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 10, 2011

Rescueing and Breeding - Can they mix?

I breed Sugarbush Draft Horses, and Stonewall Sport Horses.  I am hoping to be a part of reviving a dieing breed, using my education in genetics, my love of horses, and my undieing fanaticism of the amazing Sugarbush Draft Horse to do this. 

With that said, I am first and foremost a horse lover.  I love pretty much all things horse related.  I can spend hours learning about equine nutrition, or days talking about coat color genetics.  I just love it all.  And the horses!  Well, we can't forget the magnificent beasts that awe us so.  Their grace, their power, and their amazing gentleness to humans - I love it all.  So, being in the position I am in, I often take in unwanted horses.

You probably know about Moon.  She is the lovely Paint mare that we picked up recently, and have brought back almost to normal.  In only 3 weeks she has gone from skinny, to showing just a hint of ribs, and being ready to get back into training.  In the past, I have picked up horses, had horses given to me, and bought horses on the brink of death.  I just can't turn away from those lovely brown or blue eyes begging for a chance.  So, I started my Second Chance horse program. 

I'm not going to lie and say I do it all out of the kindness of my heart.  I have to think about the money of it, otherwise my babies would not be in a better place.  I basically pick up these horses in the worst way - whether that's from owner neglect, or just a bad string of circumstances - and make them better.  We put feed, farrier, vet, training and socialization into the horses.  Once they are solid equine citizens, I put them up for sale.  Since they cost me so little (as compared to a home raised foal) I am able to sell them for less.  I usually make no profit on them, or maybe a few bucks over what I put into them, but I know that these horses are now in a great home (reference checked) and will no longer have to worry about meeting the kill buyer, or wondering where their next meal will come from.

It's really very easy for me to do this.  I have the land, I have the budget for a specific amount of horses (40) and I have the time, skills, and know how to make it happen.  There's a catch though.  It's called "the market".

I have been told time and time again that my potential customers will NOT like seeing rescue horses beside my well bred quality SDHR babies.  Some have said that it confuses the issue.  Others have said that it will reduce the sales on my Sugarbush Drafts because there is a cheaper option.  And of course there's the whole debate about "how it looks" for me to have all of these nags of unknown breeding, and little training running around the property.  Rescueing horses, and helping out - I have been warned - will lessen my ability to sell quality horses for the amount of money it costs me to make them.

And lets be real.  I am NOT all about the money.  I do things all the time that have nothing to do with the money, BUT (and it's a bit but) I do have bills to pay.  The farrier, the vet, the feed stores...... they don't come free.  Not to mention the mortgage, the utilities, and all the "fancy" things like internet and cell phones.

But, my rescue horses bring a lot of attention, and even more love.  People seem to LIKE what I am doing to help these horses.  I have yet to see all of this negativity that I have been so warned about.  I often think it's because of the market I cater to.  First time horse owners, retired horse owners who are getting back into it, and well.... what I call the "middle market".  Middle aged, middle experienced, and middle income.  My horses are usually priced from $500 to $10,000 (and rarely that high!) so there's a wide range of purchase options.  I'm not selling the next Olympic Champions for the cost of a new home!  I'm just selling good horses to people who want a wonderful pet they can trust.  I personally think that the Second Chance horses are an asset to that market. 

But, of course, "rescueing" is a touchy word to use.  I'm not a registered non profit agency.  I'm not 501(c)3 tax exempt.  I can't really solicit donations.  This limits me in the horses I can help.  I have to look at their potential value.  As an example, aged horses are a "no no" for me.  No one will look at an 18 year old horse for any decent amount of money, and usually those mature horses take a bit more to get back in shape.  It's a money pit for me to try and do that.  So, it ends up taking money from my family for things like groceries.  That makes it really hard to justify.  I limit my top age to 15 for a horse, and bottom age is 2.  The horses must be sound, or able to get sound.  They must have a future riding career ahead of them.  Papers are great, and really help, but I refuse to turn away from a horse with no papers.

So, I jokingly say that I'm "flipping" horses.  I mean, in truth I am... but not like the "evil horse traders" you always hear stories about.  Instead, I'm taking up where someone left off, and putting the training, feed, and basics into a horse to make it what it SHOULD have been from the start.  I can't even tell you the number of free horses out there right now who have barely been touched.  I mean, even a 2 year old should halter, lead, tie, bathe, and pick up its feet... but so many don't.  These are the horses I help.  And my help is that I make them a solid "good horse" for someone.

