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, January 31, 2012

Spring isn't a day on the calendar

Winter in Texas looks like this.  A little green, a lot of yellow, and normally a hay bale in every field.

This year, there's no hay, and what hay that exists is so gross, most of us don't want to feed it to the horses.  (Thank goodness for complete feeds, alfalfa cubes, beet pulp and such!).   But, winter here is short.  Lasting from mid December through mid February, it's not really that much to worry about.

On either side of winter are the lush growing seasons.  Summer is hot and dry, and so our grasses try to go dormant.  A bit of rain usually prevents that, but lets be honest, it's Texas.  I can promise you that July and August will be dry.  September is hot, dry, with a few scattered storms.  The weather here is very easy to predict by the seasons.

So, once it starts raining in September, it just gets wetter and wetter as the season goes on, and the grasses get greener and greener.  Our "spring" grasses, such as Rye, clover, and other lush yet dangerous grasses make a reappearance, and the horses all get fat.  Then we have the 2 months of winter, where we all get cranky about the cost of hay (no matter how cheap or expensive the hay is that year) and count down until "spring".

That's because spring looks like this:
And with grasses like that, there's no point in putting out hay for the horses, it'll rot in the feeders.  This means less money spent, better looking horses, and we're all happier. 

Oh yeah, and it gets warmer too.  Warmer is good for riding, because some of us are alergic to the cold (yes, I mean me).

This year, Spring is coming early.  It's the last day of January, and my pastures are green, although still short.  The weather is decent (50s to 70s) if there was just a bit less wind, it'd be perfect.  The horses haven't started shedding out yet, but it won't be long now.  And me?  I've loving this!

And in only a few more months, it'll be BABY time again!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Who cares what you think of my house... but please love my farm.

The Society for Creative Anachronism, or The SCA, is going to be hosting an event up here at Iron Ridge.  This group of people is a bit different then what we normally see in horses, but a ton of fun!  Even better for me, is that they are a group of people who interact with their horses in a realistic way, with realistic expectations, and a social atmosphere that makes everyone involved feel like they are succeeding.

Ok, and lets be honest, who doesn't want to joust, at least a little?

So, when I had the opportunity to help out the SCA by allowing them to use the facilities for a weekend, naturally, I agreed.  And now, it's getting down to the wire.  We have a lot to do before the 17th- and the weather has NOT been helpful.

Today we are going to make some plans on where to put people, ponies, trailers, and how to arrange their events based upon the lay out of my place.  Of course, I also get to meet more horse people, and I expect to have a good time.

And yeah, I'm a little nervous.  As I've mentioned before, we're not a super fancy facility, nor do I have any intentions of ever making this place into a show type barn.  No indoor arena (although I DO want one of those, but just don't have a few extra 100 grand laying around), my barn is a few decades old, and wasn't the best planned to start with, and we still have old fencing to deal with.  Naturally, since it's my place, those faults glare at me, and I worry that others will think "oh, what a trashy place".  Now, when I go around and look at other facilities, I see that most are similar to mine, but I WANT to have mine look like McQuay stables!

And so, every time I meet new people, a little part of me gets nervous.

Oddly, growing up I never could understand why my mother always got like this about her house.  She'd spend a day cleaning before guests arrive, and that included painting walls, scrubbing base boards, and other tasks that seemed silly to a pre-teen girl.  Now, I understand her feelings.

So, I spent yesterday leveling the ground, and fretting about the place being soaked from the recent record setting rains.  It's not perfectly clean by any stretch, but it is what it is.  This weekend isn't the nervous making one though.  It's a few weeks away that I'll start going bonkers!  When all the people arrive.

Yep, I care more about what people think of my barn and property then I do about what they think of my house.  (Well, any of the 3 houses here that is).  I guess that means that I'm a barn brat at heart!  Poor Jae will never have a nice little hostess to show off the home he has made for us, but thankfully, he's as bad as I am.  Besides the fact that he'd be happier if no one ever came out (he's not exactly a social butterfly) he also is most proud of his horses, his rolling hills, and his work in keeping a poorly designed but oozing with potential property running as smoothly as a horse ranch ever can.

Am I the only one that does this? 

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Feel of Riding

I have been riding horses regularly for about 13 years now.  I bought my first horse in 1999, and my second horse a few weeks later.  That lovely bay gelding there, is the first one.  He was 4 months old, and I knew nothing.

My second horse was an older (almost 9) Thoroughbred mare, who was sold to me as "spawn of Satan" and "unbreakable".  With 3 trainers having been paid to get her under saddle, she still refused to carry a rider, and so had been a broodie all her life.  I bought her, and broke her out within a month.

How? I asked nicely.

So, lately there's this theme going around about training horses, and lightness, and the feel of it all.  A Year with Horses recently did a post on this, and she linked to Mugwup's post on a similar topic.  For those of us lucky enough to ride as children, with little formal training, you know what I mean.  How is it, that when we are so young, lack the physical strength, the muscular coordination, and the knowledge of the techniques needed, we can still get such amazing responses from a horse?

Is it that the horse is mystical?  I don't think so.  I've tried to explain this over and over again to people here, and words always seem to fail me.  But, I want to delve into this a bit today.

A huge part of it is the nostalgia, and the rose colored glasses we have on when remembering our pasts.  Things always seemed simpler back then, when ever "then" is, and that colors our memories.  The horses really weren't always perfect.  Sometimes we just didn't know they weren't being perfect, and most times we just didn't care.  Youth allows us this lack of fear, especially of serious harm.  Some how, the young always believe they will survive it, and that lack of fear really does make a huge difference.

But that doesn't mean we can't have that same synergy now.  Lately, I have been trying to teach people to ride by feel, not ride by the numbers.  I mean, for those of us who have taken lessons for years, and had the technique drilled into our heads, you will know what I mean.  To canter, you shift your weight slightly, move one heel back, touch softly, release tension on the reins, and so on.  Those are the "numbers" I am referring to.

Last weekend, I brought my old girl out to ride again.  She's semi retired, and both the weather, her weight (she fluctuates badly due to bad teeth), and the status of her cancer affect if and when she can be ridden.  Well, she's in high spirits now, and I was given the privilege of riding her.  I walked her around the arena to get a feel of how she was doing, and for some reason went to head back to the gate to talk to someone.  I didn't give a command, there were no aids considered, I just thought "I need to be there, and don't want to wait" and Ash picked up a slow collected canter, and headed right there.

Ash is the horse that was sold to me as unrideable, untrainable, and the "spawn of Satan".

That feeling, that freedom, that ease of working together is why we take all the lessons and work so hard to be perfect.  And yet, so often all that work fails us, because we are, after all, human.

The problem is, that no one ever told the horses that they should do X when Y happens.  Through repetition they might figure it out, but they never got the memo on how it works.  We have to remember here that the horse is the largest part of the partnership, an individual in itself, and a sentient being.

