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.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The ideal Sugarbush Draft Horse Color (and pattern)

The Sugarbush Draft Horse is a small draft horse, standing on average between 15.2 hands and 16.2 hands, who weighs between 1500 and 2000 pounds.  The Sugarbush Draft Horse is ideally built for riding, having a sloped shoulder, moderate length neck, straight legs with minimal turn out in the hinds, and a back of short to moderate length.  While they are a draft horse, the Sugarbush Drafts are not ideally suited to pulling heavy weights, but do excel in harness, pulling carriages, and were bred to perform well in Combined Driving Events.

Now, that alone separates the Sugarbush Draft Horse from almost every other breed of draft, but they also have one more trait which tends to get the most attention.  Their colors.

You see, the Sugarbush Draft Horse comes in all of the LP color patterns.  LP patterns are commonly referred to as appaloosa coloring, because the most popular breed of horse with these color genes is the Appaloosa.  Other breeds also have these colors though, including but not limited to the Knabstrupper, the Pony of the Americas,  and the Noriker.

The thing is, most people don't realize that one of the patterns common with LP genetics is the solid horse.  Oubliette d'Acier, shown above, is a solid black filly.  Genetically, she is homozygous for the recessive Leopard Complex (LP) gene, or lp/lp.  Her solid color is not considered a fault, and when she matures, she can be bred to any approved SDHR horse, including other solids. 

The confusion comes from the ApHC (Appaloosa Horse Club) which is in no way affiliated with the SDHR.  In the ApHC, there are rules in place to promote breeding for the appaloosa coloration, and solid horses must be bred back to "colored" (meaning those with a pattern) horses.  Since there is no affiliation between the SDHR and the ApHC, their rules do not apply to breeding for Sugarbush Draft Horses.

Instead, the SDHR has restrictions on pinto genetics, but allows common face and leg white which may exhibit extreme white under the right circumstances.  Let me put that another way:  If your horse has genes that the SDHR has determined to be predominantly a pinto pattern (Tobiano or Frame White, also called Lethal White Overo) your horse can not be registered with the SDHR.  Other genes may express as "pinto" white under the right circumstances (sabino and splash white most commonly) but these genes are most commonly seen as "just' face and leg white, so are allowed - in any level of expression.  So basically, we restrict horses based upon their DNA tests, not a sock that's a bit too high or blaze that is too wide.

You see, the SDHR doesn't draw imaginary lines on the horses and say "this is too much".  Our goal is NOT to produce horses of a specific COLOR, but to produce horses of an exceptional conformation and TYPE.  As a breed registry, we understand that mother nature has a sense of humor (and sometimes a dark one at that) and a breeder who does everything properly can have a horse born who is not what is expected.  Why should that breeder, or that horse, be penalized over something as meaningless as the color of its hair?  This is why restricted colors are based on genes that can be tested for.  This leaves no question in anyone's mind about what the horse can pass to its offspring.

While we limit pinto patterns due to tradition (and the fact that there are many registries who already accept those patterns) we do NOT want to make our breeders worry about the color of their foals more then the temperament and ability of them.  Above all else, a "good" horse should be healthy, kind, and able to do the job asked of it.

What many people do not realize, is that the appaloosa type colors are incompletely dominant.  Most people understand how palomino works, and the LP gene works similar to that.  You have the homozygous recessive form (chestnut for palominos, solids for LP colors) then the heterozygous forms (palomino and blankets/leopards/roans for LP horses) and the homozygous dominant colors (cremello for palominos, and fewspots, snowcaps and homozygous roans for LP horses).  What does this mean to the average person?  Well, your chances of breeding a blanket to a leopard and getting a loud colored horse is not that great.  So why should we penalize those foals who didn't get the lucky roll of the dice in their color pattern, but got everything else?

And lets not forget, not everyone likes spots!  Many people would love a larger horse built to ride, but prefer a solid bay, or maybe even a palomino.  There's nothing wrong with that!  Maybe they even dream of breeding horses of that type, in solid colors?  We completely support their right to do so.

In North America, most breeds have a color preference, and were founded more on the horse's hair color then anything else.  The AQHA limited excessive white for many years, while APHA accepted those horses with open arms.  PtHA also is known for pinto colored horses, while ApHC and POA embrace the LP complex (appaloosa) colored ones.  The American Cream Drafts have champagnes, the North American Spotted Drafts have pintos, and the Rocky Mountain Horses are known for the silvers.

One thing people so rarely think about though, is how incompletely dominant colors work.  With the SDHR hoping to soon become a closed registry, we took this into consideration.  If you breed LP colored horses to LP colored horses, eventually the number of homozygous dominants (or white horses) will increase.  This is simple statistics.  Over time, the heterozygous (and often preferred) pattern with spots will be replaced by solid white areas in a type of pattern called snowcaps, or solid white horses in a pattern called fewspots.  These horses are the homozygous dominant version of blankets and leopards (respectively).  The coloration is not nearly as striking as the heterozygous form (blankets and leopards), nor does it gain as many fans.  And what do breeders need in order to get that heterozygous form?

Solid colored horses.

They are invaluable to both those with a color preference, and those who dislike the spots.  How ironic then, that so often we have people ask us if we're disappointed to have a solid foal!  NO!  We're thrilled to have a horse who carries necessary genes, with the proper conformation, who will not distort the phenotype of the breed.  In fact, while I was waiting for Oubliette to be born, I hoped she would be a solid, just because my own farm is trending to snowcaps and fewspots.  She's exactly what I "ordered".