All of the horses pictured here are Second Chance horses that I have rehomed.  They are all doing wonderfully in their new lives, and are now the type of horses that someone would LOVE to have.  They all came to me as the type of horse that you could barely give away for free.  These are only the ones I have handled since I officially started operating as a business.  There have been more, and there will be more in the future.  I just can't give this up!

So, this makes me wonder.  I'm slimming WAY back on my horses soon.  I plan to have about 6 to 8 broodmares, with all of them doubling as lesson horses (if they are able to).  My goal is to be down to around 15 horses by this time next year.  Add in the babies, who I never expect to sell until they are mature, and I'm sitting at around 21 horses.  That's almost half of what I'm budgeted for!

So, I plan to keep doing the rescue thing, but here's my big question.  Should I REALLY do the rescue thing?  I mean, should I file the paper work, choose a name, set up for horses that could be contagious (and multiples of them) form a BOD.... all the legal and proper "non profit horse rescue" stuff.  OR, should I simply keep doing what I'm doing?

I will never take in more horses then I can handle.  I've seen how badly that goes!  Granted, I always set my "ideal" level below what I can handle.  Like now, I have room for 1 more rescue horse, but I'm not actively looking.  If 2 or 3 happen to fall in my lap and need me, well I can take them on, but no more.  I figure my numbers are just fine where they are until I sell a few.  So, I have a "buffer" level of about 5 horses right now - mostly thanks to all my friends who will jump in and help when I need it - but I do my best to stay well below my ideal numbers.

The problem isn't feeding them, rather it's finding the time to TRAIN them.  With out that training, they are worthless.  If I can't train them, then I'm not really doing much good for them.  Rather, I'm just acting like a horsey hoarder, and trying to have them ALL.  I don't WANT them all!  I want them to be happy.

And unlike so many places, I am fully set up to not only foal out a baby (Like Lakota there) but also to raise him and train him just as I do any of my home bred babies.

But, there are benefits to being a proper rescue.  The tax part isn't really it.  As a horse business I can deduct just about anything, and get tax exemptions for anything horsey related. I already have that benefit.  But lets be real, rescues get donations.  How nice would it be to pick up an amazing horse that needs hernia surgery, and have  a way to solicit for donations for that hernia surgery?  I'm able to handle the basics with no problems, but we're currently in a drought.  The exact time when horses NEED to be rescued, and I'm counting pennies and heads to feed.  I can get the feed, but I can't take in more horses with out more money.  Donations would give me more freedom to help more.  But you can't count on donations.

I've been batting around this idea for about a year.  Sadly, I keep coming back to sitting on the fence about it, so I thought I'd toss it out there for debate.  As a rescue, people would feel more confident in placing their horses with me.  I would do less searching.  But is seeking out those horses a bad thing?  I check the markets on a regular basis to keep up with trends.  What's hot this season, paints, or solids?  What's the average price of a decently broke trail horse right now?  Those sorts of questions.  And of course, when shopping the horse ads, I always come across the "losing home, must go by this weekend" type of ads.

Part of me says that it's not MY problem, these unwanted horses.  Maybe I should just do less, and have more free time.  But would that really make me happy?  Part of me says that seeking out horses from owners who want to SELL them - often for such a pittance that they spend more trying to get a few bucks - means that those poor beasts actually have a chance.  And the other part of me says that as a true and formal rescue I could help even more horses.  

I've looked into BLM mustangs too.  There's a holding facility close by.  I could easily take in 2 mustangs, gentle them, train them, and obey all the rules while being compensated for it by the BLM.  Yeah, they pay owners $500 to hold a horse for a year.  After that, I could then sell the horse into a great home where it wouldn't kill some small child whose parents didn't want to pay for an "expensive" horse.  There's no need to be a rescue to do that.  And some of those mustangs are amazing horses!  Even the butt ugly ones (who are likely the ones I would go after).  But as a rescue, I would have more viewers, more potential homes, and more exposure.  Mustangs are HARD to sell.  They are a dime and dozen, and everyone swears theirs is "good" but no one can agree on what exactly "good" means.  With out a large population to look at these horses, fall in love with them, and hopefully take them home, it is much harder.  Formal rescue status helps there.

