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The Public Face of the Morgan
By: Denny Emerson On March 11, 2013

To me, this is a photo that says more than the proverbial "thousand words" about the current state of the Morgan breed.


In the whole horse world, saddle seat riding is a TINY SLIVER.

Yet the modern Morgan, in the eyes of the casual outsider, is all about park performance, heavy shoes, extreme knee action, basically a professional`s sport with an extremely limited "audience".

Does the breed WANT to turn away the average rider? Because emphasizing this is a good way to scare off those who want a nice family pleasure horse, or so it seems to me.

 

 

Photo: I don`t mean to imply that the Morgan breed is the only horse breed or horse sport that has

  

I don`t mean to imply that the Morgan breed is the only horse breed or horse sport that has "issues."

There are sports that cause falls, all manner of injuries. There`s drug use, other abusive uses.

Maybe the only "pure" use is doing this
 with our horses, hacking them quietly.

But I hate to see the Morgan, a breed I really like get "taken over" by one small type of riding and training, to the point the breed loses a broader appeal that I feel it deserves.

 

Photo: In years past, many of the great Morgan breeders used tough competitions like the GMHA 100 mile rides to showcase the intrinsic soundness, stamina and good

 

In years past, many of the great Morgan breeders used tough competitions like the GMHA 100 mile rides to showcase the intrinsic soundness, stamina and good "character" of their breeding stock.

A return to this strategy is the BEST way to promote Morgans. Get them out there in public and the horses THEMSELVES will be their own finest "press agents."

You have to be brave and go DO IT.

 

Photo: Here`s a Morgan mare with 3 crosses to Upwey Ben Don, and other so called

  

Here`s a Morgan mare with 3 crosses to Upwey Ben Don, and other so called "Saddlebred" Morgans. I rode her in a 25 mile CTR, (photo) and she was a superstar to ride, strong, efficient mover, lovely type, a real winner. THIS is what we need to do, get these horses out there.

 

Photo: When I rode Lippitt Rebecca for Mr Knight in the 1959 GMHA 100 mile trail ride, 54 years ago, there were lots of Morgans in those kinds of rides.  Where have they all gone? Who is out there making it happen?  People are drawn to the horses they see. That`s how to promote a breed. Go out there and do it.

  

When I rode Lippitt Rebecca for Mr Knight in the 1959 GMHA 100 mile trail ride, 54 years ago, there were lots of Morgans in those kinds of rides.

Where have they all gone? Who is out there making it happen?

People are drawn to the horses they see. That`s how to promote a breed. Go out there and do it.

 

Photo: The PUBLIC FACE of the Morgan breed is what I am talking about, not the actual horse. The cover of the breed publication, published by the breed organization itself, is the MOST visible part of that

 

The PUBLIC FACE of the Morgan breed is what I am talking about, not the actual horse. The cover of the breed publication, published by the breed organization itself, is the MOST visible part of that "face".

This cover depicts a certain image of the breed, very appealing to the average rider looking for a horse to have in the barn, in the pasture, to bring fun to the family.

 

Photo: This is the January 2013 PUBLIC FACE of the Morgan breed, as it says on the masthead,

  

This is the January 2013 PUBLIC FACE of the Morgan breed, as it says on the masthead, "The Official Publication of the Morgan Breed"

I will erase negative comments about this. It`s NOT intended to start wars.
 

What I am trying to point ou
t is that the official publication is basically presenting ONE of many faces of the breed. Every Morgan Magazine I`ve gotten in the last year has presented a version of THIS FACE.

My worry is that the AVERAGE American horse lover will not relate to this face, and that the breed will lose possible converts.

BALANCE is needed, as, I feel, the older covers presented.

 

Photo: The non show people who own Morgans know that THIS version of the Morgan is alive and well in 2013, but that is NOT the public perception.  I read things like.,

  

The non show people who own Morgans know that THIS version of the Morgan is alive and well in 2013, but that is NOT the public perception.

I read things like., "Too bad those old fashioned Morgans have vanished."

THEY HAVE NOT VANISHED. T
hese "old fashioned" Morgans are as good as they ever were, and as available, but the FACE of the modern Morgan hides that fact.

People misread what I`m saying. I am a huge fan of the breed, but I am NOT a fan of the public perception of the breed as so many people have expressed it to me in recent years. The MORGAN HORSE is not all about heavy shoes and high knee action. THAT is a man made thing, not a horse thing. The great old versatile, sane, steady Morgans are still out there. I ride one six days every week.

