© 2010 Sugarbush Draft Horse Registry, all rights reserved. Website design by Spotted Horse Productions
This page was last updated: September 20, 2013
The Sugarbush Draft
The Sugarbush Draft
Established by Everett Smith 1957
It's about the quality, not the quantity
In the 1980s most draft horse breeds were seeing a decrease in numbers. Clydesdales were listed on the American Livestock Breed Conservancy list as endangered, Belgians saw some of their lowest registration numbers in history, and all draft breeds saw a general decline in population. Whether this happened because of increasing show payouts for stock horse breeds, a decrease in availability of pasture for horses in many metropolitan areas, or simply a change in fashion, we will never know. What we do know is that the Sugarbush Draft was hit hard by the decrease in foals.
Everett Smith had promoted responsible breeding even before the phrase was coined and the idea was popular. Mr. Smith loved every horse in his lines, and couldn't bear to see any of them in homes that didn't also treasure them. Whether that was horses he bred himself or offspring of horses he had sold decades before, he kept a place in his heart for all of them. He educated his breeders in how to breed for the market, and to prevent over breeding. For the most part he was successful. Sugarbush Drafts never saw the large numbers common in other breeds, but few Sugarbush Drafts were ever in need of a home.
As the demand for draft horses declined though, the ethical breeders of the Sugarbush Draft Horse Registry began to breed less horses. This quickly became a deteriorating spiral. By 1990 the breed's numbers had significantly declined. With so few people knowing that the breed even existed, there was no steady increase with the Sugarbush Drafts as there had been with other European Draft breeds. Everett Smith was still using his horses though, and continued to breed a few each year, as he could afford to keep, care, and use them. This is the main reason that the breed was not lost to us. Many Sugarbush Drafts were lost to age, colic, injuries, and a lack of their registration being transferred. In 20 years, only those horses directly related to Mr. Smith's program were known.
The SDHR had a selection of wonderful and beautiful horses, but the lack of genetic diversity required outcrossing to prevent other issues from becoming a problem. If breeders started breeding back to Percherons (as an example) each foal would get 50% Percheron DNA. Its offspring bred back would get another 50% Percheron DNA, for a total of 75% Percheron DNA, and in a very short time, we'd have colored Percherons. While that might be nice, it also means we lose half of the amazing work that Mr. Smith did, and the qualities that we love in our breed of horses.
Instead, the SDHR decided to allow Foundation horses who have the ideal conformation. Notice that color has not been mentioned. Color is nothing more then hair, and hair doesn't make a quality horse. Color is the easiest thing to breed back in, but a good horse under the hair isn't.
Each Foundation horse had to apply for acceptance. This means being compared to the ideal Sugarbush Draft Horse and having their angles, shape, and musculature compared to the breed standard. Horses who scored 70% toward the ideal, or higher, were offered Foundation Registration. The "flaws" could be such things as heavier boned, longer backed, shorter necked, but it had to be within a range. A horse that's perfect except for being so severely pigeon toed that it can't walk, would of course not pass the inspection.
What makes a Breed?
According to the scientific theory, the SDHR is as much as breed as the AQHA or APHA, scientifically speaking of course. Most horse breeds allow outcrossing - more than those which do not. AQHA allows crossing to Thoroughbreds, APHA allows crossing to AQHA and Thoroughbreds, and ApHC allows Thoroughbreds, AQHA, and Arabians as accepted breeding stock. That's just to name the most common examples. The Warmbloods, most of your inspected breeds, and a huge amount of other breeds also do this. The reasoning is simple, horses are bred for a purpose, and traditionally that purpose has been more important then an individual's bloodlines.
What the SDHR has done, is approve horses with the proper body style, rather then those with the proper parentage. This idea came from the Cleveland Bays. When their breed was in danger they wisely began registering horses from other breeds who most closely fit the ideal conformation. Today the Cleveland Bay is a horse notorious for its consistency, and unique appearance, while maintaining a lack of health issues, which are commonly seen when working with a gene pool that is a little too close.
The Sugarbush Draft Horse is a breed by the scientific definition of it:
"A breed is a group of animals distinct enough by appearance to be logically grouped together and that when intermated produce that same appearance." (Sponenberg, Equus March 2003)
The SDHR does allow horses with appaloosa or other light horse ancestry, but it is still from a restricted breeding pool. It's just that our pool is restricted in ways other then what paperwork the horse has. The SDHR felt that to save this unique breed this was the only option that makes sense. A standard of similar body type is often considered to be more important than a similarity of ancestry, and this is the reason that many breeds have allowed outcrossing at points in their history.
