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, February 4, 2012

Why do we hate the horses so?

Not every horse in the world can be a beauty queen.  Some horses have conformational flaws that cause health issues, while others have flaws that just make them more suited for another job.

Yet, so often on facebook, websites, forums, and of course a few blogs (fugly, that'd be your fans I'm talking about) I hear people ripping apart horses, and talking about them as if they are useless.

And yet, even the "ugly ones" can be useful.  No, they shouldn't be bred, but there's no need for people to be as cruel as they are.

Look at this little mare here.  She's one of my Second Chance horses, who now has a wonderful home and a young lady of her own.  This mare was skinny when I got her (which made her look worse) and needed a lot of love and care to get back in shape.  Conformationally, she's not exactly a stellar example of the 'ideal horse' either.

But, she's a great horse.  Sure, her neck is a bit wonky (swan necked, poor tie in, thick throat latch) her shoulder is very upright (jarring gaits, inhibition of extension) her back is weak in the LS joint, her hip is short (lack of power from the hind end) her legs are posty and sickle hocked, with a touch of cow hocked for good measure, and she's over at the knee in the front.  She has incredibly weird pasters, and her tail hair kinda sucks.

BUT, with all that said, this little mare is a baby sitter for her rider.  She works in a camp for disadvantaged kids, does some play days, and is sound.  She's healthy, she's happy, and she has a job that fits every last one of her flaws.

So, is she a "good horse" or a "bad horse"?

All too often we see people ripping on a horse.  "Look how ugly that thing is!" or "God, do they have any idea what a piece of crap their horse is?"

Why?  Why do "we" the horse community do this to our friends and peers in the industry?  Is it merely a way to make us feel better about our own horse's flaws?  I mean, it's not like a perfectly built horse exists or anything, so our horses must have flaws. 

Or how about the "breed bashers".  I get to see this one a lot, since my breed of choice is not exactly the most popular.

These are the people who are SURE that it 'can't be a breed because...." and their reasons area always full of holes.  My favorite being "I've never heard of the Sugarbush Draft before, so it can't be a breed".  Uh, so Friesians weren't a breed until the movie Lady Hawke came out?  Never mind their centuries of history.  We can't let things like facts get in our way.

Or what about the "it hasn't been around LONG enough to be a "real" breed" type of thinkers.  Well, what's the cut off on that?  Because if MY breed isn't a "real" breed, I have bad news for owners of Rocky Mountain horses, Tennessee Walking Horses, Missouri Fox Trotters, and of course the Gypsy Vanner is totally screwed.

Now, I understand that people have preferences.  I learned that the Arabian is not my ideal breed.  I love my Arab, and I love many other arabs, but the breed is not exactly the best fit for me.  Quarter Horses are the same way.  Nice horses, work hard... just don't quite work with my goals.  Would never hate one, just wouldn't go out looking to buy one for myself.

But, how often do you hear "Oh those Arabians, they're crazy!".  Or the Appaloosa haters!  "Them Appies, they are stubborn as hell, pig eyed, jug headed, and platter footed".  Uh no, the jug headed horses are the Sugarbush Drafts there bud... and we got the market on the polka dots with platter feet as well, thank you very much! 

My point is, why is it that we as horse people tend to be "it's either A OR B" type of thinkers?  I can't even remember the last time I heard some one say "Your horse is a complete conformational wreck for the sport you're trying to put him in, but he'd be well suited for..."  Oh no, instead, we have to leave off the good parts.  Now, most likely this is because the speaker doesn't really know what they are talking about.

I think that we see a topic about conformation, pick out the bit we 'get' and rant on it for a couple of weeks.  This happens on another blog quite often (ahem, the old fugly, ahem).  Some one says "that horse has a straight shoulder" and leaves it at that.  The tone of  the sentence implies that a straight shoulder is BAD, and to be avoided at all costs, but the readers rarely know why it is a problem.

Stop and think for a second.  Do any of YOU know why a straight shoulder is bad?  If it's so horrible, why is it still around?  I mean, we could breed that out pretty darned fast if 'we" the horse word, really wanted to.  So, does that mean there's a purpose to a straight shoulder?

Now, I've been "lucky" enough to learn some pretty "useless" things in my life.  As a child, I didn't have a horse, but I was so crazy about them.  I spent time as a judge's assistant in 4H, being trained to one day be a horse judge myself, just so I could smell the horses around me.  I spent hours reading non fiction books about color, conformation, and breeds until my family wanted to puke, simply because that was as close to a horse as I could get.  I took riding lessons, researched everything, and learned as much as my mind could contain.

Not exactly useful skills to have in the 'real' world though.  So, eventually I got into veterinary medicine.  At least I could put my passion into something that might pay the bills.

And then I found myself here, as the Registrar of the Sugarbush Draft Horse Registry.  All of that useless knowledge that made me feel like Cliff Claven from Cheers, well, it applied!  Who knew!   Ok, I'm still kinda awkward at social functions, but if someone happens to like horses... it's all good!  And every one loves horses, right?