 

 

Photo: I know secret hiding places where there are whole pastures full of old fashioned Morgans like these!  They are only

 

I know secret hiding places where there are whole pastures full of old fashioned Morgans like these!

They are only "secret" because magazine advertising is crazily expensive, not because they don`t exist!

I bought my Morgan mare in just such a pasture, this very one, as a matter of fact.

 

 

 

 

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Bioline Image Denny Emerson is considered “one of the 50 most influential horsemen of the Twentieth Century ...” He is an USEA Hall of Fame inductee and is the only rider to have ever won both a gold medal in eventing and a Tevis buckle in endurance. In 2011, he wrote "How Good Riders Get Good."


Comments(33)
  The Changing Face of The Modern Morgan

Denny,

    Thank you for your enormous contribution to the equine industry. your accomplishments are to be respected and admired by all. i do appreciate your viewpoint on the current state of the morgan bree, and AMHA has started making "some" adjustments. last year, they admonished breeders for breeding away from the conformational traits that distinguish the Morgan. the judging at Oklahoma City last October reflected that admonition. few, if any of the extreme, goose necky, saddlebred looking horses placed in the top 5 of any classes. a minute change, i'll admit, but it IS a step in the right direction. there are efforts to return the public perception of the Morgan back toward the Justin Morgan standard. the dissatisfaction with the AMHA not discouraging the breeding away from the natural attributes of the Morgan, has a group formulating a plan to launch an organization that will mirror the AMHA registry in hopes of overgrowing the AMHA because of thier silence. but, as we all know, the big name breeders and owners have the influential money. thier intent is to return the registry to a ground up effort, and not a top down influence as it is now.  we own 42 morgans, and breed specifically for the best Morgan confirmation possible. and we only selectively breed. this year, we will only have two, when we could have a slew. quality, NOT quantity is needed. we do NOT advertise, and sell our young stock for a good price despite the economy. the determined prospective Morgan buyer FINDS us. we show in the local club show, and a couple of open shows. we spend countless hours educating groups, and the public about the virtues of the Morgan horse. if anyone will listen, they get the history, and our horses reel them in with thier intellegence, beauty and unique personalities. we also operate a Veterans outreach program that utilizes our horses to assist Veterans with physical and emotional issues such as PTSD, and have had enormous success. i would like to think that it is our efforts that bring results, but i would be vain. we merely make the introductions after a brief safety in handling primmer, and the Morgan takes it from there. our youngest stallion is a 5 time club show Grand Champion, and he is nearly the spitting image of the drawing of Justin Morgan. the love of the Morgan by the "back yarders" has always been strong, but is adverse to the common perception that has been generated by the class A type show horses.. we have had a couple of opportunities to sell horses to  training barns with a "name", but will always decline due to the training methods used to accentuate motion that we feel is far too exaggerated for the breed. a little encouragement with a Morgan will produce astounding results, and a better mentality for its' life. there are many out there that know the Morgan well, and seek out quality Morgans wherever they are. 

By: Joe Holder , On March 11, 2013
  The Arabian world did the same thing

Once upon a time the Arabian world has a few trainers who thought that saddle seat, park horses and the need for both shoes and trainers would sustain the breed.  However with the cost of shoeing, the need for specialty farriers and "park" trainers - the true lovers of the breed prevailed.  Yes, trainers support the shows and breed, but it is the amateurs who really support the breed.

I moved over to the love of Morgans because of their "can do" attitude and their true versatility. It has been sad to see the more "Saddlebred-Morgan" be the only one showcased.  

Most amateurs love their horses and want to know about connection, and partnership rather than only getting to touch the horse once in a while.  

I am excited to see more of "western dressage" being showcased at the convention and other places.  It is time to refocus on all the ways a Morgan brings joy to riders not just woof and snort.   

By: LeeAnn Gibbs , On March 12, 2013
  Christina Brault Lester
I miss mine.

By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  Sherry Miller Blair
I Love Morgans! They are one of the best!

By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  Donna Richter

My Dad had a Morgan when I was a kid. They are such a sweet dispositioned and versatile horse. I agree with what Mr. Emerson is saying. Let the Morgan just do what it does best and stop trying to make it out to be something it's not. I'm looking into buying a Morgan, I just love the breed.

By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  Lori Bready

Sadly, I agree with the author. 

 

By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  Jim Peppas

I used to ride a Morgan that was used to race. The quarter horse. At first the only way I could get her to stop was to act like I was getting off of her saddle. Get my right foot out of the stirrup, lean, and she would slam on the brakes. She was big and beautiful. That thick wide mane. Strong. Friendly, but small things blowing in the wind or butterflies made her change direction and sometimes you didn't.

