Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Tracy Meisenbach: The American Sugarbush Harlequin Draft Horse

          We've been in Appaloosas a long, long time. My grandfather bought his first spotted horse in 1942, by the time I came along some 24 years later he'd had several more. His farm was in north eastern Oklahoma, not far from where Bill Cass stood Colida. My mom used to play high school basketball against Bill's sister Carol. With this close proximity to one of the greatest Appaloosas of all time you can guess what my first love was. 

Bill Cass and me in OKC

           I grew up around Colida horses and we competed in everything you can imagine. There are very few events we didn't do, whether english or western. We even ventured in to driving and saddleseat. An Appaloosa can do anything his rider can imagine, so they were the perfect horse for us, because we liked to do everything. Along the way we also had other breeds; Arabians, Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, miniatures etc, but always had Appaloosas around.

            In the Mid 80s Bill Cass got disgusted with the ApHC and got into draft horses. He liked Belgians and he had some nice ones. He kept his Appaloosas, but he sure liked competing his drafts at the pulls. I remember driving out to his pasture with him at feeding time and he called up his herd of broodmares and the ground rumbled as 14 huge chestnuts galloped up for their evening meal. It was amazing how powerful and quick they were. I could see their appeal. At this time I was competing in speed events pretty heavily, as well as cross country and 3 day eventing, and to me the drafts were more of a hobby horse, not something a serious competitor would use.

                                            Bandit, Twister, Cochise, Rogue and Cochise

           Fast forward to 2011 and through strange circumstances I found myself with 4 Percherons. 3 blacks and 1 grey. 2 geldings and 2 mares. The mares were papered and very well bred. I sold the geldings and the grey mare ( something I now seriously regret) and kept the big black mare. She's a 17.2 hand Jaeger bred mare. What the heck does an Appaloosa breeder need with one of those? 
Jaeger's Abby's Gaby

            By now I've grown out of going balls to the wall in speed events, I like to mosey a lot and I want a nice big easy going horse. I also wanted a spotted draft horse. Simple solution, breed my gorgeous Percheron mare to my Colida bred stallion. I think Bill Cass would have heartily agreed, especially after he saw the result. This was not some random"backyard" breeding. My Appaloosa stallion had halter, hunter in hand, speed event points and was 4th in the nation in games. His sire and dam  were both pointed show horses. His grandfathers, Colida, Bright Eyes Brother and Top Hat H, were in the Hall of Fame. The Percheron mare was the daughter of the Canadian Reserve National Champion Stallion and her dam was the daughter of another National Champion. 
                                                                     Colida SkipNTwist

         The result of this cross was amazing. 5 panel genetically clean, homozygous black, dun factor and a conformation to die for. Tyrion Twist is an amazing sport horse and has already made his public debut, wowing crowds at Breyerfest as a weanling and winning second in open stallions at the Virginia State Fair Draft Horse Show. We expect great things from this young stallion.
                                                       Tyrion Twist, ASHDA #-00013

            About the time I decided to cross my two horses, (visions of spotted sporthorses dancing in my head) I met up with some other people that were promoting a breed of spotted drafts. Fortuitous in some ways. Not so much in others. The Sugarbush Harlequin Draft had been started by Everett Smith as a spotted draft. Unfortunately the person that had taken over the registry was just not doing the breed any good, creating an entirely false history that she uses to give her private business validity. Despite this problem, several of us persevered with our horses and helped preserve and grow this really amazing breed.
Stonewall Rascal, SSB-F2 #9606, ASHDA #E-00001

            This leads us to the oft asked question; “What is a Sugarbush Harlequin Draft?”
The answers to that question are really simple. A Sugarbush Harlequin Draft is a horse bred from the original stock owned by Everett Smith or a horse registered in the original Sugarbush Harlequin Draft Horse Registry (SHDHR) or a horse registered in the American Sugarbush Harlequin Draft Association (ASHDA). That’s it. If the horse does not meet one of those parameters it’s not a Sugarbush Harlequin Draft.