When the Board of Directors for the Sugarbush Draft Horse Registry made the decision to open the registry, some public outcry was expected. While most horse owners have embraced the carefully thought out plans made by the registry to preserve this breed, it is common for those first learning of the breed to expect the Sugarbush Draft to be nothing more than a new "designer breed" of horse.
With decades of recorded history, the Sugarbush Draft Horse is the forgotten breed of American Draft Horse. Educating the public about the history of this breed is a passion for the owners, breeders, and staff of the registry. The SDHR staff volunteers their time to the breed, receiving only a few T-shirts each year in compensation, and no pay. Over the years, many owners have donated money to pay for educational supplies, web hosting, and advertising. The SDHR has truly been kept in operation from little more than the love of the breed, and the people who love them. In 2013, the SDHR was able to become self supportive for the first time in decades, no longer begging for financial aid from the owners who were so passionate about it.
In 2013, the Sugarbush Draft Horse Registry also recorded more than 50 living registered horses. This has been a turning point for the breed. The SDHR now supports enough genetic diversity that the breed's future is secure, foals from Foundation horses have shown their conformational traits to be in line with the breed standard, and plans to move into the next stage of closing the books have been announced.
In 2015, the SDHR will begin genetic testing of all foals. Horses must prove themselves clear of all known genetic diseases and unwanted white patterns due to new genetic testing becoming available. A program is in place for any unwanted genes to be quickly removed from the breed, with out individual horses becoming unwanted. Horses who test positive for any undesirable gene will be allowed to breed for one generation, and offspring who also carry the unwanted alleles will be registered as "showing only". The SDHR feels that this is the most fair method to maintain genetic diversity with out promoting breeding of genetic diseases or unwanted and non-traditional color patterns.
What comes next
The Sugarbush Draft Horse nearly became little more than a legend. With much research, consideration, and debate the Board of Directors has worked hard to revise the rules and maintain the traditions of the breed while increasing the viability of the breeding stock. Considerations of conformational standards and flaws, and a realistic appraisal of the horses in the breed resulted in a method of reviving this breed of horse - a breed of horse unlike any other. The Registry had to find methods to maintain the temperament the breed is known for, maintain the conformation of a riding type horse with out losing the mass and heft that makes the Sugarbush visibly a draft horse, and prevent the loss of the traditional leopard complex color patterns. Rather than take the easiest path - but one that came with potential consequences and alterations of the breed - the Board of Directors decided that doing it right was better than doing it fast.
This decision resulted in the generational tracking. With this method, light horse traits can be added back in, draft horse traits can be improved upon, and in a few generations the breed can again have a consistency of type that has been seen in the Sugarbush Drafts for decades. As each milestone in the Revival Project is reached, new rules are put in place to restrict down breeding, and to solidify the conformational attributes of the Sugarbush Draft. Even in the second stage of the Revival Project we are already seeing conformational consistency well above what was expected!
From here, it is the hope of the SDHR that future breeders and owners will work as hard as past ones to continue to improve the breed, and work toward closing the registration books. In 2015 new restrictions will bring the Revival Project into stage 3. With a total of 5 stages in the revival project, the SDHR is celebrating being not only half way to saving this rare breed, but doing it in a quarter of the time expected. Our owners and breeders have worked hard to follow not only the letter of every rule passed, but also the intent. Owners and breeders are included in most decisions, and their input is valuable to the methods used in completing the revival of this breed.
Unlike other breed registries, the Sugarbush Draft Horse Registry feels that the owners and the horses are what this breed is about. The SDHR is a tight knit community, with advice and assistance being freely shared between owners. The Registry also offers breeders free conformational advice to make it as easy as possible for each foal crop to be a success and move closer toward the breed standard. In the coming years, the SDHR will be encouraging breeders to attend FEIT inspections, and to select breeding stock based upon inspection results. As the number of horses increases, the use of inspections to regulate breeding quality horses is anticipated.
The Sugarbush Draft Horse Registry hopes that within 10 years, the books will be closed, and only breeding Sugarbush drafts to Sugarbush drafts will be allowed to produce registered foals. This is our goal, and while we are dedicated to working toward that goal, we will not risk the quality of the horses, their health, or well being in order to achieve that goal. In 5 years the breed has gone from a total of 12 horses, to over 70 horses. We feel confident that we can achieve our dream, and that it is a dream worth taking the time to do right.