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.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Riding the Green Horse

This is Sweetie as a yearling.  See, I was bad yesterday and didn't get pictures of my ride, because it's not easy to photo yourself on a horse.  So, you get to deal with recycled pictures today.

Anyway, I decided to get out and ride the big lug.  For me, this process is tackling a few things.  First, I'm getting Sweetie trained up.  Secondly, this is the first "unbroke" horse I will be riding myself since my accident.  I have some fear issues to over come!

So Yesterday's ride was mostly about getting ME up on the horse with out a baby sitter.  Sweetie has done this before, and she's perfectly fine with it, but I wasn't.  I have to admit that I was freaked out at some parts.  Oddly, it wasn't the parts I expected!

I caught her in the pasture, and headed up to the barn.  I tied her up to the trailer (which is my tack room for now) and did the routine groom, pick feet, fly spray thing.  Sweetie took a nap.

I have to mention here that while Sweetie was the last horse bred by Everett Smith, she was born at Iron Ridge.  Her mother arrived VERY pregnant, and a couple of months later, this bundle of joy arrived.  I missed half (literally) of her birth, but Jae was there to assist.  She was born during my "nap time", and Jae came screaming in, shook me, said "Rose is foaling" and ran back out.  I put on the first clothes I could find, and arrived to see legs, head and neck, with Rose being the most calm and mild mannered mare in labor I have seen.

I told Everett, and he chose to name her SHC O Sweet Surprise, or Sweetie for short.  The name fits her.  First, she's a chestnut from 2 black horses.  That was a shocker (as they have black in their lineages for eons).  Secondly, she's a snowcap, or homozygous for LP.  This means that she will always have foals with some type of appaloosa type coloration.  She's the highest percentage homozygous LP horse that we know of. 

So, the plan was, that I would sell this filly for Everett.  Yeah, lets just say that didn't happen.  Instead, I bought her for myself.  Something about her just made me fall in love, and she earned a place as one of "my" horses.  And I justified it because of my breeding program.  Hey, it all worked out, right?

So I have raised this filly from birth, and she's one of "mine" in my mind.  When she was weaned, something dreadful happened, and she turned into one of the ugliest most awkward babies I have ever seen!

Yes, Sweetie was a Moose.  We fed her and fed her, and she just kept getting this big belly, and growing taller!  As a 3 year old, she has finally slowed down, at 15.3 hands, but she's very obviously not done, and she hasn't even started to grow wider yet.  She is still a gangly teenager.

So, last April, when I got kicked, it was Sweetie that I was brushing.  Diva got jealous, and ran up behind us kicking.  I got caught in the cross fire, knocked under them, and dear Sweetie stood over me taking kicks, not knowing what to do.  She knew she wasn't supposed to step on me, but she really didn't like getting kicked on.  If she hadn't been so well mannered, it's likely that my head would have been crushed.  I was brushing her, and hence had no helmet on.  I was laying completely under her, dazed, and unable to move.  I have very clear and vivid memories of the sunlight on her leg hair.

And now, I have a fear of being under the feet of a horse, or anything that could put me there.  It's completely irrational, but it's there.  Yet something inside me trusts this horse (huh, wonder why!) so I chose her to be my "greenie" to test out my new found confidence in the saddle.

I tacked her up, and she had perfect manners.  The worst she did was backing up as I bitted her, but that was my fault.  I had the offside of the bridle hooked on her halter, and putting backwards pressure on her.  Once I unhooked it, Sweetie opened her mouth, and took the bit like a pro.

I put her in a western saddle, cinched her up, and headed out to the arena.  It's been a bit since we've ridden, so I started on the lunge.  Wow was that anti-climatic.  She walked, and would even trot when I asked, but she had no interest in fast, spooky, or zippy.


So then I went to climb on.  I used the same methods I talked about yesterday, making sure she stood nicely, and was relaxed.  I put a foot in the stirrup, and balanced my weight across the saddle, while playing with her bridle (asking her to bend her neck) and patting her offside.  At one point, she got confused, and when I patted her ribs, she took a few steps, thinking I was asking her to walk on.  A light touch and "woah" and she stopped perfectly.

