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, April 27, 2012

When is "good enough" actually good enough?

I had a discussion with a friend today about my herd.  She got to meet many of the horses for the first time, and shared her views on them.  Now, later on, she apologized for being honest (really?  Seriously?  That's something to apologize for now?) because she actually acknowledged their flaws.

Some of this was in reference to the new kids, some in reference to other horses, but all in all, it turned out that no horse here on my property was perfect.  For me, this is what I call a "duh statement".  No horse is ever perfect.  If you look hard enough, you will find a flaw of some kind.  As a breeder, it's my job to know those flaws, and breed as few of them as possible.

Later on though (about 2am if you look at the time this is posted) it got me thinking about what is truly "good enough" when it comes to breeding.  For me, this is even more true.  There are no "ideal" examples of my breed to breed to.  "O" has his flaws, plus he's the sire of most of my SDHR horses.  Other draft breeds lack even more of the ideal (usually).  This is because there is nothing really like the Sugarbush Draft Horse out there.  We're gene locked right now, and working to fix that, but there isn't a "similar" breed of horse that happens to be a draft horse with angles and lines similar to a warmblood (small w, meaning most light breeds of horse).

I've talked about this before with conformation clinic posts.  Draft horses are usually designed to pull weight.  Because of that, they have specific traits to help them do their job with out causing damage to their bodies.  Things like a straight shoulder (allows the horse to lean into the weight) a longer back (allows the horse to get its hind legs under for more push) turn out on the hinds (prevents the horse from striking its own front feet) and short necks (which help with leverage, and keeping the center of balance on the shoulders).  All of these are BAD traits for a Sugarbush Draft Horse. 

So, we the breeders are left looking at mutts and mixes, contemplating crossing back to light horses and draft crosses, and trying to find the lesser of the evils to improve the breed.  Oh sure, some times we find a rare gem.  For me, that is "Red" (aka BLC Jokers White Russian) the American Cream Draft colt I have high hopes for (pictured above).  Is he perfect?  Nope!

His neck is totally average (which is long for a draft horse).  His back is totally normal (which is short for a draft horse).  He has very little turn out in the hinds (which is bad for asking him to haul excessive weight in a harness).  Well, you get the idea.  But for me, he'll improve my girls, and bring more refinement, heavier bone, and a great personality into the mix.  In other words, he's just an amazing young colt, for what I want.  Now, if I was looking for the next cutting horse champion, well, he wouldn't be so great.

But then I look at my girls.  Lets take Sweetie as an example.  She's a bit long in the back, and her hip isn't as well muscled as I would like.  Her legs are lovely, straight, and well boned, but her head is "plain" and even slightly roman nosed.  I wish her neck was longer, but it's right in the middle of "average" and she's a bit sickle hocked.

Oh, but we could talk about her color.   She's carrying LP (she's actually a snowcap, so homozygous) and she's a chestnut.  So, ok, she has a boring base color, but can pass on spots... is that a good enough reason to breed her?

Or we could talk about her gaits.  She has lift and suspension.  She carries herself evenly balanced, and has power from the hinds.  She's a bit lazy, but when asked gives what is requested with out balking or fussing.  All in all her movement is "nice" but not "amazing".  Is that good enough to breed her?

If there were a zillion horses in my breed, I would likely say no, but there aren't.  So instead, my goal is to improve upon her.  I hope to see a baby form her that has all of her good traits, and all of the sire's best traits.   I hope to see a horse even closer to the ideal Sugarbush Draft Horse.

It all comes down to why are we breeding.  When you can't find a horse out there that is what you need, I think the standard of 'good enough' changes.  It's not like I'm breeding Paints and can't find an APHA approved stallion, so can then go look through AQHA's stud book.  Sure, I can look at other breeds, but I have 2 options:

1.  Breed back in the typical "draft" traits that we've been working for decades to remove.
2. Breed to a lighter boned horse, and lose some of the "draftiness" of the breed that makes it what it is.

Neither is a good answer.

Every day I do this, I am so thankful that I chose to get that education in genetics.  It's only a BSc. but it's still more then trying to muddle through the mysteries of DNA blindfolded.  I can't even imagine how breeders in the past managed to do it.  Just think of the people trying to start the American Creams back in the early 1900s!  They were doing it all by "feel".  No special notes or spread sheets or reference links to check themselves with.

All in all, you have to think, it's pretty amazing what we've managed to do with horses that were "good enough".


  1. I have to say, you are in a very unique position! Given the circumstances, I think you are doing well :).  Sweetie's color is far from boring, IMHO. But, what do I know? I think Roman noses are enduring! 
    I can't wait to see more foals from your mares. This is all so exciting and I can't wait to see you revitalize the breed!

  2. Miss_poco_leo_peppyMay 12, 2012 at 1:08 PM

    Thank you for your steadfast dedication of your desire to perpetuate this breed! I happen to have one of those OLD TIME Native breed Lp Appaloosa Mustangs out of the well known Tobin range herd of the Paiute Tribe in Northern Nevada!  I will send you some photos of my black Lp mare-Tobin Galaxy.Other than her smaller stature than your more draftier bred,she appears conformationally to be an ideal candidate for your program according to the breed standards stated  in order to save the Sugarbush breed! Her history is comparative to the beginning story of this breed!