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It's Time to Clean Up Our Act - by Philip Morrison

This editorial appeared in the October l, l994 issue of the Morgan Connection -- written by Philip Morrison. He owned a place in Grants Pass, Oregon and bred lots of Sellman/Hill horses. He was a big contributer to the NW Morgan program. His farm name was Aranaway Farms.

When is a Morgan too much like a Morgan?" Why is he handicapped in the show ring for having too much bred character? These questions contain a common theme we hear these days around our show rings, and are often a frequent topic of conversation with Morgan owners, breeders and supporters of the breed when they have the opportunity to get together. Personally, I find these people are justified in their complaints.

There was a time when breeders and Morgan fans could use the so-called In Hand classes for a tool to aid them in their breeding programs. Breeding classes were designed for that very reason - to get a fair evaluation from a knowledgeable authority and use this information in a way to make proper selections and upgrade their horses. No more! There is no genetic strength in showmanship and none in movement created by artificial appliances - non what-so-ever! A knowledgeable person should be able to select top horses even if they were standing in an open corral. I am personally appalled with what I see being placed in the halter classes today! What has happened to the breed standards? It appears to me we are building a breed within the Morgan breed. Type and conformation are so important if we are to preserve the Morgan horse. These things have been a regular complaint for many years and it is rapidly getting worse! Some may say I am too old fashioned! Until the written standard is changed, I am sticking to my guns and will not try to produce "counterfeit" Saddlebreds! Trying to shift a breeding program to fit the fads that come and go, would cause a conscientious breeder to have nightmares!

I am not a newcomer to this Morgan world. I have been around the block a few times, having bred Morgans for over 40 years and I have been a licensed Morgan judge for 30 of those yeas. I do understand the mechanics of judging and sometimes the dilemma that a judge can face out there in the middle of the ring can shatter you. Sometimes you have classes in which you cannot find exactly what you want, and I understand that. But to see what is going on in the show ring today makes me and the rest of the Morgan people sick. I have participated in several shows this year and have been doing so for most of my life, and when I see no regard, during performance classes, for manners or Morgan type and conformation, I wonder where we are going! I feel English Pleasure classes are some of the worst, the most shameful classes of all! Even though we established the Classic classes to accommodate the horses with some semblance of manners, the regular Pleasure classes do call for manners too! The specifications do say horses shall perform at all three gaits, which includes a walk. Not even that rule is adhered to by many judges and it seems as long as the front legs are flailing away, it make no difference how the horse does it. Some judges still tie this horse in the ribbons and many times first. Overlooked or forgotten is the hallow body, low back, runoff croup, upside-down neck, long snout, dished feet, a common head and no balance or cadence. The judge's standard chant is, "Don't beat your show horse!" a direct quote from the l993 Judge's Seminar. These conformation faults are being overlooked even in In Hand classes as well as performance classes, just because a horse displays some action. Championship classes are sometimes a joke; 50/50 is not even acknowledged.

I have seen and listened to panelists at the judges seminars talk on type and conformation, on and on, and then turn right around and not even practice what they preach. I've heard and listened to trainers say, "Don't take THIS horse to this show, he's too typey". Can you imagine being discriminated against because you carry some of your forefather's looks? Where do some of our new judges come from? We do need them to fill the ranks, but they better burn some midnight oil and study the rules, and conformation and breeding characteristics before they hang up their judging shingle.

We are losing many fine exhibitors from the show ring because they cannot handle what is happening. What does one say to them when their horse looks like a true Morgan, has impeccable manners, nice gaits, but loses every time to a piston pumping, sewing machine gaited, laboring for breath horse in a Pleasure class? "Don't beat your show horse???" Even now, it seems this same attitude is beginning to find its way into the Classic classes. At the rate the Classic classes are going, we will soon have some amateur seriously injured, trying to over ride what should be a well mannered pleasure horse. Then there are those Amateur Pleasure Driving classes which are beginning to resemble our Road Horse classes. It is also interesting to note, the Dressage and Reining classes are growing every year because they are scored with an identifiable and fair system, while conversely, the In Hand classes are dwindling. With the cost, work and other preparations to turn out their potential show string, it is no wonder exhibitors say, "To Hell with this, let's go fishing" or something else. I am truly sincere when I say the judging at the l993 Nationals was absolutely outstanding! There are a lot of Morgan owners and breeders out there who may never have the opportunity or desire to show at the Nationals, but continually support local and regional shows and are strong supporters of our Morgan industry. We do owe them the opportunity to have their horses judged according to our published "Standard of Perfection".

I do not know who is in charge of complaints of this nature, whether it is AMHA, AHSA, or the Judging Standards Committee. The primary goal of this committee is to see that every exhibitor is entitled to have their horse judged against a specific criteria, such as the Standard of Perfection, published in almost all Morgan journals. So regardless of who the judge is, or wherever they come from, the committee is bound to see that judges are of the highest integrity, have competent and complete knowledge of what they are supposed to be judging and follow the rules! Some judges unfortunately fall into the trap of the "Good Old Boys Club". When complaints come in, they should be reviewed and seriously considered. Let's clean up our act! Fads fade, but bloodlines endure. Something has to be done about this very serious issue; or in a few short years, we will not be able to identify our wonderful breed as Morgans as specified in our Standard of Perfection. Shall we go to the green card system for judges used by the Arabian breed as an evaluation tool o judges? Every exhibitor at a show pays five dollars and is given a judging evaluation card. At the end of a show the exhibitor fills out the card on the judge, turns it in, and they are given back their five dollars. Collected and tabulated at the end of a show season (this has its pitfalls), the AMHA would have another tool to evaluate our judges performances. I am sure people can find fault with a system such as this, and I may raise a loud hue and cry over this suggestion. But what are our alternatives? The only place we can get back on track I believe is through the judges. Then the breeders would have no incentive to try to make these horses look like a cheap imitation of another breed!

A top ride at the National seems to open the gate for a potential judge to become known. Our candidate judge takes an open book test, learner judges at three shows, and then applies for their card, and if they have enough friends to sign for them ... they are on their way! Many of these inexperienced people are hired to serve as judges at some very prestigious shows right off the bat! I have had several beginners serve under me, and I am all in favor of this, but many of them are not ready or had enough experience to take on the responsibility to officiate at any show. With the judging as it is today, very little value can be placed on winning or losing! The Judging Standard Committee should insist those judging candidates, just beginning to some up the ladder, judge and practice at schooling shows, 4H and other ways to gain experience. I spent countless hours and many years working for my credentials. I was not a member of the "Good Old Boys Club," where back scratching seems quite prevalent these days.

I hope we can see a turn around for this serious problem; we need to restore the faith in our Morgan exhibitors and encourage those who have departed our ranks to return. Ours is a beautiful and noble breed and one should be proud of the fact our Morgans look like Morgan horses and no other!

submitted by Joyce Quigley

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