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.


  1. I like this post!  I was not much of a fan of debates until recently when i was asked to join a debate forum and have learned so much on there.  I have learned over time i am very disagreeable with something new until I mull it over for a few days and then it might be worth doing.  I have also learned to try what others say and if it doesnt work sont use it, but you will never know if you dont try and same with debating, we all have an opinion and just cause we think different does not mean its wrong.

  2. GREAT POST !!!!  We live in a very public world where very little is private anymore.  We partake in a very polictical, drama filled, opiniated and littered with down right crazy people.  We have to be able to take what is said and either toss it aside for the dribble it is, and/or find some grain of positive that will help us.

    I'm always super careful about what I put on my blog, or on FB in regards to my life, my horses, my training.  When I do put stuff out there I'm well aware that I will ge comments that are completely off base, degragotory, along with the great comments.

    I can take critisim, I've asked numerous times for help, ideas, feed back, etc.  I don't know it all, I can't know it all, and every different point of view, or suggestion just might be that missing piece in my horseman's puzzle.

    Btw - your hand is too high and what is the fashion these days for WP - top of hand up, or sideways.. or what? and it looks like you're leaning forward at the hips.  *said the utmost respect*

  3. Ok, after much silence, here I am. 
    HH, first of all I was not offended at all by anything that was said.  People have the right to their opinions right, wrong or indifferent.  What bothered me was statements being made as fact about Buck/Paul/Jake's style that were not correct/accurate.  If you are going to make a statement-in-fact be sure the facts are accurate. 
    Second of all, I really liked Rod and learned a lot from him.  He and I had some great conversations on the side and I have a lot if respect for him. 

    I am going to insert in here two excerpts from an e-mail I had going with a mutual friend of ours:
    1.  "I did have fun and I have more tools for my toolbox. What I am learning through Buck/Paul/Jake and from Rod will compliment each other and make me even better. I was a bit annoyed at people saying things about Buck's style that were in-accurate- it was obvious to me a lack of knowledge and an assumtion/ignorance- so I had to say something. In the same regard, I would do the same if Rod were mis-represented. "
    2. "guess that is the part that I am so annoyed about. I get the impression that people see things black and white and not through the shade of gray that I am. Let me explain. In working with Paul, I had Voodoo there and what he taught me (like with Rod) was geared toward my relationship with that horse. So, when I am asked what I have learned, I tell people but it is immediately taken to "that is all there is to that style?" No, that was my experience. So to say that a style is particular to what I have learned is not accurate. I am a watcher though. I paid attention to Paul and Rod showing everyone else what to do with their horse to see a difference. I think of it as watching a bunch of chef's going to the spice cabinet to all make meat stew but with different spices. Had I spent time with you on the mounting block issue, I would have taken the "on the fence" technique and tried that. I have not done it but I did see it work on another horse. It is what Jake showed you except you sit on top of the fence and not stand on the mounting block. Same means to an end... As for Tala, she is totally different as is Chey. But now I have a base line to work from. Kind of like you cannot do algebra until you know arthmatic. The world has me very frustrated right now to be honest. "
    I hope this clears some things up...

  4. I don't have a clue about what is proper for western, as I'm still learning.  I've been an English rider all my life, and really struggle to ride western properly.  Thanks for the pointers!

  5. No, it doesn't exactly clear things up.  For example.... which facts are inaccurate?  I'm not picking on you here, simply pointing out what I don't understand.  Did I make statements of inaccurate facts?

    And I also don't understand what shades of grey people aren't seeing.  I thought that my entire post kinda was about exactly that.  Sweetie has been run through the ringer for her looks over the years, but I can accept that because it's not black or white.  There are reasons for her looks at certain points, which make it a grey issue.  Just like my riding issues in those pictures have reasons which make them grey instead of black or white.  Discussing the reasons makes the topic larger, more educational, and less of a black or white thing.  Just like you voicing your opinions about your experience with certain training styles, and hours involved cleared up some things about that.

