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.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The best horse in the world?

Ok, so I was reading the new fugly blog today (new writer, much kinder) and it got me thinking. Foundation breeders tout that their horses are the best, while modern breeders say theirs are.  So what type of horse really IS the best.

Well, I think that depends.

I own a lot of horses.  From Foundation Sugarbush Draft horses, through the culmination of Everett Smith's program (Sweetie, my darling filly) plus a whole gaggle of horses from "off breeds" (those I'm not breeding FOR) for my program.  I have a Percheron, some Appaloosas, a couple of Quarter Horses, a Paint (yeah, so what if he's a solid), an Arabian, lots of draft crosses, a few Thoroughbreds, and some mutts just to round it out.  I am not a breed snob in the least, if you can't tell.

Now, I have become most interested in working with adult novice riders.  Those of us who grew up in love with horses (or not) and decided to one day learn to ride.  Some own a horse, and some don't.  What I find most interesting though, is how much the ideal of "the perfect horse" changes from person to person.  Those who grew up in horses tend to have inherited certain thoughts about horses, but for many novice riders, it's all so fresh and new, that I find myself looking at horses in a whole new way - through their eyes.

I have a friend who loves dressage.  She wants the best horse ever as her dressage mount, so she owns warmbloods.  In her mind, if it isn't a warmblood, then it can't be good at dressage.  Well, I'm happy for her, but I completely disagree!  My wonderful Thoroughbred gelding is a much nicer horse to ride then any of hers.  Oh sure, some of her horses might out perform Diesel, but none of them will work as hard, while being so sweet, and give so much of himself to please.  Diesel though, is just a Thoroughbred.

And then there's the whole western horse thing.  I have a well bred AQHA mare.  By bloodlines, she should be an amazing work horse.  Cutting and Reining are in her bloodlines, as is some western pleasure.  In reality, Cayenne is happy to stand there and watch everyone else work.  There's no interest in success, no desire to please me, just a nice steady horse who puts in as little effort as possible.  Granted, when she gets going, she's a ton of fun, but it's just so much work to get her motivated.  Yet if you look only at her papers, you'd think she's pretty damned nice.

But when it comes to playing in a western saddle (because I'm not skilled to do much more then play) my prefered horse is definately NOT bred for it.

Poko is part draft, and part something that had LP (Mustang?  Appaloosa?  POA?).  No one knows his breeding, but I can tell you that this horse works HARD.  He doesn't like to goof off and piddle around.  Oddly, I got Poko because he did not fit well with a friend of mine.  I like an intense horse, while she wanted a packer.  Poko is intense.  When I ride him, he acts like he's all mellow and laid back, but god forbid I trust him to that.  If I slouch off in the saddle, he drops his shoulder, and makes it easy for me to lose my balance.  Nothing "bad" mind you, but he expects me to work as hard as he does... and he puts his all into it.

Lets not forget about my amazing disparity in sizes.  I own a very nice little Arabian gelding.  Boo is probably 14.3 or 15.0 hands (I've measured him to both, so you decide) and maybe 900 pounds on a good day.  He's short, he's quick, and he'd rather be lazy.  And yet, this horse is a complete saint!

Boo will carry a kid around for hours, and do his best to make sure she stays on top of him.  If she loses her balance, he simply slows down and moves under her.  That's priceless in a pony in my mind!  But, he understands when he has more rider too.  With me, he will even do a few high school moves, such as a spanish walk, and a levade.  He's very talented, and I can't even begin to touch his potential.  Boo can jump 4 feet cleanly from a bad take off (and has, thank goodness I wasn't on him!) and my dressage instructor loved him to death.  He's good.  He's damned good.  But he's kinda short.

So, compare that with my biggest horse, Midnight.  She's about 16.1 hands tall, but will weigh in around 2000 pounds.  She's thick, she's stout, and she's willing.  Yep, I'd put a kid on her too.  Midnight has been there, and done that, and likely earned a reward for it.  This mare is just amazing.  I have never seen her spook in the weeks that I've owned her, and I've tried.  But Midnight is not exactly a high level mover.  She hates to collect, and extending is a lot of work.  She has the smoothest trot though.  I know when I get on Midnight, that I'm going to have FUN, and it won't be WORK.

But she's not my only draft.  I have many.  Compare this big girl to KatyDid, one of my highly bred Sugarbush Drafts.  Katy is much more refined, a lot shorter (she's about 15.3) and way more athletic.  Katy has all of the "go" of a light horse, but all of the bone and size of a draft, in a heigth that I can mount from the ground.  Katy is still kinda green though, so she's not a horse I would trust with very many riders yet.  She's getting there though!

