My 1st 100 Days in Morgan Land
by
Dan Simmons

Once upon a time in a land far, far away (Tucson), a quarter-horse guy met a fair-haired Morgan maiden in the cyber world.  Little did I know at the time this little blonde cyclone of energy was about to change my life in a very positive way and take me on a whirlwind tour of the Morgan horse world in the process.  I had been around and ridden quarter horses since I was a teenager, owned an Arab once, and was the proud owner at the time of two palomino quarter-horses.  I wasn’t very informed on other breeds in general and the Morgan horse in particular.  In one of our early communications Letha asked me what I knew about Morgan horses and I replied very little and that I thought they were a breed developed out of quarter horses.  My education on Morgan horses began immediately when I received a pointed essay on the history of the Morgan horse in Letha’s reply.  Rather than be offended as she was sure I would be, being a quarter horse person, I thought it was very interesting having always been a history buff.  Our first true date other than a lunch meeting was a trail ride I suggested (she wanted to be sure I knew which end of a horse to put the saddle on).  I was immediately impressed with her gelding, Mortana Hollywood; he not only looked very solid and preformed well, he was a beautiful specimen of equine masculinity.  The first few breezes of the whirlwind had begun to blow though I hadn’t realized it yet.

Over the next few weeks as I saw and learned more about Morgans, I simultaneously came to the conclusion my 4 yr. old colt at 14 hands and 760 pounds was not going to be big enough to haul my hide around the backcountry on the kind of rides I do.  I also realized the 12 year old mare project horse from a friend was never going to be calm enough to have the energy left over to do so either.  Letha was greatly relieved that I had figured that out by myself and she wouldn’t have to find a way to break it to me.  She sold me on the idea of looking for a good Morgan as a replacement for them, and the whirlwind tour began in earnest.  Letha, through her many contacts in the Morgan community lined up five horses for me as good candidates and furnished pictures, pedigrees and email contacts with their owners.  The whirlwind now began to howl.

First stop was Anne Biggs in Parks, Arizona, high in the pine country, were we met not only a beautiful chestnut mare, Mary Mels Ladybug, but my first of many wonderfully friendly and hospitable Morgan people.  Anne I now regard as a good friend and if I hadn’t had a laundry list of exciting prospects on the slate to see and try out, I’m sure I’d have come home with Ladybug that weekend.  She was a gaited chestnut mare of a butterscotch color and 15 hands that gave me a wonderful ride on the trail and behaved very well.  But, the others were too tempting to not go see first and I resisted the temptation to buy her on the spot.  I think Anne was rather relieved actually and decided not to sell her after all once I made up my mind later on another horse.

 The following weekend we were off to Quincy, California and Bob and Barbara Fink’s Dream Catcher Morgan Farm with a side trip to Debi Michael’s Eagle Rock Farm to see one of her geldings.  A more beautiful setting and finer people was hard to imagine than Bob and Barbara’s place in Quincy; and the horses were awesome!  Debi Michaels’ gelding Futurity Twist It was another very nice horse.  I remember thinking the hardest part of buying a new horse from this pool Letha had created was going to be choosing just one; I could hardly go wrong.  We had a great visit not only with Barbara and Bob, we also got to meet Teri Personeni, owner of Terob Morgan Farm, who came up for the occasion.  We all had a great time visiting and swapping yarns about our horse adventures.  We went to buy one horse for me but came home with two.  Letha talked Barbara out of one of her favorite fillies, Dream Catcher Sierra Sun, a three year old chestnut already at 15 hands, and I finally made a choice and brought home her half-sister Dream Catcher Spirit Song, a five year old, 15 hand, liver chestnut mare.  I’ve not only never regretted it, but marvel each day at how beautiful, sweet, smart, and wonderful this horse is as we continue to grow and trust each other as a team.

The acquisition part of the conversion to Morganhood was over, but the benefits and learning just how great this breed is was just getting started.  Within a couple weeks of her return to Tucson, Spirit, on just her second ride since leaving the green hills of Quincy, experienced her first cattle round-up at the Double X Ranch near Letha’s place in Mescal.  We really had no idea how she would react and doubted she’d ever seen a cow let alone driven them.  She scored a lot of points not only with me that day but impressed a lot of the ranch hands as well, particularly when they learned she only had about 30 rides on her and had been lounging in a pasture the past two years since other than about 5 rides before I bought her.  She walked away from the quarter horses that day and was eager to go and explore on her own, or with the other horses, it made no difference to her; another quality I admired in her.  She thought cows were rather interesting but showed no fear of them; even a squabble between two bulls that busted down a fence and went running right by us didn’t ruffle her feathers.  The repeated freight trains going by about fifty yards away she didn’t care much for at first, but she took that in stride as well and just turned to look at them.

The very next weekend it was back to Anne’s place in Parks for an Arizona Morgan Club ride and I met more very friendly Morgan people and beautiful horses from around Arizona.  Spirit continued to impress me as we got to know each other better and started to become a team.  She also demonstrated that water-crossings, at least in the pond format, were not only not a challenge, but were play time; Barbara had sent us pictures of her sitting and rolling in their pasture pond before she came home with us.  We left that weekend with new friends for the long term and I became an official Morgan club member.  I was well on my way to becoming a disciple of the Morgan breed!

