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, July 25, 2012

Melody has found her a home!

Back in 2005, I tried a test breeding to an Anglo Arabian mare I owned.  The resulting foal, born on April 28th, 2006, was Melody, a cute little chestnut blanket filly.  She was put together decently, but had some traits that were not what I was going for (lighter bone, smaller size, etc) and so I planned to sell her.

But, that year, the 18 month drought started, and horse sales all but stopped.  Naturally, I decided to put more training on her, and wait until she matured a bit, so that I could make sure she would have a great home.

Mel' was always kind, very interested in people, and so easy to train.  She never had a true "halter" lesson, she just "got it".  Clipping took her a total of 5 seconds to figure out it was a silly human thing, and to stand for it.  Loading, well she looked at the monster, looked at me, and then loaded right up.  That's just how she was.

When she turned 3, we began training her.  First ground work, which is aced.  I could ask Mel to make a circle around me, at any gait, and she'd do it, and judge her own distance.  I could walk up and down the arena, and she'd adjust her distance from me, to keep the line draped easily, but not dragging.  She never changed gaits until I asked, and then nailed it perfectly more often then not.  Driving her was a 2 day ordeal.  She figured out what I was asking, and again, aced the lesson.

So then it came time to ride her.  I always expected a bit of spookiness from her (her mother was rather reactive) but Mel never gave it to me.  I started out leaning on her, expecting that "bearing weight" would be a lesson on its own, but Mel again made me eat my words.

I leaned, she stood, I laid across her, and she took a nap.  I had Jae walk her off while laying across her, and she never flinched, and so, I broke my own rules.

I swung up and sat on her.

Mel paused there for a second, and then reached around - not to sniff my leg mind you, but to look at ME - and basically said 'what took you so long?'

We made a lap around, and Mel listened more to me then to her ground handler, so I asked for reins.  From there, I started giving the commands, while Jae just reinforced them from the ground a second later, and she never even acted nervous.  I had to make myself call it a day.  No reason to punish the kid for being so absolutely perfect!

From there, we began riding regularly.  2 days a week to start, and then up to 4 days a week.  Mel loved it.  I could walk out to the barn, grab a halter, and yell her name, and she'd be right there saying "pick ME".  She walked out easily, and after a few weeks, she began her trot work.  She tried hard to balance me at first, but then decided that was MY job, and she just needed to be smooth.  Perfect!  She kept progressing, and kept shocking me with how great she was.

I always have to talk about the time Jae dropped the kennel.  You see, it was one of her first solo rides, 2nd or 3rd, I can't recall exactly.  Mel and I were doing out normal thing - walk, halt, walk, left, etc, while Jae was moving the dog kennel we use for the goats.  He had it on the bucket of the tractor, to make moving it easier, and was just outside the arena.  Then he dropped it.

There was a loud clatter and bang, the sound of chain link springing, and metal slapping against metal.  We were within 20 feet of the 'crash' and I was on a very green horse.

Melody flicked an ear, and just kept working.

From that point on, I knew she would be amazing for someone.  The horses in the barn spooked, the horses in the pens spooked, even the horses in the pasture spooked, but Mel just was focused on her work. 

And so, when a young girl fell in love with her, I didn't think twice about selling her as a kid's horse with "needs more hours".  The owners were knowledgeable horse people that I know and trust.  The child was smitten, and Melody LOVED the attention she was getting.  We got her moved, and I of course kept in touch with her. 

Life happened though, and Mel didn't get all those hours before the kid was ready to ride.  She got fat, she got spoiled, and she still needed some hours.  The child came, started taking lessons on a "packer" and her owners tried to get things in line so they could put those last hours on Mel, but luck just wasn't there.  And then the drought hit, and with it came catastrophe.

One of the past owners of the property Melody lived on had thought it was a great idea to cut off pipe posts, and just bury them.  When the ground dried and the top soil became powder, the sharp edges of the pipe was no longer safely under feet of dirt, but merely just out of sight.  Melody stepped right on it, lacerating her heel bulb and hoof.  Her owner took action, cleaned the wound, and did all of the right things.  I was notified within minutes of the injury, and offered moral support.

But things didn't go well.  The injury got infected, the infection spread to the joint.  For most horses this is a death sentence, and Mel was no different.  We tried all of the treatments the vet could think of, and options were running out.  Mel was brought back to Iron Ridge, where I could change her bandages, and clean/treat her wounds through out the day, but 2 weeks into healing, she was only getting worse.  The vet came out again, and said the one thing no horse owner wants to hear.

Euthanasia is an option at this point.