So, pause for a moment, and think about what YOU would do if someone pushed on you here, or tapped on you there, or forced your head to turn or duck this way or that way.  You might try to guess what they want, but it's unlikely that you'll be right 100% of the time.  Of course, the more you work with that silent pusher, the more likely you are to guess right.

On the flip side, think about your spouse, your children/parents, or a close friend.  Even if that friend doesn't say anything, you can tell when he or she is mad.  How?  What is it that makes the difference between not talking, and sulking?  Even if the person is trying to hide it, usually it will show through - maybe as detachment and not anger, but you can always tell that something is just not right.

And that, my friends, is the feel part of it all.

You can't just work all week, and expect to ride on the weekends with perfect synergy with the horse.  You must learn the horse just as the horse must learn you.  My friend Leah does this through her grooming.  She spends hours just "prettying" her horse - on the surface.  In reality, she's learning the nuances of the horse's language.  How he shows what he likes, and what he doesn't.  How much pressure it takes to make him shift over, and how little it takes to get any reaction.  She explores his body, in a way he loves (the brush) and he responds to that kindness with love and affection of his own.  (Yes, horses do love, just not the same way humans do, but that's another post!)  It's really not about the pretty part, but more about the bonding part.

And that bond is real.  It isn't necessarily a bond of love always, it's more that 2 "people" who spend a lot of time together learn each others habits. 

This came clear to me when playing a video game with Jae last night.  We were both tired, finishing up for the night, and thinking about bed.  Neither of us was talking, and yet, with out fail, we would line up, prep, and attack the "baddies" in perfect unison with out a word spoken.  Sitting 6 feet apart, where we can't see each other's monitors, there's no way for me to know he was about to execute this move, or that one, but I always did... because we always play together (it's our evening wind down.  Some people watch TV, we play games together).

So how does this translate to the horses?  Well, that's the part that's hard to put into words.  I can tell you though, that when you ride, you give subtle body signals.  Get nervous, and your muscles tense up.  If I - a mere human - can SEE this from the ground, you know the horse - who can feel a fly on a single hair - can feel it from his back.  When you look left, the muscles in your neck move, your shoulders adjust, your center of balance shifts to hold the miniscule change of weight off center, and the horse can feel all of that.  When you are confused, you of course give mixed signals.  A part of you might say "walk straight" while you're thinking about that good looking man over by the barn, and so your horse follows the more subtle aids that matter more to your brain.

No different then a parent listening to their child say "For Christmas I don't want anything" while his body language says "but that bigwheel ROCKS!".  Momma will buy that big wheel even if it's not what the kid "said".

Because of this, I think that everyone needs to understand the technique of riding, as well as the feel of it.  Just for one ride, STOP THINKING about it, and look around you.  If your horse does what you want, don't be shy and proper.  Lay on his neck, cheer him on, and show your love for him.  Horses do thrive on emotions.  Their entire language is made up of body language, and they can understand yours.

Riding is as much about the feel of it, as the "how" parts.  Stop worrying about getting it done by X day, and start worrying about the path you're traveling.  Stop and smell the roses - and feed one to the pony while you're at it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

RAIN! (And a lot of it)

Yesterday, the forecast predicted rain in the afternoon, with heavy rains today.  I started out the day with working a few horses.  Ash got some loving, and stretching, and Midnight got a lesson on lightness.  Poko got pulled out, was acting perfect, but just achy in his hip, and so I didn't ride him.

Jae spent the entire day making the printer work and he got certificates printed! And I managed to get some web page work done on the SDHR site (minor tweaks, with major ones being prepared to be published).  A wonderful productive and rather busy day for both of us.

And then the rain started.  First it was sprinkles.  I had Ash and Moon grazing the yard and the boys in their pens.  None really had shelter.  With the first crashing boom of thunder, I headed out to get them stalls.  It was close "enough" to dinner time that I just fed horses, and locked them away.  Moon went easily, but Ash, OH NO.  She's feeling good, and wanted none of that "good girl" thing.  Around the yard we went.  She wouldn't let me catch her, and even had NO interest in the bucket of grain.

Now, there's a weed we call "Ash's flower" (common name "horse clover") and it's not only growing, but also blooming.  Ash could care less about anything else.  That mare wanted to eat every single stalk of it she could find... and it's pretty much covering my entire barn yard.

Eventually I gave up.  By this time it's raining lightly.  I moved Voodoo in with out a problem, and he was thrilled to find the dry, and the grain.  Quagga was prancing, and Spot was sulking.  When I went to move Spot into a stall, Ash of course decided it was PLAY TIME.  She came taunting us, cantering ahead of us, laping around us, and running away if I made a move to her.  Now, Spot is one of my stallions.  I was so pleased that with this mare teasing him, he walked in, through the rain, like a saint.  Ash got little more then an arched neck from him.  Ok, Spot hates the rain, and just wanted to be INSIDE.  Grabbed Quagga, and put him away (with out Ash's help this time), and then headed back to catch my mare.

After an hour, I gave up.  Left 3 stalls open, closed anything she could kill herself on, and headed inside.

Dinner, relaxation, start winding down for the night, and realize that my stupid mare is still not locked in a stall.  Oops!

So, somewhere after midnight, the rain gets worse.  On the radar, there's this line of red that's just moving right across our place.  We can hear the rain dumping on the roof, we can't see through the sheet of water falling from the sky, and we know that's a TON of water.  I know we needed water, but I don't think the ground can take this much at once.  And then yep, we got it... flash flood warnings.

And we have horses in pasture.

I can't tell you what time we headed out, but it was after midnight, and before 3am.  Layers of rain gear were applied, and we prepared ourselves to be cold and soaked before we were done.  Wandered out to check the run in, and there were 2 horses in there.  That's it.  There's room for about 15, and we had 13 in pasture, so where was the herd.

Stepped over to the fence, and we saw it.  Water... LOTS of water.  The ditch that runs across my property was flowing like a raging river, and over 10 feet wide.  The entire lower half of the property, from the round pen, to the pond, and around in a semicircle to the ditch was flooded out.  The ridges the place is named for stood like islands above the water.

And we couldn't see a single horse.

I yelled for them.  And this time, I didn't stand in the middle of the horsey highway either!  (Last time I tried that, I ended up calling the herd, and getting run over).  It worked too.  Jinx brought up the girls, and waded through the river separating us.  Good, she's on high ground now, and all is well.

Uh, no.

Arden, Amber, and Keeley wouldn't cross the water.  I called Arden, and she started to, but didn't want to leave the others.  She waded out into it (belly deep at the ditch... a ditch that is less then 8 inches deep when dry) and then she would turn back.  The horses left were the misfits of the herd.  The "weak links" that are more often ignored then pampered, and still, Jinx turned back, and waded to them.

The entire herd followed.  With subtle nickers, the whole herd wandered across the tops of the ridges, and back to the dry area in the back.  There was no way I could get  there on foot.  The current would have swept me off my feet.

So we got the tractor!

