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.
Friday, February 10, 2012
Conformation Clinic: The Body
While the "body" of a horse, technically is the whole horse, for today's discussion, it's the main body: everything that is not the head/neck, legs, or tail.
We do so many measurements on our horses for everyday use - girth length, blanket size, etc. - that it gets confusing when you are measuring a horse for conformational analysis. The lines for conformation are rarely the lines for equipment, and most times they don't connect where you think they should. Instead, all of these lines connect to the skeleton.
This is because if you measure the outside of the horse, those angles and measurements change with muscling and weight gain. Neither Muscle nor fat affect the function of the horse's body though. Everything ties in together with the skeleton, and we can easily feel many of the horse's bones (and see some) through its skin.
Uphill or Downhill?
One of the most commonly discussed and least understood terms used in horses is "uphill" and "downhill".
So when we talk about a horse being "downhill" which line do we use? Ok, he green one is obviously just for reference, but still, do you actually know?
The problem is that measuring a horse's topline as a basis for conformation has become so common, that most people think it's the rule now. A horse's center of balance - whether it is uphill or downhill - affects the horse's way of going, and easy of performing specific moves. Whether those are dressage moves, or cutting moves, the horse's center of balance is still in play. A horse's top line is really nothing more then eye candy.
Horses with high withers have a disproportionate top line, as do horses with a pointed croup. Mutton withers, flat croup? Same thing. While those bits have their own effect on the overall function of the horse, they don't change the horse's center of balance. Lets look at a few examples.
So how does this work? How can the shoulder and hip be different then the overall balance? Well, that's because what is being measured is the spine, not the outside of the horse.
The yellow line goes from where the spine comes into the shoulder to the hip joint. You can find the hip joint on a picture by drawing a line from the hip bone (the pointy bit on the flank) to the point of hip. The hip joint is approximately in the middle of the rump on that line.
I can't tell you which method of measurement is "correct", as the topline has become the most common, but the structural center of balance is the most telling about the horse. If you know both types of measurements though, it doesn't matter which is more "right".
Most measurements for the horse's body are compared against the body length. To find the length of the body, measure the horse from the point of hip to the point of the shoulder. This line will always be on a downhill slope.
So, lets look at where that line is on the horse skeleton:
This line really tells us little about the horse by itself, but it's the basis for all of the other comparisons we make in the body. If something is "short" or "long" it is in relation to this line.
The length of the back is one example of a measurement judged against the overall body length. The horse's back should be 1/3rd of it's body length, but horses between 1/3rd and 1/2 of the body length are useful for different reasons. In many instances, you will see this measured with rectangles. While that works, getting identical rectangles drawn, copied, and moved around the image is only easy if you're very comfortable with digital drawing programs. I won't even go there, as I'm struggling to use them myself.
Instead, I use the super simply "MS Paint" and just draw lines and use the ruler. This is the more accurate method, and while not as pretty, it tells me all I need to know.
So the back is measured from the point of the withers to the Lumbar Sacral joint. If you just went, "The WHA??" don't worry, you're not alone. The lumbar sacral joint is the point where the spine goes through the pelvis.
Now, the actual joint here is inside the horse, but we use the exterior area of this joint for the measurement. If you're comfortable with your horse's body, you probably know where it is. That soft spot in the lower back of your horse. On a well muscled horse it is not easy to see though.
So, I'm going to pull out a picture of a horse in sad shape. This is "Moon" one of our Second Chance horses here. She came to us very thin, but it allowed us to easily see her LS (Lumbar Sacral) joint.
So lets judge a horse's back length. Here's Cayenne, with her back length in white, and her body length in blue:
But here is where it all gets confusing. The "ideal" length of back also depends upon what you want to do with your horse. Horses with longer backs (1/3rd to 1/2 body length) tend to be smoother to ride, as the back works as a shock absorber. Most gaited horses are long backed, as an example. Long backed horses also have more flexibility in their backs. This can be useful in dressage to get the horse rounded and engaging its hind quarters.
On the flip side, a short backed horse (1/3rd of body length and under) is stronger, and often more agile. These horses have less worry about straining their back when doing work, and often can work longer hours while carrying weight. Many draft horse breeds, such as the Belgian Draft Horse, are short backed to allow more power when pulling.
While there's a lot more involved in the body then just this, I want to leave off here. No one needs a headache, right? So lets look at what all of these lines means for the conformation of our little Quarter Horse.
Cayenne has a long back, and a level build. This means that she will have very smooth, non-jarring gaits that are easy to ride. This type of conformation is ideal for the trail horse, allowing the horse to bend and flex with terrain, and yet strong enough to support the rider. Her level center of balance is the happy middle between flashy action (uphill) and quick take off (downhill). In other words she will excel as a "jack of all trades' type of horse.
I will go into more flaws of the body when we discuss overall balance at a later date.
The Sugarbush Draft Horse:
The Sugarbush Draft Horse does not typically excel at highly collected work because of this, but can perform well with proper training and conditioning.
The Sugarbush Draft Horse should have a slightly uphill center of balance. This helps allow the horse to round and offers freedom of the forelegs and ease in shifting the balance of weight onto the hind end. Because of this, the horse's gaits are large, smooth, and pleasurable.
The next installment of the Conformation Clinic will resume on Monday. Weekends are a bit crazy around here, so I will need the time to prepare all of the example pictures. Hope everyone gets to spend some good time with their horses!
Posted by Pinzgauer at 2:17 PM