You see, what sets the Sugarbush Draft Horse apart from the other draft breeds isn't it's color.  It's the conformation built for a smooth ride.  I probably say that enough to make people sick of hearing it, but unless you've ridden one, you can't understand the difference between riding a Sugarbush Draft and say, a Percheron (since I happen to own both breeds).  Oh sure, the color pattern is nice, and most of us love a loud pattern, but no horse will ever be valued over another because of its PATTERN.  A good horse is the one with the right angles, the right mind, and the best health.  We strongly encourage our breeders to consider conformation above all else. 

At the Registry, I offer free advice to all breeders to help them create foals with the most ideal conformation possible.  In many cases this means I encourage crosses that have zero chances of producing "appaloosa" coloration.  Those solid foals are just as valuable to the future of the breed as Sugarbush Harley Quinne (at right) the loud leopard stallion who was the corner stone of the SDHR.  So, which one is more important?

Harley was an amazing horse, and his coloration drew a lot of attention, but it wasn't his color that made such an impact on the breed.  His offspring consistently had a lovely back line, and an amazing shoulder, with smooth gaits, and a willing personality that allowed the horses to accept new things and learn quickly.  In the scheme of things, we at the SDHR think those traits far out weigh how much pigment his hair happened to have, or how spotted his offspring were.

Personally, I am amused at how often I hear that we're all "breeding for color".  Each time one of our breeders produces a foal, I hear exclamations of "The neck!  It's lovely!" or "Wow, did this baby get a nice shoulder" and so rarely do I hear "oh, look, SPOTS!".  In many cases, I never hear what color the foal is until the brag pictures arrive.  In some cases, I have to beg to find out if it's a colt or a filly!  I am very proud of our breeders, and how each of them is striving for the best HORSE they can make, regardless of the color it comes out.  Grey, solids, or loud patterns matter so much less then conformation.

And yet, when you look at the pictures of the Sugarbush Foals, most times they are stunning, even if they were changed to solid bay.  Little Charlie D (at left) has a shoulder to die for, an amazingly nice back, good straight legs, and a hip that is very nicely put on there.  So many good things that it's easy to overlook the fact that there are spots on his rump.

And how can we as a registry not be proud of our breeders?  As the SDHR grows, the tradition of breeding for quality above all else is growing stronger.  While the spotted horses make for lovely magazine covers, or eye catching pictures for facebook shares, every SDHR horse we have currently has made for a perfect horse for its owner. My solid horses get as many "ohhs" and "ahhs" as their spotted siblings, and what I hear most often is "I can't believe they are so SWEET!"  You see, every Sugarbush Draft Horse I have met in person has been naturally drawn to people, and had a puppy dog type of personality.  A trait that Mr. Smith worked hard to breed true, and is very proud of in his lines.

For our breeders, getting a foal with a loud pattern is a hobby.  It's nice when it happens, but doesn't change a thing about the horse under that color.  Like anyone, we laugh and joke about doing the "spot dance" or predicting the color of the foals while in utero, but I have never heard a single SDHR breeder express dissatisfaction with a foal's color, even if it's the most boring or least liked color that could have happened (in that person's mind).  We all have "favorite colors" and we all have colors we don't care for as much.  That's just what people do.  Of course, that's also why the SDHR has so few rules regarding color, and no penalties in the rulebook for solid colors, nor bonuses for loud spots.

So what is the ideal color pattern for a Sugarbush Draft Horse?  Anything that is not tobiano or frame white.  It's really that simple.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

So it's been busy around here!

Well, as you know, I'm riding Katy in the SGK Ride for the Cure.  Katy isn't exactly an experienced horse, so I'm doing my best to put as many hours on her between now and then as possible.  And, hopefully, she'll surpass my expectations.  So far, she's on track.

You see, the thing I've been the most worried about, is getting her comfortable with other horses being worked around her.  I normally ride alone (Jae watches over me, but it's just me and the horse in the arena working).  To deal with this, I've been grabbing Katy for my pony parties each Sunday.  And Katy?  Well, she's been wonderful about it.

Today, I pulled her up, and dawdled.  I brushed her, picked her feet, sat for a bit, put on her saddle, played with her hair, and then bridled her.  I did this and that, and left her standing tied outside the arena, just where everyone was mounting.  She got a good view of the show, and had to stand quietly while they played.

So then, I took her in, and got on.  Ok, I have to admit, she bluffed me a bit.  I asked her to walk on, and she didn't.  I got her to follow another horse (Midnight, an older mare she trusts) and we got so far and she just lost steam.  I tried this, and tried that, but didn't want to push her too hard.  You know, it's kinda scary having all those OTHER horses out there, right?

Yeah, uh, not so much.

KatyDid just thought it was HOT.

I finally stepped off, and grabbed a dressage whip (like a crop, but with a flickly end, not a whumpy end - yeah, technical terms, I know).  I tapped her rump while holding the reins, and used her verbal command 'WALK!".  She walked.

Repeat a few times with me steering from her shoulder while walking beside her, and she started moving off the verbal rather then the tap.  I climbed back on (my first time on her with a whip) and asked nicely.  When she blew me off, I touched her ribs (just behind my leg) with the crop, as I tapped with my leg, and we walked on.  She got praise, and from then on, walked out fine.

