‘There’s Something About Morgans’: A Mare & Foal Photo Essay by Tracey Buyce
Tracey Buyce embarked on a photo shoot this spring for The Morgan Horse publication and visited four breeding farms on the East Coast: she shares her experience and her images.
All images by Tracey Buyce.
The premise of this shoot was a collaboration with The Morgan Horse publication that included four Morgan horse breeding farms on the East Coast, specifically to highlight the foals and their dams. I’m grateful to The Morgan Horse for providing access to these farms for me — this was an incredible opportunity to spend some really special moments on these farms.
Tap or click each image to open a full-size version.
Each farm was very professional in keeping me safe as a photographer: I shot some of these images with a telephoto lens. I was right there in the pastures with these mothers and babies. I also shot with a 35 mm lens, which allowed me to truly interact with the horses and capture their personality and feeling- up close and personal!
Photographing these foals was unique: safety is really key, for both myself and for the horses. A big part of it is the energy you bring in as a photographer; the foals will feed off of that and react accordingly. It was important for me to remember that even though they were all leggy and cute the foals, and their mothers, were still horses, and could bite and kick and move very quickly. Generally though, the moms seemed to love it — they saw me as a babysitter to entertain their babies for a day! I found if I was very patient, the foals would eventually come right up to me. I sat still and just let the interactions happen.
The Morgan breed personality is very evident even in the foals: they’re naturally outgoing and inquisitive. The Morgan breed has been described as “people pleasers” — they want to be with people, they’re interested in what we’re doing. There’s just something about Morgans — they have such a personality.
My own horse Moose is a Morgan — the breed found me; I didn’t necessarily seek out a Morgan horse but I fell in love with Moose and everything about him. Moose has such a personality to him; he has no ambition to do anything wild and crazy in his life — he was made to be a western horse. He’s such a great match for me and I can’t imagine loving any other breed.
You can view more of Tracey Buyce’s equine and equestrian photography and purchase prints by visiting her website. Follow Tracey on social media by visiting her Facebook and Instagram: @tracey_buyce_horses and @tracey_buyce_photography.
The myth that surrounds the Morab most often is their status as a breed. A lot of people misunderstand and consider a Morab a part-bred while others have termed them half-breeds. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Morabs (the get of an Arabian/Morgan breeding) are not half-Morgans or half-Arabian horses. They are Morabs, a breed. The fact that Morabs have the proven ability to transmit their distinguishing characteristics with a high degree of certainty to their progeny puts this misnomer to rest. Only foundation stock or first generation Morabs possess both Morab registration and 1/2 Arab or 1/2 Morgan registries. Thus making them a triple registered animal. Succeeding generations are then bred Morab to Morab to ensure the growth of the breed.
But where did the Morab breed begin? There was a concern with the lack of documentation of the beginnings of the Morab breed as there was very limited material on the history of the Morab previous to the last 20 years. At that time I volunteered to take on the task of investigating and documenting the history of the Morab breed.
For five years I worked on this project. Being a history buff, it has been a very interesting and rewarding project for me. My research has revealed that Morab bloodlines were used as the cornerstone for the building of other American breeds. I started in the annals of our public library searching through horse books tracing the history of the Morgans, Arabians and their registries as well as the history of the horse industry in this country from colonial times. Every time I found another reference to the Morab, it was exciting.
In my research I obtained a copy of the History of the Arabian Horse Registry written in the early 1900's. In reading the manuscript, I found a provision had been made for the get of the Arabian/Morgan crosses in the original registry. This was discontinued with the formation of the International Arabian Horse Association in the 1940's. Unfortunately, when I contacted the Arabian Horse Trust to obtain a copy of the horses registered in this division, I was disappointed to find that when the Arabian Registry changed its procedures and registered only purebreds, the earlier records I was seeking are now nowhere to be found. I was disappointed not to be able to obtain the material but I was elated to know Morgan/Arabian crosses were part of the first Arabian Registry.
My next milestone was the discovery of a book published and written in 1857 by Mr. D. C. Lindsley, the early Morgan historian. His book, an essay on Morgan Horses, discussed the needs of this country, as far as horse flesh was concerned. It was fascinating to learn how the horse industry was viewed over 120 years ago. According to Lindsley, in New England a person was rarely seen on horseback, preferring rather to drive. This was becoming the trend in the South as well, and with it the age of the light buggy was dawning. The buggy was fast becoming the favorite means of conveyance because of the many conveniences they offered. Protection from the elements, the facility for carrying light packages and personal baggage were some of the conveniences. These points, combined with a light carriage upon good roads, allowed a single horse to perform the work of two horses under saddle, making this mode of transportation very popular.
A major part of Mr. Lindsley's essay was concerned with perpetuating and improving the Morgan breed, using his essay as a forum to make recommendations. In his text he stated, "If the breed is to be perpetuated, it is evident it can never be by the use of Morgan stallions alone but combined with careful selection of the dams. He continued by stating where mares of Morgan blood cannot be obtained, mares possessing a strain of racing or Arabian blood may be considered. Lindsley specifically recommended 1/8 to 1/4 Arabian blood as suitable. This was my second documentation of the use of Morab bloodlines. It was an exciting revelation.
