Like a lot of rare breeds, the American Sugarbush Harlequin Draft has had its fair share of history lost in translation. Despite beliefs that the breed was established in the 1950s, it is actually a fairly new breed developed in the 1990s and the very first one was conceived via AI.
Everett Smith bought his very first registered Percherons in 1980 and expanded his purebred program and used his stock in his carriage company, the Sugarbush Hitch Co. In 1997, he met Mike Muir, who was working on breeding a heavier driving Appaloosa/Percheron cross that he called the “Stonewall Sport Horse.” Smith was quite impressed with these loud-coloured harness horses and his own dream of a similar, but fully draft, horse became his new passion.
The next year, his Percheron mare Sugarbush Felina Del Noche was bred to Muir’s young leopard Stonewall stallion, Stonewall Rascal, via shipped semen. In 1999, Sugarbush Harley Quinne was born, a 7/8ths Percheron boasting a loud leopard pattern, becoming the very first Sugarbush Harlequin Draft. In fact, all founding line Sugarbush Harlequin Drafts can trace their lineage to one of four horses: Stonewall Rascal, Sugarbush Felina Del Noche, Stonewall Domino, or Sugarbush Harley Quinne.
The breed has come along quite quickly since then in terms of numbers and notoriety. Registered ASHDA horses have brought home accolades as Open and Draft Horse champions, TV stars, and being featured in magazine articles and at equine expos.
The Sugarbush Harlequin Draft is not a ‘designer breed’; both parents need to be approved with ASHDA, which means meeting strict conformational and genetic requirements. The number of improvement horses in ASHDA, who have managed to win breeding rights by passing a number of requirements, is very small. For example, Friesians are no longer accepted as approved crosses or improvement horses because of the genetic issues increasingly coming to light and the position of their parent registry that they are warmbloods, not drafts.
Despite rumours of a falling out between Smith and Muir, the two reportedly have a deep respect for each other and used horses from each other’s programs in their own breeding operations. The Stonewall Stud Book is still going strong and is a much valued sister registry to the ASHDA. Both Muir and Smith have been inducted in the ASHDA Hall of Fame.
The Sugarbush Harlequin Draft is intelligent, well-built, and eye-catching, with lovely movement, a good disposition, agile and versatile. They stand 15.2 h. to 17 h. and any base colour is acceptable, with a leopard complex pattern or characteristics being preferred, but not required. Solids are acceptable but pinto-type or excessive white markings are prohibited.
The body should be wide and deep with a strong back, muscular loins and rounded hips. The head should be bold and not too small with a profile that is flat or slightly convex. Eyes should be large, well set and kindly in expression. Leg feathering is not as heavy or long as other draft breeds; hooves should be large and feet must be sound and healthy.
The American Sugarbush Harlequin Draft is an excellent multi-tasker for riding and showing English or Western, driving, foxhunting, packing, parades and exhibitions, or can be used as a therapy horse,
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