But, again, back to my original thought... can I mix this with my breeding, and not ruin either, or both of them?  Instead, should I spend more time with boarding, training, lessons and such?  For me, I would MUCH rather work with the horses, on MY schedule.  I have learned that humans tend to have these ideals about how fast a horse should learn, and not all horses accept that ideal.  I can't tell you the number of 5 and 6 year olds who are still working to "get it" and would likely be a problem horse if pushed too hard. 

And before my friends and family panic, I'm not doing anything drastic any time soon.  No matter which direction I go, it will be over a year before I make any changes.  I have the plan for 2012, and that will be to slim down the horses I have.  I'm just interested to see what people think about breeders who rescue, or rescues that also have a separate and unrelated breeding programs, and what the best way for me to mingle the two is.  There are always pre conceived notions about things.  Flipping horses is often seen  as BAD, but rescues are seen as good.  Would that social stereotype help me any?  Would breeding along side running a formal rescue hurt me?  Would trying to do both full time make me absolutely bonkers?  Not like I'm sane or anything, but I am well known to over extend myself.

But I do have a soft spot for the ones in need, and probably always will.  


  1. From me, the answer would be not just no, but HELL NO, but not for the reasons you may think.

    First of all, there's the time involved in all the ongoing paperwork which would take you away from working the horses that are part of your business. You are leaving yourself open to being accused of being one of those people that rescues horses to breed them. True or not, it's all about perception. There's also the concerned third parties who would be putting you under even more scrutiny. I think you also open yourself up even more to the possibility of people dumping their horses in the middle of the night.

    I think what you do under the radar is good and sort of keeps the whole thing in balance.

    There's my two cents.

  2. If what you're doing now works for you, just keep doing it. I think the fact that you want to break even if possible on your rescues is probably a good thing - you end up with horses where you can make a real difference. I think a non-profit rescue might change your focus, and it could be hard to turn down horses (that wouldn't meet your existing break-even requirements). Non-profits do bring lots of paperwork, and boards, and publicity, etc. - not sure from your description of what you do and why you do it that a formal rescue organization would be the right way for you to go.

    But it's you who gets to decide . . .

  3. Heather, from what I have hard, yo are doing fine the way you are. Mljintex made a good point, all the extra paperwork in being a rescue. Have you talked to a "true rescue" to find out just what is involved with the paperwork, the reports, etc? I would do that first.

    As far as mixing the two, why not? You are trying to save a rare breed while at the same time you are rescuing the needy. I think it is great that you can handle that many horses financially. I know I have trouble with 8 horses here and I make decent money!!

    I, for one, would go to your place for a rescue and would probably end up with a sugarbush instead!!

    Go with your heart and gut, don't make more work for you. Also, another good point was made, it would tend to allow people to think they can just drop off a horse whenever they wanted. That wouldn't be a good thing!

  4. Oh, before I even started on that path, I would definitely spend a LONG time (a year, maybe 2) on research. I do nothing quickly, or with out proper research. This is simply the first step, getting public perception of what I'm currently doing.

  5. Ah, and you have hit the nail on the head right there! I really tried hard to write this with out showing a bias to any one side, but trust me, keeping up like I am is what I prefer.

    My concerns are that a formal rescue would be too much "non horsey" work, plus that it would distract from my true focus, the SDHR. And yet, there are tempting benefits to it. For one, the publicity, and having others who can do much of the work (grants, advertising, etc).

    My ultimate dream would be to leave the paper work behind, and JUST do the horse thing. I've done rescue work for small animals. I was the executive director for one. It drove me nuts trying to deal with the human aspect.

    As it is, I can help horses in a way that I choose. I don't HAVE to take horses in, and I don't HAVE to churn out results and happy stories all the time. If I have a bad month, I can sit back, and do my own thing, with out having to dance to the tune of donors and employees/volunteers.

    I just wasn't sure how people think about me flipping horses. It is like being a "horse trader" but I use my powers for good, not... well.... money. =)

    Although money would be nice too!

  6. Wow what a great article--you have really thought this out. I think you should go for non profit horse rescue status--like you said you are doing it anyways and you might as well get the benefits. There are some breeders up here that take in unwanted horses, get them back in shape and 'flip' them--it seems to come with the territory. Best of luck toyou!!

  7. Thank you for all you do.