The whole thing had happened so fast, in the dark and the rain, that we didn't get a good count.  We had to be sure all of the horses - ours and the clients - were safe, even if they didn't want to be dry.  And so, we took a drive.

Jaz, Daltrey, Diesel, and Boo were all grazing on high ground.  We rounded them up, and herded them to the run in.  They said "nah, that thing is noisey" and turned back.  Well, at least they knew it was there and empty.

Then we drove across the newly formed lake.  The water was between 2 and 4 feet deep across the property (and we're not in a flood zone!) moving fast, and covering everything, until we crossed that last hill.

Back in the far corner, in the area where I have my pet cemetery, it was high, dry, and calm.  The wind was barely noticeable.  Jinx had the whole herd tucked away under some evergreen trees, huddling up for warmth.  Even the misfits were allowed in.  We made a head count, and every one was cold and wet, but fine.  We tried to cajole them up to the shelter, but they were having none of it.  So we headed back.

No sooner did we get inside, then another round of torrential downpour hit us.  The whole time we were out, we thought it was raining hard, but it just kept coming down harder.

The pond is now full.  Not yet over flowing, but full.  The horses all made it through, even if they refused to do things MY way.  It's still raining, but the water has receded, and I can see the ground again.  I have a whole new layer of top soil which washed in from my neighbors (Hope they didn't plant fescue!) and the grass is noticeably longer.

We spent a few hours out there, making sure that each and every horse was as happy as they could be.  I have open stalls in the barn, and not a single horse would come up.  Halters were a cause to run away, and I didn't think that "winning" this one was the goal.  Especially not if it meant horses trying to dash away through belly deep water with who knows what under it.

The forecast said light rain yesterday, with "heavy rains" today.  I wish they had clarified that a bit, as I assumed they meant toDAY (hourly forecast predicted 11am today).  I would have rounded up the hard, locked them onto high ground, and saved myself a heart attack or 2 (and a ton of wet cold clothing).  But all is well that ends well.

And sadly, we really did need that rain.

(Edited to add pictures taken today, after the drama)  The water has receded amazingly, and there's grass visible out there again!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Murphy and his Laws

This is what it sounded like!
So, those who know me, know that I have a pretty good relationship with Murphy.  I'm starting to think he's stalking me actually.  Him and his laws, that is.

You see, Murphy's law says that if it can go wrong, it will when least expected.  And that kinda describes the last 2 days around here.

Thursday night, around 3am, Jae and I wake up.  There's this noise.  It kinda sounded like the heater was going bad.  Of course, I made Jae get up to check on it.  He comes back and starts putting on winter outside clothing.  Uh... but you can access the heater inside.

Then he tells me that it's not the heater, it's a water leak!

Ok, so the property I have was rather neglected before we got it.  Our little dream house had to be completely gutted, stud walls put in, electrical completely reworded (knob and tube wiring isn't legal any more) and most of the plumbing started over.  While we're at it, we decided to move a few rooms around, since the only difference was WHERE we put the walls.  But it's ok, you see, because we also got a little mobile home on the property too.

Little did we know that this mobile was on the verge of disintegrating.  We gutted the "black house" (it's black with white trim, and 100 years old, pretty cool if you ask me) and got to work.  And then the rain hit.  Well, the mobile leaks... Everywhere.

The pipes in this thing are about to corrode away, and water leaks are getting to be a regular thing around here.  Regular enough, that Jae now keeps enough supplies to replace entire water lines.  Normally he doesn't have to do it at 3am in the cold, though.

And of course, the money intended to finish up the black house, went into the grains for the horses (and other assorted things) last year.  With the drought, the horse market collapsed while prices trippled.  Petty cash is, again, long gone.  So we do what we can with what we have, and start saving up for the rest of the renovations.  I have to say though, I can't WAIT to be out of this PoS, and into my dream home!

So, I some how have managed to misplace an entire day, between weird sleep hours, and not enough time in a day.  Naturally, it was LOVELY yesterday, and cold today (damn you Murphy!) but, at least it's not windy.  So... dear arena... I have plans for you today.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A RANT on Rude people

So, I got finished with my work, and went to putter on facebook a bit. When I did, I came across a link to this video:

If you watch it, you will see an amazing young horse woman in training.  You will also likely notice her brilliant red hair shining with no helmet there to cover it.

And so, the subject of my rant starts.  Rude people. (Edit because so many people overlooked this:  This entire post is in support of helmet use, and the theme is HOW TO GET PEOPLE TO WEAR ONE).

You see, I grew up with no helmet.  I believe in the freedom to do dangerous things (I ride horses after all) and I wear a helmet now.  For those who have followed my blog here, you can follow my progression from topless, to shattered helmets, to a proud supporter of the "brain bucket".  I've never been opposed to them, but I've been honest about my lack of attention, and how easy it is to grab a horse and not the helmet.

Will I ride with out a helmet?  Sure... but it's a pretty rare thing now-a-days.  I do not recommend it either.  I try to always have my helmet, but I admit, it has happened, and will likely happen again.  At least I'm honest about it.

At any rate, today is not about IF you should wear a helmet.  I think we can all agree that it's pretty much a good idea.  Rather, I want to talk about how you (meaning the vague people on the internets) react to people who do NOT wear them.

So often, especially on facebook, but also other social media places (forums, youtube, and such) the typical way to reply to an image of a person or a child with out a helmet is to make derogatory comments.  Now, I apologize if I offend any one, but the people who do that are STUPID!

I mean, seriously, are you going to change your ways because someone came online and acted like a complete ass to you?  Are you going to meekly reply "oh you're right, let me go out and buy a helmet now so I can be just like you.  You know, all rude and stuff".  Or, being human, like the rest of us, are you more likely to think "what a dumb ass" hit the ignore button, and continue on with your topless ways?

So why do people act like this?

Do the people who do this think they are going to shame someone into changing their ways?  Or is it more likely that the brunt of your attacks will simply refute your comments, an interwebs debate will ensue, and a whole group of people have a bad day?  I am pretty sure that some people enjoy the feeling of "power" (however false it is) that making someone feel bad on the interwebs gives them.  Mostly though, I'm sure that people are simply oblivious of how rude they are coming across to others.

You see, there's this art, called persuasion.  If you want to achieve an outcome, you must make the person involved want to do things the way you are suggesting.  In real English that means, makes people want to wear a helmet, not want to yell at you.

A friend of mine, Carrie, once mentioned to me that she hoped I'd wear a helmet more often, because she worried about me.  Another friend, Leah, said that she really thought it would be a good idea, but didn't want to be pushy.  Eventually, I asked my barn buddies to remind me to grab it... and now it's a habit I have.  All of these people were kind, considerate, and while they spoke about how they felt, never once did they make me feel bad about not wearing a helmet.

Case in point, by making it so common for riders to wear helmets here, and conversations about helmets and helmet quality, we have gotten 2 more of our riders to become helmet fans.  Rachel and Chris both now own helmets, and use them every time they ride.  Never once did any of us belittle them, ignore them, or get all snitty with them, and the result was a positive change.  By our kind and understanding behavior, we have increased the brain protected crowd by another 2.

