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, 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!


  1. I'm thinking Nyx didn't make it in, =-) I never heard any more about how she stacked up, so I figured you didn't want to have to tell me she wouldn't work. But that's totally OK! She's still a Stonewall in good standing, and I will still love her to bits, =-)

    But I would still be interested in your analysis of her conformation. I can wait while you wade through the others. Let me know if you need better pics. I moved the mares closer to me so it will be easier to do.

  2. Also, this is Cheri; I signed in with the wrong account. I can't rememebr who bought Google, or yahoo or which account goes where,..........

  3.  No actually, I never "remember" getting her pictures.   I do believe that was around foaling season though?  Send them again.  If they fail, I will ALWAYS tell you.  Sadly, I'm getting really good at saying no (with out being mean or hurting feelings too much).  We have been a bit swamped lately (all of 2012) and have been bringing in more and more help to keep up with the extra demand.  Sadly, while the fast growth and interst is great, it also has a LOT of growing pains with it.  We're all learning how to cope with the higher numbers too... and um.... things get lost - a lot more then we like.  But we're trying to fix it!