In hand: The more things change

In the November/December issue of TMH there was a letter to the editor on the current status of the in-hand divisions. To give some context, the letter was actually received after the New England Regional in 2013, and is being reviewed by the Judging Standards Committee. The committee is seeking feedback from the Morgan community which is why this was published in the magazine.

The in-hand division is no stranger to controversy. Ironically I’ve recently been re-reading through my copy of Jeanne Mellin’s The Complete Morgan Horse. In her treatment of the ideal Stallion, Mare and Gelding she mentions the in-hand division specifically. While she’s honest with her analysis, I can sense that she’s treading lightly around what was, even then, a sensitive issue.

Fast forward to the current day. The reason for controversy may be slightly different, but it obviously still exists. I’m not sure I agree with everything that was in the letter, but it raises some good points and I appreciate that it’s not just a complaint but is well thought out with a proposed solution. The suggestion is that we have an in-hand class (either in addition to or to replace the current in-hand format) that is judged more like a Dressage class. The class would have specific criteria and the horse would be ranked on each category. Scores would be tallied to determine the winner rather than it being subjective. Like judges cards, these scores would be made available during and/or after the class. Arabians are already using a similar approach and you can read the class specs here and view a score card template here. It would be very easy to take this basic approach and slightly modify to fit our breed.

Now, I personally have a logical/mathematical bent and as such I love this idea! I’ve often wondered how classes would be pinned if we took the actual criteria for each class and ranked each horse on each category, then somehow calculated a score based on the priority of each category. Unfortunately most classes don’t allow time for this approach (although as entries drop I suppose it does become more feasible, hah). What does everyone else think about this approach? Are you dissatisfied with the current status of the in hand division? And if so, do you think this could be a solution?

(PS, Chris, I can hear you sighing with relief that someone officially brought this up!)

7 Responses to In hand: The more things change

  1. Rae, I knew someone had brought it up last year. I have already put in my 2 cents, and I hope we get some thoughts from professionals, judges and amateurs. Someone with USEF experience could give some illumination here.
    Just a thought: what if a base score followed a particular horse throughout a show season?

  2. empressive says:

    I believe that due to the limited In-Hand division that changes now would be a fantastic boon considering the change should be easy with fewer classes and horses.

    Personally I, being in college, find In-hand classes the easiest. Granted though classes on Thursday is a touch cumbersome. That being said I have greatly come to appreciate the ‘Keuring’ style of the European WB breeds.

    I believe that our own standard can easily be applied to a less stringent approach towards the European style that will help improve without being so strict that the class can be fun, informative, and benefit the ‘breeding’ in the breed.

    That said, Erin, the “dressage” approach is similar if not based on the keuring. Bonits provide the scoring number for each section and I believe with Morgan’s it would simply come down to way of going being the most arguable contingent to address. I’m sure we can all agree on conformation. Legs, shoulder angle, set of the rear, shortness of back, neck set, etc. That’s pretty simple.

    For us it will come down to ‘way of going’, but even this is easily summed up in the light of things. A park horse compared to a western horse already has some similarities. When I say a keuring would be a good way to improve the in-hand program I do so with the understanding that WB’s are bred striving for an overall similar type throughout the breed. We in the Morgan breed defer from such with our attempts of versatility.

    Our striving for a versatile horse has been a good and bad thing for us. You could essentially say that it is due to this strong diversity that Morgans have abandoned the In-hand ring. Specialization has created now distinct divisions and that is where we will have the hardest problem.

    We have to find a center and I believe a keuring style will give it to us. At the center of it all it comes down to the horse having MORGAN characteristics. We attempt to differ in enflaming the picture or watering it down, but I digress.

    I said previously that there is a certain conformation that we, regardless of discipline seek. It comes down to movement or way of going. The sum of our fears can be explained thusly, we appreciate the easy going movement of a western or hunter Morgan. It attempts to herald the Morgan working. We also appreciate the saddleseat Morgan and their ability to move. This attempts to herald the racing horse and town horse.

    Bear with me…

    We honestly are looking for a middle as a Morgan encapsulates each of these abilities in their versatility. If we are true to our standard we seek a horse with balance whose foot fall is ground covering in terms of reach without being overbearing. Due to a well angled shoulder it will have some knee action.

    I want to draw attention to the term knee action. We do not breed daisy cutters, or dressage specific we breed Morgans. We do not breed Saddlebreds either. So just like a keuring a horse should be shown barefoot or plated. Does this mean that some horses will not have more knee action than others? Should we penalize excessive action?

    I do not believe that penalizing excessive action is even needed. As anything in excess will be predisposed to conformation that bids such and the horse will already be penalized because conformation makes form and breaks it.

