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.


  1. Love!!!! This is one of the many reasons I'm sold on this breed.

    I always tell people "an ugly bowl in pretty wrapping paper.... is still an ugly bowl. Just like an ugly horse in a pretty coat is still an ugly horse!" Thanks for posting this.

  2. It's so wonderful to see a breed where color is an added bonus rather than the objective in breeding - all those wonderful qualities of temperament, conformation and gait that you breed for are the real deal.  Wish I had room for one more . . . I'd be tempted . . .

  3. Kinda cool that all color is accepted, makes an improvement in breeds that way I think.  however i am also one who prefers the "plain" colors like sorrel and black and bay so much more than the palominos and buckskins.  And a good horse comes in all colors.  That being said I have a couple paint horses, who are pretty well a color breed and I have to admit I was disappointed when my foal came out solid.  She is a nice foal but in a color breed just noticed as a solid.

  4. Love Love your writtings, thank you so much for taking the time to do this.

  5.  The funny thing is that my favorite color of horse is a deep red (mahogany) bay, with a white hind sock, possibly both hinds, a star and a snip.  That's just about as good of a color as I've ever seen on any horse.  A deep cherry red Chestnut is a close second (with 4 whites, and a moderate blaze).

    So what do I own?  Blacks, greys, true white fewspots, loud blankets, and leopards, with a nice assortments of roans and a couple of champagnes to round it out.  I have ONE bay (Boo, my arab) who is just about perfect, and a little quarter horse that comes close (her tone is a bit flat, not quite red enough).

    Our young stallions include a colt with an 87.5% chance of having dilute foals (palomino, buckskin, and/or champagne) and one that is a guaranteed color producer (black or seal bay fewspot).  Why do I have those horses?  Because they happened to have the best conformation I could find for what I needed!

    I keep hoping for the perfect bay mare (I prefer mares personally) but so far I've failed at producing that.  So as far as being a "color breeder" it seems I'm a failure, because I can't get the color **I** want! 

    Needless to say, I can't help but giggle when people accuse me of breeding for "just" color.  If that was the case, I'd be breeding Cleveland Bays!

  6. This is one of the reasons I choose to offer Rosie and was delighted to be accepted as foundation stock for this breed.  It's not about color, it's about good genetics and conformation for what the breed's purpose is.  It's about producing a nicely built, sound, sane all round horse. 

    No one has yet to pin down exactly what color Rosie is beyond Liver Chestnut which in the spring is more chocolate, winter more black, fall more red chestnut.  White blaze but the lighter color on her fetlocks and pasterns is more palomino\champange -definitely not white.  Maybe I should do the DNA thing.

  7. I've been browsing online greater than 3 hours nowadays, but I never discovered any interesting article like yours. It is pretty worth sufficient for me. In my opinion, if all website owners and bloggers made good content material as you did, the internet might be much more useful than ever before.

    Take a look at my blog ... diets that work