You can’t get a Sugarbush Harlequin Draft just by crossing an Appaloosa on a Draft horse, or a Draft horse on any other spotted breed. Those are just crossbred drafts. A Sugarbush Harlequin Draft has to meet either the pedigree criteria of parents registered with the original SHDHR or ASHDA or be approved with ASHDA by meeting the conformational and genetic testing requirements of the breed. A Sugarbush Harlequin Draft horse isn’t just a mix, and it’s not a name that can be applied to any spotted draft. ASHDA's standards are high and their approval process is rigorous, requiring conformational analysis, genetic testing and pedigree assessment. We want only the best. So don’t be fooled, if the horse isn’t registered with ASHDA or the original SHDHR, then it’s not a Sugarbush Harlequin Draft. This breed was started by Everett Smith and ASHDA is the only registry endorsed by him to continue on his beloved breed. We follow his guidelines for conformation, clean genetics and stellar pedigrees. ASHDA is  currently producing a documentary video of Everett Smith and his horses in which he answers questions about the breed, his program, and his views on genetic testing, ASHDA and the future of the breed.

 Apache Double, ApHC Stallion

                So where do they come from? Their story actually starts way back in the 70s when a young man named Michael Hanna (Muir) bought an Appaloosa stallion called Apache Double from Iola Hatley. He paid a record price for him, $100,000.00. ( he was the second horse sold for this amount, the first being Flying Star, a Colida son) Apache Double is the first and only Appaloosa to go over the $2 million mark in winnings of his get. He’s a great-grandson of Reigh Count who won the Kentucky Derby and a maternal grandson of ApHC Hall of Fame horse Apache

                                           Charlie Degas, Percheron Stallion

         Along with breeding Appaloosa race horses at his Stonewall Stud Farm Michael Hanna took an interest in drafts and driving. He purchased Charlie Degas, the purebred Percheron stallion foaled in 1973, who became the foundation stallion of the Stonewall Studbook and an important influence in the development of the Stonewall Sporthorse.

          Michael bred Charlie Degas to a daughter of Apache Double called Stonewall Baby Jane. She was out of a Poco Arbol bred mare called Stonewall Dottie West. Stonewall Baby Jane, 23 as of this writing, is a big bay leopard mare, she was later bred to Stonewall Showmaster, another purebred Percheron Stallion and produced Stonewall Rascal, who is the founding stallion of the Sugarbush Harlequin Draft breed.

                           Stonewall Rascal and Bron Stark at Breyerfest 2015

            About this time Michael Hanna had some serious life changes. He changed his last name to Muir in honor of his grandfather’s name, because it was going to die out, and he discovered he had MS. He sold his racehorses ( Ocala Flight went to Australia) and started focusing more and more on driving. In an effort to bring awareness to MS he decided to drive across America with his trio of Stonewall Sport Horse mares, Stonewall Stella, Stonewall Blanche and Stonewall Scarlett. They drove from California to Florida as a unicorn hitch. It was an amazing feat and showed how truly outstanding these spotted draft crosses are.

          Everett Smith also owned a carriage company and had taken up driving as a pastime and part time job. His Sugarbush Hitch Company in Willow Wood, Ohio was using his breed of choice, Percherons. In 1998 he saw an article about Michael Muir and his spotted team and contacted him. The two men discussed their goals and what each wanted in an elegant spotted driving horse and the Sugarbush Harlequin Draft Horse and Stonewall Sport Horse Registry was born. Everett bred his percheron mare, Sugarbush Felina Del Noche to Stonewall Rascal and she produced Sugarbush Harley Quinne, a loud spotted black and white leopard. Harley, as he was known, was Everett’s ideal horse; a ¾ draft with loud color, traceable pedigree and good conformation and temperament.
                                  Sugarbush Felina Del Noche and Sugarbush Harley Quinne

            Sugarbush Harley Quinne gained the Sugarbush Hitch Company a lot of attention and people started seeking out Sugarbushes! Spotted drafts were getting noticed and whether it was the heavier ¾ draft Sugarbush or the lighter ½ draft Stonewall Sporthorses both names had gone into the equestrian vernacular to denote LP marked heavy horses.