And so many of the people making these comments are mothers, about someone else's kids.  Well "moms" out there, how would you feel if someone like me, who has no children, and limited interactions with kids, who admits openly that I just don't understand children, was to come up and start telling YOU how to raise your child?  I bet you'd be livid, right?  You'd think something along the lines of "you don't have kids, how could you even know".  So how is that any different then YOU telling THEM how to raise their child?  You don't know the child, the horse, the situation..  You only have access to a small snap shot in time, captured on "film".  From that brief moment, you make huge leaps in assumptions, and then rant like a lunatic for all the world to see.  And as most of us know, once it's online, it never really goes away.

The next time you (any of us) want to smart off about people, their children, and a lack of protection, just stop and think a second.  Can't you make the exact same argument about the thought of even letting a child NEAR a horse?  Are you truly any better?  Horses can cripple a person wearing a helmet in many ways.  Broken backs, arms, severed limbs... c'mon, we've all heard the stories.  Why take the chance?  Shouldn't you just tell your child no horses?  The most famous horse injury ever was Christoper Reeve, and he was wearing a helmet.

None of us wants to keep children from horses!  How would you feel if someone screamed at you for "risking" your child by allowing them to be near horses?  Well, think about that feeling the next time you want to recommend helmet use to someone, and try to phrase your words accordingly.

And if you're looking for something kind to say, try this "What a lovely young horse person.  She looks great with that horse, and look at how kind the horse is.  With that amazing red hair, can you imagine how adorable she'd look in a bright pink helmet and matching boots?"

My mother always said, you get more with honey then vinegar.  It's true.  Be kind, and you might be shocked at the results.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The complicated ways to get a Sugarbush Draft Horse

There are less then 20 SDHR horses in the world.  Many of those are new foundation horses.  Now, I have to point out here that most of us hope that the SDHR is NEVER a large registry.  A few thousand living horses in the breed is plenty.

That might shock some people, but let me explain.  If the breed stays "small" enough, then only horses who are in demand are produced.  The quality of horse stays high (and often times the price of the horse stays high enough to justify taking care while breeding them) and the phenotype, or overall appearance, stays similar.

 Basically, it's only good for the registry, not the horses, to get a breed with millions of horses being produced each year.  Our registry is currently running on all volunteer staff, and many donations.  It's not ideal, but we're working out the kinks.

So, there are a few ways to get involved in the Sugarbush Draft Horse right now.  I'm going to focus on those wanting to start a breeding program, since we have had a surge of interest in this lately, but offspring of these programs might not make the cut for breeding, and would make a wonderful pet for someone looking to just have one of these amazing horses. 

Having thrown the books wide open, it makes the first step a lot easier for so many people. Some of the methods to breed a Sugarbush Draft Horse are a bit confusing though when you try to understand all the methods as a whole.  But each on its own merits isn't that hard.  Hence, I'm going to talk about them in order.

First, of course, you can purchase a Sugarbush Draft Horse.  This pretty little filly here, is located in Wisconsin, and for sale.  This breeder also has another filly for sale, and breeds one of two SDHR foals a year normally. 

Also, Sugarbush Katy Did is still available.  She's coming 5, ready to breed, started under saddle, and I'm half in love with her. 

And in a couple of months, a few of us will be having more babies.  I'm not sure how many of these will be on the market, but each year there will be a handful of foals produced.

Buying a Sugarbush Draft Horse is the easiest way to do it.  You know you have a certified horse.  You know that horse's foals will be registered, and it takes all the complications out of the process.

But, we're trying to increase the gene pool, and so we have ways to get horses into the registry.  Foundation Registration is the most common, and next easiest way.  Any horse who shows the right conformation (scoring a minimum of 70% towards the ideal) can apply for registration as a foundation horse.  Color is not currently a requirement, because color is a personal preference, and is so easy to breed in later.  Conformation faults though, can quickly spread through a breed, and cripple it.  This is why we chose this route.

To get a horse registered as Foundation, the first step is to get pictures of the horse that show its conformation.  I can work with a lot of wonky stuff, but I need to see the main body in a true side shot, standing, with all of the legs visible.  Another picture (or the same one) must also show the horse's head, neck, and shoulder in a side view.  Then, images of the horse from the front and the rear (for leg straightness) are a wonderful bonus, but I can work without those.

If the horse passes this photo inspection, then you can file an application for registration as a Foundation horse.  The cost is $150, which covers the many hours I put in to researching the horse.  Sometimes we find an entire pedigree on that horse, and other times, we get nothing.  The horse's conformation is measured and marked, and recorded with it's application in it's registry file.

You might notice that the fee comes after we look the horse over and give the owner an answer.  Well, lets just say I'm a cheap skate, and I would never pay money to possibly have my horse refused, and so I don't ask it of others.  This method does mean more work for me, but it also has a larger interest in potential registrations, because I'm not the only person who doesn't think throwing money away is a good idea.

After that, the only ways to get a horse into the SDHR is to breed it.

The easiest way to do this, is to breed a draft mare (not registered with SDHR) to Sugarbush Harley's Classic O.  As an SDHR registered horse, his foals will be registered. 

Now, if you already own an SDHR registered horse, you can breed it to another SDHR horse, a draft horse, or a draft cross, so long as the resulting foal is above the minimum 51% draft blood.  This method is good for foundations as well as generational or permanent registered horses.

Now, notice I mentioned generational pedigrees?  Well, that's because you can breed up into the SDHR.  This is the hardest way to do it, and takes the longest.  You can breed forward, from draft appaloosa crosses, into the SDHR, but it takes a minimum of 2 generations.  To so many people this looks like a great idea, but let me break down the numbers for you a bit.

If you breed a draft horse to a homozygous appaloosa, the resulting foal is a Stonewall Sport Horse.  These horses are becoming somewhat popular on their own, but are difficult to breed and get the ideal phenotype.  When crossing 2 very dissimilar types of horses (draft horse to light horse) the result can be amazing, or it can be wonderful.  As a geneticist, I can easily dork out here, but I'll try to refrain from making any one's eyes glaze over.

So, lets make it easy and say that's a 50% chance of an ideal foal (conformationally) that you would want to breed on. If you used a heterozygous appaloosa, then you only have a 25% chance (50% color, 50% conformation chances, when put together, gives you 25% for the ideal foal).  So then you wait 3 years, or more (depending upon gender of the foal).

So after 4 or 5 years of waiting (since equine gestation is 11 months) you get your first generation SDHR foal, which must also pass the conformation review.  If you don't get what you want, it could be 8 or 9 years down the road.  If this horse meets all of the requirements, then you've got a first generation SDHR horse!  These horses are horses from known lineage who have 2  non-SDHR registered parents that meet the criteria.

But, you can always do things a bit easier, and simply purchase a Stonewall Sport Horse.  If I was starting over, this is probably what I would do.  I've been breeding Stonewalls, trying to increase my own genetic options, and so I have a soft spot for these horses, and might be a bit biased.