    The same though is the subject of western Morgans. Their movement is subject to their conformation. A short reach and no action will be faulted against them for the chain of conformation that will predispose them to such.

    Now those immediate fears aside we begin to see the checks and balances of a keuring. Our regular and current In-Hand classes seek to bring out the Morgan aspect of our horses, but I believe something a little stricter may be in order. Luckily it is sound, attractive, and well-practiced. Our Morgans will have to stop parking out and stand square, but I do believe that such will keep not only the In-hand division alive in the long term, but it will also help in the breeding of future Morgans. Otherwise we could just let the In-hand division entirely die off and continue breeding specialized horses directed at specific disciplines and classes.

    So I challenge anyone who reads this to un-bias their lenses and sit down and describe a Morgan. Not in what they wish it to be, but to describe it as it is against the backdrop of the general horse. It is a beautiful creature that we all love. It is a horse. What makes it different are specific items setting it a part from a WB, Arabian, Quarter Horse, etc. It is correct is terms of conformation. Clubbed feet, toeing in, sickle hocks, steep hip, short hip, long back, ewe neck, roman face, steep shoulder, etc will be counted against it at all times just as such counts against all other breeds. To make it that horse we dream about, we separate it from the other breeds by granting it a good shoulder, big eyes, arched neck, short back, level croup, etc. In movement a horse in general will have good conformation meaning its movement should be nice. To separate a Morgan from the rest we see a horse with level movement that stretches and has some action, front and back.

    Our Morgan keeps these attributes because it is Morgan; if it doesn’t have them then what is it?

  3. gixxer says:

    “understanding that WB’s are bred striving for an overall similar type throughout the breed. We in the Morgan breed defer from such with our attempts of versatility.”


    It is my deepest desire that everyone would understand this basic concept:

    CORRECT Morgan conformation lends itself naturally to versatility. The Morgan’s past claim to versatility did not come from our ability to breed a horse that was built like a thouroghbred to make a hunter, breed another built like a QH to make a reiner. The versatility came from the fact that a correct Morgan was built to do all those things. i.e. the same horse can both launch over a jump and get down in the front to cut cows.

    I’ve used this example to people before, but it’s quite apt – I have a now retired from the ring (he’s only mid-teens but I have others to pay for!)stallion. He was a quite successful park saddle and harness horse. He moves over level barefoot with a stride as long as any high level dressage horse. When he’d go out to jog in the corn field, when he’d spot rabbits he’d get down in front and “cut” the rabbits. He is a cowy park horse. He has an amazing park walk, and truly a proper park walk is the same thing as a passage – an upper level dressage movement. If when riding you apply a bit to much gas and brake at the same time, he’d offer the most beautiful lavade you’ve ever seen. He wasn’t taught these things, he’s BUILT LIKE A CORRECT MORGAN AND THEREFOR HAS THE NATURAL ABILITY. He’s a versatile Morgan because he’s built correctly.

    What versatility isn’t: there are Morgans that are good cow horses, Morgans that are good jumpers, Morgans that are good dressage horses.

    What versatility is: a single Morgan can do all those things well.

    Understanding this would go a long way to fixing our in hand problem (which is just the tip of the iceberg)

  4. empressive says:

    Gixxer, you have both missed and, yet proved my point.

    Morgans are versatile because of the way they are built, thank you for re-iterating me. I am saying that has been exploited. You grandly said yourself: What versatility isn’t: there are Morgans that are good cow horses, Morgans that are good jumpers, Morgans that are good dressage horses. What versatility is: a single Morgan can do all those things well.

    In-Hand does not include cows or jumps or letters. It is based solely on conformation and movement; ok a dash of disposition as well I guess I could use a disclaimer. For sure a horse’s ability to do is based on its conformation, but conformation classes are not to judge a horses versatility. They judge a beasts being and the essence of the horse. It’s a stamp of approval that the animal is made well. It does not subject the horse to display its holdings in disciplines that it may never enter. Otherwise we would be holding classes of 3-day eventing to ascertain a horses true versatile worth.

    So our In-hand classes should be filled if that’s the case? Why are they not? I am saying that we have extremes and those extremes alienate and have caused a reduction in In-Hand classes.

    Granted that is not the only cause. We could name age as in there are fewer people wishing to put out the exhaustive effort to run around an arena to show a Morgan? Or possibly the fact that Thursday is not the most opportune time for inhand classes; dangling in the middle of a person’s work week. Paying a trainer to show simply for In-Hand alone isn’t likely the best choice since horses are a beast of burden. We ride and drive them, both or one alone. It could also be the economy and that we enjoy riding or driving more than exercising in the show ring and displaying for the world our unique ability to smile through the sweat; unless of course you glisten.