The best part?  Katy could care less that any horses were working around her.  My mom trotted behind us on Midnight.  Leah zipped around on Jaz with his rhythm beads jingling, and Sarah made bends and turns on Ishka through the middle.  Katy barely even flicked an ear at it all.  Other horses, and what they are doing is totally acceptable to her.  Now, going outside of the ARENA is a bit less comfortable, but we're taking baby steps here.

So all in all, I was happy.  I think she carried me for about 45 minutes before she "complained" about it.  Her only complaint was to get really heavy on the forehand, and saggy in the back, which means she's tired of lugging my butt around.  She didn't stop, just got "ugly".  So rather then get her in that habit, I quit.

And what did I do after that you might ask?  Well....

I spent some time on Midnight, hung out with friends....and then I agreed to hold someone's little white pony.

Yep, Leah asked me to hold Daltrey while she tested him out.  Now, that's HER story to share, but... Lets just say it was a GOOD day around here.

Hot, muggy, and definitely summer, but a great day for me.

And for those observant enough to catch it, yes, Katy is wearing a pelham bit in that picture.  I removed the curb chain, and have the only rein on the snaffle ring.  Why a pelham then?  Because I had bits too big, and too small, but the only ones that fit her right now are O rings, and Katy really needs a D ring or full cheek.  I cheated!  I'm also about to go buy me some BIG bits now that I have more then 1 big mouth on the property that's old enough to ride consistently.  I can't have the same bridle on Midnight and Katy, and poor Ni Ni can't wear anything else.

Eesh... I'm gonna have a few dozen bridles hanging in my tack room at this rate!  Ah well, it'll be so nice to have the Sugarbush horses old enough to ride!  I've been waiting for this for YEARS!  And yep, I'm thrilled about it.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Fate works in Mysterious Ways

Things lately have been shocking, and I kinda feel like Fate has slapped me upside the head, and screamed at me a little.

Now, don't get me wrong, I believe in fate, but only in a very general sort of way.  Just like if you put water with oxygen, you will consistently get water, or hydrogen peroxide, depending upon the situation.  Well, I think fate works like that.  If you perform an action that has an obvious consequence, you should expect that consequence.  Walk up behind a horse that doesn't know you're there, and smack it, then "fate" says you will soon be flying to the moon with a lovely hoof shaped bruise!

So, when last week happened (and there's really no other way to describe my week last week) I was shocked to feel like the world was pointing me - very strongly - in a certain direction.  Fate was calling.

On Monday, I found my beloved Indi, dead.  Tuesday, I learned that Everett was sending the transfer for Katy, making her officially mine.  Wednesday, I think it was, I learned of a friend trying to help a young girl who had taken on a draft stallion.  By Sunday, I was called to "come get him".

That's the short version, but there is a long version, and it's kinda interesting how things have worked out.

You see, back in the late 90s, I was a horseless girl.  I always had a love for the draft horses, but I never thought I'd be able to own horses.  Some one else did that, not city kids like me.  My friends and I would frequent this place locally, and when you walked in, there was always this flyer for "Black the Great" or "The Black" (the name changed, the horse remained the same).  I ended up with an old copy from a friend who worked there, and it ended up on my wall in my room.  No rock stars, or teen heart throbs for me!  I was in love with the ponies, and the bigger, the better!

Fast forward a few years, and I was working as a vet tech.  We did some AI collections for a lovely Percheron stallion named "The Black".  Yes, the very same horse.  His owner was a lovely man, who adored his horse.  The horse was calm, quiet, and stoic.  I am sure I drooled a little each time he arrived, and his owner was always sweet enough to let me pet or hold him.  Well, it was my job to hold him, but I think his owner knew I was a little bit smitten too.

Fast forward to last month.  Rachel texts me a link to an ad for a stallion at Stud.  A lovely Percheron guy, aged, but still nice, and standing locally.  He sure looked familiar, so I HAD to contact them.  Yep, it was "The Black".  His owner passed away last year or so, and he was in new hands.  He was also listed for sale.  I spoke with them about breeding to him (wouldn't he cross great on Sweetie?) and was going to check her and see where she was in her cycle.  The bad stuff happened though, and well, that got put on hold. 

Then Wednesday, Heather P tells me she was contacted about a situation that worried her.  A young girl had traded a few horses for a draft stallion, and everything sounded like she was in over her head.  No experience with drafts, and no stallion experience.  Now, I don't care how good a kid is with horses, a young woman handling stallions for the first time needs a mentor!  (A young anyone, but lets be real, more women are in horses now then men).  Stallion are just like any horse - but they have a brain smaller then a golf ball, and hormones that make teenagers look mellow.  Breeding is not for the faint of heart, handling stallions is not for the weak of will, and combining the 2, with no support structure (no parents with experience, no mentor to help you avoid the pitfalls, no trusted family friend to stop you before you stand in the wrong place) well, bad things tend to happen.  Either to the horse(s) or to the people trying it.

Some where between the time I first heard about this, and the weekend (the days last week are a bit of a blur to me) I get a call from Heather.  "Would you be willing to trade something more suited in exchange for this horse?"