Stonewall Sport Horses are often available for low prices (in relation to draft horse prices that is).  You can get the color genetics necessary to found a very loud breeding program, with out the years of trial and error.  These horses can be bred to a draft - basically any draft right now - for a foal that applies for registration.  The cost to register these foals (Stonewall x Draft) is much less then Foundation registration, since their pedigree is already known.  Merely $50.00.

If I had it all to do over again, what I would do, is purchase a Stonewall colt - young, and oozing with potential - and cross him to draft mares.  It's easy to get draft mares who meet the conformation type, and just need a tweak here or there.  Crossing a draft cross to a draft horse is a lot less genetics lessons, then crossing light horses to heavy horses.  Many of the draft to draft crossed horses that came off the PMU lines have the exact conformation we are looking for (many, not all!) and this is a very cost effective, and easy to get into way to join the ranks of SDHR breeders/owners.

For the SDHR, this is a wonderful way to get completely new genetics, with out losing the look we have come to expect from the Sugarbush Draft Horse.

And of course, any one wanting to get involved in this, can contact us (with pictures if you have them) and we'll help you find horses that meet the conformational ideal of the breed.  I know what it's like to look at buying a horse, wondering if you're on the right track, and so we encourage people to just send us an email and ask.  I will do my best to answer the question, with as much clarity honesty and openness, as I can.  And I try to be very gentle when saying no.  Not all wonderful horses make wonderful breeding animals.

So, any of these methods, can get you an SDHR registered horse, at this time.  With the sudden surge in interest, it's looking like we will begin the first stage of closing the books in 5 years, or less.  Once that happens, all SDHR foals will need to have at least one SDHR parent.  The time line is of course a bit vague, because it's not based on years, but on the number of available unrelated mare lines. We also won't just spring this on our owners and breeders, we will have at least one year's notice (so any foals in utero won't lose out).

But, this brings us back to the horse market.  It's not exactly the best time to be breeding horses, and we know this.  If the registry doesn't begin step 1 (toward closing the books) as quickly as we want, that's fine.  We can't say how long it will take though, and sure don't want people to get involved in a large program, only to lose it with the closings.

Which brings me back to the safest bet.  Buying an SDHR registered horse.  Any horse registered with the SDHR can be bred to any horse, where the resulting foal will have a minimum of 51% draft breeding, and will not carry tobiano or frame white genetics.  In time, restrictions will be placed on this (when we begin step 1 of closing the books) but if you own an SDHR registered horse, then any changes won't make much of an effect on you.

And for those who just want to own one of these amazing draft horses, well our goal is to make it so that the differences between Foundation Registered horses, Generational registered horses, and Permanent registered horses, will be something that only matters to a breeder.  The horse owner should have to  look at their papers to know the difference, if our plan of keeping the breed to the ideal works as we hope.

Friday, January 13, 2012

I wanna talk about the Sugarbush Draft Horses some more

So things have been exciting with the SDHR (Sugarbush Draft Horse Registry).  Stephanie Adame, one of our BOD members recently found a couple of "new" horses.  They aren't new, but it seems that I don't have their records.  These are some of the horses that we knew had existed, but somehow had been lost to the registry.  Exciting stuff!

We've also seen a lot of interest in the breed lately.  I can't tell you how great this is.  The Sugarbush Draft Horse has been around a long time, but never truly got much recognition.  Our numbers aren't far from that of the ACDHA, and yet, only a few people have ever heard of this breed.  To have more people talking about these horses means that the breed's chances at a true revival is going up exponentially.

But, a lot of people don't understand the Sugarbush Draft.  They think they do, and they assume it's a new designer breed.  It's not - no more then the American Paint Horse, American Quarter Horse, Appaloosa, or Tennessee Walking Horse are "new" or "designer" breeds.  Their inceptions are all within the same decade, and their means of formation are all so very similar.

What's the difference then, that makes people look down on the SDHR, or look over it, or never even know it existed?  Well, marketing and breeding for quantity.  You see, the SDHR never really pushed itsself as a registry.  Mr. Smith never ran ads when he started, begging for new horses, he never pushed large scale breeding, and he never really cared if "lots" of people loved what he was doing.  Instead, Everett Smith put his heart and soul into making the best draft horse for his purposes that he could.  He bred responsibly, and encouraged others to do the same.

The irony to me, is that so many people wish that registries would stop pushing the over breeding just to keep up their revenues (because registries make most of their money on registrations and transfers, so more horses means more money).  People complain that registries don't push proper breeding ethics over show rewards (futurities do promote over breeding by the most popular stallions).  And yet, when Everett did it properly, many people who say those very things are the same ones who say "oh that's not a breed because I have never heard of it before".  Well, I'm sure that the Altai, the Knabstrupper, and the Friesian all are glad that some movies used their horses so that they can be "real" breeds now, even though they had centuries of history behind them.

I also know that our policy of an open breeding book confuses some people.  They think that it can't be a breed if we're allowing outcrossing.  Sadly, more horse breeds allow outcrossing then those which do not.  AQHA allows crossing to Thoroughbreds, APHA allows crossing the AQHA and TBs, and ApHC allows TB, AQHA, and Arabians.  That's just to name the most common examples.  The warmbloods, most of your inspected breeds, and a huge amount of "never heard of" breeds also do this.  The reasoning is simple, horses are bred for a purpose, and traditionally that purpose has been more important then an individual's bloodlines.

And with only 1 unrelated breeding pair, we don't exactly have a lot of options, unless we want to turn the breed into a colored version of something else.  Instead, what we have done, is approve horses with the proper body style, rather then those with the proper parentage.  This idea came from the Cleveland Bays.  When their breed was in danger, they wisely began registering horses from other breeds who most closely fit the ideal conformation.  Today the Cleveland Bay is a horse notorious for its consistency, and unique appearance, while maintaining its lack of health issue (which are commonly seen when working with a gene pool that is a little too close).

One of the biggest bits of confusion is something I even commented on at the top of my blog.  So many people think that these are simply draft/appaloosa crosses.  They aren't.  The Sugarbush Draft Horse is a breed by the scientific definition of it.  But, never fear, I'll get into that more another day.  Yes, we do allow horses with appaloosa or light horse ancestry, but it is still from a restricted breeding pool.  It's just that our pool is restricted in ways other then what paperwork the horse has.  If you think about it, you quickly realize that this does make more sense.  A Halter type quarter horse is very different conformationally, then say a racing type quarter horse.  How then can a breed say there is any standard in type when allowing a horse that is a "quarter horse" to be used, and no standard when matching a body style is more important then parentage?

No, I am not picking on quarters.  It's just that they are so common, most people can easily grasp the comparison.  As a light horse, they are just as ineligible for SDHR breeding as an Appaloosa, Thoroughbred, or Arabian.  It's nothing personal.