The discovery of the Lindsley's essay led me to the first volume of the Morgan Horse Registry written by Colonel Joseph Battell. Battell continued on the work started by Lindsley, but went one step further by taking on the task of documenting the Morgan breed and publishing the first Morgan Stud book which also contained a fairly complete history of the Morgan breed.
Battell's material turned out to give me some of the most exciting and best documentation of the existence of the Morab breed in the 1800's. In reading his Volume, I discovered an entire chapter devoted to a stallion named Golddust, a horse of great merit, whose bloodlines reveal he was a Morab registered as #69 in the Morgan registry. Golddust was foaled in 1855, (bred by Andrew Hoke near Louisville, Kentucky) and sold when a weanling for $100 to L. L. Dorsey, Eden Stock Farm. His sire was Vermont Morgan, his dam was the Hoke mare. She was said to be by Zilcaadi, a chestnut Arabian horse, presented by the Sultan to Mr. Rhind, United States consul and imported by him.
Golddust became an important sire of the time and was retained by Mr. Dorsey for his career. He is described as being pure gold in color, off hind ankle white, sixteen hands high and weighed 1 275 pounds. It should be noted that he was never defeated in the show ring at the trot or at the flat-footed walk. It is said at a flat walk he could cover six miles in an hour. No stallion of his day produced larger, handsomer, showy horses, or more winners in the show rings and trotting races of the era. His get were exhibited at all the prominent expositions and fairs with Goldsheen (his grandson) winning his classes at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904.
For trotting speed, Golddust himself, was the peer of anything bred before in Kentucky. Racing in 1861, Golddust defeated Iron Duke in a match race, best three out of five heats, for a purse of $10,000. Beside being an animal of great beauty and refinement, he was noted for endowing his offspring with extreme speed. Although his stud career was curtailed by the Civil War and his own untimely death, he sired 302 foals and left 44 trotters of record. In getting speed, he outranks even the great Hambletonian. In addition to their speed and racing quality, his get also illustrated the style and beauty of their Morgan and Arab lineage.
TIME MOVES ON:
With the advent of the carriage horse, the country became very involved with speed. In my research I came to realize that horses at this time were not sold by pedigree but rather by their racing time. It seems time horses were not only raced on the tracks but in friendly matches on the country roads. It must have been a fascinating time in the history of our country. However, in the search for sheer racing speed, the Morgan blood, and unfortunately, that of the Morab disappeared into the new breed of Standardbreds. Couple this with the advent of the horseless carriage and in a very short period of time the entire horse industry in this country changed dramatically.
For these reasons, my continuing research found very little until the 1920's. It was at this time that the famed William Randolph Hearst had a short-lived, but important Morgan breeding program and a program of breeding Morabs. Mr. Hearst is credited with having coined the word "Morab. " I discovered that some of Hearst's Morabs were registered as Morgans, with the "Piedmont" prefix, under the now extinct Rule 2 of the Morgan Horse Registry. Under Rule 2, horses would be -accepted if one of the parents was not a purebred provided that the parent met certain specifications. This was discontinued in 1948 when the Morgan Registry closed to outside blood. My research revealed that Hearst bred Morabs by crossing his Arabian stallions, Ksar and Ghazi, to Morgan mares. He found the produce were excellent for work on his San Simeon Ranch in California.
My investigation revealed another Morab breeding program of interest that was run by the Swenson Brothers near Stamford, Texas. The purchase of Morgan stud colts #6775 Red Bird and #5979 Gotch (sons of the Admiral), along with a band of broodmares marked the beginning of the SMS spread. Eventually, Arabian blood was added to the stock and fine cutting horses evolved from the cross. One example was a bay gelding, Rey Boy (#15,810), foaled at SMS in 1943 and owned by "Wild Bill" Elliott of Hollywood fame. Rey's sire was the Quarter horse Billy by King (P-234). His dam was a Morab sired by Niwad (Arabian) out of the daughter of an SMS Morgan stallion.
The last chapter and a very significant one in my research centers around Martha Doyle Fuller of Clovis, California and her daughter. In the 1950's, in her attempt to breed a horse that could successfully compete on the open show circuit, Mrs. Fuller developed a Morab breeding program. The Morab was not the only breed she experimented with, however, the Morab was the only one in her opinion to fill the bill. It was from her successful breeding program that her daughter, M. Ilene Miller, started the first Morab registry in 1973.
It was because of Mrs. Miller's endeavor that the last 20 years have brought a reemergence and a new appreciation of the Morab breed for its own fine qualities. The Morab breed owes its current success to Mrs. Miller's dedication and belief in the breed. To many, she was known as Mrs. Morab. Having corresponded and spoken with her over a period of time, I will say her nickname was a well-deserved one. It was under her direction that two regional Morab Clubs were formed and her registry personally supported the breed at numerous horse fairs. I am sorry to say Mrs. Miller passed away in 1980 and with her passing the first registry seemed to fade away.
My project of researching the Morab breed is still ongoing as I never know when I will uncover yet another antique book or a magazine with a historical article to enable me to expand my research file. Yet I am even more excited about the history yet to be written by the Morabs of today. I look forward to a well-deserved bright future and recognition for the Morab breed, a breed that through the span of the last century and a half has done a great deal to either improve or help other breeds grow.