Sunday, June 29, 2008

Drafts as Sport Horses?

I will preface this discussion by saying that Brego is an amazing horse. He is perfect for me, he's got a lovely sense of humor and a great personality. However, Brego is not a physical freak. The level of physical accomplishments he has attained is not exclusive to El Brego de Oro. There are many, many draft horses out there that can do the exact same work, with the same level of talent. What is missing is that there are not enough draft horse OWNERS out there who believe in their horse.

You read the comments everywhere. People are very negative about draft horses. They are "awkward, but amusing". They feel "like jackhammers". They can't jump 2' without crushing their feet. It goes on and on.

Come on, the majority of "riding" draft horses are less than 1700 lbs. Old Style Oldenburgs are 1600. Most warmbloods are 1300 lbs. Brego is 1400 lbs now at this fittest, filled out and mature. Most of them have good bone. And for whatever reason, most of them have big, appropriate feet to absorb concussion.

Which makes more sense? Jumping a 1400 lb horse on 8" wide feet with 11" diameter canon bones, or jumping a 1300lb, 18h Westfalian on 5" wide feet with 9" canon bones. Remove the mention of "Draft Horse" and just talk about physics and things don't look so biased. And with the soundness problems that we are seeing in these warmbloods, seems like there are longevity problems in all breeds. Yet, these same people are saying it is cruel to jump a draft horse! I can tell you my horse doesn't require hock injections at age 7....which is more than I can say for some of these warmbloods...

The simple matter is that draft horse performance is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sure, they don't sprout from their dams with a huge, floaty trot, but look at this mare:

Embiggen this picture to see the suspension!

This is Klein over at The Jumping Percheron. She's four years old and she's magnificent. She has a great owner who believes in her. I can't believe her suspension and balance, at four she has a look that would make most sport horse breeders wet their pants. This mare has TONS of talent AND she's a registered Percheron (World Percheron Congress, watch out!!)

Want to see Brego at four years old?

Can you believe I bought this horse?

Yea, not pretty. Want to see our first english lesson?

Just looking at this picture hurts a little. E'gads!

Anyone who saw us at that time would not believe what we are doing now. You have to listen to your horse, but you also have to believe they can perform. They work so hard to please you, if you encourage them to move well, they will. Period.

So the secret to my "success" is not buying a perfectly bred "sport" draft, it is really loving the horse I have and wanting him to be the best he can be, for his own longevity. Some things that are critical to Brego's performance:

Propertly fitting tack - I cannot overemphasize this. If the tack doesn't fit, he will never perform for you. Most saddles do NOT fit, sad to say. If you bought it off the shelf, unless it is marketed for drafts or super-wides, it will not fit.

Chiropractic work - Brego needs this less and less as he gets fit and his work gets more "correct", but it was a big help in the beginning. Poor saddle fit problems (see above), coupled with a rapidly growing, ungainly horse meant a lot things didn't work like they should. Three different sessions, over a year and a half, has completely turned him around. If something hurts, he can't perform and it's unfair to ask. I think all horses should be screened once a year by a reputable chiropractor.

Quality Feed - Most people feed draft horses crap. They are big, easy keepers so they get very little feed in general and of dubious quality, because, you know, they are just draft horses. I feed Brego like I feed my Thoroughbred, nutrient dense, just in smaller amounts. He gets high quality forage and I don't worry about him being on grass. He works five days a week and he needs calories to perform. If he is cannibalizing muscle from lack of calories, he will never get stronger. This is a mistake I made early in our lives together. I feed him too little to keep him from getting fat. Nutrient dense, quality feeds, in the appropriate amounts give him the energy he needs.

Barefoot - Brego is barefoot. Knock on wood, but I have not missed a single riding day in 2+ years due to unsoundness. This horse is crazy sound. His big feet flatten out and absorb his weight on landing. I know that some horses cannot go barefoot, but I believe that many types of shoeing have the side effect of keeping the hoof too rigid on impact, which can then cause problems. I have never put shoes on him to test this theory because he doesn't need them, but I believe it is a factor for the big guys.

