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, September 6, 2011

Thinning the herd and thinking out loud

Ok, so as many of you know, I'm working on moving completely away from light horses (you know, the normal sized horse) and into drafts and draft crosses.  That means horses like Doodles here will be up fr sale into the right homes.  A perfect match for my light horses is more important right now to me then the price.  Now with that said, I have a few with babies in the belly who won't be listed until I see what they have foaled.

See, I have all of these horses for a reason, and that reason is to bring some genetic diversity into the Sugarbush Drafts, as well as a few specific traits, most of which are not color (but ok, getting the leopard gene back, is also on my list of "to do").

But that leaves me with 26 horses, and only 5 on my sales list!  I'm baffled.  Granted, some, like Doodles, are not listed, but only for sale to a home that is willing to deal with his ulcers.  Ash and Keeley are in that number (26 horses I own) but they will never leave me.  I refuse to sell an aged horse!  Those lady earned their retirement here, and can live out their days costing me money all they want.  I owe it to them!

But, I see the writing on the wall.  A severe drought in Texas.  An economy that is not rebounding as nicely as any of us would like, and might even take another nose dive.  And of course, a huge excess of horses on the market.  So this leaves me in a conundrum.

I know that horse prices are in the tank.  I also know that I have some lovely horses!  The problem is (And Doodles is my "poster boy" today, because he's just a perfect example) on paper these horses aren't impressive.  Doodles is a grade.  We believe that he's an unregistered paint, he was purchased by a friend at auction at 13 months of age.  She was with a friend, had no plans to buy a horse, but the only bidder on him was the kill buyer.  My father purchased him from her, and we've raised him, trained him, and loved him since.  He's now 11 years old.  In that time, this horse has been trained to do most everything, but he will never be good at much more then taking care of his rider.  At that though, he excells!

Doodles is about as bomb proof as I have ever seen in a horse.  I can't even remember the last time he spooked.  I think he was 5.  He's pretty, he's social, he's just about perfect as a kid or husband's horse, but has the will to be a part time competitor as well.... if you don't care about being in the money.  Doodles lives for a "good boy".

My father has tacked him up with his bridle on upside down, and headed down the trail, and Doodles didn't care.  Oh sure, he got a bit confused at what was asked of him, but he sure tried to figure it out!  He's taught countless kids, and their parents to ride, he will go where pointed, and stop when asked, and do no more then flick an ear at one of those horse eating wal-mart bags flapping towards him on a breeze.  In other words, this horse's training and personality is worth a small fortune.  And yet.... I can't seem to figure out a safe way to market that, and get him in a home where he will be appreciated, because I refuse to sell him with out disclosing his medical condition.  Ulcers.  Easily managed by just giving him a cheap powder (Ulcer Aid) on his feed, and not changing his herd around every other day.

And then I look at my other horses.  Tori, who will be excellent one day, but currently resembles a mule.  She has all the right bits, just they aren't growing in the right order.  She's 2.  Do I start riding her, even though she still LOOKS like a baby, and maybe stress her legs, or do I wait, and put her a bit behind the curve on training?  I could show her, but that's a complete money sink for a horse in a breed that I'm getting out of.

Phoenix I am starting under saddle shortly (she's started the ground work for it) and she IS a performance type of personality, but that means that she's not going to be a good horse for everyone.  She's um.... intense.  A good intermediate horse, but a BAD novice owner's horse.  And a timid owner?  She'd walk all over them, and turn into the spawn of Satan. Most of the horses I'm working right now are older, and my keepers.  Backing 3 year olds, finishing the 4 year olds, and keeping the training up on the rest.

So, my point is, that I know I should be selling, and selling fast.  Just move them!  But I can't bring myself to do that and sleep at night.  I can afford them, but I don't necessarily have the TIME for them.  So what is more fair, toss them into a home where they get some attention, even if it's not the best, or take my time selling them, and be picky?  As you can see, money is not one of my considerations.

I've already come to the conclusion that I'm going to lose my shirt on any light horse I have.  Looking at the market, horses are going for $200 to $500 bucks.  I can't put a foal on the ground for less then $1000!  Well, I suppose I could, but I won't.  I want to make sure the mares are cared for, the vaccines are given, and all those important things like that.