 Every one talked, everyone cried, and we couldn't see any way to stop the infection once it had reached the joint.  The appointment was scheduled to give the young girl a chance to say good bye first (but none of us thought a young child should have to see the euthanasia).  That evening, the vet called, and said, "I wonder... would you be willing to try something?  It likely won't work, and could result in needing to put her down, but I have a feeling."

With her euthanasia already scheduled, and the "hopeful" treatment being cheap, we all thought "why not?" and so we tried it.

We used a drawing agent for white line, to try and pull the infection out of the joint capsule.

It worked!

I'm not sure who was more shocked, us or the vet!  She wasn't cured, but the infection was at a point where a surgical procedure could be done with a high chance of success.  I loaded Melody up, hauled her to the clinic, and kissed her nose before saying "good-bye".  The chance of death was still there, and I wanted to be sure I said it while I could.  Who knew what the vet would find when he got in there.

Lucky for us, he found nothing bad.  She was treated, medicated, and put on a litany of antibiotics, and sent home.  The whole time, the only complaint Mel ever made was to wiggle her leg as I performed painful cleanings and bandage changes.  She never kicked out, never walked off, just wiggled, or maybe tried to put her leg back down.

She healed. 

It took over 18 months to do it, but she healed nicely.  Her support hoof had changes to it, and hre injured hoof grew funny.  For months I changed her bandage daily, then every 3 days, then weekly, and finally, she only wore support wraps.  She went from stall rest only to light turn out, to in hand work, to full pasture rest.  her hooves grew, her muscles atrophied and rebuilt, and she healed.

A few weeks ago, my farrier said the words I had longed to hear, "You can put her back into training now".  The vet confirmed it.  Melody is sound.  She is expected to only have a small scar from her ordeal, and no lasting lameness issues.  She had gone from about to die, to having a long life ahead of her.

But naturally things are never perfect.

The young girl who had loved this horse a few years before had fallen out of love with horses - as kids do.  Her interest was dogs now, and she preferred her lesson horse to the horse she couldn't ride and play with.  The horse's owner (the girl's aunt) liked the horse, but did not love her, and so she returned her to us.

At Iron Ridge, we always take our horses back.  We always have a stall open, for any reason, and we believe that since we brought them into this world, we will always be the most responsible for them.  Since Melody was already here during her recovery, the change was very minimal to us.

Once Mel was able to start training though, I had a big decision to make.  With 8 horses needing work this year, and the SDHR booming, I'm short on one thing.... time.  Did I try to get her trained, and take the risk of shorting her on attention, or did I list her for sale as she was?

I couldn't be sure if this horse remembered any of her early training.  She'd been out of work now longer then she had been under saddle.  I decided to simply advertise her as honestly as I could.  "I don't know what if any of her training she remembers, but we are selling her as unbroke and in need of training".

Naturally, while I waited, I squeaked her into some sessions.  She seemed to remember her ground work.  I mean, she made mistakes, but she tried so hard, and was right more often then she was wrong.  I watched her back line start to build up, her legs get some muscling, and her movement improved.  Then, I got a call.

"i'm interested in the horse you have for sale".

I admit, I really didn't expect any one to call about her.  The people sounded nice, asked the right questions, and had plans to have her spend time with a trainer.  Their expectations were perfect for her (trail riding, lightly), so we made a time to meet and let them see her.

Melody was on her best behavior (she usually is) and the woman fell in love.  The husband seemed to feel that what ever his wife wanted, was what they would get.  We made arrangements, I caught up her coggins (I had postponed that because I really didn't think any one would call!) and the date was set.

Well, yesterday was that day.  Her new owners arrived, and picked her up.  Melody loaded into the trailer perfectly (I had already spent the morning kissing her nose and making sure to say good-bye) and promised to let me know about how she was doing.  The new owners are just what I would have hoped for her, and I think she's going to be one very spoiled horse.

I can't wait to hear how she does with the cows they own - Melody has never really seen cattle, but I have a feeling she will do fine.  I am excited to hear how her training goes, and even more excited to hear how much her owner loves riding her.  She has the most amazing gaits - nice and smooth.

I miss her a bit, but I'm so happy for her, that I can't be sad.  I do love it when a horse finds the home that it's meant to have.  With all that this poor kid has been through, she really deserves it.

So, good luck with her Velta!  I hope she does great for you, and please, if you ever need me - just call.  As always, my babies have a home with me for life if they ever need it.  You got one hell of a nice horse here, and I think you will be shocked at just how perfect she will be for you.

Congratulations Melody.  Girl, you hit the jackpot.

1 comment:

  1. What a great story, I love reading your stories and admire you openness, honesty and dedication to your horses, thanks for helping to  bring back the Sugar Bush! We love them! Lori Perez