Oh geez.  I sure don't need ANOTHER stallion.  But it's THIS stallion... how can I say no?  I looked to Jae for support, and he let me down.  "Why not?  Sound like a win for everyone, besides you did want to breed to him, and YOU can handle him, and we do have an open pen still".

Ah, the eternal horse vacuum sound.  A stall empties, and the world works to fill it up.  It was happening to me.

I made an offer, and was refused.  Nothing I had in that price range was ideal, and nothing I offered was of any interest.  A few more days passed, and then I'm told that things look dangerous.  The horse went through a fence, they are worried about this young lady's safety, and an offer is going to be made.  Would I take him if they can get him?

What, do I look like the type of person who would tempt fate to YOU?

"Sure, I'll take him."

Sunday morning, we had a pony party.  We do this on Sundays, and this week, it was very cathartic for me.

I decided to test Katy.  I tacked her up, and for the first time ever, took her outside of a "working area" and into a pasture.  My friends rode around, through a ditch filled with water (preparing for the Susan G Komen ride you know) and I let Katy soak it all in.  She looked calm and relaxed, so I began to push the issue - gently of course.

I did some stepping up into the stirrup.  Toe in her side, knee brushing her, mixed signals, and praise when she would actually stand for it.  The whole time, my friends rode on.  Naturally, I had told them the plan ahead of time, and they were happy to help with this desensitizing.

Finally, I felt like Katy was calm enough, I wanted to sit on her, and just let her take things in while mounted.  Jae held her, and I stepped up.  She was good, a bit wide eyed, but good.  I asked her to head back, and she was very insecure.  The riders were a bit away, and the barn was the other way, and things were WEIRD!  Jae led her closer, and she followed, but she ignored much of my commands, and just wanted to be led.  We got within 50 feet, and she stopped.

No bolting, no blow ups, she simply "drafted out".  Katy locked up, would NOT move, and felt tense.  Naturally, I praised her.  If her response to being afraid is to STAND STILL, that deserves praise, and is NOT something I want to change.

All in all, she did great, and I was a proud mommy.  Chris wanted to trade out, so he took Katy back, tacked her down, and I took a spin on Poko.  Katy was happy, I was happy... all was right with the world, and the hole in my heart was mending a bit.

So, when I checked my phone (which had fallen out of my pocket at the trailer where I tacked up) I saw a message:

"come get him"

So come I did.  Jae hooked up the trailer, Rachel came with us for a ride, and we made a day of it.  2.5 hours each way, nothing but a half cup of coffee in me - there was a horse with my name on it.  The big guy was sweet, kind, and in need of groceries and care, but I had been warned about that.  He was kind, but over the years had picked up a few bad habits.  I'm sure he doesn't remember me at all, but I sure remember him.  I've been wracking my brain to remember how his person handled him - what commands were used, what body positions he had, but have nothing coming to mind except visions of big brown eyes.

We loaded him up, brought him home, and have spent the day letting him learn the place, and trying to learn him.  For everything good he does, he has something that needs work.  His feet are a mess, his teeth are in horrid shape, he's thin, he has no muscle... but these things can be fixed.  He tries to blow out his shoulder into his handler, to get them to move, but a few taps with a crop, and the command "Stand!" and he's learned that doesn't work.

Right now, his worst habit is that he won't focus on me.  If there's a horse in sight, he's paying attention to it.  Not always in an obvious way, but enough that he's not LISTENING to me.  Sure, he's what I would call a "good boy" but I also know how to stop his antics with out even breaking a sweat.  Within 15 minutes of handling, he already tried to test me 4 times.  Very subtle testing, but I caught it.

First, he tried out screaming (in his deep calm voice) while in hand.  Uh... no.

Then he tried stepping into me, to get me to move.  (For those who don't know, if I avoid him, I just told him that he's the leader, and I'm here for him to command).  Yeah, that didn't work.

He tried dropping his head to graze every few steps.  Uh, that's not good manners!  We don't DO that here!  You graze when I tell you "ok" and not before.

And THEN...his final attempt at being "bad" was to fidget while we messed with his feet, hoping to scoot ever so much closer to being able to see the mares.  Sorry bud, that's not allowed either.

After that, his whole manner changed.  He turned into Mr. Manners!  Yep, he lost, he knew it, and he was going to be a good boy now.  Not that he'd been BAD, but he sure was checking to see who made the rules.  When he realized that humans do, he actually seemed to relax.  His whole body got less tense, his face looked less worried, and he started to pay attention to his handlers.

Later, I tried out a few name ideas on him.  He didn't respond to Black - which shocked me actually.  Most of the names I tossed at him got me nothing.  I may as well have been talking to Jae for all the attention he gave me, but one name got me the flick of an ear in my direction.  We all agreed that the name "Saint" fit him so well, since he is registered as San Luis (San means Saint in French) and he really is a saint.  But that repeatedly got nothing.  I tried to get him used to it, and was blown off.  I tried Black again and again, and nothing. 

But Rachel had mentioned the name Darwin.  In all the words I threw at him, only Darwin got any reaction, and he gave it each time.  Maybe he likes the way the letters roll?  Maybe it sounds like a name he's known before?  I will never know, but it seems like he has chosen his name.

And so, Darwin will be applying for Foundation Registration this week (once the other horses I have to do are completed).  Once I had some work done on his feet, and he had a reason to stand up nice, I got to see the real "him".  He's shockingly well put together!  Is he perfect?  Of COURSE not, but no horse is.

