Morgan Horses In-Hand

Does anyone remember the editorial written by Steve Kinney in The Connection asking what has happened to the In-Hand division? It was probably a couple of years ago, but I still think about it. There used to be several entries in the In-Hand classes at our shows, especially the All-Morgan shows. Today, there are often fewer than three entries in any one class, and frequently, In-Hand classes have no entries. There are probably lots of reasons that contribute to the dwindling entries in the In-Hand division, but for me, I think that the main reason is the “specialization” of our show horses. The breed is certainly versatile, but in the show ring, individuals are not. In the 60’s and 70’s one horse could be an In-hand champion, an English Pleasure champion, and a Western Pleasure champion. Sometimes, all at the same show. Today, our show horses are specialists in one division and frequently only show in two classes per show, a qualifying class and the championship. The reason given for this is that we want our horses to be fresh and brilliant. Certainly, the brilliant horse stands out in a class and is more likely to win. And because everyone wants to be a winner, we are saving our horses for the performance classes rather than participating in the In-Hand classes. Furthermore, it seems to me that the In-Hand classes have become a kind of performance class where the performance is modeling, something that is prohibited (see the 2008 USEF Rule Book, MO104.7

My next questions are: What will this do to our breed? What is it doing to our shows? If you have thoughts on these subjects, please feel free to share.

8 Responses to Morgan Horses In-Hand

  1. NancySavage says:

    I don’t know the article you are referring to, but I have been showing horses, Morgan’s mostly for the last 40 years. The way the shows are put on and judged are not user friendly any more and the Morgan owner have quit showing in the halter classes. I quit years ago.
    Our Morgan Club in Northern California put on a Class ‘A’ Morgan Show a few years ago and had it judged buy the rules, stand square, walk out on the lead, trot quite. We had over 30 Morgan’s in each halter class. After all it is a halter class not a performance class

  2. Bill Broe says:

    I show my stallion Rosevale Leggo in open competition breed shows. In the USDF classes weanling through adult there are specifications and directive ideas that you are judged and scored on. The judges give each horse time to look at the confirmation,and the movement and even the general impression. At the end of each class you recieve a score sheet with comments based on each specification. Then you know where you stand as an individual and in the group. In the Morgan classes they give you no time for evaluation of anything and you get no feed back other than you win or you don’t. That is why I don’t show in Morgan in-hand classes any more. If you don’t have a park horse they don’t want to see you.

    Bill Broe

  3. Black Eye Beth says:

    I love the idea of getting actual feedback from the judge. Sometimes it is nice to get an outside opinion of what needs improvement. I am sure, though, that this would be extremely difficult, at least in the Morgan shows. Sessions can go on for so long; the judge having to actually take time make comments would probably really tick people off.

  4. Bill Broe says:

    It wouldn’t be difficult if they offered a sport horse class that was judged like a sport horse class should be judged by real sport horse judges. The classes at the Morgan shows I have attended were judged by what I call long footed judges. A sport horse, hunter not Morgan hunter and dressage can’t be judged by these types of judges. They don’t know what they are looking for because it is not what they train for. All Morgans don’t have to have their knees up around their ears. There are correct Morgans that show in the open world and do very well but sadly are not recognized by the Morgan show people.
    It takes no additional time to fill out a score sheet if they no what they doing. They have a scribe and the scribe fills out the sheet based on what the judge tells them.

  5. Black Eye Beth says:

    I can see your point. Do you feel that the in-hand classes that are specific for the sport horse and western horses at the morgan shows, are not judged correctly? And is it possible get judges at the morgan shows that will agree to come if they are only judging a few classes?

  6. Bill Broe says:

    Yes I do feel that sport horse classes aren’t judged corectly at Morgan shows. In comparison to the USDF specifications and directive ideas, at Morgan shows there is no sport horse defenition or criteria on how it is judged that I know of. Yes there are judges out there with credentials that do just that.

  7. Black Eye Beth says:

    Why do you think those judges aren’t hired? Is it too expensive for the shows or just inconvenient?

  8. Mocha Mom says:

    I would like to respond to both Bill and Beth here. I have just spent sometime on the USEF website ( looking at the Morgan Division rules. MO102 describes the ideal Morgan conformation and references the Morgan Judging Standards (which are available from AMHA.) MO102.6 lists classes that are judged without consideration for type and conformation, which includes Sport Horse Suitability. MO179.13 defines the Sport Horse Suitability class as follows:
    a. To be judged on proper movement, conformation and manners, based upon the horse’s suitability to be a Sport horse. Gaits to be evaluated in terms of purity, quality and correctness. Purity and correctness are more important than brilliance. Correct gaits (which contribute to ease of training and equine soundness and usability) are more important than gaits which are merely superficially flashy. Horses to be shown on the line with one handler and one whip permitted (GR803). Classes may be conducted on the triangle or on the rail at the walk and trot.
    b. Horses to stand square or in the open position (DR209.1-2). Classes shown on the triangle will be conducted according to DR209.1, Dressage Division.
    c. A horse shall be disqualified for unsoundness, defined as showing evidence of lameness or broken wind. Horses under the age of two may be shown in halters.
    Horses two and older must be shown in a snaffle-type bit and bridle with a headstall and throatlatch. Bandages are forbidden. Braiding is optional. These classes are considered performance classes on the line and must be judged by a Federation judge licensed in the Morgan, Dressage, Driving, or Hunter divisions. The prize list must specify how the class will be conducted.”

    So there is a definition available with the key point being that it is a PERFORMANCE class rather than a conformation class and purity and correctness of gait are important factors. Any judge who is a good horseman (and many, although not all, Morgan judges are good horsemen) knows what purity and correctness of gait are. It is up to the show committees to select competent judges. Unfortunately, the best judges aren’t always available. The show committee should also provide the judges with specific class criteria on the judges’ card as a reminder. (Can you imagine trying to remember the entire Morgan Division rules with the various cross-references and different emphasis in each class? In some classes manners take priority over way of going and vice versa. Is sport horse suitability an in-hand class or a performance class?)

    When it comes to the Specialty Horse In-Hand classes I find MO113 somewhat contradictory and confusing. 113.1 states, “If SPECIALITY IN-HAND classes are offered for horses in specific disciplines or specific classes, or suitable to become classes, horses are judged against the criteria stated in MO102.” 113.4 states, “If SPECIALTY IN-HAND classes are held, they do not qualify for In-Hand Championships and are held according to local specifications.” So which is it? Are they local classes for which the show committee determines the class specs, or are the Specialty In-Hand classes to be judged according to the Morgan Judging Standards?

    So I guess what I’m saying is that a lot of this is up to the show committees. I have been on a show committee and the most important fact of life on a show committee is that you can’t please everyone. So you try to please enough people to keep you in business. In my experience, it is the “high-stepping” horse owners and trainers who show up in large enough numbers to keep shows in business. It’s not that the judges won’t come, it’s that the sport horse classes such as dressage, hunter over fences and carriage driving classes at Morgan shows are rarely filled enough to cover the expenses of qualified judges for each discipline. So the committees use Morgan judges who rely on their knowledge of the USEF Morgan Division rules and Morgan Judging Standards to guide them. Now, as to which came first, the lack of entries or the lack of success by those entries I can’t really say. But if the sport horse disciplines want to be recognized at Morgan shows, they need to show up. If enough show up for a couple of years, the show committees WILL start hiring judges experienced in those disciplines.

    On the other hand, if the Morgan Division rules don’t fit your lifestyle, you will go to the shows that are judged according to the criteria that you feel are most important, and that may include specific feedback on your horse or performance.

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