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.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Ishka gets a Vacation

Ishka is a 5 year old App sport horse.  She is out of my mother's darling mare Keeley, by my stallion Spot (The Polecat ApHC).  Her dam, Keeley, is a 14.1ish hand (14.2 with shoes!) quarter type horse that is my mother's first horse.  We purchased Keeley as a "project".  She had 90 days of reining training on her, before she failed out of it.  Mom took her and made her a great packer and beginner dressage horse, and Keeley has excelled at that.

Keeley hasn't always been the sweet wonderful loving horse that she is now, but we always thought that it was due to her past life.  We know that she was road foundered - ridden too hard - and now suffers arthritis and other joint issues in her front legs.  Mom had hoped to get a foal from Keeley to be her future riding horse, and she didn't care if it was a colt, a filly, grey, solid or spotted.  She only hoped that it would have Keeley's personality.

What she got was Ishka.  Born May 5th, 2006, I thought we didn't even get that at first.  Ishka had a red bag birth, and I've always been told that red bag babies are dead babies.  Either they are still born (placenta seperates early, and many suffocate during birth) or they are soon euthanized for dummy foal problems (won't nurse due to brain damage from Oxygen deprivation).  So as Jae and I pulled the foal from Keeley that morning, I worried about the health of the mare more then the foal, knowing that Keeley is my mother's true love.

Little did I know that Jae had NO idea what we were doing.  He just shut up and followed orders, lending me his muscles.  While I checked the mare for complications, mother was calling the vet (yeah, I saw red bag and sent her in to find me a vet NOW, knowing that he'd never make it in time) Jae was rubbing the foal.  Keeley was exhausted, but showed no obvious signs of any lasting problems (my main concern was from damage from us trying to save the foal) so I was happy.  And then Jae says, "She looks a little drunk".

He was staring at the most amazing chestnut filly, sitting up, but with a bit of a weave.  "Great, a dummy foal" I thought.  But Ishka proved me wrong.  It took her over an hour to stand, probably closer to 2, but she had a suckle reflex, and Keeley was willing to let us milk her and bottle feed the baby.  Once she was up, everything started getting easier.

And this was my mother's horse.  Ishka was everything she wanted, from her pretty color to her size, and especially the fact that her personality is a carbon copy of her mother's.  Mom worked hard to train Ishka up just like she wanted, and one day it became time to start riding her.

Well, mom doesn't usually back the horses.  If they dump her, she doesn't recover as fast as she used to, and she's always had a personal fear of being thrown.  Those 2 things meant that first rides were always my job, but not for Ishka!  I made sure she showed every sign of being good, and then made my mother do the dirty work.  There's something about training your own horse that just feels good.  And Ish' made sure to be as good as we all had hoped.

After a year of walk work, one day I informed my mother that her horse was bored to tears, and that today she would trot.  Yeah, mom can ride a trot, she was just nervous about the first transition, and kept putting it off.  Ishka of course was ready and willing!  Mom asked, Ishka answered....after about 3 steps of trot, she just stopped.  And that was what they worked on for the next year.  Ishka had trouble with maintaining the pace and letting the human balance the human!  A slight wobble, and Ish put on the brakes.

So when it came time to canter, Mom asked for help from Amy.  Ishka was again bored with laps around the arena, but mom wasn't ready to take her out of the arena to ride (what if she cantered???).  So, Amy agreed, and the canter work began.

The first few attempts weren't so pretty.  Ishka heaved her rider into the canter, in something kinda like a hop, but not.  She would throw her front end into the air, shoving the person forward (Hence most of these pics have Amy holding the bucking strap) and then the shift of balance would make her hind end light.  It never seemed like she was upset about it, but it was very awkward.  Her feet though, never were more then inches off the ground.

The first day wasn't pretty.  Nor the second, nor the third.  Each time she made visible progress though.  Her main problem is that she is LAZY (just like her dam) and had to really be encouraged into it.

Then last week, she started to like it.  As Amy rode away from us up the long side, Ishka kept breaking into a trot.  Eventually we realized that she was just excited about a little speed, so Amy asked for it.  And from there, the trot to canter transition began to make HUGE leaps in smoothness!
A perfect transition right there, caught at the moment of change.  No heaving to be seen!  Now that doesn't mean that Ish still doesn't get silly at times.  She's a very uphill moving horse by nature and breeding, and so getting a bit up in front is just natural to her.
But as you can see, it's not anything BAD.  Just nice and light, and easy to work with.  Ishka also loves dressage.  The technical aspects keep her mind working, and the physical work is something she excels at.  A few good girls, and maybe even a treat, and she's a very happy mare.  This is good, as she will be mom's dressage horse.  Granted, she's a bit short for most dressage horses at only 15.1 hands.................