Well, that means no more putting it off for me.  And yet, the thought of swinging onto a green horse, with one real ride on her, had me very nervous.  Sweetie had given every sign that she was going to be perfect for me, but my mind kept thinking about her bucking, or bolting, and me ending up tossed under her feet.

I knew that this would be a HUGE step for me, and I really didn't want to back down, so I compromised.  I asked Jae to lead her.

I swung up and over, and petted her, and Sweetie made happy faces.  Then I asked Jae to just let me sit there a bit.  We talked, I petted the horse, and in seconds, I began to feel secure, and in control.  Sweetie has a nice "sit" to her, being wide enough to fit me, but thin enough to resemble a light horse (Thoroughbred) type of build.  Like I said, she hasn't finished growing yet, and I had worried that I would really feel like I was on an ungangly baby.  Nope, not at all.

I asked Jae to make a big circle, and just let me feel her move.  He never said a bad thing, just walked off leading the big lug.  Sweetie followed perfectly, and her only bobble was stepping in a bit of mud and compensating for the slip.  She didn't have a single problem balancing me, and she could care less that I was in a predator area.  Sweetie was just loving all the attention, and doing her best to be perfect.

So, it was time.  Jae handed me the lead rope, and I looped it over the horn, and asked Sweetie to walk.

She walked.  She turned.  She stopped.  She did everything I asked her to, and did it as well as she knew how.  She was light, responsive, and thinking.  Her gaits flow like silk, and her movement comes from the hind end.  She's forward, in a very calm and controlled way.

All in all, I had nothing to worry about, and I felt GOOD about it.  I asked Jae to hold the lead while I stepped off, and he was smiling at me.

When I swung my foot out of the stirrup, she braced up for the weight shift, but didn't move out of place.  She stood quietly for me to slide down her side, and then demanded her hug when I was done.  I loosened the girth, and started giving her cookies.

So, no, I didn't do a thing to train the horse, but I did do a ton to get over my fear issues.  I felt good.  I felt calm.  And I felt like my old self on a horse.  Oh sure, I'll probably always have to deal with a bit of anxiety, but I know how to handle it now.  I simply diffuse the reason for the fear in very small steps.

Tomorrow, if weather allows, I'm going to do it all on my own.  Sweetie rides like she's been doing this for weeks now, and I have ever intention to take advantage of that.  I'm going to call Rachel and Chris in to help too.  I need someone to ride in the arena with me, and someone to call 911 if I try to kill myself again.  I think Sweetie will do fine with a mature and calm horse around, but I really want to be sure that she can work around other horses.  I made this mistake once with Amber, and it resulted in a very bad spook, and me in the hospital.

It won't be happening real soon, but maybe in a week or so.  Midnight and Sweetie get along, and Midnight will pony, so my plan is to first ride Midnight and  pony Sweetie off her, then have Rachel ride Midnight and Pony Sweetie, and then for me to ride Sweetie next to Midnight as if we're being ponied.

Needless to say, I'm VERY happy about this.  It might seem like so little to most people, but for me, getting on a young unbroke horse, especially one involved in my accident, took a lot of time to work up to.  I did it, and I lived, and it was FUN!


  1. It isn't little, it's big - it's great!! You go, girl! You are lucky to have Jae - I haven't got anyone to help me out like that and doing stuff all by myself was pretty scary at the beginning.

    Can't wait to hear more about Sweetie's progress - she seems like a really good one.

  2. Woo Hoo! Great Job!

    If this weather cooperates, Chris and I are game for whatever you need. :)

  3. That's GREAT! I don't know when I'll be up to ride, providing the weather even cooperates. Mike's mom is here until Sunday. I know she wants to see the Boyz. I'm off today, tomorrow and Monday.

  4. Sounds like a huge accomplishment! Congratulations for a job well done.