          Sadly a twofold tragedy struck. Sugarbush Harley Quinne died leaving only one intact son, Sugarbush Harley’s Classic O. It was then that Everett discovered that Stonewall Rascal had been sold and gelded, so he could not repeat the breeding that produced Harley Quinne. Everett was also facing health issues and after a discussion with Michael Muir they decided to separate out the registry for each breed. The Stonewall Sporthorse Studbook is now in California. Everett took a chance and let another person take over the Sugarbush registry, but that resulted in almost destroying the breed. It was run as a private business and breeding to anything was allowed. In an effort to save the breed a group of dedicated Sugarbush Harlequin draft lovers got together and with Everett Smith’s blessing they have rebuilt the breed using his original lines and making requirements for genetic testing, conformation and other factors.  Today the American Sugarbush Harlequin Draft is a growing breed and gaining international notice. They are invited to appear at Breyerfest every year where they are a crowd and artist favorite. ASHDA has been to the International Horse Fair in Beijing, China and featured at other expos throughout the USA. Articles covering the history of the breed have been featured in the Draft Horse Journal, on various websites and forums.
        The American Sugarbush Harlequin Draft is one of only two draft breeds created specifically in America, the other is the American Cream Draft. It's a breed with a bright future as both a riding horse and a driving horse. The sweet temperament and versatility of the breed make it easily trainable. They are visually eye catching and unlike a lot of draft breeds that are hitch gaited they have gaits more like a good saddle horse. ASHDA does not encourage docking tails, liking a horse to be able to switch flies. ASHDA also does not condone scotch bottom shoes or the extreme squared toes found in many breeds. It's not a "mutt", "grade" or "backyard breed" as some people claim. Most ASHDA horses have pedigrees that can trace back to the 1800s on both sides, unlike a lot of Quarter Horses and other breeds today. There is a demand for them and breeders are usually contacted by people interested in riding age horses, many of which are simply not for sale as they are used as breeding stock. So don't believe the disgruntled rantings of people that have never actually met one of these amazing horses. Sour grapes are extremely bitter, unlike American Sugarbush Harlequin Drafts, which are sweet enough for everyone.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Tracy Meisenbach-Stark Naked Bit™, how it works, and what you need to know

                                                        The Stark Naked Bit™:
           Jaw bits have existed since humans first decided to ride on the backs of horses. They are one of the earliest methods of communication between man and equine.

       Jaw bits have been made of rope, leather, braided grass cord, rawhide, twine and now Biothane ®. The action of a jaw bit is direct, but also muted. There is no leverage like a curb, no dragging across the tongue like a snaffle. It's direct and too the point, which is how all communication should be.

         We're going to look at a few different jaw bits. The leather jaw bit, with and without side rings, has existed since the 1800s. Prints of them can be found in The Horse by William Yount (1843), The Modern Art of Training Wild Horses by William Rarey (1858) and several catalogs including the 1886 Langrun's. 

       Metal jaw bits were actually created and used for awhile, but the dynamics were harsh and unstable. 

     This is the Donnelly Bridleless Bit. The flat metal mouth would dig in when the reins were pulled. Used without a headstall and the flat slightly inverted band will dig into the tongue. Not a very nice bit for the horse.

      Leather bits seem to fall into two categories. Round braided leather with a jaw knot, or flat stitched leather, made as a multi-layer strap with rein rings.  Leather jaw bits were used by the Native Americans, and even in some Asian tribes. Most worked with a jaw knot and would tighten if pulled on. The horse rarely had a choice where his tongue went, the bit was placed over it or under it at the whim of the rider. They could be ridden single or double reined, one handed or two. 
         One of the leather versions is a round rolled Snake Bit. It tightens as the reins are pulled and does require the use of a headstall. I'm not a big fan of it.

         In more modern times Erwin Meroth patented a version of the leather jaw bit and its tanning process in 1985, in Germany. It was never patented in the United States. Meroth passed away in 2000 and his patent was never renewed after the 20 year time limit was up in 2005. His website can be found here: Merothische. If you are looking for an original Meroth Bit we suggest buying from the actual maker, not a distributor, to make sure you get the original product.
         The Meroth bit site states that the leather is vegetable tanned and safe for use as a bit. That it meets European ratings for use in children's toys. Which is very good. However, we visited the website of the tanner that creates the leather used in the Meroth bit and we were surprised at what we found.