Three weeks later Letha and I were off to the mountains and pine country near Flagstaff once again with horses in tow on a camping/elk hunting trip.  Spirit’s first experience with a high-line went without a hitch other than in the rope; even a sudden and pretty violent hail storm was only a brief scare and she settled down and took that calmly too.

Dan and Dream Catcher Spirit Song on the cattle drive.

 

Letha, Tana, Spirit & Dan playing in the pond.

Spirit on the hunt with Dan and bow in tow.

Her first back-country experience with few trails in sight was a test she passed with flying colors and she began to learn neck reining as we picked our way calmly through heavy woods and rocky terrain.  The challenging terrain didn’t faze her as she grew to trust me, and she usually saw the elk before we did on our rides.

Within days of our return from that trip Letha and I were off on another adventure into another corner of the Morgan world, this time with friends of hers in the Western Working Family Morgan Club.  We flew to Caspar, Wyoming and were met at the airport by Tony and Meredith Sears and they took us home to their AFS Morgan farm 60 miles north of Caspar.  In the morning Tony introduced me to Hank, an antelope buck grazing about 50 yards outside the living room window as we were preparing to have breakfast.  Their 160 acre farm came equipped with about 160 antelope by my estimate in addition to their 18 Morgans.  Tony is the Wyoming equivalent of a “good ol’ boy” and a laugh a minute and his wife Meredith is his match and can tell a story that will leave you busting a gut from laughing.  They have some really nice horses as well and we packed up six of them including two of their sons’ and were off to Fort Robinson, Nebraska for the annual Western Working Morgan Club “Celebrate the Morgan” ride that same day.

I had always envisioned Nebraska as flat cornfields as far as the eye could see, but the rolling hills and tree studded buttes proved to be very beautiful country.  Fort Robinson was once one of the U.S. Cavalry’s main remount stations and at its peak had 11,000 horses and 8,000 mules on its premises.  It is also the scene of a lot of history, much of it still preserved in the state park it now is.  Many different breed clubs come here for rides and make use of the excellent horse facilities and great riding right from the main fort into the surrounding hills.  Several of the original cavalry stables are still in very good condition and utilized to house visitor’s horses when they come to ride.  Some of the officer’s quarters have also been preserved and make excellent bungalows for groups to not only stay in, but also to cook, eat, and socialize in together.  We met and made new friends with Morgan people from Wyoming, Colorado, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and even as far away as Massachusetts.   The riding was fantastic and the horses where awesome.  A lot of time was spent both on the trail and in camp sharing stories and pictures of everyone’s Morgans.  A particular treat was Marty Thiel of Blackheart Morgans from North Dakota in full cavalry trooper uniform complete with a authentic McCellan saddle, saber and the works on one of his gorgeous Blackheart Morgan mares Blackheart Magic.  David Ladd from the Boston area was amazed at the size and stature of the Western Working Morgans and said the opportunity to ride in the open plains of the west in this beautiful setting was the realization of one of his lifelong dreams; he rated it right up there with his horseback ride across Ireland as one of the two greatest experiences in his life!  Letha and I both agreed with Dave’s sentiments and vowed we’d be back next year.

A few weeks after our return from Wyoming and Nebraska, Spirit and I went back out to the high country again with my brother and a friend on a deer hunting trip.  Much of this routine was now familiar to Spirit and no big deal.  My brother has a very experienced mountain and back country quarter-horse mare that I had always considered very muscular and sturdy looking.  Sitting in camp one day watching them next to each other on high-lines, I was struck by how much more powerful Spirit looked than her and the reputation of great endurance on the part of the Morgan horse, as Spirit was already demonstrating to me, struck home.  On that trip, Spirit and I continued to grow as a team as she gained more trust in me and I in her.  On two occasions in challenging terrain that gave my brother’s more experienced mare pause, she and I took the lead and negotiated it smoothly; she just sort of turned and looked at me and I said “its okay girl, we can do this” and it was like she said, “Okay, I trust you” and she very calmly did it, no problem.

I am now a firm believer in the Morgan horse as a premier horse in the kind of rough country riding I do.  I am also learning of their versatility across the board and have personally experienced them driving in carts, and even recently an authentic stagecoach at Red Wolverton’s Ranch near Tucson.  I haven’t been to a show yet, but have seen many pictures from the Morgan Nationals in Oklahoma and other shows demonstrating their beauty and grace in the arena. 

 

Marty in full trooper uniform on Blackheart Magic.

Many of my friends are being impressed as they see my Morgan doing her thing so well, and the reputation of the performance of the breed grows a little more through first hand exposure.  What a thrill to be a part of that while experiencing the benefits of these fine horses.

Letha not only sold me on the virtues of the Morgan horse, but sold me on the virtues of her as well in the process.  We will be married on December 22nd at the Triangle T Ranch in Texas Canyon, Arizona in a western themed ceremony, and the Rancho LeDan Morgan Farm will be born!

Happy trails everyone!