But what are the chances that I would lose my warmblood mare, gain ownership of a mare I've been in love with for years, and THEN, have a very nice Percheron (Everett's preferred breed) fall into my lap?  And not just any Percheron, but one that I had adored for years.  And one who just might qualify as a Foundation SDHR stallion?

I have to admit.  I feel like the world is telling me that the Sugarbush are what I'm supposed to dedicate my life to.  I need to stop messing around with the "other" horses, and put all my attention into the SDHR.  They really CAN do it all too.  I mean, I will always love the grace of a warmblood, the spirit of an Arabian, the speed of a Throughbred, the turns of a Quarter Horse, but for me, the Sugarbush are MY breed.  There's no reason at all for me to ride anything else.

It seems Fate has spoken, and I'm smart enough to listen.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Ride for the Cure, with KatyDid!

This year, I have decided to take part in the Susan G Komen Ride for the Cure.  Our team, the "North Texas Nags" is growing, and raising money to help in the fight against breast cancer.  Most of the money raised is used locally too!  Now, most people know about SGK their work to help find a cure, or at least to help women get early diagnoses for breast cancer, but for me, this is a bit personal.

My aunt passed way from Breast Cancer.  My cousin was diagnosed with breast cancer.  It runs in my family, and one day, the chances that I will have breast cancer is pretty high.  So, I'm going to toss in a few shameless plugs here, for myself and my team.  We need to raise $250 dollars to attend this ride.  I'm not there yet.  Many of my team mates aren't there yet.  We just need a few dollars from a few people, and we can make a very nice, and very large difference.  So, click here to donate to me on this ride, ANY amount is so greatly appreciated!

No, this whole post is not one big plea for money (just a few small ones!).  Actually, my reason for posting this, is because I'm planning to take Katy Did on the ride!  Yes, Katy, my "new' girl.  Ok, she's been here since she was a yearling, and she's now 5, but she's previously been for sale.  NOW, I own her...or will just as soon as the mail arrives!

But Katy has always been sensible.  She's doing very well under saddle, and she's a brilliant horse.  She's a solid 15.3 hands, which is perfect for me, and wide enough to feel like I'm sitting a sofa.  Did I mention her gaits are as smooth as glass?  Yeah, basically she's EXACTLY the kind of horse you want on a long ride.  There's only one problem you see....

She's never gone on trail rides before.

Now, those who know me, know that I am NOT a trail rider.  I love my arena.  I don't dislike the trails, but I've had a few bad experiences that always made me dread heading out.  No, not what you're thinking... it's not the bolts or the spooks that got me.  Rather, it's the crowd I hung out with. 

Since I've got more saddle time then many of my friends, I always end up the "helper".  A novice rider's horse acts up, and I trade out with them, and then fight the horse the whole trip.  A piece of tack fails, and I get off, fix it, or sub from something I have with me on my horse, and make do the whole trip.  A horse is known to have issues with a specific hazard (water crossings?) and I get off and walk through it.... and I HATE wet feet!

Yeah, I'm complaining, but I'm also not complaining.  You see, I can do some of these things, and make it back alive, while other riders (like my dad, or a first time rider) can't always do that.  I'd MUCH rather see every one have a great time.  Me... well I get to ride all week long, so I can blow a single ride, and it's a small segment of my riding time that week.  But if it's your only chance to ride all week... all month, or god forbid, in the last decade, the that rider DESERVES to have a good ride!

Needless to say, countless trail rides of something going wrong, and me fighting a horse the whole ride, resulted in me just not having much desire to ride out.  It's not that I hate the trails, it's just that I found myself enjoying the arena work so much more.  My favorite time to ride is actually when we're alone.  Jae working on something keeping an eye on me, and the horse and I can focus completely on each other.  Every question asked has an answer, every response has a reply from me.  It's a conversation with out words, just emotions.  My idea of a great time with a horse.

But now, I have friends who are solid on their horses, and competent enough to handle their own problems.  Leah has morphed into quite the accomplished horse woman in the short time she's had horses, and Rachel is one of those lucky enough to have horses most of her life.  Both will be riding with us on this ride, and both will be MY moral support this time.

The rest of our team is also made up of good horsewomen, and most likely one very amazing up and coming horseman.  The horses are all solid, or their riders have put a support structure in place to prepare for the "what ifs".

I have a back up though.  If Katy isn't ready, I will be riding Poko, Leah's old "bad boy".  Poko is a trail champ, and knows more then I do.  So why am I taking Katy?  Because my gut says it's the right thing to do.  Katy's going to be my show an exhibition horse, so... why not get her started?

And of course, I am going to play "dress up" with myself and my horsey.  I think Katy's color is fuchsia.  I have always thought Katy would look good in fuchsia or magenta, and had planned to deck her out in these colors anyway.  So, this is my excuse to get her a lovely costume ready for exhibitions (and we plan to use her to show off the SDHR horses at exhibitions).  I'm NOT a pink lover (I am a fan of "ugly" colors like chocolate, mustard, or rust) so this will be a bit exciting for me as well.  All this pink, all around me.  It'll be enough to make me want to puke. 

But it's for a good cause!

Did I mention that I'm raising money for the ride?  (Told you there'd be a few small pleas for cash!)