But seriously, and back to the topic at hand, why is it that we horse people are so black or white?  Is it because we use it as a way to mask our own insecurities?  Is it because horses are one of the few things in this day and age that can not be "mastered" in a week or a month?  Is it because no matter how much book learnin' you have about horses, it's never the same as hands on?  Is it because the skills of the true horsemen are lost to use, with the need of horses in everyday life?

And the thing I wonder most:  would more knowledge help curb this nasty little habit we have in the horse community, or would leading by example work better?

I'm not sure how to solve it, but I try to both lead by example (If I point out a flaw I try to explain in what context that flaw is not a concern) and educate people with my myriad of pony lore.


  1. msamericanpatriot1970February 4, 2012 at 3:01 PM

    I had a coach who was a breed bigot or horse bigot as my USDF dressage judge of a cousin called her. She did NOT think to well of hot breeds. Then came my mare who is a half lease and changed her mind. My mare is a throughbred/saddlebred cross and is 17 years old. My mare loves me to death and everybody sees it in her. Even my coach I have now who works diligently with us to make us a team. My mare does spook and it scares us (me and the coach) but we learn how to work around this trait to have a good lesson. I hope I can take my mare to the Special Olympic games in my state because I think it is HIGHLY unusual for a Special Olympian to be riding a horse that is not bombproof like all therapy horses are. She, my mare, is NOT a therapy horse in a traditional sense. 

  2. I agree 100%.  I can pick out conformation details pretty well, and certainly have my preferences, but I find that, like with any other species (humans included), there is a place for all. I don't even think there is an "ideal conformation" due to the many uses out there.  I suppose there could be "ideal Hunter under 3' for children with security issues, short torsos, and long legs" but really, the mind is so much more important anyway.  And I love the people who don't understand that the average rider can not handle a truely talented mid to high level horse in any discipline.  Most of us need the "ugly" ones who better suit our skill levels.  =)

  3. Another great thought provoking topic.  I love the "I don't like drafts because they can't do... "  I so I show them they can do whatever was spoken as a can't.  

  4. I do think it's a good idea to breed for conformation and 'usefulness', since there are already too many horses in the world, but I certainly don't think an 'ugly' horse is useless. Ozzy has some pretty wicked conformation flaws, but he's the best horse I could ask for and so versatile and awesome. He's also a standardbred, so I get lots of breed hate :-P

  5. Ebony, Velvet and Sioux were all good girls.

    I would like it very much if you'd pick my Boyz apart in your conformation clinic.

  6.  I need to get a confo shot of each, but yeppers.... I have plans to "rip them up" first.  =)

  7.  My view is, as a breeder it is OUR job to build the best possible.  Now, that's not always possible, as the foal laying against the uterus wrong can cause issues (wry nose as an example) or other things that have nothing to do with genetics.  So, those "less then stellar' examples, should they be garbage?  Should horse owners be made to feel bad for owning one?


    Instead, those "totally mediocre" and even some of the "bad" horses out there can make excellent horses in many jobs.  Look at the pinto mare at the top, she's a conformational wreck, but she's one hell of a kid's packer.  (Didn't breed her).  I admit, I've bred foals that were not at all what I was expecting (and I'm a geneticist by education!) and learned from it.  Raised those horses, gave them jobs, and made them useful, but they will never be stellar examples of equine conformation.

    So, I think there's actually a true "double standard" in horses.   BREEDING horses has one standard, as we should only breed for the best at what we're wanting to achieve.  OWNING horses is a totally different thing though, and we should understand that deviations from the norm are not necessarily an indication of a lesser horse, depending upon what that horse's job in life is.

  8. Soooo....why is a straight shoulder bad?   [I didn't see the answer]  :)

    Also - my appy is referred to as 'Alpo' by several people at the barn, meaning he's good for nothing but dog food. But he's my best friend, I think he's gorgeous, and I have 16 blue ribbons to prove that he may not be pretty or useful or worthy of anything but dog ffod in other people's eyes....but he can jump the hell out of anything you put in front of him!!!

  9. You'll have to read tomorrow's blog to find out =)  (There was WAY too much to put into one blog)

  10. This was EXCELLENT!!! I heart this so much! I think you should try to get it on the Fugly blog as a guest writer. I have been frustrated several times when they slam Stonewalls, and have made the suggestion, why not learn about the breed or interview Mike or show pics of the good ones! 

    And so many of her readers can't think for themselves. She would make a pretty good post, but then it was like a pack of chihuahua's got into the chicken coop; all the jumping and yapping and fretting for her to notice how much they agreed and to prove it, look at THIS horrible thing!!!

    Perhaps this would make them understand that not all horses should be Quarter horses, and not all horse jobs should be stock horse jobs.