Thursday, December 15, 2011

Is it a Real Breed? Nope, Just a Fantasy.

I'm probably going to take some heat for this... today I'm going to call out a "fake" horse breed.

The definition of a "breed" of animals has two parts:

1) A group of animals within a species that possess similar distinct traits, such as body type, coat color, size, etc. Not all animals must conform exclusively to this phenotype, but most do.
2) A group of animals that has the ability to consistently pass on those distinct traits to their offspring.

Okay, clear? Now let's do a little experiment. I'm going to describe a horse breed and include a picture. You name the breed. Ready?

 A) These horses tend to be smaller, with finer bones and a shorter back. Their faces are usually slightly "dished" (concave). They have a high tail set, delicate ears (often slightly curved) and a spirited temperament. They excel at racing and endurance events.

B) These horses stand 16-18.2 hands and are very bulky, with thick necks and muscular limbs. They have very feathered lower legs, white in color. They are usually bay in body color. They excel in pulling large carts and farm machinery.

C)  These horses are sort of big/tall, but not always. Sometimes they're spotted like Appaloosas, but not always.

Answer A: Arabian.

Answer B: Clydesdale

Answer C: Uhhhh... If you guessed "Sugarbush Draft," you're one of the few people in America aware of this "breed." They all look different, don't they? The description hardly helps either-- it could include any draft cross. And that's the problem-- these horses are more experiment than breed.

They were first created in the 1950s by American Everett Smith. He crossed Appaloosas with drafts to get big flashy horses for his carriage company. In 1982, he decided to "officially" make these horses a "breed."

Smith produced only one "perfect" specimen from his breeding program, the 7/8 Percheron stallion Sugarbush Harley Quinne. That horse, in turn, apparently only produced one good specimen. According to the Sugarbush Facebook page: "Sadly, Harley died in 2006, leaving only a single intact colt, Sugarbush Harley's Classic O, remaining to the breed."

Granted, he's a pretty handsome fellow.

So where are all the other Sugarbush foals?

My guess is that neither of these stallions produced very many foals that looked like what a Sugarbush is "supposed" to look like. That's a common problem with cross-bred horses; instead of being born with the "right" mix of traits from both breeds, they tend to go one way or the other, or have an odd mix of those traits-- like the four Sugarbush horses in the pictures above. (These were on Craigslist, by the way, for insane prices.) Either that, or no one else wanted to try to pass off their draft-cross as a "new breed."

2 year old Sugarbush filly -- downhill, weak rump, short neck, average shoulder, weak stifle and gaskin.

What is a Sugarbush Draft Anyway?

Well, according to the official Sugarbush Draft website, the breed standard is basically this:

  • Tall-ish. Like, we hope it's 15.2 -16.2, "but height should not disqualify an otherwise good example of type," so it's okay if it's shorter.
  • Any color. We hope it's spotty like an Appaloosa, but it's not really necessary.
  • Mostly draft. Anything with 51% or more draft blood.
  • Good conformation. Muscular/big.
  • So yeah, basically anything, as long as it's draft-ish...

Close enough.

Oh, and because there are apparently only 12 Sugarbush horses left, they're "opening the stud books" so that, as long as your horse kind of matches the description above, it can be registered as a "foundation" Sugarbush horse. Yet, they claim, "The SDHR is not a "round up" organization built to put registration papers on grade drafts."

You could have fooled me. 
The Sugarbush Draft Horse is not a breed. It's not even a color breed at this point (like Paints) because color isn't a requirement of the breed standard. Obviously, this group of animals is not consistently passing on any distinct traits because A) there are no distinct traits besides "draft-ish," and B) there are so damn few unrelated breeding animals.

