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Miss Margaret Gardiner, of Kennebec Morgan Farm
by Pam McDermott

Well, let us just start this banquet with a little dessert first, shall we? Margaret Gardiner’s parting words to me that day were, “Make your own mistakes, not someone else’s”, and “Follow the dictates of your heart”. Now, please sit down, get comfortable, and hear the story of one of our fellow Morgan enthusiasts. We will learn, and we may smile besides!

This conversation, between Miss Margaret Gardiner and myself, took place on July 29, 2008. Her story begins with what brought this all on, so to speak.

When Margaret was 12 she owned the Morgan mare, Carita. About the time of the Depression, times were tough and this mare, by Carlo by Sir Ethan Allen, hadn’t had her papers transferred. When Margaret’s parents bought her, Carita was two transfers behind and it was felt that registering her wasn’t necessary. It was 1929 and her previous owners had to sell her. This mare, Margaret stated, was sound, tireless and very good-natured. She was also a beautiful thing.

Before that, Margaret had been riding a Shetland pony at age 2, and a Standardbred at age 5. She took formal riding lessons from Clarence (Skipper) Bartlett, a WWI cavalryman. As a youngster, Margaret went to a boarding school in Virginia, Foxcroft, where she had hunt seat lessons on former racehorses. The school bought horses right off the track and instantly put students on them for the hunt field. Hair-raising to say the least, there were many wrecks.

From here, dear reader, I have chosen to write in the order that we conversed that day. It’s not in chronological order but you may find it as fascinating as I did. Come along on our journey.

Margaret taught Larry Poulin how to drive. Larry is very well known in world driving and dressage circles and has been for many years now. Margaret was driving at age 5 on the family farm. It is second nature to her as well as a great joy. Larry Poulin came to her farm to work after being in the military. His first interest was not horses. Even though his uncle, Mike Poulin, was a well-known dressage trainer and had been on the Olympic team, Larry was happier on a motorcycle. When he first drove a horse with Margaret he was inspired to learn more.

As time went on, Kennebec Count and Larry teamed up and off they went! Count and his son, Russel, competed in Combined Driving, pairs, and were National Champions in 1985, 1987, and 1988. They were on the U.S. Team in England in 1985, and in Germany in 1987. After he left Kennebec Farm, Larry moved from driving to Grand Prix dressage.

Three that went to Europe were Kennebec Russel, Kennebec Count, and a Medomak Cavalier son. Count, at age 22, competed and won in the Gladstone Challenge of Champions. That’s fine testament to Margaret’s goal of using Morgans of soundness, good nature, and usability!

I asked how the competitors in England and Germany like the Morgans. They are smaller than the warmbloods and have more presence generally. Margaret said the Germans loved them but won’t abandon their own horses because they can carry four hundred pounds, forty miles a day. They are good for pulling the four-in-hand carriages, which are quite heavy.

The English have their own Morgans and love them. They were quite friendly but didn’t say much about the American Morgans. They had started with show-type Morgans.

And now, we’ll go on. How did a western-bred mare come into the picture? In 1949, Margaret’s brother was marrying in Los Angeles, CA and she was going to their wedding. Afterward, Margaret zigzagged home leisurely as she visited as many Morgan ranches as she could. This was her chance to see those working Morgans out West.

One stop was at Roland G. Hill’s ranch, where she saw a wonderful source of Morgan mares. Mr. Hill didn’t put a lot of miles on his cowhorses until they were nine years old, having started them at five. That way they would live into their twenties and remain sound. He knew his life depended on his saddlehorse when he was up in the mountains.

He had two or three fillies for sale when Miss Gardiner visited. It was hard to get good mares at that time. The war had been hard on horse farms, with too many good horses going to sale without papers. Hill was a ruthless culler of his stock so what he had was only the best. They were reliably sound, typey, and with good dispositions. They had great feet and legs. Margaret looked at the fillies and chose a yearling filly. Helen May was a Sonfield daughter and Querido granddaughter. She was shipped back to Maine by express. That filly grew up and produced 10 foals for Miss Gardiner, Kennebec Count being the last one. The rest is history!

Another stop that was made on that once-in-a-lifetime trip was to the Rex Ranch, who raised Rex’s Major Monte and had the lovely old mare, Gontola. At the time, they were using two-year-old stallions in the breeding shed, to up production sooner. That was a novel idea to Margaret but she didn’t agree with it. They had nice horses. A third stop that stands out in her mind was the opportunity to meet J.C. Jackson in Montana. She regrets not seeing any more Morgans out West at the time.

