Join us on an exclusive first hand account of dressage riders, owners, and breeders and their unique mounts! This series will explore the dressage experience across a full spectrum of unconventional breeds, both large and small, with some familiar faces and some potentially unknown. These are the real life stories, from the humans that know and love them best.
The American Cream Draft Horse is the only breed of draft horse that can claim to be native to the United States. The roots of this rare breed go back to the early 1900’s and “Old Granny”, a mare of draft breeding with a cream-colored coat, pink skin, and amber eyes, three defining traits resulting from the Champagne gene.The age of mechanization led to the replacement of most draft animals with farm tractors, and all the American Cream nearly became extinct. Today the numbers are increasing, but are still dangerously low, with fewer than 400 animals currently registered.
Owner and rider Alexandra Nash gives us a taste of what it’s like to love and show this rare and stunning breed.
How did you get started with the American Cream Draft breed & what drew you to them?
I’m autistic and have had a rough go with horses, although I’ve never given up. I started riding when I was 16 and, even though I’ve had a lot of talented sweet horses, none of them have ever been that “into” dressage. I was finally in the market for my next horse and was determined to get something that could do some dressage, knowing that the barn I was currently at had a dressage trainer I could take lessons with. I wasn’t looking for an American Cream Draft, just a good basic dressage prospect. I’ve never had a big budget to spend on a horse, but my parents have always been very helpful with paying for training and lessons. I found Yuki (his registered name is Tucker’s Yukon Gold but we affectionately call him Yuki at the barn) on Craigslist, and he was luckily in my budget. I only saw pics of him, but something about him pulled on my heartstrings, so I had to go look. He was so majestic and unique looking. I made an appointment to see him the next day.
When I got there, he was so afraid of his current owner that she couldn’t even put a halter on him. Then, she gave the halter to me so I could try. He let me halter him, and I led him to the round pen. That is where I fell in love. I lunged him around and thought, “Wow could this really be everything I’ve been wanting and hoping for?” I sent the video to my trainer, and she gave a thumbs up. I picked him up with a trailer the next day. We brought him home and rode him almost immediately.
Does this breed have any health or conformational issues that create challenges for you?
They don’t have conformation issues so to say, but they are thicker and heavier on the forehand than most breeds. They were originally bred to pull carts and do farm work. It takes a bit of time and for them to build the muscle to learn to sit and not pull on the reins.
What dressage movement do you find the most difficult with this breed?
Extended trot! Our nemesis! Because they’re heavier and more on the forehand, they like to dump and pony trot. You have to teach them how to use their bodies differently. Piaffe and passage work has really helped Yuki develop a bigger collected trot, and now he’s finally starting to have a small extension.
On a trainability & temperament scale, where would you rate this breed?
A 10! He gives 120% every time we ride. He really loves dressage. And like any horse, if you can find something they love to do and make it fun, it’s always easier.
Is there specific show ring attire or considerations regarding this breed?
His button braids. They’re huge and take a little bit of practice, but they’re gorgeous when he’s all done up.
Are there any challenges when it comes to tack fitting for this breed? What about shoeing?
He actually has a pretty average size back. He takes a medium-wide in most saddles. He’s also barefoot. No shoes needed! Farrier says he has almost textbook feet.
What’s the best part of owning & showing this breed?
His heart and trainability makes it so much fun. He’s always ready to try new moves.
What reactions do you & your horse tend to get at shows?
Everyone wants a picture or wants to know what breed he is. He gets tons of attention and he always poses for the camera.
Tell us a little about your successes & triumphs with this breed.
Within a few more months, I took him to our first rated show, we ended up scoring 70% at Training Level Test 3 and won amateur high point for the entire show! Fast forward a few years, and we’re showing Third Level and just earned our USDF Bronze Medal a month ago, achieving our scores in just three weekends shown.
It’s been an amazing ride with Yuki, and he’s got more heart than any horse I’ve owned or ridden. He really has a passion for dressage, making it a very enjoyable experience. We’ve been learning together for the last three years, and I wouldn’t want any other dancing partner. He’s perfect for me. I feel so lucky to have such a kind, amazing partner.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to get involved with this breed?
Find one with good gaits and find a good trainer. The road in the beginning isn’t always easy, but it’s definitely been a blessing.
For more information about American Cream Drafts, visit the American Cream Draft Horse Association website.
Join us in June for the next installment of The Many Faces of Dressage!