Dressage, Dressage, Dressage - and when I say dressage, I mean training the horse to carry himself in balance, not a headset or the competitive sport. Call it classical riding, call it whatever you want, but Brego needed to be taught that he did not need to pull himself around on the forehand. But he did learn, and now he's getting stronger and stronger, saving his front feet from pounding.

The point I am trying to make is that, yes, Brego is awesome. But he's just a gelding with a reputation for bucking I pulled out of someone's backyard for $1700 (back when the horse market was strong, those were meat prices!). Every horse, sound and sane, can do what he is doing. Believe in your horses and they will learn to fly for you.

I make a point of encouraging all draft owners to start a blog and promote the wonderful athleticism of these horses. With enough of us out there performing with happy and healthy horses, people will figure out that a draft horse can be a willing and wonderful partner. So if you want to start publicizing your awesome horse, like Klein above, drop me a note and I am happy to help.


Anonymous said...

I just started reading your blog a few weeks ago, and I wanted to let you know how much I enjoy it. You and Brego are such a wonderful team together. It's so nice to see a horseperson who cares so much about her horse, instead of ego and awards and all of that other crap that so many people seem to focus on.

I love this quote from your entry, "Believe in your horses and they will learn to fly for you." So, so true!

Thanks for sharing your journey with Brego. Oh, and your clinic sounded great!

Anonymous said...


I don't think I will ever buy a non-draft or non-partdraft horse again.

I LOVE ME SOME strong legs!

Miss Leah said...

I absolutely agree with you. I love the drafties and draftie crosses! But jeeeez, I am having a horrible time with my draftie cross right now...

He is being so mean - he threw me off, he's kicked me and bitten me! And I am doing everything I can for him! He eats a perfectly balanced diet of great quality feed & supplements, good quality grass hay, he has 15 acres of rolling hills w/ a pond and a best friend to play with and I see him almost every day. He can be such a jerk!

What to do, what to do...

Daun said...

Yikes, Miss Leah!
What kind of work is your boy getting? When Brego was young and a pun, he kicked me... once. I spend a lot of time asking, then telling, him to work for me, not the other way around. He is much better now, but every now and again, I have to reinstill the lessons.

Good luck and put that boy in his place!!

Beckz said...

Well my draftie is only a cross, and I get asked if he is a holstiener so he can't be that unnaturally heavy. That said I do prefer the athleticism of the perchie types over the clyde types. But then I have found the perchie crosses mentally very tough horses.

Katie said...

I just want to stay well done for standing up for your horse and his breed! Some people are just so judgemental when it comes to different horse breeds etc, it makes me sick!!

I really admire you and I am loving your blog so keep up with the great work!

You're getting me quite excited about our 1/2 clydie into work and start her Eventing. I can just hear the beautiful sound of her hoofbeats as she chews up the cross country course!


natb said...

Great job praising these wonderful horses. I really enjoy seeing some different horses in Eventing.
I ride a draft cross lesson horse that I love and which my husband is constantly tell me to switch to a thoroughbred because I'll never be able to show on that "huge" horse ;)
Keep up the good work!

lhaag said...

Daun, I am so glad that I found your site. It is refreshing to see these beautiful horses being used in a non tradition manner. I agree, most people have negative things to say about drafts.

I just bought my first draft a few months ago. He is a Perch/Bel cross, 6 years old, 2000lbs and 17.3 hands. He has great ground manners but has not been under saddle. He really wants to please and just wants a job. I am sending him to training on Monday.

I have never competed and I am interested in seeing what he seems to enjoy and be good at. Thanks for the inspiration.

Anonymous said...

I have Percherons as well, and recently got slammed by some people in the draft horse world for "bothering" to ride mine, and for calling them drafts (because according to them, a draft horse is one that's pulling something, whether it's a mini or a Perch. I don't agree.) We ride, drive and pull with them.

