He’s the Ticket: A Tribute

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The versatile Morgan Horse! We are celebrating this breed as our June Breed of the Month on #YourDressage! We asked our social media followers what makes Morgans their favorite breed, and got an overwhelming response.

Did you know that dressage riders who choose Morgans as their mounts are eligible for special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards program, as the American Morgan Horse Association Inc. (AMHA) is a participating organization?

In this special tribute, a lifelong horsewoman from Region 1 shares the short but sweet partnership with a Morgan named Ticket. 

By Sharon Ortepio

The search for an athletic, but safe, horse for an adult amateur (who is old), can be a daunting task. When I was getting ready to retire my 22-year-old FEI horse, I told my trainer, Sara Schmitt, to start looking. Sara happens to be a lover of Morgan horses, having competed many in combined driving and dressage with great success. 

So, I started looking at videos and came across this unusual looking chocolate chestnut with a salt and pepper mane and tail, and lots of chrome. He had an amazing canter on the video, but you could see how green he was…Sara looked and said he was probably not for me, but she liked him! I kept looking. Long story short, He’s the Ticket, aka Ticket, showed up at our barn all the way from Washington state. I tried him after Sara and my daughter, Katie, rode him and, to be fair, at 15.1h, Ticket was a huge change from my 17.2h Selle Francais in almost every way. It had been a long time since I had had a green horse, so we went into a full training program. 

Meanwhile, my business path crossed with someone who also loved Morgans, and she asked who Ticket’s sire was. I was once into Thoroughbred breeding, and young horses, but I knew nothing of Morgan bloodlines. When I told her he was a Firecrest E-ticket son she went crazy! She sent me a video of the 3-time Western Pleasure World Champion, Firecrest E-ticket, at the World Championships doing a demonstration. It consisted of tempi changes and roll-backs (called canter pirouettes in the dressage world). The horse was amazing. I showed the video to Sara and we agreed it was the craziest thing we had ever seen. As it happens, Ticket’s damsire is AMHA Show Horse Hall of Fame Awardee DJJJ Ebony Gold.

Very methodically, we began our journey. Sara showed Ticket initially, as did one of her students, who qualified him several times for the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Regional Championships. Next, it was my turn. Ticket and I qualified for the 2015 Colonel Bengt Ljungquist Memorial (BLM) Championships at Training Level. Since I had previously ridden above Third Level, I had to compete against a lot of professionals in our class of 26 rides. I had not shown regularly, and hoped to just get around the ring and be somewhat respectable. In the end, we were High Score Adult Amateur! It was so great, but little did I know it would be my last show with him.

Two months after the BLM Championships, I underwent major back surgery and was out of commission for six months. Under Sara’s guidance, her assistant trainer Carolyn Laurent took over riding and competing Ticket. In 2016, he became a confirmed Third and Fourth Level horse, competing in many shows in Regions 1 and 8 with Carolyn in the saddle. My riding was coming back slowly, and I was trying to catch up with his ability. Always eager to learn and please, this horse loved his job. He came to work every day. His progress was steady. He was expressive in his gaits and stood out in the arena with his unusual looks and extraordinary presence.

Of course, with the good can come some naughtiness. He was a devil on the ground and in turnout, so much so that we had him checked to see if he still had a recessed testicle. But no – just his big personality wrapped into a 15.1h package.

In 2017, Carolyn and I took Ticket to Saugerties, for Centerline Event’s Spring Show. It was probably one of my most memorable horse shows ever. He marched proudly around Fourth Level Test 3 and when he finished, the crowd applauded him vigorously. Some folks came up to me and asked exactly what breed he was. When I told them he was a Morgan, their reply was “we have to go get one, he is so talented!”

That season finished up with Ticket and Carolyn’s Prix St. Georges debut, which he just ate up! Just like his father, Ticket excelled in his tempi changes. Carolyn submitted his scores for the National Dressage Pony Cup, and they were 2017 Year End Reserve Champion at Prix St. Georges Open.

Winter was coming and, since I chose not to go south, Carolyn and I continued training, with Sara coming back and forth to teach. My joy was watching them start some half steps, a little piaffe and passage, which he embraced. My riding was coming along nicely, and I was getting ready to ride and compete in the coming season.

February of 2018 was incredibly cold. I got on one day and something didn’t feel right. Ticket was lame but I couldn’t quite tell where, if that makes any sense at all. Since he was so animated in turnout, I thought he did something; yet not a mark, nor swelling, was to be found. I called the vet to come right away – overly proactive maybe, but it has always worked for me. The consensus was to do some x-rays and go from there.

The news was catastrophic. Ticket’s knee joint was showing cysts and other forms of arthritis at an aggressive level for an 11-year-old horse. More tests, five renowned vets from all over the country viewing his MRIs, x-rays, even more tests, and pretty much all gave the same diagnosis. I decided to do the arthroscopic surgery to give him some relief and then find a way to bring him back. Sadly, in my heart, I knew where this was going. I am a lifelong horsewoman, yet I had to try for this magnificent guy.

So, we did the surgery, and then the rehab. Carolyn was a perfectionist in his care, while I could barely help, due to my own back issue. Finally, Ticket was sound enough at the trot, about three months into this, and I was able to get on. It was joy – and then it wasn’t. He just couldn’t hold up to even light work. I decided to bring Ticket home to my farm where he could live out his days in my fields.

It was September, and a beautiful day. I remember watching him enjoy a good roll and then he couldn’t get up. I donated him to Rutgers University where the incoming class got to learn a lot about anatomy – the good and the bad. He lives on in our hearts, but my sorrow runs deep for the loss of this great Morgan, He’s the Ticket.

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