Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sulky Harness Racing

Many people wonder what harness racing is and how it differs from 'traditional' racing at tracks such as Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minnesota. At Canterbury, the horse racing consists of jockeys riding Thoroughbreds at a gallop, which is the fastest speed of horses and is a four-beat gait.

Pacing Standardbred & SulkyAt Running Aces (near Forest Lake, MN) and other harness tracks light, 2-wheeled carts called sulkies sit directly behind the horse. 'Harness racing' is the most popular term for this type of racing, but because of the unique use of the sulky, it's also known as sulky racing or sulky harness racing. Since the horse handlers sit in the sulkies instead of astride the horses, they're called drivers instead of jockeys. Another common name for them is "tail-sitters," since they used to sit on the horses' tails in order to keep from getting hit in the face with the hair.

Trotting vs. Pacing
Trotting Standardbred with Sulky at Harness TrackIn sulky racing, Standardbreds are raced at either a trot or a pace. Both trotting and pacing are two-beat gaits, but differ from each other by which legs work in unison on the horse. At a trot, a horse's diagonal legs move forward and backward together (i.e., left front and right hind/right front and left hind move in tandem). When pacing, both legs on the same side of the horse move forward and back together.

Breeds that Pace
Pacing RacePacing isn't a normal gait for most breeds of horses, and in fact only a handful have a propensity to perform the gait naturally: the Standardbred, Peruvian Paso and Icelandic horse. While the pacing gaits of the Peruvian Paso and the Icelandic horses can be quite comfortable for a rider, in order to move at racing speeds, the Standardbred's pace is much too uncomfortable and awkward for jockeys, hence the need to race them from a cart.

More Differences Between Harness Racing & Traditional Horse Racing
Pacing Standardbreds Cross the Finish LineAs opposed to using a starting gate to begin each race as in traditional horse racing, in harness racing the main form of the start is a vehicle with a folding gate attached to the rear end, called a motorized starting gate. The vehicle drives in front of the horses and upon hitting the actual starting point, speeds up while folding the gate and moving to the side of the track to allow the sulky racers room to race.

The term 'harness racing' most likely comes not from the use of the sulky but from the trappings the pacers wear. These 'hobbles' aren't harnesses to make the horses perform the pacing gait; rather they're to ensure the horses don't break into a gallop and they also maximize the effectiveness of the pacing gait during a race.

Wikipedia has more information on harness racing.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Schubert Percheron Farm

Two-Horse Percheron HitchMike Schubert of Schubert Percheron Farms grew up with driving horses. His parents, Dave & Bev, raised Percherons. He was fortunate enough as a kid to have a team of ponies and a pair of mules that drove so at the age of 9 or 10 he was already experimenting with hooking multiples - the "unicorn" and four-horse hitch; he'd also borrow a couple to hook the six-horse hitch every chance he could get.

Frosty Breath from Percheron Hitch PairAs soon as he was big enough to throw the harness onto the Percherons he started driving them: hauling manure, raking hay and you would find them most weekends in the winter months at Craguns Resort giving hay rides with a team or two.

Four-Horse Percheron Show HitchAfter Mike graduated from High School he went to work for Bill Dean of Waverly Iowa, who had a hitch of Percheron geldings and owned and operated the Waverly Sales Barn, the biggest of draft horse sales! He was with them for six months until a job closer to home came up at the Ames Percheron Farm in Jordan, Minnesota. The Ames Percherons traveled many places to show, including Canada and throughout the United States. Mike was able to meet many "draft horse folks" in his three years with Ames and also learned a great deal about how a true Percheron show horse is supposed to perform.

Two-Horse Percheron Show HitchThe things he learned while out in the driving show circuit have come home with him and help him to make a living training young horses to drive and perform well. He came home to Brainerd in February 1997, and in addition to helping my father, Jerry Foust, farm he spends the rest of his time training young horses of all breeds to drive. His "training season" is from November to March and then he takes the 3- & 4-year-old Ames Percherons to train. He then takes them to 4-5 shows throughout July & August so they have some experience driving in the show ring before they head to the big shows in the Ames Percheron hitch.

