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 5 adult amateur shares how researching for her dayjob (an equine sculptor!) introduced her to the Morgan breed, and the more she learned, the more confident she was that she had to have one…even if it came dressed as a bay yearling sporting enough hair to make an 80’s rock star jealous.
By Jennifer Scott
I’m your average adult amateur rider, and my story is pretty typical: horse crazy girl kid, long pause with a return as an adult. My horse however, is anything but typical. He’s a special guy.
So who is special sauce? His name is Rocky. His fancier name is Edgefield Gemstone. He’s a bright bay Morgan gelding with enough hair to be an 80’s rock star, and one of the most handsome horses you’ll ever lay eyes on. Rocky resembles the stereotypical American jock – being more good looks than brains. He’s the kind of horse that wouldn’t survive anything without human intervention. But he’s so lovable you can’t help but be charmed.
I first spied Rocky on the internet back in 2009. I’m an equine sculptor by profession and was doing research for a Morgan piece. That research is what really introduced me to the breed. The more research I did, the more I fell in love and knew this was the breed for me. I’d been casually on the lookout for a second horse already. We’d just moved from town into the foothills of Colorado onto horse property, and the one gelding – an unbroke 2-year-old Arabian I’d rescued from an acquaintance – I had brought with me needed a buddy as he was mentally not doing well at all flying solo, even with the neighbors having horses on the other side of the fence. I thought it would be a great excuse to get an “old-reliable”. Something Steady Eddy to learn on, do trails with, teach the husband to ride on, etc. Everything I’d read said an older Morgan would fit this bill. When I saw Rocky’s for sale photo on the Edgefield Farms website, I knew I’d spotted “The One” and my search was over. I had to have him. I spoke with his breeder, liked everything I heard, and made arrangements for the purchase. I decided not to dwell on the fact that he was an unbroke, untrained yearling.
And I’ve never looked back. He’s taught me so much. While he has his quirks, he’s been a pretty patient dude with me as I fumbled my way through learning horsemanship, and later in life, riding. And did I mention he has quirks? Morgans have Personality, capitalized. It’s part of their appeal. There’s no lukewarm with them. Everything they do or feel is with zest, it is…dramatic. If Rocky doesn’t like something, he will tell you in no uncertain terms. If his saddle does not fit to his liking, he will try to roll it off (he tried this with me on him the first time). And he *hates* his mane getting beautified for shows.
Let’s pause in the Personality description and talk a moment about his mane, because it deserves its own paragraph. Much like the horse, it’s pretty extra and rather oddball. It’s ridiculously abundant, until you get about 3/4 down the neck towards the shoulder, but as a whole only grows to about 9” long. You can’t pull it either, because Rocky strongly disapproves. For his first dressage show, Shelly (Rocky’s trainer, pro-rider, and second mom) was super excited to play with it and spent extra effort making it resemble the doily your grandmother had on her table. Now I have to watch her when she has the clippers out to make sure she doesn’t roach off Sampson’s mane, taking away his super powers. His latest look is a double running braid (one on each side of his neck), with the untamable forelock poof shoved (mostly) under a bonnet – because Rocky draws a line in the sand about having his forelock braided. He was so pissed off at the first USDF-recognized show we went to, and we couldn’t figure out why. He took off bronc bucking down a line with Shelly in the warmup arena, which he never does. We unbraided the unicorn horn, and suddenly we had our happy gelding back.
Back to the Personality. If I could sum up Rocky in a nutshell, I’d say he’s the Happy Village Idiot. Morgans are touted for being super smart. My boy missed out on this gene. His life choices are not conducive to actual survival. Or getting ahead in life in any way really. It will also take him forever to learn new things, though admittedly once it finally does sink in, he has this great big “Ah ha!” moment and you can almost literally see the light bulb going on inside that noggin. After that, it’s there to stay.
Now, he makes up for this lack of brainpower with his Labrador Retriever friendliness. When he became a riding horse, Rocky made the move to our home-away-from-home training barn. No horse there will be more happy to see you. He runs to the fence and expects attention. Of course most everyone gives it to him because he so obviously wants a pat and a word of praise, and of course, a goodie. He is perky 99% of the time (the other 1% is spent being angry in pretty button braids). If he’s not, then something is wrong. He will get miffed at Shelly or I if we walk past him without taking him out. And of course Shelly, being one of the barn’s two trainers (her husband Michael is the head trainer there), walks past him multiple times a day to get other horses, and he dramatically has to trot the fence line with a head toss the Arab taught him.
Besides being the center of attention, Rocky really likes praise. He adores it when you tell him how handsome he is and what a good boy he’s been. When riding, he very much requires his ego to be stroked. You must tell him that Valegro has nothing on him. That his trot is clearly a 10. What he doesn’t like, is to be wrong. He’s a very sensitive type and if you’ve not cued him accurately, and he offers a response that wasn’t what you wanted and you correct him for it, he will resent you for it. Too many, and he feels you aren’t worthy of him and will basically do nothing but try to leave the arena. Your 20 meter circles will become decided ovals, gravitating towards the exit. Just the other day, we got our first amazing flying change, as he decided to stop tracking right and instead go left towards the gate.
After reading that last paragraph, you’ve probably caught on to the fact that he’s a dressage super star. He was meant to be my eventing super star. Alas, the major trait of bravery was left wanting. Rocky is afraid of his own shadow and when he spooks, will try to leap into your lap, Scooby-Doo style, because obviously the human 1/10th of his weight will save him. I now wear nothing but steel toes around him because I was tired of my right foot being broken all the time. So, eventing…while he was fine with the sandbox, he was too nervous to string a course of jumps together, and just forget cross country. We tried a couple of times. But he would only complete a course after the horse behind him had lapped him and he could follow said leader to the finish line. That was when we finally threw in the towel and called him our Dressage Queen.
And it’s a good fit. He’s a lovely, expressive mover, though his conformation makes it hard for him to lift his back and tuck his butt under him. Oh my goodness, in the early days you’d spy hooves out in every direction. But there was clear potential. Shelly, who took over Rocky from husband Michael because she liked Rocky so much and wanted him as her dressage mount, has done a fabulous job with him. It’s been a long road to get him balanced and strong, particularly in the canter. He’s still early in his career, showing at First Level, and she’s been doing a lot of counter canter with him to help him balance more and get further prepared for a move up to Second. He’s not there yet, but I bet by the end of the season, or the start of next, he’ll be ready to graduate. Rocky is not going to be the horse that ever moves up quickly, but he’s well worth the effort, and we have so much fun making memories with him as we do so!