So many vast differences, and yet, not a one of these horses is "bad".  I couldn't honestly tell you which of these horses I prefer, either.  My point here is that so many people talk about the "best" breed, as if it's a hard fact.  It's not.  The "best" of anything is always an opinion.  Sure that opinion can be based on facts, but it's still an opinion.

What matters, is what YOU, the horse's owner or rider, is wanting from a horse.  If you want a calm packer, then Poko will NOT be the best.  If you want a high end performance horse, then Midnight is not the best.  If you want a short horse, then Diesel would never make you happy, but if you want a tall horse, Cayenne is not going to work out. I always hear people wanting to know about the "best" of something.  The best horse for them for a sport, the best gender, the best color, the best size.  As a rule, in horses, all of that depends on the person asking.

I have pretty horses, and I have ugly horses.  I have big horses, and I have little horses.  I have smart horses and I have dumb horses.  I have all types of horses, and there is someone that thinks each of them is the "best" at something.  The way I see it, I have an entire pasture full of the best horses in the world!

Now I will admit that I do have a horse that will soon be my personal "best".  Scorch is everything I ever dreamed of in a horse.  From size to ability to personality.  And now that LP is making him fade into the red shades, even his color works for me (I'm not crazy about black horses, but I like bays a lot, and he keeps trying to look bay!).  With that said, Scorch is having a little training bump (pun intended).  He's not learning how to transition into the trot with out bucking, and bucking does NOT make me love him much.  Ah well.... nothing is perfect, right?

But I do have one equine that is definately NOT my best horse.......

Because she's my best donkey!  I love my Maggie Mae. 

I never truly appreciated all of this though, until I relaxed in my riding.  When I wanted to be the best jumper in the world (around age 12) I was positive that stock breeds sucked.  Well sure, they will never be the next Olympic champion jumper.  What I didn't realize though, was that some where, out in the world, is a person who needs exactly what stock horses are for. 

When I started doing "horses" as a business, I was thrown into a society where everything had to be over the top.  The color had to be WOW, the show record had to be WOW, and each horse had to excell at something.  There was so much hate against other horses, even within the same breed, just because they were good for something else.  It wasn't until I stopped trying to be "all that" in the horse world, and started doing what I truly love, that I began to learn so much.

When my new horsey friends talk about their horses, I listen.  I hear what they love, what they dislike, and I actually think about what they say.  In the years I've been doing this, I have learned to appreciate so much more in a single horse, then I ever did when I was trying to be a show queen.  I wouldn't go back to that mentality for anything now.  I find when I go "work" my horses, I have a smile on my face, even when they are bad.  I appreciate each horse for being what it is, not for what it is not.  I am able to realize when something "bad" about a horse is nothing more then my own personal opinion, and not truly a problem.  Maybe the horse is too calm?  Well some where out there is a first time rider who would LOVE a horse that is nice and slow. 

And now, I do my best to make each horse the best of what IT can be, not what I wish it were.  I am so much happier this way, and so are my horses.  I trained my first horse for the sheer love of being with it.  Some where along the way, I lost sight of why I ride, and began to push for perfection of movement.  I would spend hours on a single thing, frustrating myself, and my horse in the process.  When I stepped back, and learned to love riding and horses for what they are, I found my happiness again.

I will never make it to the big leagues in horses, but I'm perfectly happy with that.  In fact, I hope to stay working with young horses and novice riders.  My focus has completely changed, and I'm so lucky it has.  This section of the horse world is so sadly under represented, and under appreciated!  I know when I was getting into horses, finding someone to work with me, on my terms, was almost impossible.  So now, I try to fill in that gap for those around me.

Because lets all be honest here.  There's really only one thing that matters when it comes to horses:
The love of it


  1. AMEN. I love, love, love, love this post!

  2. I believe in good structure - good conformation and feet - and a good mind and beyond that, I don't care about breed, or size, or color, etc. etc. Everybody has a different idea of what the "best horse" is, and I've already got three of them!

  3. Well said. Both my horses kind of picked me. I'm a lucky girl :-)

  4. I wish you were next door! You could train me and my mixed mess of horses.

  5. Another great post! I have to admit to having a thing for big heads and roman noses.

  6. together,you and the horse can bring out the best in one another,thats important.the day before yesterday helped out at the stables again as have many times before,labor of love.[unpaid}With 4 rescue horses 1 draft and 3 regular sized horses.all underfed,scared,tired aand dusty.Stayed into the night,stalled feed watered,petted,talked,soothrd,loved,went home,the next day,I now own a large pinto black and white north american spotted draft horse named amigo! Iam so proud! your web-site provides much inspiration.who knew.

  7. I wish you were closer too! Any one who likes a horse, just for being a horse, is the kind of person I get along with!