For two of the past three weekends cowboys and cowgirls have polished up their boots, put on their tightest Levi’s, donned their western hats and brought their checkbooks and credit cards to the two big horse extravaganzas in this part of the country.  The Midwest Horse Fair in Madison and the Minnesota Horse Expo at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in St. Paul again brought the horse industry together in big numbers. For vendors we talked with, it was worth the effort to exhibit their tack and horse equipment for sale to beginners and veteran horsemen alike.

          In Madison, a near record crowd of over 54,000 turned out with only a minor change in the number of horses at this year’s event.  For the Minnesota Expo horse numbers were limited to only allowing clinician horses and rodeo and other performance horse on the grounds.  In fact, there was talk, at least in Minnesota, if they would even hold their show this year because of the Equine Herpes Virus that has been diagnosed in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.  Minnesota Horse Council President, Dr. Tracy Turner DVM, of the Anoka Equine Vet Clinic, told us his council had to make some tough decisions early in April.  He said, ”In the face of the herpes virus that’s going around, we decided we would have the Expo and we would have horses but we would have to do it differently than in the past.”  That decision meant a lot of empty stalls in the horse barns. But Dr. Turner emphasized limiting the possibility of exposure to the virus was their number one priority “because with the number of horses that usually come to the Expo, there was just no way we could watch everybody and limit exposure.”

        As the Minnesota Horse Expo was about to start, Dr. Turner also had some good news about the virus as he said it has now been over two weeks since the last positive diagnosis of the virus in St. Croix county in Wisconsin. That is good news he said since “that means there is a light at the end of the tunnel and while horsemen in Minnesota and western Wisconsin have a self-imposed travel ban on their horses, they can now begin to plan their summer show schedules with their horses.”

          At the Midwest Horse Fair in Madison, though, the stalls, while maybe not as full as in other years, were still busy places for visitors to see the various breeds of horses they wanted to see.  Midwest show officials emphasized bio-security with hand washing stations all over the Alliant Energy Center grounds while many of the horse owners prominently put signs in the front of the stalls telling people to “please don’t pet this horse.”

           For some horse exhibitors it was a tough decision to bring their horses to Madison, including Becky Jones of Dodgeville who brought a first time breed to the show.  In barn 9 she was showing off her Sugarbush horses, which is basically a draft-Appaloosa cross.  

           The breed was started by Everitt Smith in Ohio who owned the Sugarbush Carriage Company in Ohio and he was looking for a flashy looking horse that was big enough to pull his carriages.  According to Jones, Smith decided to use draft stallions for their strength and the Appaloosa for its flair. Now the breed, which is headquartered in Texas, is 50 years old and is referred to as the “Draft with Dots.”

            Smith began his cross breeding program using Percheron stallions but now breeders prefer to use their own dotted draft stallions. The average registered Sugarbush stand 16.2 hands and weighs about 1,800 pounds.

             In Wisconsin Jones told us there are not a lot of Sugarbush horses yet but their numbers are increasing as the breed is enjoying a comeback after a few years of lost interest in the horse. She has two registered colts on her farm and she cited a breeder in Frederic who has some registered horses as well as an approved stallion for breeding.  The biggest number of Sugarbush horses she said was in Texas as well as some of the eastern states.

           One of the attributes of the breed that owners like, she said, is their temperament.  By breeding draft blood into the Appaloosa, they have developed a breed that is “easy to be around and easy to work with to train for riding or driving”, Jones said.  Her goals for bringing her horses to Madison were to get the name of the breed “out there” and try to get Sugarbush horses in every county in the state.