So, with all the new interest in the breed, the limitations of facebook, and the ease of giving a complete answer in this blog, I'm going to be doing a few topics on things related to the SDHR.

Of course, as an addict to these horses, I'm excited to be able to ramble on about them.  I can't even tell you how impressed I am with the breed.  I have worked with so many different types of horses in my life, from Arabians, Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, Paints, Appaloosas, and a few Warmbloods (Holsteiner, Hanoverian, Dutch, American and Canadian), Mustangs, grades, Percherons, Clydesdales, Hackney horses - most being some one else's horses I could steal time with - and so my experiences are rather varied.  The interesting thing is, that I always had this ideal in my head of what a "perfect" horse should be.

I wanted something big and strong (because there's just something kinda cool about the drafts) with a nice calm personality, but a horse that is very intelligent.  I wanted something realistically sized (so I can mount from the ground, with out a step ladder) yet powerful.  I want a nice size barrel, but I also want the flexibility and athleticism of a hot blood.  In the Sugarbush Drafts, I have found it.

I am convinced that these horses are the best thing in the world.  I am thrilled with the progress I can see happening in the SDHR, and I am excited for the future of this breed.  The only thing we need now, are more horses, and more wonderful homes for them to live in.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

This is why I can't have nice things (like days off)

My pretty little baby is growing up.  That's Sweetie as a youngster, with her mother Rose.  Both are Sugarbush Draft Horses.  Sweetie is the only known homozygous for LP horse currently registered with the SDHR (her sister COULD be, but is a roan).

Anyway, Sweetie has been learning to carry a rider.  My friends have been helping me get enough saddle time on the horses, since I am basically behind on EVERYTHING.  Well, Chris decided he wanted to ride Sweetie.

The plan was, Rachel would ride Moon (who is doing amazing) I would take Cayenne (who is a spoiled pain in the rump) and Chris said he's getting Sweetie.  I went to the round pen to stay out of the way of the greener horses.  Cayenne was in a serious mood.

So, the little pony, Cayenne starts off fussing with every command I give, and I choose to lunge her out.  Snap on the lunge line, and she takes off like a rocket!  Not allowed!  I correct, she fusses, and is just being a very bad horse.  I didn't really think much of it, until the stars aligned all wrong for Chris.

He's in the arena next to me, on Sweetie, who is greener then that grass above.  Just as Sweetie turns to head back down the fence line, putting her back to the round pen, Cayenne lets loose.  Cayenne bucks, bolts, hits the end of the line, and bucks again.  Sweetie caught "danger" behind her, and surged.  Chris, being a novice rider still, hit her face, she went up, and chaos ensued.  Just as he decided to step off, she hopped, giving him that extra launch we all hate.

He landed hard.

Rachel, his wife, hops off Moon, and heads to him.  Moon stood like a rock, nice and calm.  Sweetie of course headed up and out of the arena, right to Jae.  Jae said he looked up, saw a riderless horse, and thought, "hmm, that's not good".

Poor Sweetie was terrified.  Poor Chris hurt every where.  Silly Cayenne thought it was yet another excuse for being silly.  Tied her, and headed over, and we got Chris up and settled.  Needless to say, that put a damper on our plans to get a lot of riding in.

So Sunday, we have the pony party.  The horses are already in a mood, with everyone feeling good...a bit too good.  Stephanie wanted to work on trot, and had HATED her horse the week before.  After much thought, we decided to try Diesel.  Well, it's debatable what exactly happened, but from an eye witness (my back was turned), Steph asked Diesel to "go" and he took a nice big rolling step of the canter.  He's got a BIG dressage type canter.  Stephanie just rolled off his shoulder, and ate dirt.  Now, Diesel is 16.2, so that's a long way down for a 12 year old girl.

Gotta give her credit though.  She got back on a horse (I worked out Diesel, he was dead on, and turned him out before she was over the jitters).  She ended up riding Keeley, mom's retired mare, and both were happy for it.  Keeley can't do anything more then walk/trot work now, due to some arthritis in her hips, but the same reason means that the light exercise is really good for her.  Stephanie also weighs like 10 cents soaking wet.

Ok, so, by the end of the weekend, we had 2 falls.  Not something I like to see, but, no injuries (other then sore muscles, bruises, and aching pride) and both riders had on their helmets.

So, keeping with my Resolution, I took the day off Monday.

The rain came in Sunday night, and I stayed up late playing video games with Jae and Chris (yeah the same one who fell).  I slept in, I was lazy, and I was relaxed.  Until about midnight last nght.

I started getting anxious.

I have things I need to do!  I have stuff I need to get DONE!

The list is crazy.  The thing is, no one thing is all that much, but together, it's like 4 full time jobs.

I need to get the horses saddle time, but can't because it's raining.  I've been suffering through hell trying to get the system set up to just print the registration certificates.  Last rejection was due to pixelation of the logo.  AHH.  I need to do website updates (and for me that takes much longer then for a more skilled person).

I need to set up the SDHR so that it will be a bit more modern, and function a lot more efficiently.  This includes a database for the pedigrees.  Ideally one that I can use online and for the pedigrees on the certificates.

Lets not even talk about things like laundry, or meals.

No, it's not that bad, but when the "oh I'm so behind" feeling hits me, I sure feel like it is!  So 6am today, my eyes open, and my body says "we have to get one thing finished TODAY". I was up like a rocket, and hitting the keyboard hard.  It's the same feeling you have when you wake up randomly, only to realize the alarm didn't go off, and you have to be headed to work in 10 minutes or less.  The horses weren't even happy to see me at that hour (as I'm very vocal about NOT being a morning person) and my dogs have yet to stir from their comfy beds.

So this is why my resolution might fail.  The day after I do nothing important always feels like I am panicking.  I have to say though, I've really been enjoying the time with Jae, even if I do feel guilty quitting my work day about the time the sun goes down.  So lets see if I can hold on to my resolve to keep normal working hours, and not lose myself in all the projects I have going.

Friday, January 6, 2012

I can almost feel the progress!

So the other day I asked about stall floors, and I got some brilliant ideas.  Lisa mentioned rail road ties (I'm definately going to be looking into doing that, might be my perfect long term fix actually).  Some one else (oops forgot the name) mentioned digging out the pee spot and filling with gravel for now.

I have Jae out working on the number 9 stall (next to chicken coop for those who know the place) and making that door open again.  In the previous owner's infinite wisdom, they cranked down on the metal before welding, and the stall door latch sits about 3 inches above the hole it locks into.  Only way to close the door is to have TWO people stand on it.  The roof also sagged there - go figure.  Well, roof is level again, and today, the stall door should latch.

Right now, we're in the stage of fixing all the "little" things.  Like making the stall door latch, or leveling out the ground in the soon to be new stallion turn out (previously the hot walker area, with no working hot walker).  I have been catching up on grooming all the horses (trimming tails and manes, oiling hooves and such).

