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.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Debates (Critiques), and why they are so important

Don't Panic, politics have nothing to do with this topic!

That said, I think that debates, and critiques (which are kind of like a one sided debate) are one thing that is so undervalued in horses, and horsemanship.  We all want to be perfect, and no one likes knowing they aren't, but how much will we progress if we convince ourselves that we're the best of the best?

Not much I'd bet.


I'm one of those rare few people who actually likes a polite debate, and enjoys a thoughtful critique.  Sweetie up there has been the poster child for critiques, and she's actually the reason I thought of this.  You see, Sweetie did not exactly grow up all "pretty".  When she was a baby, she was simply lovely, but as a yearling, 2 year old, and 3 year old, she was... well... fugly.  She grew fast, and her ugly duckling stage lasted for ever!  I had so many people make rude comments on her, but I was rarely upset.  What they were saying was TRUE.  She was gangly, and hip high, and out of proportion.  Even when I posted this photo, someone made the comment that they hoped she grew into that head of hers (but said it much nicer than I would have).  A friend was upset for me, and that made me start thinking.  Should it be offensive to mention the negative things?

See, I don't think so.  Sweetie was rather ugly at some points in her life!  Her parts didn't match, her head was HUGE, and she kinda resembled a baby moose.... with spots on her hip.  Looking at pictures of Sweetie when she was younger, I can easily see how people would assume that the SDHR is only concerned with color.  That's about all she had going for her as a yearling!  But horses grow and change, and I know her breeding, so feel confident that she will grow into the horse I expect her to be.  She is already showing it.  So, I'm not offended when someone politely points out her flaws, and then questions the decisions of the breed (since I am a prominent breeder for the SDHR).  The natural thought process, and the habits of most people, make that a reasonable leap of logic to me.

And not every one can see conformation.  So politely pointing out that she is less than ideal is ok.  Being rude is never ok in my book, and is a completely different topic.  But having the guts to be the one to say something that everyone may be thinking?  Yeah, that's not an easy thing to do.  Saying it with class and kindness.... that always deserves praise in my mind.

What if Sweetie hadn't just been in an awkward stage?  What if she really was an ugly moosey looking horse?  What if I didn't know the difference, and bred her, and then her foals were a part of the limited SDHR lines, with names on their pedigrees to entire other owners/breeder.... and then horrible conformational traits became the norm, and not the exception in the SDHR?  All of that could potentially happen, simply because I didn't want to get my feelings hurt.

I often hear people say that a horse is pretty because it is kind.  That doesn't make sense to me.  Oh sure, all horses are lovely simply because they are horses, but that doesn't mean they are breeding quality!  Look at Poko here.

Poko has about the shortest neck I have ever worked with, but he has an amazing back and an open shoulder.  His coloring sure doesn't help his look any, but his conformation isn't stellar.  Does that mean I can't love him?  Does that mean he's a horrible horse?  NO!

All it means is that Poko does not need to have babies.  Saying he's ugly simply removes one potential job from his future, not his ability to be the most trusty trail horse I've ever ridden.  Pointing out his straight shoulder and short neck doesn't mean that he's ready to be made into dog food, it simply means that I shouldn't expect him to perform upper level dressage.  Knowing his weaknesses allows me to give him a job he's suited for, that will not cause him discomfort, or allow me to become disappointed because his body won't allow him to move in certain ways.  Knowing his limits makes me love him MORE, rather than less, in my opinion.

You see, if I expected Poko to be a grand Prix dressage horse (yeah, rather hyperbolic, but you get the idea) then how frustrated would I end up if I tried to take him in that direction?  I would get resentful, I would love him less, and I might even become short tempered and take it out on him.  None of that is fair to the Poko pony.


But the same is also true for riding.  here's me getting back into the saddle after my injury.  I had so many fear issues, and assorted problems, that simply putting a leg on either side of the horse was all I wanted.  Knowing that, this picture is a success!

But, if I was looking at my riding and thinking, say, western pleasure... oh boy.  My chair seat, turned out toes, bad hands, clasping at the reins... it's all just a mess.  And before you ask, I had forgotten my helmet, and it was put on my head a few moments after this picture was taken.  One of those "oh, I knew I was missing something" moments.  I stand by the excuse that the damage to my brain inhibited my thinking!

(I really do ride with a helmet at all times now, thanks to a few concussions, but I'm pulling out all the "bad" pictures to prove a point here.)

But with a bit of self confidence, lots of support from my friends, family, and fans, I became more relaxed in the saddle, and have been working to regain my own riding skills.  I know that even this picture is not a perfect example of riding, but it's much improved from the above image, and I'm on the same horse.  If someone pointed out my flaws here, I'd simply take them as free advice, and work to integrate that advice into my next riding session.

Nothing about pointing out that I have my hands too high would make me a bad person.  It doesn't mean that I eat puppies, or am a failure.  It simply would be a free bit of education.  And at the cost of riding lessons now-a-days... that's a good thing in my mind!

But like I've said, I have always been able to take criticism well.  Many years of dance in my youth ("that's WRONG, do it again, I know you can get it right!") has made me realize that learning doesn't mean I'll be perfect.  Taking pride in the change is so much more important than taking offense at the help.


And we can't forget training.  We all know that sometimes training horses doesn't go perfectly.  Here's an example of Scorch as a baby.  I think I was asking him to reverse, and he wanted nothing to do with that.  It sure looks like some crazy lady yanking on her horse's mouth, and terrifying him with a whip.  Since we all know that people DO train like that, and think it's ok, well... I wouldn't be upset if someone mentioned that.  Granted, there's about 300 pictures in this set that prove I'm not doing that at all, but from this one image, it'd be hard to tell.