We only NEED to raise $150 more so we can actually attend this ride, but I hope to be able to raise more then that!  The donation form doesn't list an amount smaller then $25, but you CAN choose "enter an amount" and donate as little as $1.  If most of my readers do that, then we'll make the mark easily, AND we'll be doing our part to help women fight breast cancer! 

The way I see this, is that breast cancer is like horses... it's one of the few things in this world that is filled almost completely with women.  Oh sure, there are horsemen, but lets not forget that men CAN get breast cancer.  So what better way to raise money for such a female biased thing, then with another female biased thing!

But - back to the horses - I will be attempting our first group outing with Katy tomorrow.  I may not ride (depending upon her level of nervousness) but we will walk around at the pony party, all dressed up, and ready to go.  If this works out, then we will slowly work up to more and more rides, and bigger and bigger challenges for both of us.

We are also going to have to make up her costume, try it on, and make sure she accepts everything that goes with it.  You'll have to wait and see what plans I have for her (and I might need some suggestions on what the hell I need to wear to go with it).

But for today, I'm asking for help from all my trail friends out there.  What do I need to be sure and introduce Katy to, before taking her out on the trails?  What have you come across on the trails that you wished you had exposed your horse to?  I'm a novice trail rider, so I just don't think of all the many things that experienced trail riders have to face.  I know it takes skills, and I know I don't have them, nor the experience.  So I'm begging for advice and suggestions.

And a bit of money too (I think 3 pleas is enough, don't you?  Sick of it yet?)

Thanks for the support y'all.  And I hope you take the links for donations with the humor and fun it's intended to have.  BUT, if you help me meet my goal... I promise to post picture of me in lots and lots of pink.  On the internet..... for ever.  If THAT isn't worth $5 bucks, I don't know what is!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I had a bad day again

Life tends to happen when you least expect it. At least it does for me, and it's always filled with ups and downs. I keep thinking of this song, and it's been stuck in my head, and fits, since yesterday was a very bad day.

You see, I lost my darling Indira. Indi was supposed to be the light of my life. From the first moment I met her, she reminded me of Ash all over again. The way she held her head, the way she looked at me, the way she tested me, I just felt like we had a connection. I was SO excited to get my lovely warmblood, and one my size (15.3 hands) who wasn't a "dumbblood"... no offense to warmbloods, but I rarely find many with personalities that just match with me. Indi did though.

She settled in like a pro. I began playing with her, and working with her, and was nothing but astonished. She just got everything I asked. Now Indi wasn't an easy horse by any stretch. She was willful, she was very intelligent, but she wanted to please.  Not to be someone's servant - oh no!  She wanted to be a partner in crime!

And she was.  Indi and I spent many hours just hanging out, talking.  When she wanted something, she came to ask, and always knew where to find me.  I didn't have her very long, but in such a short time, she meant so much to me so quickly.

And then, the worst happened.

Yesterday was my "day off".  This means that I don't work horses, I just do the basics, and spend some time doing things for me.  Nothing glorious mind you.  Laundry, playing games... anything, so long as it's not pressured to DO.  I need to have some "me time" or I end up burning out, and feeling like the horses are no fun any more.  I chose Mondays.  6 days a week, my time is the horses', but on Mondays, I get to do what ever I want to do.  Sometimes that's play with horses, sometimes it's just nothing.  Yesterday, I got sucked into a few conversations on facebook.

That morning, when I let the pups out to potty, Indi was standing at the fence, and looked fine (teasing the boys actually).  I laughed at her, and thought, those geldings can't help you girl, and then went about my day.  Around 1:30pm, it started getting hot and muggy.  Jae and I headed out to put up the boys (they sunburn) and check the waters.  Jae wanted to put the goats in shade, so walked down to the round pen (they were grazing the fence line there for me) and released them.  I was at the barn, caught them up, and put them in a stall with a fan and hay.  I turned on the water, to fill their bucket, walked to grab the end of the horse, and didn't see Jae.  I looked, and looked, and then found him, at the pond, waving for me to come.

That's never good.

From the angle I was at, I couldn't see what could be the problem.  I turned off the water, and ran down there.  Jae was wading into the water.  Not good.

I crested the hill, and saw it.  A grey side sticking out of the water.  Now, in my herd, a "grey" side could that color could be a few horses.  Shadow, Katy.. Indi.  The water was about a foot deep, but the horse was obviously dead, yet Jae was still trying to grab the horse's head, and get it above water.  When he did, I realized who it was.  MY girl.. my Indi.

Thinking back, I don't know if I would have felt any differently if it was any other horse.  I love them all, but Indi was so shocking.  You see, Indi loved to swim.  She would wade out into the water, and take the wettest path from point A to B, just to get wet.  To find Indi, dead, in shallow water, was just baffling!

We managed to get her out of the pond, and realized that she hadn't been gone long.  We searched for something she may have gotten stuck on.  A reason why she would be dead in that shallow of water, and could find nothing.  The bottom was sandy, offered good grip, and all she would have needed to do was sit up and her entire neck would be well above water.  It made no sense!

And then we looked at her body, searching for a sign.  There were no signs of struggle, no hair ripped off, no abrasions on her legs, but her throat, at the throat latch, was swollen.  Very swollen.  My first though was that some how she had broken her neck.  Jae lifted her head, and on the bottom side, I saw blood seeping.  Because we were frantic to know what may have happened, and paranoid that we now have an open death trap in the pasture with all the horses, we HAD to know what happened.  I had Jae roll her over.