By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  Sandy Dolan

The original Morgan horse was not bred to be a saddle seat horse. Right on Denny Emerson they do have so much stamina in a tough horse that stays sound!

By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  Lil Judd

We had a Morgan - she was the result of wrong breeding. She had a very long back & had a mare's disposition. She had good things about her, but the bad outweighed them when I realized she was bullying my daughter. It was time for her to leave. I swear the reason she had the disposition she had was due to the amount of times she changed hands. Unfortunately I had no energy to try to reschool her. I knew she was not the horse for us. BonBon was the result of bad breeding. People need to remember that horses are meant to be horses first & foremost.

By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  Sheila Davis Turpel

Wish I had one.

 

By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  Joe Holder

Lil Judd, we have 42 Morgans, and have been rescuing them for many years now. we have had them from ALL types of situations. the morgan breed is a VERY intellegent breed and will SEEK human interaction. yes, we have had them with attitudes, but they WILL turn around VERY quickly! definitely FASTER than any other breed that i have had the displeasure of knowing. i suspect that you gave up TOO soon on an othewrwise viable mount that, in short order, you would habe come to adore. our 5 X Grand champion stallion is FAR more intellegent than most humans that i have ever met. he suffers NO fools, and if he senses that you are asleep or not up to his mental capacity, he WILL wake you up, but he is a blustering puppy dog. perhaps BonBon found someone to appreciate her, and NOT the butchers bolt....

By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  Lynne Heller

I completely agree, I love Morgans but if I didn't know better, I'd NEVER buy one of these "saddle seat" Morgans as pictured. I had a wonderful Morgan years ago and would love another someday, but I will look for a Foundation Morgan, not one of these "Arabs on steroids" as we used to call them.

By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  Barbara Strenfel

I find it odd that they find that necessary I owned two morgans and my one had an especially big way of going barefoot or in cowboy shoes. Just as now when I buy my walkers I look at what comes natural and anything else is just smoke and mirrors.

By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  Martha Vaughan

I love the Morgan breed and rode some good ones at camp in Vermont, at a pack outfit in the Sierras, and we had a nice one at our dressage barn at one point. I am sorry that the public face of the breed has gotten so weird, and the breeding for that ideal. I would love an old timey one!

By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  Diane Findlay

Thank you Mr. Emerson for your keen insight! I bought a Morgan stud in 1995 with the intentions of raising good solid working/kid horses! I then subscribed to the magazine after joining the AMHA. What I saw there bothered me very much! Obviously the big barn $$$ influences the AMHA & it's magazine. Several tried & failed to stop some of the influences by Saddlebreds. Unfortunately a SB mare had a Morgan mares papers applied to her. Fortunately, someone recognized the SB mare was not who the AMHA papers said she was. As far as I'm concerned... leave breeds alone!!! If you don't like a particular beed find one you do and leave the others alone! The Appy's of today look nothing like those of the 60's & 70's, Simmental cattle are now black instead of blondish red w/ a white belt on the girth!

By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  Christine Rietsch

The show format with the built up hooves is not a Morgan in my book. They don't even look the same! It's like the aardvark quarter horses with necks bred in impossibly low!!!

By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  Diana Taylor-Paine

Great article Denny - very well said and I totally agree - loved my Morgan - Royalton Eldon -

By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  Richard Dixon

Terrific article Denny!!! Very well said!!!

By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  Richard Dixon

Terrific article Denny!!! Very well said!!!

By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  Kellee Garska
Good insight! Enjoyed the article.
By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  Dianne Truitt

Great article and I fully agree. Years ago I purchased a Morgan gelding that still had the ribbons in his tail when I got him. I wasn't an experienced rider so school of hard knocks for me. It took a while for me to be able to ride him without feeling like I was about to fly off due to the high knee action from his training in driving. He was a great horse though and eventually we came to an understanding. Eventually I sold him and he really did need a more experienced rider than myself to reach his full potential but they are great horses with lots of spirit and stamina. Your article really hit home for me. Great read!

By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  Patricia Crawford

Glad to see this!