Another regret, later on, was turning down a son of Red Flash. Red Flash was the remaining source of a sireline back to Bulrush. One no longer exists. He was a true Morgan and never used to his potential, but will be remembered. As breeders we have tough choices at times.

Looking back on Miss Gardiner’s goals as a breeder, we see Tipperary in the forefront. She said he was the local hero. He was beautiful and excelled in competitive rides. Try as she might, it wasn’t possible for her to get a daughter of his registered. C.C. Stillman, Registrar for the Morgan Club, tried to help. Such a loss of another great Morgan! When Miss Gardiner started out, there were only thirty-seven registered Morgans in the state of Maine. Four daughters of Tipperary lived but were unavailable to purchase and never had any progeny.

Bayfield was one of the early stallions at Kennebec Farm. He was from an old trotting mare. Hard to handle at stud, he was a remarkably kind stallion otherwise. Bayfield was bought from a mailman in a small town in Massachusetts.

As the story goes, when owned by the mailman, Bayfield was kept in a yard right by the house. When it snowed, the man’s son would be out with his toy shovel, playing in the snow. Once, Miss Gardiner witnessed Bay taking the shovel in his mouth and dangling it out of the boy’s reach. The youngster was beating Bay on the flank with his hands while the stallion was keeping the shovel high in the air. At Miss Gardiner’s, there was a time when a boy ran right into Bay while trying to regain control of his bicycle. He ran into Bay’s rump. It wasn’t a problem.

Due to his difficulty in being handled while breeding, Bayfield only produced two fillies and a colt for Miss Gardiner. It was a shame, as he was an awfully nice horse otherwise.

By then, Lippitt Ethan Don was leased. He was very easy to handle at stud and produced very well. There are three separate dam lines at Kennebec and one is to Lippitt Ethan Don.

When starting her farm, Margaret asked a fellow breeder to help her find a stallion. She was told of one and went to check him out. He was 13 hands! Too small! Margaret was told, “you don’t have to ride him”. Oh, no, but she did! Margaret Gardiner rides her Morgans. They are not pasture ornaments. And they must be able to carry a two hundred pound person, plus tack. They must prove that they have what it takes, in the soundness and disposition department. As Margaret said, “you ride a horse’s disposition all day long!” How can a person breed Morgans for usability if the parents are not useable?

So, that stallion was not acceptable. Margaret Gardiner’s recipe for good Morgans is to ride them. Don’t breed on ones that went unsound or couldn’t do it. Some of the best preservers of the breed have actively culled. Consider it.

Switching to another important subject, we speak of Dr. Jill Beech. She teaches at the University of PA. although she’s from England. She did the NAD research in the 1970’s that is still being talked about in hushed circles today. It is a neurological demonstration of Wobbles, often seen in horses’ poor coordination or in bunny-hopping gait while cantering. Dr. Beech likes the Morgan breed but is fed up with some of the breeders. At the U. of PA, she has a lawn of feral ponies, in order to learn about equines in their natural state.

When the Neuro-axonal Dystrophy research was being done, they had trouble finding normal stallions; only three breeders contributed normal stallions’ services. That was necessary to have these for the research, which included several hundred Morgans. Ruth Harvie was the brain behind this extensive undertaking. Margaret Gardiner was active in the project. Many breeders were annoyed by it; lose money, hush-hush!

It was the first full-scale equine research (neurological) in the twentieth century. NAD can be influenced by inbreeding, Vitamin E and Selenium deficiencies, and a lack of exercise. A person can breed away from the tendency to have NAD. An interesting note was that there was no NAD in Morgans out West back then. Ranchers culled any that showed any signs of neurological problems.

Some of the higher-ups in the AMHA had cat-fits over the study done by Dr. Beech. Their priority was to win at all costs. One owner in particular had started out with Standardbred harness horses but always seemed to end up with a trotter and a pacer in his hitched team. He bought five Kennebec Morgans to remedy that and fell in love with the breed. They trotted, stayed sound, and had great dispositions all day long. The man’s so-called friends said they were ponies and got him to sell them. His priority was to follow the fashion dictates perhaps?

Another stallion Kennebec Farm used was Medomak Cavalier. He was used for many different things during his life. He twitched logs up to sawmills. He pulled buggies in weddings. His owners didn’t have much money so he wasn’t ever part of a breeding farm. Miss Gardiner raised five offspring by him and would have liked to have had more. She felt that he was of the highest quality.

When asked some specifics on what bloodlines she liked, this woman who has ridden and used horses much of her life, answered concisely. She bred experimentally at times, but always to stallions that were sound and good-natured. You breed on the best of the offspring, discarding the worst. To learn more specifics, I highly recommend the reader find a copy of Margaret Gardiner’s own publication, Horses For Actually Riding On. It’s a treasure!