There, about a hands with behind her jaw, right at the jugular, were 2 punctures, approximately a finger joint apart, about 1.5 centimeters.  One was slightly torn, and the blood was pooling from it still.  After a talk with the vet, and some pictures sent, it was determined to be a snake bite.  And a very big snake at that (4 - 5 feet).  The vet is currently checking to see what type of snake would cause that type of reaction, but we've narrowed it down to either a water moccasin, or a copper head.

Dr. K said that due to the location of the bite, there's nothing we could have done anyway.  The chances of venom being injected directly into such a large blood stream are astronomical, but if that is what happened, death would be quick, and relatively painless.  He said that from the appearance of the images, the wound would have begun to swell, reducing her oxygen, and causing a euphoric feeling.  The venom would have made her somewhat delirious.  Since she collapsed into water, the likelihood of a blood test being definitive was greatly reduced.

From my assessment of the area (tracks in the pond edge, etc) it looks as if she was heading to people.  She felt funny, and wanted her person, so she was headed to our spot, when she collapsed in the pond.  The pond, the shortest route from where she was, to where I was.  Where I was, is the spot that the entire herd considers "safe".

 And so, I did something that I've never done before, and save only for the most special.  I had her buried here, on the farm, next to the pond she so loved. 

I've been a bit of a wreck the past few days.  I cry at the drop of a hat.  The thing is, I'm not the crying type.  When we found her, I called Heather, her previous owner, and cried to her.  She cried with me.  She knew how much Indi meant to me, how excited I was to have her, and how overjoyed I was to find another horse with the combination of spunk and sweetness.

I probably look at death a lot more realistically then many people.  With the number of animals I have, there's always someone getting old, and death is a part of love.  I've never been "touchy feely" about death, and am not one of those people that you shouldn't mention anything about it near me for fear of me breaking down.  That's just not how I cope.  Instead, I rejoice in the life, the love, and the memories.  Usually, I get my cry out the first day, and just have a whole that I carry for a while, until the wound heals.  I don't deny it, but I don't dwell on it either.  For me - and I don't judge anyone else for being different - I owe it to the others I have here to love them every day, and not forget them because of one loss.  I can miss Indi with every fiber in me, while smiling over Raven's antics, or crying into Red's mane and thinking how amazing he is.  Love and loss are not mutually exclusive for me.

Which makes today's turn of events even more ironic.

KatieDid, one of the horses bred by Everett Smith, and the last horse I had for sale from him is about to be mine.

You see, She's been on the market for 4 years, and while a lot of people have looked at her, no one has made the plunge.  Katy is oozing with talent, and in my opinion, a better horse overall then Sweetie.  Why then did I buy Sweetie instead of Katy?  Because Jae was in love with Sweetie, and she has traits that would be crucial to the next generation of the Sugarbush Drafts.  Her size, her neck, and of course her color all make Sweetie an ideal brood mare.

But Katy keeps stealing my heart.  There's something about her, granted, how often do I say that?  But, when I decided to do the Susan G Komen ride for the cure this fall, it's Katy - not Sweetie - that I want to ride. 

I had planned to get her, and then sell her on, to help Everett, as well as a potential buyer, and myself.  You see, the plan was, I would breed Katy to Rico, get a lovely foal, and then sell Katy to a woman in Illinois who has gleefully saving her pennies and ecstatic about her.  But recently, that changed.  The potential buyer had an opportunity she couldn't refuse.  When she contacted me about it, I could only say "do it"... and so she bought a horse, a perfect horse for her, and won't be buying Katy.

Jae of course, being the wonderful and supportive guy that he is, asked me if I'd tell Everett I didn't want to make the deal.  This was a few weeks ago.  I asked Jae what he'd think of owning, and keeping, yet another of Everett's girls.

Jae's answer, "I always did like the mares best".

And so, It was decided that if Everett was still happy with the arrangement, WE would keep Katy.  I would show Katy, and use her - the better show horse - to promote the breed, as well as get a few babies from her.  She was recently exposed to Rico for a 2013 foal, and we're waiting for the ultra sound to confirm the pregnancy. 

And today, I saw the message that Everett is sending out his last transfer... Katy's.  She is mine.  She will stay mine, and she will be the show piece for the Sugarbush Drafts. 

It seems like for every up, there is a down.  I haven't seen a snake on our property in over 2 years, and yet, it's definitive that we lost Indi to a snakebite.

I want to get back in the show ring, I've just needed the horse to take me there at the level I'm at.  And now, Katy will be mine.

I still cry suddenly, and I likely will for days yet, but I am not so foolish as to forget to be appreciative of what I DO have.  I can love Katy, miss Indi, hug the puppies, and enjoy the foals all at the same time.

Yesterday, when a friend, who has also suffered a tragic equine loss, asked me, "Why do we do this?" I had an answer.

We do this because it matters.  We do this because we can.  We do this because for us, horse people, these beasts mean something.  The love they give us, the beauty they inherently possess, and their powerful grace is more addictive to us then any drug.  We do this, because we love it... in good times, and in the bad.

God Speed Indira.  You were my heart, and will be treasured always.  Our time was too short together, but I will treasure what I was lucky enough to have.  I miss you girl.

Friday, June 8, 2012

No More Foundation SDHR horses as of 1/1/13!!!