By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  David P McConeghey

I was concerned when I saw the article and the comments here. A few years ago I saw a Saddlebred horse in the show ring. The style of riding and the equipment on the hooves to exaggerate the high knee action and the major effort the rider was exerting to accomplish it looked to me like an extremely unpleasant experience for the horse. I went to see the Morgan association web site and found that only 2 of the 13 images were depicting horses with high knee action pulling a cart. On the magazine page the first image was a beautiful horse and rider with extra high knee action. Three of the twelve covers were of horses with knees high pulling carts. I agree with Denny the trend is not what I would prefer as a spectater, but what percent of the organization has turned in that direction? More importantly what are the breeders doing? Are Morgan lovers making their opinions known to the organization like Denny has so aptly done?

By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  David P McConeghey

I had learned to love the Morgan breed as a kid watching the Disney movie "Justin Morgan Had a Horse(1972)". I wonder what Justin would think about any trend in the direction of emphasizing high knee action?

By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  Olivia Floyd

I own a Morgan, and do everything with him. It is a shame to see horses with gigantic shoes on at horse shows. I've noticed the same things happening with Hackney, Saddlebred and TWH too. It's a shame they don't advertise the Morgan for other things too...

By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  Lauretta Wolf

Why do so many breeds want to all look like saddlebreds?? A Morgan is a Morgan, an Arabian is an Arabian, a Tenn. Walker too. They all have distinct breed characteristics...all unique to each! And get rid of the damn artificial crap...weighted shoes etc.

By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  Denise Ellis Rogers

I agree with Denny, there should be less focus on the "weighted shoe show horse" and more emphasis on why these breeds came to be. But I must comment on the above comment..the Saddlebred actually has a good deal of Morgan and Arabian bloodlines in their foundation stock, and the Tennessee Walking horse foundation horses have a good deal of Saddlebred bloodlines in them as well. I understand your point however, if you want a Saddlebred, buy a Saddlebred and stop the "on the sly" infusion of other breeds. Each breed was known for certain characteristics. The Morgan for it's strength and versatility, the Saddlebred and TWH for it's ground covering comfortable gaits, and Arabian for it's stamina and speed. Now they are all peacocks.

By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  Jennifer Short Koranyi

Just bought my first Morgan (half Morgan, half TB) and I LOVE him. Great mover, great disposition, great mind. Wonderful conformation, feet like rocks. Can't say enough good things about him. Something needs to be done about those judges who award this artificial way of doing things, and recognize those judges who judge based on correct conformation, correct way of going, temperment and manners in the ring, etc. They are a big part of what drives this train in all breeds and disciplines.

By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  Carol Scott

I have to agree, I haven't seen any of the western / easy going morgans. but those in that pasture sure looked good to me. Bright eyes but not upset and really nice chests and good muscles.

By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  Laura Seiling DeMaio

Aileen Williams should read

By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  Stephanie Fitkin

Judy Good Miller thought you would enjoy this.

By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  Honey Reese

I love morgans!

By: Horse Collaborative , On March 15, 2013
  The Public Face of the Morgan Horse

Yesterday, I pulled my 30-year-old Morgan gelding out of his paddock where he reigns supreme, cleaned him up, picked out his bare feet, saddled him up, put on his sidepull (he hasn't had a bit in his mouth for years) and climbed on him with the aid of a mounting block. He barely could wait until I hauled my aging body aboard, and was headed out of the arena as soon as I had both feet in the stirrups. He wasted no action as he strode out hugely, as fast as HIS aging body could take him. Seeing spring arrive when on the trail on an eager Morgan is as good as it gets. His breeding is as pure as it comes, yet he is able to pick up those feet when he is trotting down the hill towards his dinner. That is the action that has become exaggerated for the show ring, but my bet is that many of those high stepping show horses could go barefoot for a while and, after some months of just "being a horse" with 24/7 turnout, could be retrained and become as sturdily reliable as the many easy-going, friendly, quick-learning, versatile, good-gaited, family pleasure and trail Morgans that exist all over the country. They may not be advertised and nobody may know where they all are, but they are definitely there and available to those who want an old time Morgan. A lot of show horses do not have the preponderance of lines that were almost exclusively popular for a while, so they still look like Morgans when you "let down their hair". There have always been fads, but they die out and what endures is the prepotency of Morgan blood. While it doesn't hurt to let people know that the high stepping saddle seat horses exist, they also need to see that it is a small percentage of the breed, and that there are many more who are like my old gelding, or like one of my other 5 who have different lines, but all of them exhibiting the things that people remember about Morgans they encountered long ago. This is the face that we should be presenting, while still letting those who want to show see what is available in the show barns. The Morgan is as versatile as ever, no matter what is on the breed magazine cover. But a better balance would be nice to present to the world.

By: Judith Gorenc , On March 15, 2013
 
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