Now please, don't get me wrong. I'm not a breed snob. I don't show, I'm not a fan of any particular breed, and I think some of the best horses can be grade horses-- conformation matters much more than papers or bloodlines. However, I also think that it's almost fraud to charge people $125 to register one of these critters, and $700 for a breeding to the stallion, when the "breed" is so ill-defined and clearly has so little going for it. Also, why would anyone want to create a new draft-type breed today? Nobody except the Amish relies on horses for transport and farm work any more. These horses may be sweet, and interesting, but why create more and more of them when there are tons of unwanted grade draft crosses already in existence? Hell, go get a PMU foal! Some of 'em are colored, and they're often draft crosses! With thousands of horses going to slaughter each year, we really don't need any more horse breeding experiments contributing to the over-population problem.

(If you don't know about the horror of PMU horse facilities, check out this article.)

Since Everett Smith retired in his 70s, the pipe-dream of salvaging the Sugarbush "breed" has been passed on to a gal named Heather, currently living in Texas. She owns the last remaining "pure" Sugarbush stallion and most of the rest of the existing "breed." Now, Heather seems fairly sensible, articulate and intelligent-- except that she is intent on getting babies out of everything with a uterus. Heather and her husband apparently breed Great Dane dogs as well as Sugarbush horses and the spin-off of that breed, Iron Ridge Sport horses. Oh, and AQHA horses, and possibly rottweilers, and Appaloosas. AND a friend is standing a stallion from another "breed" called an "American Cream Draft" at her place-- because, Jesus, let's throw in some more weird color breed mixes! 

In a  recent blog post, Heather talks about breeding her AQHA mare to her Stonewall Sport horse, and having 5-6 foals due in two weeks-- she not certain about how many because she's a little short of cash for a pregnancy test. (Hint: if you don't have much money, don't create more horses you have to feed!)

Heather maintains four different websites to promote her funky draft crosses: Drafts with Dots, Iron Ridge Sport Horses, Livin' Large Farms and the SDHR website. Wow, that's a lot of work! All of her websites look fabulous, and she talks a great game about being a responsible breeder-- but her actions, and some of her statements, reveal what a hypocrite she is. Here are some gems culled from Heather's various websites:

"Currently, Friesian stallions are being used in the breeding [of Sugarbush horses]."

"Unfortunately, in this day and age of designer breeds, the Sugarbush Draft Horse was so often mistaken for a fly by night draft cross.  This really hurt its image!"

"I have now thrown myself full force in getting these horses recognized by the public, and working hard to help resurrect the breed.  Luckily, the standard for the breed is pretty open.  Cross a Sugarbush to a draft, and you get a full registered Sugarbush.  Cross a Sugarbush to a light horse, and you get a Stonewall Sport Horse.  Cross that Stonewall back to a draft, and you get a Sugarbush with generational papers."   

"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. Those would be Stonewall Sport Horses."

"Here in my area there are tons of horses listed for free.  There are thousands listed for under $500 bucks.  That's way more supply then even the slaughter houses can demand.  And for every horse that is sold, it seems that 2 more take its place..."  (ironic, coming from a woman who breeds EVERYTHING)

"You see, we're free to breed horses.  Any one can do it, and it's not hard.  Producing quality horses on the other hand, then training them, fitting them, and screening homes for them IS hard.  It takes knowledge and work.  There's this mentality out there, that you can get a foal, and sell it for lots of money, and so people are willing to try."  (Says the woman attempting to sell her un-broke young draft crosses for $2,000-$5,500 -- a great "rock bottom" "sale price" according to her!)

"So what do we do with all the extra horses that are created?  Will society absorb them?  Sure, in about 30 years, during which time millions of horses will suffer.  There simply aren't enough GOOD homes out there for all of these horses."

"Yep, that's 5 babies due within 2 weeks for me.  Of course, mares being like they are, it could be up to 2 months apart, but I'm hoping they get them all done close together (so I can stay sane!).  I do have another mare that I believe to be pregnant..."


  1. You neglected to mention you had this blog! Or possibly you mentioned it broadly on Facebook ... but I never look at that.

    Big ups for mentioning how horrible the PMU industry is in this post -- it's so nice knowing another bleeding heart liberal in the area. :D

  2. I ❤️horses and I agree with everything you said! but..... I want a horse but I live in Abu Dhabi and I live on the 14 floor of and apartment building and I have wings!.but I still want a horse