My point isn't that picture are mere snapshots in time (which is true) but rather that if you don't know, that doesn't mean you should just be quiet.  This weekend we had a clinic with Rod, for the IPHDA, and I learned a TON!  I didn't learn it by being a wall flower though (which is not exactly in my nature).  Rather, I learned a lot because I debated with poor Rod.  I said "this is how I learned, why don't you do it like that" or "why is your way better than doing it like this?"  In the end, Rod was able to handle most of my questions with grace and ease (a few with equal amounts of snark, but I deserved it every time!) and I came away with more knowledge.

That doesn't mean I always agree with him though.  As an example, he has super light mouthed horses in shanked bits.  While the bits aren't cruel, it seems like a waste to me.  Why add more leverage when the horse doesn't need it?  I don't think he's being cruel, since I understand that many disciplines require a curb for specific levels.  Rather, I think that is one part of his system that I don't need, and hence I toss it out.

When I asked Rod why he chose those bits, he had an answer.  I can accept his answer as being correct for him, and not important for me, and no blame to either of us.  This doesn't mean that I'm doing it wrong because Rod has more experience than me.  It doesn't mean he's wrong because he uses tack that I feel is unnecessary.  It simply means that through understanding, asking questions, and lots of debate, I have learned that aspect of Rod's riding doesn't apply to me.

The same is true of many trainers.  When I rode with Jake, I plagued the poor guy with questions.  He didn't always have the answer, but he also doesn't have the years of experience Rod does, of dealing with that annoying person (ahem, that's me) at his clinics.  Jake never answered anything wrong, I just felt rather unfulfilled that he didn't always have an answer that explained things to me.  Doesn't mean that Jake lacks knowledge, though.  It could simply be that he doesn't have the experience of verbalizing it, he never had to think about it, or that his personality and mine aren't the best match out there.

And Rod isn't perfect either, our personalities are just such that I can accept his jokes, while he accepts my skepticism. If I disagree with Rod, I know I can ask, and if I feel he's way off base, I know that I can tell him I won't do that.... and neither of us will be offended.

Conversely though, I have a friend with a very different personality, who was almost offended by some of the things that Rod said.  His ego (er, confidence) came across as patronizing to her preferred training method.  Jake works with her, and incorporates her chosen method into his training style.  Her comprehension of Jake's descriptions works - he speaks in ways that make sense to her.

So that begs the question, should I stop listening to Jake?  Should she stop listening to Rod?  I don't think so.  I think that, to quote Buck, "it's all just more tools in the toolbox".  The more we know, the more options we have.  We can pick and choose what works, what sounds right, and what makes us feel comfortable.  We go with that, and in the end, we make our OWN style of working with our horses.

I will never be Buck, or Rod, or Jake.  I will never handle a horse the same way they do.  My legs will never be the same length, my weight will never be balanced the same, my personality will never be a carbon copy of theirs, and my horses will always have their own personalities.  By using what works, and discarding the rest, I am making allowances for the fact that I am me, and my horses are also individuals.  I would never treat Katy the same as Scorch, so why would I expect to be treated the exact same, trained the same, and held to the same standards as Rachel, Kris, Leah, or others?

The only way I can learn more, and become a better horseman, is to get more questions.  I need to learn things, thinking about those things, and then debate and critique them.  To grow as a horseman, I can't just accept what someone else told me, I have to understand it, and believe it.  if I can't defend it in a debate, then I need to learn more.  If I can't get answers, then the person trying to teach me needs to learn more - and that's not a bad thing!  Learning is the whole point of working with our horses!

We want to know how to feed them, care for them, create/breed them, ride them, and get results from them.  We can't do that if we're fumbling in the dark looking for hints from the universe.  We have to learn how to do all those things.

So what's the point?

We've all seen that people get their feelings hurt when something less then stellar is said.  What I wonder is why they are hurt.  I love Katy's color, so when someone says they don't like it, does that mean it's bad?  Or could it simply mean that they prefer other colors?  I hate palominos, so does that mean that I feel all palominos are evil?  Not on your life!

My whole point, is that debates are the best way for us to grow as horsemen.  We should relish them, and engage in them.  People always talk about winning and losing debates, as if they are a competition. They shouldn't be!  Instead, it's a chance to learn, to grow as a person, and to take something away that you didn't have before.  Whether that's understanding the fear of the other political party (had to, since it's a debate night) or finally understanding why rope halters are the new fad, it's knowledge.  I can use that knowledge to sympathize with my friend that politically disagrees with me, or I can use it to determine if a rope halter would work better for a specific horse.  Even if I "loose" the debate, it won't change the sympathy or the knowledge I gain.

If it's a critique of my horse, then it gives me another view of what people see when they look at her.  I can use that knowledge to make better decisions for her future.  If it's a critique of my riding, I can use that knowledge to improve... MY way.  And even if I come across as a complete moron in the discussion, well... I own horses.  I'm used to looking a bit foolish!

My point is, we should worry less about who is right and wrong, and worry more about being better horsemen.  We should worry less about what others think of us, and worry more about what our horses think of us, and what we enable them to do.  We should embrace knowledge, even the type that comes from that idiot on facebook (you all have met someone who that fits, I'm sure) and allow it to make us better, for our horses.

Because when you get right down to it, we can all learn something.