But she's in the middle of a growth spurt.

This means that Amy there is sitting on almost 3 inches of pads.  You can see it all in the picture above.  White saddle pad, black half pad, and white riser on top of that.  So far Ish had been handling the issues of working while downhill, but yesterday, we noticed that her rump had grown again.  We thought it wouldn't be a big deal.  The lesson started so well, Ishka worked just perfectly.  After one sprint of canter work, Amy was giving Ish her head, and headed back to where I sat intending to have me check her bit.

As they crossed the arena, both nice and relaxed and everything calm, Ishka tripped.  I'm not talking a little stubbed her hoof in the sand.  I'm talking about a fall to her knees, completely out of the blue, type of thing!  I'm not sure what happened, but suddenly Ishka was headed to her front knees, and her hind right tangled with her front left.  She had 3 knees on the ground with the hind left pulled way out behind her.  Amy was slung forward (as she was relaxed, and not braced) and that pulled Ishka even more off balance.  From where I was sitting, I was sure the horse was about to roll onto the human!

Gratuitous Donkey Picture.  Maggie Mae
Amy knew she was hitting dirt, and shoved off.  Ishka knew her rider was there, and some how managed to pull herself away using her neck.  Poor Ishka's body was twisted to the right, while she tried to heave herself away to the left using only her neck.  Amy hit the ground rolling, and got clear, while Ishka stumbled to her feet.

My heart was in my throat.  Horse falling on rider.  Rider under hooves.... my biggest fear right in front of me.  But it didn't happen.  While it wasn't pretty, it could have been so much worse.

And while all of this happened, our audience watched in silence.  (Yeah, Maggie thinks people on horses is just too good to pass up, and usually watches).

But, that put an end to our rides.  Amy hit hard, even though she only fell from about 3 feet up.  Ishka pulled every muscle from her ears to her tail.  Bute for the horse, Chiro for the human, and vacation time for both.  While Amy's vacation was planned, Ishka's was not.

Looking back, we both realized that she's been growing and growing in the rump.  For a horse that is naturally level to uphill, this is putting strain on her.  Add a rider, and it makes it even more awkward.  While she's a lovely mover, she had used so much extra effort to get the same motion, that she was just exhausted

I decided that Ishka gets at LEAST a month off.  Both to heal, and to catch up.  She won't come back into training until Amy doesn't have to brace her feet in front of her just to keep from sliding off.
But at least now, we know that she has all 3 gaits down.  A little time off won't hurt her at all, and she can spend some time thinking about how much she loved the attention.  Instead of working, Ishka will now have to deal with being groomed and loved on instead.

And Amy.... well.... I'm surprised her husband lets her keep coming back!  A freak accident, but that's what horses are all about isn't it?  I'm just so glad it wasn't worse.  They both really deserve their vacation.

While Amy is gone, I will be working with Diesel, Doodles, Boo, Poko, and Dream under saddle, and a whole slew of horses on the ground.  I'm feeling pretty confident about riding those horses now.  As they come off Amy's riding list, and onto mine, that will mean more time for Amy with others when she returns. 


  1. sounds like a scary wreck , Glad no one was seriously injured. Ishka looks like a wonderful little horse !

  2. Ozzy was a red bag baby as well. Saved in the nick of time. Glad nobody was seriously hurt. She's a beautiful little horse.

  3. Glad they're both OK - a horse falling is a nightmare. A vacation should do the trick. Our Dawn was 4 when we got her and was very downhill - it took a while for the front to catch up (and she's still slightly lower in the withers) and now she carries herself very well - when she was young she had to wear bell boots 24/7 because she would step on herself.

  4. Very glad are ok. Vacations are wonderful !!

  5. Laughing Orca RanchJuly 20, 2011 at 6:58 PM

    Eeeek! I hope horses are about more than just freak accidents (:-o

    So glad the injuries weren't serious and that everyone gets some time off to relax and enjoy the summer. And you get to move back into what you do best.
    I bet you're Mom is relieved that she wasn't the one riding Ishka when she fell.

    Ishka is one gorgeous mare!