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, June 19, 2011

Well, I can CANTER!

Back in the day, I had a trusty steed.  She was known as the "bitch" when I bought her, and the nick name has stuck.  Ash is a 1990 TB mare, who was used as a broodie only until she was almost 9 years old.  I backed her myself (mostly because she let me and I didn't know any better) and the she proceeded to teach me how to ride.

Too hard on the reins, she would lean on them.  Too light, she would jig.  Didn't post the trot, she got bouncy.  Every thing I did wrong, she made it obvious to me, in a way that was non threatening.  I learned to ride, and I learned to ride quickly.  Now, I had 3 instructors at the time.  One was a friend at the boarding stable who took an interest in me.  One was my (now ex) husband.  And the last was my actual instructor.  Every time I rode, 5 to 7 days/week, I had an instructor there to help me out, but my greatest lessons were from my horse.

"Contact" made no sense to me, no matter how many times Sandy or Aaron explained it, but finding the happy middle with Ash's face DID make sense.  Posting, yeah what a strange thing to do, until I realized I was simply controling the bouncing Ash was putting me through.  Seat aids, leg aids, and so much more was made clear by a green horse that came right into work when I did it right, and just got ugly sloppy when I did it wrong.

And then there was the canter.  I can still remember the first time I tried to canter.  We were boarding at the time, and our arena was a mowed area in an open paddock.  I got up to the trot, and as we turned for the long side, I asked for the canter.  I tapped.  She ignored me.  I kicked, she ignored me, I flopped and flailed and yelled, and we made a lap around looking like the biggest idiots you have ever seen.  And then as we came back down the long side, she relented.  She cantered.

It was an amazing feeling!  The smooth rocking of the horse, the wind in my hair, the speed we were traveling..... amazing!  Ok, so it was a very slow itty bitty canter, she was babysitting me totally, so not that fast, but it felt like it!  But then we came to the corner.  I asked for a nice easy turn to the right, she complied, and I didn't follow.

My upper body leaned, I grabbed for shoulder, and just as I realized I was about to eat dirt, she scooped me back up and gently slowed to a halt. 

My instrcutor gave me pointers, told me what I had done wrong, and made sure I praised my horse for half passing back under me like that, then made me do it again and again until I got it right.  I got it by the end of the day, and perfected it not long after (well, became decent at cantering).

Canter is Ash's favorite gait!  Until recently it was mine as well.  And then all of this happened, and I've felt my heart rate rise at the thought of even an extended trot.  Speed = unstable in my mind, and I'm having trouble breaking that link.  Well.... when all else fails go back to basics, right?

Ash was carrying riders today for our weekend pony party.  Every one loves her because she's ready to go, and yet still easy.  At a very lumpy 21, she's still got it going on.  She's old, she creaks and pops, and her grey cancer has put some seriously strange tumors on her body.  She has a golf ball sized lump where her brow band goes, so she rides with it crooked (huh, maybe I need a one ear bridle.. hmm).  She has a grapefruit sized lump on the side of her neck, so she doesn't have much of a bend any more (not that she ever did) but her heart's still there!

So, after thinking about it, I decided to hop on her.  She was warmed up, and ready to go, and had been cantering around for a bit already, so I got settled, and just asked.  She just gave it to me.  Perfectly.  Nice, easy, and a small canter.  No fear, no anxiety, we just worked well together.

So I've cantered now!  But it's not the end of the problem.  When my friend took her horse up to a canter, I hadn't even put a foot in the stirrup yet, but I still got all jumpy.  Heart rate goes up, stomache in knots type of thing.  Heh, now explain THAT one to me!  I wasn't even near her or her horse, and she's comfortable on him.  GAH!

But for me, it's a step closer to solving the problem.  Rather then fighting against what freaks me out, I work inside what I can do.  I feel confident, I gain confidence, and I can actually feel myself progressing.  I'm starting to push 3 weeks of riding now (Wednesday I think) and it's coming back nicely!

And I think I'm going to use Lisa from Laughing Orca Ranch's idea, and do a "Fear Issue Friday" here.  That way I know I can keep up with it, and yet we can still all help each other work through our issues.  No fear is too big or too small, too sensible or too silly.  If you're having trouble "wanting" to do something, or feeling comfortable with it, let me know.  My email address is at the top, so you can send anonymously, or post any time in the comments.  Lets see how this goes, and maybe we can get some of us feeling confident enough to at least be able to breathe when thinking about that which sets us off. 

I have to say though, while it was almost a let down to canter so easily, I'm still kinda proud of myself.  I did it, and it was good, and now I can do it again.  YAY!


  1. Good for you! You should be proud of yourself, it's a big step. I think "Fear Issue Friday" is a great idea too, friends helping friends.

  2. Yay for you!! It is a big accomplishment for you and you should be proud of yourself.

    Fear Issue Friday sounds like a great idea.

  3. It's all still there, it just needs time to come back. You should feel good! I like your idea of "fear Friday" - I'm working on a post on allowing (came up in context of cantering Dawn at the clinic) that might fit right in - we'll see.

  4. Well, I'm on a summer blog-cation right now, but for your Fear Issue Friday editions I will be sure to stop by. Anything to try and help me get past my fears has got to be a good thing and to help others going through similar stuff is always an encouraging thing to do.

    I'm proud of you for moving past that fear...and thanks to sweet Ash, for guiding you along your journey.

    I've only cantered on Apache twice, out on the trails no less, and it was one of the most exhilarating things I've ever done. She has such a lovely, controlled and fun little rocking horse canter and I miss it.


  5. Fear Friday? I might need a seven day treatment!

    Congratulations, I'm thrilled for you. I'm striving to make progress. Slow going.

  6. Congrats on the canter! Love the idea of Fear Friday - I can contribute!!!!

  7. Love the "Fear Friday" and boy can I contribute!

    Well done on the canter =) baby steps.

  8. Sigh* I've developed some strange phobias after having my brain scrambled with chemo. I can't watch a parade because of the horseshoes on pavement! Something about the sound..
    After a head injury of any kind it takes a while fire all the connections to get back to normal. You're doing a fantastic job,keep at it. One day it'll all fall back in place.. Don't push,just keep on slow and study

  9. Love the "Fear Friday" and boy can I contribute!

    Well done on the canter =) baby steps.

  10. Yay for you!! It is a big accomplishment for you and you should be proud of yourself.

    Fear Issue Friday sounds like a great idea.