The Sugarbush Draft Horse Registry has reached the minimum number of mare lines needed to maintain genetic viability.  I can't tell you how thrilled I am with this!  This means that we can now stop the Foundation Registration program.  We decided to keep the program until the end of the year, for those horses who have been (or will be) approved, but have not yet completed their filing. 

Now, what does this mean for the Sugarbush Draft Horses?  Well, the phenotype (the overall breed's "look") can once again begin to normalize.  While all of the horses accepted had to meet a conformational criteria, we know that many of these horses have traits of other breeds.  Darktanion is a perfect example of this.  As a Friesian stallion, he LOOKS like a Friesian, yet he managed to pass the approval process because his body proportions are within 70% of the ideal Sugarbush Draft Horse.

The first generation of foals from these Foundation horses will likely still have more variance in type then we would ideally like to see, but the second generation should return to normal.  That means, within 10 years, the Sugarbush Draft Horse will not only have regained it's unique "look" but have done so with out excessive inbreeding

Oubliette d'Acier is a perfect example of what we hope the Foundation horses can bring to the SDHR.  Oublie is out of a Foundation mare, by Sugarbush Harley's Classic O, the last stallion bred by Everett Smith.  Her conformation is not only what we would expect to see in a typical SDHR horse, but she also improved upon both her sire and dam, while keeping the "look" of the Sugarbush.

Oh, and did I mention that she's not her own aunt? 

Plus, with the inclusion of several unrelated Foundation stallions, she has a wide variety of potential mates in the future, to produce more SDHR foals who are not related to each other.  And, there will be other foals in her generation that she's completely not related to!

By adding 20 new horses into the breed, we very likely have saved the entire breed.  It seems such a small price to pay.  Well, unless you were the one sending people the "I'm sorry but your horse does not qualify" letters.  I have to admit, that has been the worst part of my job with the SDHR.

For the horses we chose, none were perfect - but NO horse is!  Each one had flaws, some more obvious then others, but all had an overall balance, angles, and joint ratios that are similar to what we see in the breed.  Each one has a trait that would improve the breed in some way.  Those who will be bred, will move the breed forward, not stagnate it, nor impair the breed.  I'm pleased with each horse that was approved, and even happier that their owners all seem to dedicated to helping us bring this breed back from a single bloodline (the offspring of Rose and O).

Naturally, we had a section of the public who was not happy.  The Sugarbush Drafts were dubbed a "designer breed", slandered as being "mutts" and called many names.  Over time I have grown thick skin, but even I had moments of doubt.  For every step forward, some one was there to make me feel as if it was a step back.

Yet here we are today.  The first SDHR foal from a Foundation mare was born, the first step in closing the books has been announced, and the breed is better for it!

It's like being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  We are NOT done yet.  Outcrossing is still allowed, but we strive to help the breeders choose mates that will compliment, rather then over write, the SDHR traits that we so love.  It's not an easy task though.

These are truly draft horses.  While they look like half drafts in their pictures, most weigh between 1700 and 2000 pounds.  They have a size 6 foot, on average (the average Thoroughbred is a 0).  So why do they look so "light"?  It's because of the balance.   Their cannons are the proper size to carry their large feet, and large bodies.  Their necks are longer then the average draft horse, and their backs shorter.  It's no different then looking at pictures of miniature horses, where the horse looks full sized because of its proportions.  A well balanced horse, with nothing to judge its size from, looks like any other well balanced horse.

Never mind that even my fences here at Iron Ridge are "draft sized" and so don't help with that!  Katy, shown above, is standing next to a 5' 3" fence.  The average pasture fence is 4' to 4' 6" in my area.

What so many people don't think about though, is how hard it is to find a horse that is even close to what the Sugarbush Draft is. 

We see draft horses around us all the time, and think they are all the same.  I discussed in my conformation clinics how the angle of shoulders, length of back, and other conformational variances results in horses with different gaits and specialties, but think about how that also applies to breeding.

If the SDHR had taken the commonly accepted method of allowing the breed to cross to only a specific outside breed - say Percherons - a whole new set of problems would develop.  How many times have you heard that Appaloosas are just "spotted Quarter Horses" or that Quarter Horses are starting to look too much like Thoroughbreds?  Most breeds who allow outcrossing have some segment that feels the breed is changing too much, too fast.  In a breed that had only 12 horses, the influence of the Sugarbush Draft in many generations of cross breeding... well... lets just say that keeping the traits that Everett Smith worked so hard on, would be statistically unlikely.

Also, there's the problem of the rules.  How can you be fair, while telling one person they can't breed to the Percheron stallion they like, yet allow someone else to make the cross?  While the traits of the mare matter, is it really the job of the Registry to be THAT restrictive?  Personally, I think it would give me, the Registrar, way too much power and control.  We have worked hard to balance fairness with the best interests of the breed, and at this time, I'm going to call it a success!

Has this program been perfect?  Of course not!  The members of the BOD have scrambled behind the scenes to keep things flowing.  We've had more growth in a shorter time then we could have dreamed of, and had some serious growing pains because of it.  While we bang our heads, run ourselves ragged, and stress ourselves out, we also remind ourselves that growth is a good thing, and the life blood of this breed.

And yet, here we are, looking at the next stage of the future of the Sugarbush Draft Horse.  The future is bright - with a few spots - and we plan on keeping it that way!