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?
Here, a Region 8 adult amateur shares the story of falling in love with her first training project, a naughty 2-year-old named Kennebec Ladyhawke, and the successful partnership that fulfilled a childhood dream.
By Margaret Bailey
Kennebec Ladyhawke, also lovingly known as “Bear” or “Lady” by her family and friends, is my 23-year-old Morgan mare, who came into my life as a 2-year-old, and quickly became a beloved member of the family. Growing up, I always wanted a Kennebec Morgan. My mom had worked out at the Kennebec Morgan Farm in the 70s, and told me stories of her happy memories with all the different horses. I was obsessed – to the point where all my Breyer horses were named “Kennebec” something. So it was the fulfillment of a dream when, in college, I got a summer job as a horse trainer at the Kennebec Morgan Farm. After falling in love with my first training project, a naughty 2-year-old named Kennebec Ladyhawke, my dream came true. I wore down my boss, her breeder, who wanted to keep her, and she finally let me buy her. After getting approved for my bank’s first ever “horse buying” loan, I finally bought my own Kennebec Morgan. She has lived up to all my expectations of what a Morgan should be.
Bear has the wonderful Morgan disposition, tempered by a warped sense of humor. After her night feed, she tosses her feed dish over her door, hitting anyone who has not yet learned to dodge the flying receptacle. She has also attempted to thwart her competition at a show by stealing a competitor’s show coat through the bars of her stall and sleeping on the jacket, hanger and all.
She’s highly intelligent, easily bored, and always entertaining. She loves to perform; the bigger the crowd the more she shows off. But, that comes with a price… She tends to memorize dressage tests and starts movements before she is asked. Then, she takes offense when you tell her it isn’t acceptable for her to demonstrate her extended trot every time she does a diagonal. At one of her first USDF-recognized shows, she went for “bonus” points by leaping over a giant puddle at X. If we were doing eventing, it would have been a fabulous jump; the dressage judge however “was not amused”. Bear learns new things quickly. She is eager to please and loves to show off. Although barely 15h, she has an extended trot that rivals the big horses and she is not afraid to use it! One judge was overheard giggling with surprise as Bear lifted for takeoff in her extended trot, and gave her a 9 on the movement.
However, trying to redirect Ladyhawke’s enthusiasm has been a challenge. Her favorite movement, that extended trot, was non-existent when she began her training. Starting with her little Morgan quick trot, it took years to develop her lengthening. When she finally had the light bulb moment, I praised her so much that she now considers it her showpiece movement and frequently unveils it, whether I ask for it or not. Because this spark is what makes her special, I never punish her for trying. This just means I have to be creative in redirecting her eagerness to please.
Lady has her own following at every show. A lot of people love seeing a Morgan there, usually because they used to have one, and sometimes they just enjoy rooting for the underdog. The photographer at New England Dressage Association Fall Festival and Great American/USDF Region 8 Championships sent a note to me in the mail, saying how she loved seeing a Morgan be competitive with the rest of the field. A scribe at King Oak Dressage Days made a point of telling me how much she and the judge enjoyed my Morgan, and what a wonderful partnership Lady and I had together. At every show, someone always comes up and asks “is that a Morgan?” Inevitably, when I answer yes, they then tell me a story about a favorite Morgan they had in the past. It is a very lovable breed! I enjoyed showing what a Morgan can really do in the sport horse world.
When training would get hard, or comments on tests would be discouraging, I just had to remember my inspirations, Mona Gaudet with her mount Big Bend Doc Davis, who competed Grand Prix, and Larry Poulin with Kennebec Count and Kennebec Russel, the first Morgans to make the US Equestrian Driving Team. Remembering what they accomplished kept me hopeful. We may have taken nearly three years at some levels, in order to develop her gaits and strength, and taken thousands of lessons and hundreds of clinics, but we eventually got to the FEI levels.
Bear really stands out in her versatility. She is competitive in many disciplines, winning at USEA eventing, carriage driving, open jumping, trail classes, and open shows (especially road hack!). She has won many awards in dressage, and is also the first Kennebec Morgan to reach the FEI levels. One of Lady’s favorite disciplines to perform is side-saddle, and has performed in demonstrations as far from home as Connecticut. Some of her career highlights include winning the Great American/USDF Region 8 Dressage Championship for Third Level Adult Amateur, being two-time USEF Horse of the Year for Morgan Versatility, USEF National Horse of the Year for Morgans Fourth Level and above, New England Morgan Regional Carriage Driving Reserve Champion, and being named Maine Morgan Carriage Driving Champion three times. We’ve competed up to Prix St. Georges, and with only Ladyhawke’s scores, I received my USDF Silver Medal, as well as my USDF Bronze and Silver Freestyle Bars.
Good ole Bear is semi- retired now, and is no longer competing at the FEI levels. She finally said that pirouettes were getting too hard, and I listened to her when she very demonstratively said she was done. Nothing with Bear is subtle. Now, I just let friends compete with her in the lower levels at two-phase events and local schooling shows, and I continue to compete with her in open carriage driving competitions, as well as low level jumping. She is a family horse, safe enough for my mom or dad to ride on the trail, or give pony rides to kids.
Bear is brilliant and mischievous, the quintessential versatile Morgan, and loaded with personality. She is a beloved family member, my partner in crime, and my best friend. She truly is a horse of a lifetime.