Unfortunately though, the SBDH has not exactly had the same promotional work done with it. The people who were involved with the SDHR back in the day, were more interested in the HORSE then the money. Everett Smith worked hard to build an amazing carriage breed, ended up with a draft horse perfectly suited to riding (a nice side effect, I'd say!) and didn't spend nearly as much time trying to solicit money, or recruit sponsors to advertise for these horses.
He also pushed responsible breeding back before it was in vogue. Breeders of SBDHs tended to only breed what they would use themselves, or could care for until they sold. When the anti-draft sentiment in the 80s hit, the number of horses bred declined rapidly. Many people got out of the breed (there weren't that many to start with) and many horses who were sold have been lost to the registry. We are of course always still looking for them.
So today, we have a handful of these horses left. The purebred SBDHs that we have mostly come from Everett's lines, and those he personally kept track of. Unfortunately, many of them are related to each other, and that makes it really hard to breed forward. We have 2 options. We could give up, or we can introduce some new blood to the lines.
We of course chose the later.
With this type of mentality, and a BOD who supports my point of view (even if they don't always get it, and keep asking me to explain it again) the SDHR decided to throw open the books, and recruit Foundation horses who have the proper traits to bring this breed back.
What confuses people though, is why we're accepting "grade" drafts into the registry. Well, that's what I hope to explain.
You see, we COULD have allowed outcrossing. Simply require that all SBDH be bred to Percherons only, as Percherons are the breed most favored by Everett Smith. There's a glaring flaw with that line of thinking though. While to most horse people, this sounds like a great idea - you get to maintain known pedigrees, and have clear and consistent registration rules - the reality is a bit different genetically.
After 50 years of putting together the right sire with the right dam, Mr. Smith got a horse which looks nothing like any other draft, even with out the spots. Standing a Sugarbush next to a Percheron makes it easy to say "oh, well those aren't the same" just as standing a bay Arab next to a bay quarter horse would. Sure, both might have prety heads, big eyes, and all, but they just overall look different.
So, if we started breeding back to Percherons (as an example) each foal would get 50% percheron DNA. Its offspring bred back would get another 50% Percheron DNA, and in a very short time, we'd have colored Percherons. While that might be nice, it also means we lose half of the amazing work that Mr. Smith did, and the qualities that we love in OUR breed of horses.
Each Foundation horse has to apply for acceptance. This means sending me pictures, and I start drawing lines on them. I take the ideal SBDH, which currently is O, and compare their angles, shape, and musculature to him, and to the breed standard. Horses who are scored 70% toward the ideal, or higher, are offered Foundation Registration. The "flaws" could be such things as heavier boned, longer backed, shorter necked, but it has to be within a range. A horse that's perfect except for being so severely pigeon toed that it can't walk, would of course not pass the inspection.
What amuses me though, is how many people are "sure" that the Sugarbush Draft Horse is not a "breed" but just an Appaloosa Draft Cross. The irony to me, is that according to the scientific theory, the SDHR is as much as breed as the AQHA or APHA, and even more of a "breed" then FHANA (Friesians). Scientifically speaking of course.
Lets look at a couple of horses that have been accepted:
Sugarbush Harley's Classic O
The Percheron's image was "stolen" from the web as an example of a typical nice Percheron.
You can definitely see similarities between all those horses, but check out the differences. The Percheron looks like a more stretched out version of the Sugarbush. Well, or the other way around. But when you see a line up like that, the top 2 horses look more like "O" then the bottom one.
The first 2 horses, Nazar and Godiva, are Foundation mares. They were bred on PMU ranches (both of them actually, from different ranches) and both have the traits we want to maintain in the breed. These mares are perfect examples of what we're looking for. They aren't "quite" like the common draft breeds, yet are lovely horses.
Now, to maintain type, color, and riding ability, we do allow crossing to Stonewall Sport Horses. These are the lighter cousins to the Sugarbush Draft Horse, being 50% draft or less. While the Stonewall Sport Horse is a "type" of horse, and not a breed per se, it is similar to saying that you allow crossing to "cutting horses" to improve your ranch horse. You want horses designed for the task at hand. Stonewall Sport Horses give us this.
And yet, a Stonewall Sport Horse still has the ideal angles and shape, just in a more "petite" form. (Hard to call them petite when you're talking about a horse that is 16 hands, and probably 1400 pounds or more). We recognize that allowing light horse breednig back in will set us back a few generations, but for us, it is the lesser of the evils we had to face when left with too few horses to properly breed forward.
Now, lets compare all of this to commonly accepted breeds. I'm going to pick on the Quarter Horse today, because we can all accept that it is a breed. AQHA allows crossing to Thoroughbreds for genetic diversity (not sure why they need to diversify in the largest horse breed in the world, but arguments can be made both ways).
A Typical Quarter Horse looks like this:
My point being that the consistency of type is rather varied, and few of them resemble the "ideal" horse as drawn in the AQHA's early days (the painting up there).
So, then you have that AQHA allows crossing to Thoroughbreds, which look like:
(An aside here, this horse is the sire of my lesson horse Diesel... cool!)
Now, that's not a bad thing, but it is something to be aware of when you are working with animals, and breeding forward. The AQHA put more focus on performance then appearance. This is why horses tend to specialize in a discipline, and as they get better, the "types' grow further apart. Few people would cross a halter horse to a cutting horse in today's world, because the diversity has made the AQHA almost a few breeds within the breed (Similar to the Welsh ponies/horses).
And that is what we at the SDHR hope to avoid. We want to keep the Sugarbush Draft on track with the vision that Mr. Smith had. To do that, we must make a few unconventional decisions, in order to achieve the conventional results.
And in a few months, I'll be able to tell you how we're doing. The first foal crop from Foundation mares is expected in April 2012.