4. Thank you Heather!! Raising up my boy, training him and competing him has taken a long time, but it was a trip well worth the drive!! He is my best buddy, his IS a BOY and he makes sure everyone knows it! But he is sincere, honest and sweet, I wouldn't trade the experience for any amount of money!!

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  5. You know how I feel about my "nasty" stallion. But then again, he had the best bringing up (from babyhood through his 3yo year he was handled by a VERY competent stallion person who did a tremendous job with him!). OTOH, you heard the stories of when he went out for training this spring (ok,yes -- he's INCREDIBLY well mannered.....but an in heat mare across a single line of hot wire? REALLY?).
    I love my boy. And most times you can't even TELL he's a boy........but you already know that

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  6. Thank you Heather!! Raising up my boy, training him and competing him has taken a long time, but it was a trip well worth the drive!! He is my best buddy, his IS a BOY and he makes sure everyone knows it! But he is sincere, honest and sweet, I wouldn't trade the experience for any amount of money!!

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  7. I was just going to ask if you were planning on gelding Spot and Q. Sounds like a good idea and you've already planed for it. I really like the looks of Scorch and O. They just have that "je ne sais quoi" that makes them very appealing as stallions.
    I think you meant to compare stallions to a 15-16 year old boy, too. My twinlings are 14 and are pretty typical for their age and their man focus is video games, challenging themselves and heading outside for new adventures. I've been told by friends with 16 yer old boys, that's the age where girls become a primary focus. Makes sense. I remember my high school years. lol!

    Oh, and you listed almost all of your stallions. You forgot to mention your wanna-be stallion, Poco! lol! Are you working with him yet? I know Leah can't wait for the drama to unfold. :)

    ~Lisa

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  8. They are going to be gelded YET, but pretty darned soon I believe. And while Spot may be sold into a herd sire position, Quagga stays here. I promised Sig that he would be safe and loved for the rest of his days. As she was planning on gelding him when he was older, I feel comfortable doing the same.

    I can't tell you how tempted I am to buy these "studs" listed for sale on Craig's list, geld them, train them, and sell them as nice pets - once they know a thing or 2 about manners! If only I had more time, money, and pretty much everything else! =)

    ReplyDelete