But, A while ago (what, a week or so now?) I got hurt.  Nothing serious at all, just one of those "oops" moments.  Nazar tried to exit through the long pen gate, with Jinx behind her pushing her forward.  She came out too fast and the gate (which is in a corner, ick) pinched her in the middle.  Most horses would panic and bolt forward (thank goodness the gate is flexible, right) and so I braced for that.  Not Nazar.  She has brains, and rather intelligently took one strong (draft like) step backwards to get out of the pinch.

I was braced the wrong way, and she pulled the gate out of my hand, yanking my shoulder back (because I turned sideways to get out of her way, and prepared to step up onto the gate so it wouldn't take me out).  Yep, now I have a pulled muscle on my shoulder.  From behind my ear, down to the shoulder joint, and back to the shoulder blade.  It's not "painful" but it is tight, and just won't relax.  Not bad for a day... but a week later, it's SO annoying.

Scooping grain, yeah, I use that shoulder.  Brushing horses, yep... that's the arm.  Picking feet, well, you guessed it.  But I just don't know WHY it's not healing quickly.  Grr.  At least cleaning stalls I use the other arm as my main!

And now, I'm off to enjoy this AMAZING weather we're having.  Must remember the camera today.  Y'all have got to see how these Sugarbush girls are coming along!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

My stall floors are HORRIBLE! Suggestions?

Picture from last February when it snowed
Ok, so I have this barn.  It's not the best barn, but it has potential.  I have 3 rows of stalls in it.  The normal inside rows which face each other, and then this set of stalls on the outside.  I have a total of 15 stall "spots" but only have 12 set up as stalls.  The others are divided into things like a chicken coop, tack/med area, and a run in.

Well, to understand my problem, you have to understand a little history of this barn.  I bought the place in 2007.  The man who owned the property before us purchased it in 1980.  I've had trouble finding out if he built the barn or moved it in, but either way, it was done in sections.  The above line of stalls all seem to match, but as you can see, they aren't exactly level.  It's even worse in person.  The entre barn was built with each stall level to the ground it is on.  And it's on a bit of a hill.

Ok, so each stall is unique.  Kind of annoying to rennovate, but they are nice big stalls, ranging from 12 x 12 to 12 x 14.  The 12 x 12 stalls back up against each other with a removeable wall between them (lift the boards out type) and make amazing foaling stalls.

But, when the previous owner had the place he never cleaned out the stalls, or so it seems.  When we bought it, there were HUGE (as in bigger then I could move) chunks of decayed hay/manure.  Big lumps like boulders.

We finally got the stall floors "level-ish" and were able to start using them.  It took time, with us starting out with one useable stall, then 2, then 4, and so on.  Right now, we have all the floors level-ish.  So, I have been using the barn like normal for almost a year, and we have a new problem, and one that I can't seem to figure out how to fix on a budget.

The "compost" which makes up the stall floors (technically they are dirt floors) gets wet from the urine, and the rain that comes in the open sides, and is not drying out.  Shavings are basically worthless because of the set up.  I can put down 5 bales of shavings in a stall, and in less then 2 days, they have all degraded into dirt.

Now, before you think "duh, just dig them out" well, I've tried to hand dig out a few of the worst ones, and refill them with sand.  We just happen to have a nice pit of sand on the property, so it seemed worth a try.  In a couple of days, it was no different then the others.  I think it lasted less then 2 weeks for 2 days of back breaking work.

Our plan is to eventually cut off the stall fronts, use the tractor to dig down to the clay base, then add on the PROPER base for a stall (crushed rock with mats over it).  But, I'm not there yet, and I'm on a tight budget after last year's drought.  With all the OTHER projects we have here (cross fencing is the main one right now) I'm looking for ideas to hold me over until we can get there.

So, I've tried shavings, and gave up on them.  I tried straw on it's own, and it's not that much better.  Right now, I am using those pelleted shavings (the dehydrated ones) under the straw, and that seems to be decent, but I still have this pocket in each stall, where the horses urinate, that just won't dry up, no matter what I put on it.  I try to dig it out, and just end up with a hole of soft dirt, that quickly gets wet again, and then mixes with the bedding on top of it.

So, I figure there are enough horse people out here with "common man" barns, that maybe someone has run across this problem before, and has some ideas.  If not, I'll just keep trying to make it better until we can dig them out.

That was my project yesterday.  Leveling off the "wet spot" and dumping dehydrated pellets on it to soak up the "wet" and then adding fresh straw to each. 

I really like using the straw in my barn over the shavings for so many reasons, but I'm not sure that every one agrees.  Oh sure, it's harder to "pick" the stalls, but I just remove more, and add back in more.  Straw right now is drastically cheaper then shavings so even removing that much extra doesn't hurt the budget, and when pulled out, it makes a better compost, which then fertilizes the pastures.  So, for an extra 30 minutes of "work" I get much more benefit (the compost).  My concern though, is that my potential boarders won't like that I use straw instead of the more common shavings (here at least shavings are the most common). 

So all in all, I guess I have 2 things I need suggestions on:  Any ideas to fix the stall floors, and what do you think of bedding horses on straw rather then shavings?

And I realized that almost all the pictures of the inside of my barn are from baby pictures.  So enjoy some gratuitous babies!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Motivation! (A new Year's Resolution)

Ah, coffee, it's the spice of life.  It's also my main motivation.  With out my coffee, I am a complete mess.  I don't function until after the second cup.  With out a single cup, no one wants to talk to me... not even Jae!

Yeah, I am not a morning person.  I'm one of those freaks that can stay up all night, never have a problem with it, and sleep all day happily.  Unfortunately, there's no daylight at night, and that makes riding and horse work, a little itty bitty bit harder.

And so, I am working on becoming a morning person.  It's a fight I may never win, but will always keep on trying to.

I have to admit, with all the work headed my way, I was having trouble keeping up.  Seems like every time I turned around, I was feeling guilty and horrible over not getting SOMEthing finished. Either it was paper work, or horse work.  There was always some one asking if I had finished yet, and I had to say "no".  Not because I was lazy, but just because there's only one of me.

And so, my New Year's resolution is to delegate, and change up a few things. I need to spend more time in the saddle, and less time doing paper work.  Others can do the paper work, but I can't get others to do my riding, nor would I want to!  My office hours will be changing a bit, so that I have "family time".  No more working at 10pm! 

But I have realized that while I want to do it all there is just no way I can.  I answer over 100 emails a day about the horses, or the SDHR.  I have 6 horses a day I should be riding... minimum.  I have 15 stalls to much, 33 head to feed and care for, and only one person working for me full time, and he just cares for the property and equipment!

This also means I will be having a horsey sale!

As always with my sales, prices are the most negotiable to the best home.  Prices on light horses (i.e. not draft horses) can be stupidly low.  I will not ever sell a horse knowingly into a bad home, but for this crew, it's going to be all about the placement, not the finances.  Yes, I make my living (and pay for the herd's care) through horse sales, and such (training, boarding, etc) but I want to do more work with other people's horses, and less with horses I own, and really have no need for.  It's not that I have too many horses, but rather that I have the wrong horses.