        Krekelberg Tannery
        On the Krekelberg site it explains their tanning process and I have to say I was rather startled. And I mean REALLY startled. When you go to their processing page it tells you how they do it:

        It's first tanned with lime, which is a corrosive base when combined with water. This is the translation: Dehairing and liming: means sodium sulfide and lime frees the skin of the hair. The case produced heavily loaded with nitrogen-containing organic load wastewater is in the on-site biological treatment plant cleaned.

        So basically they are treating the leather with two major corrosive solutions to dehair and soften the leather. Sodium sulfide and lime are NOT approved for oral use. And wastewater is just that, wastewater. No telling what is in there.

        So the tanning process is vegetable based, but the dehairing and liming is NOT. And in fact when you get sodium sulfide wet it turns into hydrogen sulfide, which is the chemical compound with the formula H2S. It is a colorless gas with the characteristic foul odor of rotten eggs; it is heavier than air, very poisonous, corrosive, flammable, and explosive.
Like sodium hydroxide, also known as lye and caustic soda with a highly caustic metallic base and alkali salt , sodium sulfide is strongly alkaline and can cause skin burns. Acids react with it to rapidly produce hydrogen sulfide, which is highly toxic.

        Sorry, but that does not seem safe. Certainly not more safe than Biothane® which is not made with those compounds. And vegetable tanning, which is pretty much drum soaking, is not going to remove caustic compounds from the leather. This is probably why the bondage industry has moved away from the use of leather in the creation of their products. 
        This is what a used Meroth looks like after just a few uses Meroth Used Bit

        Looking at jaw bit options had us scratching our heads. We liked the concept but not the potential problems. There is a cleanliness issue. Stretching is a problem, drying out and cracking, the small thin "safety" strings breaking in mid ride and several other issues. I don't WANT a bit that conforms to the mouth and just grips the tongue and jaw tightly. That method provides no relief or reward. So we looked around and found a product called Biothane ®. And therein was our solution. Biothane® can be sterilized, leather cannot. You can dunk a Biothane® bit in listerine, novalsan, alcohol or whatever other method and not change the composition of the bit. Do that with leather and you'll mess it up and remove the protective oils.

        We contacted an Amish Harness Maker and had several discussions with him about the material, stitching ring sizes and knew right away that since horses were not "one size fits all" we decided our bits wouldn't be either. We created several widths; 1/2 inch, 3/4 inch and 1 inch so that a rider could determine the sharpness of the action. The narrower is sharper and the wider is milder. We also decided on two different ring sizes. The 2 inch ring has more weight and vibration, with more pre-signal while the 1.5 inch ring is quieter and more direct. And so the Stark Naked Bit™ was born.

        One thing we really wanted to fix was the bit molding into one horse's mouth's shape and never springing back into shape. We knew that Biothane ® had a shape "memory" but we were really excited to find that the method of stitching created a bit that would spring back into shape and remove pressure from the lips and edges of the mouth. You pull back and release and the horse is rewarded with a reduction of pressure.

In the end we're pretty happy with our product and so are our customers. The bits are Biothane ® so they last longer and can be cleaned easier. They are stitched in such a way that they spring back into shape and take pressure off the sides of the mouth. They don't put any more pressure on the tongue than a metal bit and the horse can eat and drink with one in his mouth. They can be used with or without a headstall. People have been using them for jumping, barrels, trail riding etc. We are using one to start a green horse and will be documenting it with video.They come in a rainbow of colors and we can even make them two-toned!

You can visit us on facebook at Stark Naked Bits or our website at Stark Naked

Either way, Get Serious, Ride Naked!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

In the spotlight!

Due to the clamoring hordes of people interested in being guest authors about a certain group we've decided to move it to its own blog with an appropriate name!
This blog will revert back to strictly farm information.

Thanks for all the support and contributions.