Three-Horse Percheron HitchMike loves to take on the challenge of the young draft horses to see them progress almost daily in their training, and then it's a huge honor to see them do so well in the Ames Percheron hitch, a known favorite in many of the shows they attend. It is a lot of hard work and dedication that he would not trade for anything, and thank goodness the whole family

loves it as much as he does since it has become a family affair!

Ladies' Single Hitch Show ClassNow that our kids, Jeron & Brooke, are getting older and are taking a liking to the lines in their hands, they spend hours driving their pony "Little Joe" around our 200-acre farm 18 miles South of Brainerd. They've recently asked Dad to drive the Percherons while riding along on the wagon during practice time here at home. I do a small amount of driving myself also, not nearly as much as I used to since our children came along, but I still have a goal of driving the amateur four-horse hitch at the Scott County Fair one of these years!

Six-Horse Percheron Show HitchWhen Mike is not at home training horses, he has spent time in Spokane, Washington with Terry & Bev Reese who have a hitch of Belgian geldings. He has helped them in putting a six-horse hitch together with the geldings they have purchased in the past year. He would match teams that went well together and that would work well together also. They were new into the showing part of draft horses and had asked Mike to help them get started - another reward is to see success from what you've taught someone else to do! The Reese Family sent their geldings and Cosme, their hired help, to our home this past winter for 30 days of training for both the horses and for Cosme. The best part is they just sent a video showing what an AWESOME job they are doing to get ready for their show season coming up in September, which Mike will attend with them also.

Rolling Acres Spike, Breeding Stallion at Schubert FarmsBesides showing Percherons we also breed and raise them to show or to sell. Our herd sire is Rolling Acres Spike, whom we purchased as a reserve world champion at the World Percheron Congress as a 2-year-old. Besides being a sire to many nice foals he is Mike's "right hand man" when it comes to training all the young draft horses to drive. We call him the "breaking horse" because he will literally anchor any horse that would like to run off with his massive 18 hands and 1 ton of pure muscle!

Percheron FoalWe also have 5 registered Percheron mares from which we raise the babies in order to keep our tradition going.

Percheron Stallion with Little Girl

We are so thankful to all of our clients who have trusted Mike to do an exceptional job at teaching their horses to take to the lines and perform to their ability, and we hope to continue to make this a "family affair" for many, many years. We all seem to enjoy it and it is a wonderful way to travel the country and meet new friends in the horse community.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Dappling Pattern on Non-Grey Horses

I might not have gotten a true dapple grey horse in our herd, but last night when I went out to feed I noticed in the light of the evening sun that my bay gelding has a dapple pattern on his coat. Since I had always thought that dapples were part of the grey gene, I was surprised to see them on Will. I started researching “dappling” this morning and all I could find was that this is most likely called a dappling “bloom” which is found on healthy, maybe slightly overweight horses and will disappear if the horse loses condition.

I guess my feeding program is working, since Will is in good coat and is in good body condition: he's obviously not underweight!

Dapple Grey Horses

Dapple Grey HorseWe have owned many grey horses – mostly Arabians and part-Arabians – over the years and although I love the look of a dark, dappled grey none of ours attained that. Our Welsh/Shetland pony cross was beautifully dappled for a couple of years, but we purchased him at the height of his dappling and he soon greyed out entirely.

Gray horses are born any number of colors – bay, black, chestnut – and 'grey out' over time. Dapples on a grey are part of the greying stage where there is a pattern of light spots surrounded by darker rings. While some horses may hold this color for years, others pass through it very most of ours did.

A Horse at the end of Dapple Grey StageWith many greys there tends to be a period of semi-dappled, semi-grey where the horse appears dappled – mainly on the points and rump – but it's a very faint dapple pattern. The next common 'phase' of greying is the absence of the dapple pattern. The horse can either appear pure white or a cloudy grey.

Slightly Flea Bitten Grey MareThe last phase of greying out is the flea-bitten grey. These small brown spots tend to creep into the horse's coat at varying degrees. Some grey horses may only ever have a slight smattering of 'flea bites,' while with other horses they can become extremely thick, appearing over the entire body of the horse.
Flea Bitten Grey Detail

It's also not uncommon to see a non-grey horse with a dapple pattern on its coat. This is an entirely different form of dappling and is caused by feeding and the health condition of the horse; not genetics.