  6. The inaccurate facts I was referring to were the instant results and short cuts.  I assure you, in my work with Paul/Buck/Jake there are no shortcuts.  There are no instant results.  But there is change.  Even if it is minute and has to be built upon session after session, there is change. You "offer a good deal" and build from there.  You make the horse think.  The term "Natural Horsemanship" is really misused term.  It is a marketing gimmick used by a trainer I can not stand.  I have studied this trainer, been to his clinics, owned his DVD's and he is a joke.  A walking infomerical out for money.  That statement is black and meant to be as I speak it based on knowledge/experience.
    As for they gray- the portion on my working with Jake vs. Rod.  Both made sense to me.  As a matter of fact, there is a lot of similarity. You have referred to Jake's style of training to be like a "toxic relationship because of how he handles the humans."  You based this on spending a few hours with him.  The work with Tala, (for all you reading this who are not familiar, Tala is a 3 year old Stonewall Sport Horse that I backed this summer) has been under his guidance but I have done all the work- from the ground up.  I have relied on his knowledge base, the other materials he encourage me to read, asked questions of Paul Dietz and learned from my own mistakes.  I have valuable resources available to me and I used them. 
    I 1000% agree with you that questions are good and growing/learning is so important.  I also know you and I have the type of relationship we can agree to disagree...

  7. I thought that we discussed that the "instant results" comment was in relation to that trainer that you don't like, with vague names used, just as here, to prevent intentional offense of people?

    And yes, I think that ANY trainer who does not develop the rider is like a toxic relationship.  Rod doesn't do it enough, but as he said (was that when you were there, or later?) that he's had to incorporate equitation into his training, because with out it, riders can't improve (or some variant).  To me, in this regard, Rod is like a bad drug.  He gives you a jolt of good, and yet doesn't give you what you need to be healthy.  
    Granted, I think that most people who make their money on teaching people to handle horses fall into that category.  I so rarely hear any one discuss rider skills any more, and that's a huge pet peeve of mine.  I find it appalling that humans (with big brains) think that the HORSE (with a tiny brain) is the one who needs the "learning".  Humans so often (speaking generally here) refuse to change what they do, but expect the animal to accommodate their preferences.

    Neither of these guys is bad though.  Like I've said before, I'd trust Jake with my own horses.  In fact, I think I'd prefer Jake to ride them than Rod, because that's what Jake specializes in.  With that said, I feel that Rod teaches ME more, and it's my preference to train my own horses.... usually.  Sometimes I get stumped!

  8. I cant believe it took me this long to find this blog, :) I appreciate the comments both constructive and complimentary.  I would not have commented except for a comment in the last comment. About teaching equitation, I have found that learning how to be an effective rider has a progression. Also we all know that developing a horses balance has a progression  But in the case of riders learning to be effective at the same time their horse is learning to be balanced, is a different progression all together in my opinion, each must progress a little, so the other can in turn progress. I do not blame equitation of the rider on why a horse reacts like it does unless the horse is already totally balanced and developed.

    Kind of like the tag line on my website. " Equine sports are like a dance, One partner must lead effortlessly so their partner can follow willingly and gracefully"I recently wrote a blog post of my own about this thing exactly, and it is how coaches deal with the progressions that make instruction different. I also wrote a  blog post about why I use the tools I do with my horses. .If you are interested here are the links
    Balance Effects Balance - http://www.developyourride.com/content.aspx?page_id=2507&club_id=973387&item_id=420
    Bits, hands and self carriage,- http://www.developyourride.com/content.aspx?page_id=2507&club_id=973387&item_id=425

    As for the comments about balance I made that seemed to offend I have since thought about why accomplished horse people often disagree about this very thing?

     And I have wrote a blog post about my explaination for that as well, but it is on the members side of my blog, simply because it is what now allows me to explain this difference now without causing offence or seem like I am saying this is right or wrong and I do not wish to share that secret just yet for free. LOLBut I will tell you it has to do with balance, the type of balance we are wanting to develop in our horses, I have realized that there are 3 types of balance that trainers try to develop and all 3 have a place and purpose, all are similar in ways and very different in ways. As you can see I always learn as much from my clinics as the participants do, and having to think and explain my opinions from lots of questions makes me a better instructor :). I do not try to prove anything to anyone, but if they will let me, I will show them how to prove certain things to themselves and help them with their own and their horses progression. Thanks for the chance and I hope we can do it again in the future :)Rod