Margaret had an Archie O daughter. I asked her about Archie O. Her opinion was that he was basically a good horse. He was low-headed in a time when people wanted high-headed horses. A low-headed animal can’t be set high in harness. Archie O had big feet and lots of bone, which is good. She didn’t feel that his head was the best. She loved her Archie O daughter. After not being ridden for five years, the mare was saddled up and mounted. The saddle slipped, the rider wasn’t all the way up and came down with her foot suspended from the stirrup, slipping into a wayside ditch. The mare stood. What a grand recommendation for her!

Another stallion used by Kennebec was Corisor of Upwey. Margaret describes him as a cute, little, red, good-natured horse, with a kindly disposition. It was hard to find any stallions at the time of her using him or she should have looked further, she notes.

A breeding program that Margaret admired was that of Frances Bryant’s Serenity farm. She felt that she was a very nice person, besides having a good program. Frances Bryant had Jubilee King at the end of his life. He was in Kennebec Count’s bloodlines. Margaret knew him well. She describes him as very tall for a Morgan, with high withers, short back and croup. He had wonderful feet and legs and a wonderful disposition. His gaits were uncomfortable and his hindquarters weren’t well developed, but that could have been nutrition-based rather than genetic. He had lived a varied life by the time he came to Serenity Farm.

Miss Gardiner’s interest in the Lippitts runs very deep. They are a pure line of Morgans that go back directly to Justin Morgan. She does have a caution though that too much concentrating of this blood can bring about some negatives. She is inclined to have a Lippitt/govt. cross to make her ideal Morgan. This cross produced her dear Kennebec Count, the wonderful stallion who rode, drove, was shown dressage, a trail mount, plus was a mount for severely-challenged youngsters. He became the winningest combined driving horse of his time. A good cross indeed! But also a fine example of a good cross; a great individual!

If a person wants to learn about the Morgan, the book, The Singing Master’s Horse is Margaret’s recommendation. It is most authentic, with the most valid research.

When Margaret was asked what potential crosses interested her, she came up with two. One is the stallion, Kell’s In Kirby’s Honor. This stallion is a paternal grandson of Kennebec Count and carries the blood of the good mare,
Nicolette. That mare represents a new line for Margaret and is backed by wonderful using Morgans, like Stone’s
Checkmate, Captain Red, Chief Justin Morgan, and Ketchum. Kell’s In Kirby’s Honor is owned by Dr. Susan Avery but is leased to a breeder in Montana until Susan is home from the military.

Another stallion is Farceur Falcon Morgan, owned by Mary and Marjorie Hazelwood. He is presently being leased to Bob and Jan Painter, of Triple S Morgans, with whom Margaret has done business in the past. Falcon carries the valuable blood of King’s River Morgan, who was a good example of soundness and wonderful disposition in a using Morgan; just Margaret’s type.

In recent years, Kennebec Farm has added a new stallion, Triple S Dark Eagle. He fits in perfectly, being a good-natured, hard-working, using Morgan who crosses well with the Kennebec mares. Dark Eagle carries an abundance of Red Correll in his background. When speaking of Red Correll, Margaret has only good things to say. Descendants are very hardy, she says, plus tough, enduring and have their own minds. They are not pets but partners, business associates.
Crossed with Count descendants, some Dark Eagle get have even been show-offs. Count was never a show-off so this is something new.

Dark Eagle, himself having a strong work ethic, seems to consider it a reward to be able to work cattle. Team penning is fun on him, although he shines at other types of riding as well.

Miss Gardiner feels strongly that it is important to save the Red Corral lines. Resolute Correll and Majestic Correll were two of her favorite sons of Red Correll, but have very few offspring carrying the torch. The sireline to Red Correll is almost lost.

When asked if there was a Morgan to stay away from, Miss Gardiner said it was Hudson, an Admiral Denmark descendant. She said he was inclined to produce tiny feet. It wasn’t a fair question to be asked but it was answered well. We all have our favorites and don’t want to take away from anyone else their favorites. In desiring to preserve the Morgan breed, this is still true. From the beginning, Margaret chose to stay away from fads and Morgans carrying contemporary outcrosses to other breeds. She chose Morgans of good nature, kindliness, soundness and usability, and Morgan type. That continues to be her intent. It has served the breed well.

Author’s note; Again, as one privileged to interview Miss Gardiner, I would highly recommend getting her book to read and learn from; Horses For Actually Riding On. Losing Less Money Raising Horses is another of her books that holds gems for the breeder. They both display the essence of her wisdom.

The End

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