We keep our barefoot also, and trim them ourselves, using Jaime Jackson's methods. I love it! No more thrown shoes or abscesses like I had on my warmblood! We also keep ours a LOT shorter and more normal looking than most draft people, and find that it works a lot better than the ridiculous square feet on most drafts. They travel straight and don't have leg strain or interference like so many others.

We feed ours straight grass hay and occasionally a high fat, low carb grain. Drafts are susceptible to EPSM, a muscle disease causing lameness and muscle wasting, that can be aggravated by excessive carbs. (

The only other thing I'd add to your list of essentials is groundwork. I can't believe what a change it has made in our horses. We're Clinton Anderson fans, although I'm attending a Parelli clinic next weekend. Proper groundwork has helped us not only with their ground manners but also with their riding, driving and pulling. I preach it as much as I preach Percherons!

Anonymous said...

I'm a bare hoof care specialist here in central NH and I have a number of draft and draft crosses on my book with stunning movement and beautiful bare feet.
splits, cracks, lack of concavity, flat travel all mean something is wrong with the way your horse's feet are being trimmed/maintained.
Draft and draft crosses have amazing capable hooves, build beautiful concavity and thick walls that go through everything. I actually prescribe walking on pavement as therapy!

IF you have hoof questions, please email me and I have a slew of hoof pics of healthy happy drafts.

Anonymous said...

One of the best horses, most responsive and most awesome jumpers is a draft cross at work. In fact, at a recent gymkhana he was the only horse to get through the higher six bar jumping clear.

dp said...

We don't know what kind of horse Tonka is, but anyone's best guess is percheron x QH. He's never been shod and I'm convinced that the natural toughness of his hooves saved him from catastrophic founder before he came to me. Out trimmer marvels over them every time.

I think miss leah needs to consult with playswithpercherons -- sounds like that horse is disrespectin' that human and needs some serious bootcamp groundwork.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to let you know how your blog has given me encouragement with the Draft I have been working with. He is a 4 year old 3/4 Perch 1/4 clyde, his mother was a rescued PMU mare, hence the odd breeding. We went to our first show this past weekend and he did great! Just walk trot but he did so good. Got 1st in his first class out of 20 horses. if you go to and scroll down to horses in Training you can see what he looked like in August and what he looks like now. Thanks again for the inspiration!

Anonymous said...

Loved your blog about your horse! I too have a Percheron/TB cross. I would love to email you privately. I cannot seem to locate an email address for you. Please email me at

Anonymous said...

Hi all!

I went draft close to 20 years ago and I've never looked back! I had a Belgian draft I did horse trials and paper chases with. He jumped 3'6" with a spread at home. I had to teach him to jump by schooling over cross country fences of course. You could almost see him laughing at those pvc poles.... lol The dressage judges were pretty funny with their comments. They just did not know what to do with us I think.

Great site! Take care!

Cindy said...

So excited to see your blog! I regularly jump 2'9" with my perch and have jumped 3'6" on occasion. He loves it and will often veers towards a nearby jump. Right now my trainer and I wonder about the scope of this wonderful 11 year old 17.2 1800 lb Percheron cross (though the cross is not phenotypically obvious). I've had him for most of his life and can thoroughly attest to dressage as a great basic, good feed, and believing in him. Eventing is my love, but I hear so many tell me I'll ruin his joints over 2'9". I would value your opinions on this matter. I keep him in regular work (of 3-5 times weekly) and show about once a month. What do you think about scope (in general) and joint viability with eventing these guys? I also just shoed him in the front for the first time last month b/c of an abcess though he never needed it before.

Unknown said...

Your blog is as usual interesting. The keys to safety in Cross Country Horse Jumps are solidity and security.

Ninua said...

Maybe it's the bit? Or unfitted tack/sore hooves. Try riding him without a bit and see what happens Everything a horse does is for a reason. :p

Ninua said...

Maybe it's the bit? Or unfitted tack/sore hooves. Try riding him without a bit and see what happens Everything a horse does is for a reason. :p