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.

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.


  1. It does indeed seem like Fate is showing you where you need to be.  An astonishing amount of coicidences if you ask me.  Hang on, sounds like you are in for a sweet ride! :)

  2. I love Percherons! (sp?)  They're my favourite of the heavies :)

    Just my opinion here, and I'd like your take on it... it seems like most, not all but most, horses do NOT want to be the leader.  Which is why Darwin seemed relieved to figure out his place with you.
    Here's the part I'd really like your input on... the horses that REALLY don't want to be the leader but have that role forced on them (ie their handler/owner is totally incompetent and probably shouldn't own horses), those horses tend to have bad attitudes.

  3. FantastykVoyagerJune 19, 2012 at 8:50 AM

    He sure is a beauty. What a whirlwind of events. Sorry for the loss of Indi.

  4.  I think horses are like children, they need rules and boundaries to feel secure.  They may not LIKE those rules, and they may THINK they want to do other things, but a life of anarchy does not set well with their herd type minds.  Just like a child may want to do things their own way (or think they do) but in reality they feel more secure and cared for when mom and/or dad has rules to protect them.

    And yep, I think the result of this is OFTEN a bad attitude.  Part confusion, part anxiety, and part incompetence at the role of being a leader.

  5.  Thank you.  I'm still missing her, but with everything that has happened, it has made it feel a bit more distant.  Less bawling all the time, and more sad and introspective when I remember her fondly.