On the “Virg” of Greatness

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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?

Here,  a rider who temporarily took the reins of her friend’s Morgan/Arabian cross shares about him successfully making the switch to dressage in his senior years.

By Nyssa Sheridan

I first met the Morab breed (originally developed through cross-breeding Morgans and Arabians) after I moved to the Madison, Wisconsin area for graduate school. I met my longtime friend, Jamie Wright, and one of her Morab geldings at the barn where I boarded my Arabian mare. Around the same time, I also met Wendy Konichek, a Morab breeder located in the area. Wendy presented me with the opportunity to show a number of her horses in hand, including showing her Morab stallion, Montego’s Thunder, to a reserve national championship in Sport Horse In Hand, which is a hunter or dressage type suitability class, at the 2015 Arabian Sport Horse Nationals in Raleigh, North Carolina.

I really liked the Morab’s willingness to work, their people-oriented dispositions, and their jack-of-all-trades attitudes about trying just about anything. Much like their Morgan and Arabian parents, they can quite often succeed at a variety of sports, with a little education and a whole lot of heart.

Somewhere along the line, I met PHF On the Virg (“Max”). Max is a dark bay Morab gelding, born in 2002. He has been with my friend Jamie his entire life! When I met Max, Jamie was showing him as a Half-Arabian hunter. He was willing and game, but lacked a lot of the upwards lift and style to be successful on a regional or national level. I asked Jamie if she would consider showing him as a sport horse hunter, as he has a long, low, sweeping stride, and a lot of power. In 2019, Jamie took him to his first Arabian sport horse regionals as a hunter, where he garnered a reserve regional championship, and a top five against some top quality horses. Pretty impressive for a horse that was owned, bred, and trained by an amateur owner!

But still, I wondered what he would be like as a dressage horse. I asked Jamie if she would consider taking dressage lessons with my coach, Stacia Allen. Stacia coaches all breeds and is so lovely, enthusiastic, and upbeat – I thought she would be a great fit for Jamie and this  handsome, eager-to-please bay gelding.

Max and Jamie came for their lessons and it was so thrilling to see Max starting to learn another discipline. At nineteen years old, Max seemed to enjoy learning more body control and how to shift a little bit of weight to his hindquarters. It didn’t come without difficulties, as Max was used to a very light contact and could often curl behind the bit and rush, and the idea of a half halt was just a mystery. But he was trying very hard to learn what was being asked of him, and slowly, but surely, the two of them began figuring it out. 

Jamie set her sights on attending the 2021 Region 10 Sport Horse Championships and came home with a remarkable three championships, a reserve championship, and a top five. I was personally most proud of the top five – where she placed third in a Training Level dressage class of sixteen horses with a 70.0%! Pretty incredible for a new beginning in a new discipline, with a 19-year-old horse. The biggest surprise for everyone at this show may have been a photo posted to social media after the show, in which Jamie, her husband Dave, and Max announced that there would be a new rider joining their family in December of 2021.[1] 

This is where I came into the picture. The plan was to take Max to the 2021 Arabian Sport Horse Nationals at the World Equestrian Center in Ohio. However, with the new addition on the way, it seemed to be a bit of a speed bump, so Jamie asked me and our coach, Stacia, if we would step into the irons to keep Max going and to show him at Nationals. I was flattered, and more than happy to help my friend and Max. 

Aside from Jamie, only a handful of people have ever ridden Max, and even fewer have trotted him into a show ring, so the decision was made to attend a smaller show before Nationals, to allow Max and I to get our feet wet together and develop a little bit more of a partnership. In August, we attended the Wisconsin Arabian Horse Association value show, which had a wide variety of dressage, sport horse under saddle, and in-hand classes. It was a very pleasant show indeed, marked with my personal high score of 69.48% in our Training Level test, winning both of our in-hand classes, and winning a dressage equitation class.

The lovely thing about Max was that, despite the fact he was new to dressage, he wasn’t new to showing, so he was quite reliable. Max was a good confidence booster, allowing me to focus on our geometry and what he needed in order to relax through his back, and to encourage him to stretch in the free walk and trot. His cheerful Morgan-type good attitude was a bonus, and he adjusted well to me as his temporary new rider. 

We ended the year with a trip to the 2021 Arabian Sport Horse Nationals. While we didn’t come home with any of the coveted ribbons in some very large, high quality classes, I was impressed at how well this big bay gelding born, raised, and trained by his owner, did on the national level with a career change at the age of 19! It’s still a pretty high honor to place midpack in classes of more than forty horses. 

To PHF On the Virg “Max”, age is just a number, and he’s still learning and working on his dressage skills. To everyone interested in dressage with a Morgan or Morgan cross, I say go for it. They are lovely partners, often with such willingness and easy to ride gaits. A previous career doesn’t impede them from being able to succeed in their new career. 

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