So this brings me back to my pondering.  Is it right to buy horses from the people who do it wrong?  Granted, not all people selling a cheap horse are doing it wrong, but the breeders pumping out $500 babies ARE.  There's no way they cared for their mares properly, let alone the sucklings.  If they did, they wouldn't still be breeding!  It's not exactly a cheap thing to do.  If we keep buying horses from those who pop out baby after baby, and never mind things like vet care, then aren't we just encouraging them to do it again next year?  But, why would anyone want to spend more then they have to?  And some of those babies end up kinda nice looking.  When you think about it, halter training a weanling isn't that much work, especially if you're looking at the long run, and a few grand off the top means more money for later in life.

I sell horses for the average horse owner.  I produce good conformation, often color, and simply amazing minds.  It's not uncommon for new people to the farm to ask how we get them all to come up to see us, or comment on how friendly and well mannered they ALL are.  Oh sure, I could cut down on the time and effort I put in, and pop out loud colored foals for a few hundred bucks.... but I wouldn't sleep at night!

So, while I know I'm slimming my herd down, I'm not real sure how I'm going to do it.  I also am not really sure how big of a breeding herd I want to keep for the future, even if they are all producing Sugarbush Draft Horses.  Ironically, the tendency to only breed for what the market can support is what brought the Sugarbush Draft Horses so close to extinction.  I can easily handle 4 foals each year, and the training for those horses for up to 5 years.  That gives me wonderful well mannered broke SDHR horses to sell in the future.  I'm thinking that's the way I'm going to go.

And if I have time, space, and money left over, I'll just pick up some horses in need, put them into the Second Chance program, and help them earn themselves good homes.  Like Rover there.

Huh... it's funny how typing it out helps to make it make sense.  I think I have my plan!  Now to spend a couple of years working to get there, and putting my "extra" horses into the best homes I can.


  1. I wish I wasn't boarding... Doodles sounds PERFECT for me and my family.

    However... Can you send me the type of pictures you want of a draft mare to determine if they are foundation material?

  2. A general side view is all I need. Standing grazing, etc. If you have a picture that shows the side of the body, and another that shows the side of the neck/shoulder and head, then I can get the idea that way. Really, we're pretty easy to please.

    The ideal is a proper set of conformation shots, but since so few people know how to do those, and others have to try to get the pictures with out assistance..... well, we work with people. Our goal is a nice set of foundation horses, not to be photo snobs =)

    I'll do a post on the ideal conformation shots for tomorrow though. =)

  3. Laughing Orca RanchSeptember 6, 2011 at 5:31 PM

    You sound a lot like me in regards to wanting to make sure your horses got to a good home. It took me over a year to find the best home for my previous horse even though I had many inquiries and quite a few people come by to try her out. I wanted it to be the best fit for my mare and for the rider. She needed someone strong, confident and a leader, but I kept getting novices, parents wanting her for their kids or young riders wanting to do disciplines that I knew she wasn't suited for. When the right owners came along, it just felt right, and it was.

    You know you are really tempting me with this Doodles post.....I wonder how long of a drive it is from Tijeras, NM to your farm.... :)


  4. ROAD TRIP! I'll vouch for Doodles. I've ridden him several times and he's a sweetie pie.

  5. Horses like Doodles are easy to place in a good home because such solid minded horses are just rare. Most people expect minor medical things, like ulcers. I would take him in a heartbeat, but I can barely keep two ridden.

    But I know many people looking for a Doodles. It's a tough time to be finding homes for horses, but good homes are still out there...

  6. Just under 10 hours, and about 590 miles.

    He is an excellent horse though. I wish like anything I could get his ulcers to stop flaring up, so he could stay in the lesson program, but it's just not fair to him.

  7. Oddly it would be easy, if people would meet him. But with all of my local sales list shoved full of "kind, sweet, bombproof" horses.... listing ulcers (and they are significant ulcers, he's been endoscoped) is just enough to make them look at the OTHER horses out there. I'm not worried though. He's more then welcome to stay here as long as he needs until he gets the perfect place. Just means I have to work hard to keep his life a little more consistent.

  8. I honestly wish I was closer, had a little more income, and more experienced with horses. I'd buy Phoenix from you in a heartbeat if I were a more experienced rider. I have been told I'm a very good rider as I am now, but I just don't have a whole lot of experience since every chance I've had for lessons went down the tube. I don't want to wind up with more horse than I can handle, and I certainly see . Bad times for everyone.

    Sadly I can't right now... But I always love to see people taking care in placing their animals. :)