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The Thrill of the Ride

By Dr. Tom Morgan

I bought my first Tennessee Walking Horse by accident. I am a goal setter – even in college I wrote out short and long term goals. One that stuck was to purchase a horse when I got in practice. I had a patient and friend who owned the grocery store in a small town in northern Kentucky. He had several horses - two Saddlebred geldings and a Tennessee Walking Horse mare. I was invited on a ride with him and fell in love with the smooth ride provided by this mare. I begged him to sell her to me that day even though I had no place to keep her. He did, and I still think of many enjoyable days riding along those picturesque Ohio River trails in Warsaw, Ky. 
Next, there was a patient who took me to my first horse show to see their horse exhibit. As I walked around the show grounds, met their trainer and looked at all the beautiful stock, I could hardly contain myself. Later, sitting in the stands watching the classes, it came to me that I could ride in one of those classes. It would be several years before I went to my first Celebration and saw the greatest horse show on the planet, but I was hooked. Yes, it was my first show when I first saw a class of Tennessee Walking Horses strut around a little ring that a place in my heart filled up. 
I remember reading an article in the Walking Horse Report about the late Mr. Hamilton. He related that when he rode Ebony’s Princess it was like “a little bit of heaven”. It would be much later I could say the same thing about my ride.
I was eager to ride a show horse so the next week I went up to Union to see Mose Oppenheimer. During that 30-mile trip I kept saying to myself not to buy another horse. Mose sold me my first show horse that day! “Stroller Boy” was wind-foundered and breathed like a freight train after the first round. Mose did let me trade him in for a better mount. “White Music” was a solid white gelding by Midnight Sun. He had black eyes and I thought he was “real pretty”. I guess everyone wants a “white hoss” in the beginning. I tell people that “Music” is the reason Mary Ann went out with me. She was in college at Eastern Kentucky University. When I met her and asked if she ever came home on the weekends, she said “no”!  Then I told her I had a horse. She did consent to a date if she got to ride the horse. Later, I found out she had wanted a pony all her life. On that sunny fall day when she took “Music” around the ring, I think that secret place in her heart also filled up. We are still riding together after 46 years!  
In those days the trainer just threw you up there and off you went. I rode all slumped over like Mose and the faster I went in the running walk the bigger the thrill. Most of the time I ran my horse off his feet, and tied down, but I was having lots of fun!  I knew from my first lab in Chiropractic College how important correct posture was, but I thought that poor riding posture was part of the industry. 
It would be three more years before we went to our first Celebration. We rented the upstairs of someone’s home in Shelbyville and when they did not have the baby crib they promised, our infant daughter Amy (she has the “hoss gene” too), slept in the bottom draw of the dresser next to our bed. I remember sitting in the West grandstand hypnotized watching class after class while the greatest riders and horses in the world passed in front of me. Right away I picked out my favorite rider – Mr. Vic Thompson. He sat up so straight and never moved. His hands and arms were level and his chin slightly tilted up. He looked like the horse was riding him instead of him riding the horse. At the time I thought that was how an amateur could win the big stake. But I still slumped when I rode because that was the way Mose rode. No one ever said “sit up straight, Morgan” until I met Jimmy Carnathan in Tupelo, Miss. Later, I would go on to build a barn where he trained. Jimmy taught all of us (and our three kids) to ride and show. He tried to teach me to “feel” the square gait with my rear end. I never quite knew what he was saying. In fact, it took me twenty years of riding to really know what he was talking about. Jimmy was always fussing at me for going too fast. I wanted to be like Joe Webb and Carbon Copy and go around the ring 90 miles an hour like the barn was burning down! Two things Jimmy never let up on – sit up straight and never come out of the show ring unless you are excused. I had no trouble with the second thing, as I always thought my class went by too fast. But, I had all night after the show to re ride my class in my head and dreams. I still do that pretty much. 
I kept trying to improve my riding all along. Yes, I enjoyed watching our horses show and raising colts, but riding and showing has always been my thing. It was not until I came to Georgia that it finally came to me that I could sit still and feel the gaits - my saddle seat had finally arrived. I still kept studying and picking out my favorite riders all along and settled on Ed Breedlove – my hero. Ed never rushed (still my big mistake) his mount and he never moved in the saddle. He always seemed to know where he was in the ring and saved the best of his horse for the judge’s viewing until last. Jimmy used to say I showed my best behind the judge!  Even today I study good riders and what it takes to be a good showman. For twenty years I had to hear all our friends tell me I needed to get Amy to teach me how to ride. She had perfect balance, but mine came from years of practice and determination.
One thing I know God worked out for me was giving our family a world champion trainer and a World Champion mount for me to ride. We were one of the founding families of Life Chiropractic College in Marietta, and soon found ourselves hauling our stock to Georgia to work and live. I tell everyone who will listen how God gave us a world champion. This horse was born right outside our kitchen window on Morgan Hill Farm. We got to watch him grow and develop every step of his career. It would be awhile before Gary Edwards would let me climb up on his back because of his “454 motor”. But I was getting better with my “seat” and anxious to ride the next good show horse in their stable. I know these Edwards have had a lot of riders come through their program but I bet they never had one that got as excited to ride as I do. 
So, young riders – sit up straight. It not only helps develop healthy “disc” between each spinal vertebra, it looks so much better to the fans. Find a good riding coach – we have some good ones now – and don’t get discouraged. Remember rule number one: don’t let the judges determine your happiness. In the show ring, try to derive your fun and pleasure by grading your own ride. Most of all make as many horse friends and competitor friends as possible to better enjoy the great fellowship horse people offer us. Lastly, remember to exercise and stay in shape to ride, study other riders, set your goals and try and have as much fun riding as possible. See you at the horse show!

Editor's Note: It is our pleasure to share this essay written by Dr. Tom Morgan.

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