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.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

With a little Help from my Friends

One of my riding students, Amy, has offered a deal that is too good to be true for both of us.  She comes up a few days each week, and helps me put some time on the horses that need work, and in exchange she gets riding experience and training.  Now, Amy is a very capable rider, with a good seat, and tons of confidence, so I think she's at the point where this is a decent step.  She's calm, stable, and willing to try.

Well, yesterday we had our first session.  I decided that I was going to start her on some green but generally safe horses.  This will let her get the feel of what an ignorant horse does, how they react, and how much of training a horse is really trusting your gut while putting regular riding into practice.  We started with Scorch.

Now, dearest Scorch has always been a saint.  He's young, he's dumb, and he's a stallion, so we started with lunging.  She got a good walk/trot in both directions, and he was responding nicely, so up she goes.  Walk was pretty nice.  He was turning, if sloppy, when asked, and walking relatively constantly.  I like to put the idea of trot in their heads once I feel I have control of them, so asked her if she would try to ask for the trot.  I completely expected a few steps and then he would peter out.

Yeah, didn't go that well.  She got about 3 steps of trot, and then he stopped hard.  She wobbled forward, and from there, it went downhill.

Amy was wearing a camelback, which is basically a backpack filled with water that has an attachment so you can drink.  Looking back, she realized that the added weight of the water caused some of the issues, but at the time, neither of us thought anything of it.  Our mistake!

When he stopped, she leaned onto his shoulder, doing a bit of hugging neck, but nothing bad.  I thought it would be a wobble.  Well, Scorch got scared.  Whether it was the predator suddenly grabbing the base of his neck, or the slosh of the water, who knows.  But after slamming on the brakes, he immediately lurched forward hard.  Amy was already off balance, and the leap forward popped her back.  She slips onto his rump, where he proceeded to catapult her into the air.  She realized she was going, and just went with it.

Up, Up, and Away.....

Since her trajectory was now UP, there's not a lot she could do.  Her right foot caught the stirrup, and while it had been properly placed before, she was hung on the top of the stirrup.  Thank goodness the stirrup worked as it should, and slipped right off the bar.  (If you ever wonder why I train in an English/Aussie saddle, now you know, it's almost impossible to hang a foot).  Amy went flying, and landed SMACK on her back... on that lovely cushion of water, and I watched the stirrup fly toward the heavens.  I was standing only a few feet away, and that girl was up and back on her feet before I could even walk 2 steps to her.  The camel back took all of the impact.

It was like watching a cartoon.  She went flying through the air, and almost bounced off the ground to standing.  The stirrup and leather though, had some serious hang time.

Scorch of course was terrified.  Some monster tried to eat him, and he just didn't know what to DO!  He went to the corner, and bobbed there, tossing his head, the reins, and hopping in place.  Finally, he realized that it was over, and he lived through it all.  The poor big baby calmed right down.

Amy is fine.  Maybe an ache here or there, but she hopped right back up and got back to work.  The girl is crazy!  (In a good way!).  No, I'm not trying to kill her, but man do I really appreciate her help.  Scorch is the last horse I would have expected to react like that, but we all know how horses are.  When she got back up on Scorch, he was fine, and went right back to work.  No, we didn't try the trot again.  Lesson learned!

So, we turned to an "easier" green horse.  Ozzie.

Oz is a strange one, as he's broke, but he's forgotten a lot of his commands.  He will carry a rider all day long, so long as all he has to do is follow some one.  When you ask him to walk away, he just doesn't "get it".

So, Amy hopped up, and gave commands while I walked ahead of them.  By the end of the first day, she had him moving around the arena pretty nicely, but he kept trying to take his direction from me on the ground.  It was a huge improvement, because he was listening to her, but not completely there yet.

So today, we worked with Oz again.  This time, we worked him up to where he was leading, and I was following him.  Much of our training is nothing I have ever done before, as I've never seen a horse quite like this.  It's a very hard thing to explain how calm and accepting he is, but how confused about the idea of moving as his RIDER directs him.  She got him walking, and I walked behind, and as we made turns, she would turn to the left, and me to the right, or vice versa.  He soon realized that he was ok if he went away from me for a bit, and that he really COULD listen to his rider.  He wouldn't die.

By the end of the ride today, he was moving away from me with something like confidence, at her command.  He's a nice moving, big, sweet horse, so working with him is always a pleasure, if a bit baffling.

We did some work with Diva on the lunge, and will soon be getting her to ground drive as well, and then I will be showing Amy how we lay on them, and slowly get the babies used to the idea of a rider.

Every day my confidence comes back a bit more.  I feel myself start to "want" to get on the "crazy" young horses, and the idea of taking a fall is not nearly as bad as it used to be.  I see Amy so willing to take a drop from my darling pampered spoiled rotten Scorch, and hop right back up, and it makes me think about why I don't want to any more. Oddly, I can't think of why.  I've never been seriously hurt falling from a horse!  (Knocked out cold, yeah, but never seriously hurt).

I have to say, it's also VERY hard to teach some one how to train a horse.  So much of training is doing what the horse needs at that moment.  Amy has some great instincts, which is why I'm willing to let her have a go at it.  I've never made a "lesson plan" for training to train, so I'm completely winging this, and Amy is ok with that.  There's simply the basic idea of "make the right thing easy, and the wrong thing hard" and to praise the horse as it does what you ask.

But for me, it's been amazing to see how much my friends have stepped up and offered to help.  Some things I am fine with, while others I have fear or confidence issues with.  Not sure what I would do with out my support group, but I'm so happy to see things starting to move forward again.


  1. Sounds like a good plan for now. Poor baby Scorch - he must have wondered what was up!

  2. Just when you think you know how one will act ... but Scorch?? I'm surprised.

    You'll be back to your old self before you know it.

  3. So cool - such a great opportunity for both of you! I'm jealous of Amy!

    I ride with a camelbak (don't want to die of dehydration hiking out of the desert if my horse ditches me) and it does change your center of gravity a bit. I've often thought that maybe it would cushion the fall if my horse does ditch me - tell Amy thanks for testing that theory out! ;)