    So if the above reasons are not the only ones that stop us from showing our Morgan’s In-Hand, if we isolate the problem with economic tactics I think we see an instilled fear to say the obvious. Throw all the Morgan’s we can think of into an In-Hand class and what do we actually have?

    Why can’t we do that? Which is why I said what I said, WB’s one type. Morgan’s… several. We are breeding for extremes. Does that mean that everyone is doing that? No not at all. I’m afraid though that we do get huddled into ideas that isolate and alienate our Morgans most capital characteristic. Now should we be afraid that western Morgans are becoming too western? Or Park horses are looking too fancy? Dressage Morgans looking too WB? Yes it is happening!

    Why else is there an enormous chunk of ice beneath the ice cap? Well I’m saying lets uproot the weed, that’s what it is. Ice is beautiful. We are talking about a weed and we need to get to the root of it.

    Regardless, we will continue to have horses at extremes because horses are a hobby. That is a fact. And like a fad comes and goes the horse economy will be strong sometimes and weak the next. We change to suit the future of the breed so that it will continue and strive, because as breeders that is our dream.

    The In-hand division has been an enjoyable part of showing Morgans for years. That is a fact. It’s time for change now though. We need a reason to display and care for that part of our breed; a reason to remember why we breed for versatility and not just specialization through exploitation. So we have two choices, no three. First we can leave In-Hand the way it is. Let it be that special class and hope someday that it comes back to life. Two we can stop it up and give our employers one more day of work, not to say that there are no other classes on Thursday. Three we make In-Hand something important with a driving sense for Morgans overall.

    I proposed a keuring style. Erin proposed a ‘dressage’ similar to what the Arabs are using approach. Chris gives us a score through the season. I’m sure there are tons of others out there and that the higher ups already have their own musings.

  5. RaeOfLight says:

    Chris, the idea of a score following a horse throughout a show season is an interesting one. What would you do with that score? How would you differentiate between horses that consistently earn high scores v horses that are mediocre but compete in a larger number of classes?

    Empressive, I think you and I are thinking of a similar thing. I was just using dressage as a point of reference many people would be familiar with as it uses scoring to determine winners. When you say “keuring” do you envision that being some sort of qualifier for registration? Or being recorded in a horses registration? The keuring I’m familiar with is not a competition, but a way to rate individuals and that score stays with them for life.

  6. empressive says:

    Yes, I am speaking of the same keuring. We would need to modify it for our own use much as the Arabs have begun coming up with a way for them.

    Horses would be registered the same as always, but the rating would be a unique way to show individuals. The points they receive from the rating would accumulate for their acceptance to Worlds?

    Depending on the number of individuals from each region there could be a cap. So 3 or 4 top pointed horses from each region are “invited” to Worlds and say their fee for the WC class or qualifier is waived or discounted. Individuals not invited could still be allowed, but must pay the premium for the class.

    Such would give credence to those who put in effort for the classes, to show, etc.

    Of course that is simply a general idea. It would not, in my opinion, be right to limit registry with legitimate approvals.

    On the case of What if? We could leave registry as is for all Morgan’s and open a Mare and Stud book. This book would be open to qualifying individuals only at a Regional Show where the horse competes and that one score is recorded. The score would never be changed again. While having a book is a neat idea it’s not necessarily a need for our breed. It’s much more relevant to other breeds where new blood is allowed in.

    In the case of breeding I think ratings and scores alone will be sufficient for an astute breeder without a stud book.

  7. My thought on a score that follows the horse is that once a horse is rated, that score can be used in performance classes as well. Say that one horse has a 18 out of 20 in-hand score and he shows against another horse in performance that has a 12 out of 20. Both horses score equally well in performance but the tie breaker is the higher in-hand score. Now, not every horse is going to get an in-hand score and they can just compete as a performance horse, knowing that they lose some points in comparison, so they will have to turn in an exceptional performance. This gives some of the less than perfect performance horses a venue, or you could simply have some classes where the in-hand score is not part of the total.
    How do you get an in-hand score? Probably the best means is at a regional, or there could be sanctioned class A shows where you can take your young stallion or mare and get a score. That score will become part of your horse’s record. If you want to possibly get a better score, you can show at a regional and see if you get better, but in any event you will not get a worse score. At the Grand National, you could have the ultimate in-hand class with some serious money for the highest placing(s). I could see the in-hand score giving breeders some serious bragging-rights, just as high keuring scores give to WBs now.
    As sort of a side-note, this might give the breeders of “traditional Morgans” a reason to show in-hand. We have heard complaints for years about how the Morgan is a Saddlebred,etc.etc. Fine. Show your high-percentage Morgan. Some of them are beautiful,typey Morgans. They should score high.

Leave a Reply