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.

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.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting.  I think I know a Friesian Sporthorse that would qualify for a Stonewall Sporthorse.  I like her.  I've considered buying her.  Maybe I'll think on it a little harder.