I mean, why do I need a 14.0 hand quarter horse again?  Oh sure, I love her to death, but I don't normally ride western, she's not really an English horse, and I rarely go out on trail rides (she's spook proof because she's an orphan, and sure footed, so a great trail horse - just not MY type).  As it is, horses like that, I am having to work, and there's this feeling of "why".  Why do **I** have this horse, why do I need to put extra hours into her, and WHAT am I thinking. 

And so, my New Year's resolution is rather convoluted, but makes sense to me.  Make things more efficient and more realistic.  I want time for ME, and time to enjoy my horses in the way I envision them.  If someone else happens to benefit from that, then it's a win all around.

So, with a cup of coffee in hand, and a big marker, I'm working my way through my horsey list.  I'll be adding new names to the sales list.  I'm also working up ways to stream line the paper work I need to do.  Some I will delegate, some I will refine. 

I have been heading in this direction for a while now, but never quite gotten there.  But, my resolution is to GET IT DONE this year.  My motivation is time doing what I want to do.  I enjoy my rides for "fun" even if they are nice progression in a horse's training, or good marketing, or what ever else that fun ride could be put off as.  I still enjoy it.

I also want to get the rest of the property improvements finished, but I think that has to wait for next year (for my jobs.  Jae on the other hand has his work cut out for him!).

And now, I have a couple of horses calling my name.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

It's finally over, I'm so happy 2012 is here!

I am so glad to be done with 2012!  Oh my, was that a bad year for me.  So, I'm putting my best foot forward, and excitedly welcoming the New Year.

As many of you know, in April, I got kicked in the face by one of my horses.  That gave me fear and confidence issues which were hard to get over (and no, I'm not completely over them, but better).  Then there's the physical aspect to it: dental work, and the new scar on my lip (which is currently going through a stiff phase).

After that, we had the drought.  I don't think most hay farmers here got even one crop of hay in.  Hay prices sky rocketed to $130/round bale and around $14/square bale.  It was hard to find, and much of it was at the feed store, hauled in from up north.  I had hit and misses with hay all year.  Some was amazing, but then the supply would run out, and I'd have to go back to hay that I normally wouldn't even think of feeding the horses.  Dusty, dirty, weedy, or just empty of nutrients.

So, with the drought, horse sales fled.  As we're tripling our feed bill, our income is dwindling to next to nothing.  Pennies got pinched, and belts got tighter, but we made it through.  The horses all lost weight, but held on to what they needed for the most part (one or 2 of mine had it harder then others).  Over time, the lack of proper nutrients started to show up.  Oddly, you just can not balance a horse's diet on complete feeds and nothing else, for months on end, and expect the same appearance as you would on fresh green grasses.  It's the little things that I have noticed.  Manes and tails getting brittle, hooves that aren't as resilient as I'd like, a new round of skin issues (we had a bought of rain rot in a drought, ugh).

Things were ok though - not great, just ok - until the end of the year.  What I keep thinking of as "the kicker".  First I lost Hex, my wonderful brood mare.  She was one of my favourite horses ever (of course, I say that about almost all of them) but her death came out of no where.  I was treating her for the monthly sand clear, when complications arose.  She had a mild sand colic, was passing it, and seemed to be recovering, when between checks she managed to roll, twist, and die.  A complete freak thing my vet says, but horrible!

After that, my seizure dog, Rowdy, passed away in her sleep.  I loved that dog, and while I knew that she wouldn't live as long as most, due to the massive amounts of medications she had been taking for her myriad of medical issues, losing her hurt.  It still does.  There are times when I think I hear her, or swear I see her, just out of habit, and get upset all over again.  Rowdy was amazing.  Always there for love, and would just sit beside me gazing at me as if I was her entire world, for as long as I would sit still and let her.  She was one of those dogs that people don't deserve.  Just too good to be believed.

Around Thanksgiving, my grandfather's girl friend passed away.  While I barely knew her, she was a wonderful lady, and much of my family did know her well.  Granddaddy was devastated.  My mother was upset, and i can't even express my sorrow for her family. 

The very next week, I lost my beloved dog, Anvil.  Another freak thing.  He got into the garbage the very day that we cleaned out the fridge.  Some left over onion/pepper/garlic mix, a few onion tops, and he had a minor case of heinz body hemolytic anemia.  Normally not a big deal for a dog his size, but in the way of things here, one thing lead to another, and the heinz body anemia turned into auto immune anemia.  There's little that can be done for auto immune hemolytic anemia, but we tried it.  2 blood transfusions later, and he's losing blood faster then we can put it into him, and becoming miserable with it.  He gave up that morning, and so I made the call to have him put down.

Then, in December, my father had shoulder surgery.  He got a nify new ball and socket joint, one that only 3 people in the world have, and is now recovering.  Of course, my parents live with me, and any one who knows my father, knows that he is currently driving me up the wall.  Dad on pain medication is not something that I am well adjusted to handle.  I know he had an excuse, but I still wind up reacting to his "silliness" from the pain meds. 

So the next thing I knew, it was a week until the end of the year, and I decided to escape the world.  Last week I was ready to kill someone, and just hide away from it all.  Jae, my better half, informed me that I need to lighten my load, and that one person can't pull the hours of work that I've been trying to do (12 hour days on average) with out eventually losing it, and I think last week was my "lost" week.  But the break did me good, and the start of a new year is something I am really looking forward to.

I had more bad things happen last year, then I previously deal with in 3, and I hope to never repeat it!  I am still adjusting to the smaller size of my furry family (from 6 dogs to only 4) and I have a serious case of puppy fever.  No, I won't be getting a pup for a while, but that doesn't mean that my eyes aren't drawn to every adorable puppy out there (or, as I've had to admit, that I wouldn't adopt a super sized dog in need).  But, I have a senior dog, Suzie, who is very spoiled, and deserves my attention in these golden years.  She would hate sharing her time with a new pup, and so I just keep staring at puppy pictures and day dreaming.

But, of course, it's not all bad.

In these last couple of weeks, I have been putting some serious effort into my green horses.  Katy and Sweetie are doing amazingly under saddle.  Cayenne is happy and working well, with no hip pain (I made the mistake of trading her for a draft mare, and the trade went bad, resulting in me returning the draft mare to get "the Baby" back, who was injured) and Cayenne is learning to truly neck rein now.  Ishka has come a long way with Sarah riding her on the weekends (my mom's spoiled horse).  Poko is doing great, and has learned to tolerate the crazy things we riders do under saddle.

I now have about 11 horses that are broke enough for me to consider letting others ride.  I have the new babies coming next spring - and those are something to be excited about on their own!  We're making progress on the property, while it's hard to see, I know it's there, and the future is bright.

So here's hoping that every one out there is excited about the new year, had a wonderful holiday season, and a safe and happy New Year's celebration last night.  Me, I'm off to the barn to share some saddle time with my friends.  There is no better way to start the new year then this.