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AMHA Convention - A Challenging Road Ahead

by Diana Davidson

BOSTON, Mass. - Each winter a diverse segment of the membership of the American Morgan Horse Association gather at the annual convention. The 2004 edition featured many important topics of discussion at meetings and forums as well as in hallways, around tables, behind closed doors, and on the Internet. This Association has a proud and storied history, and many believe its future will be filled with more impressive feats on behalf of America's first breed. For many of the people at this convention, and hopefully far more who were not in attendance, it is our duty to protect and defend the Morgan Horse.

Yes, there are challenges that the Association faces, but together we are strong enough to handle the challenges and persevere. The results of the 2004 AMHA Board of Directors election show that our membership is a microcosm of our society. When only approximately 20 percent vote, we are seeing a case of apathy. This indifference and the results of the election are not a sign of disapproval. However, if we as members of this Association want to have a say in the breed and its future, we must do something, not just talk about it. We need to put our egos aside and focus on the Morgan breed.

The AMHA Board Members were first to tackle the business at hand with their full schedule of meetings, which were open to all beginning Monday, and continuing throughout the week. Convention attendees started to arrive in earnest Wednesday and first got together for the Welcome Reception that evening. The eagerly awaited barn tours were the focus of Thursday's activities for approximately 200 people who boarded the buses to travel north and east. One tour featured Chrislar Farm, RAND and Rum Brook Farm, while the other traveled to Hobby Knoll Farm and Stonegate Farm. It was a day to enjoy the focus of all of our efforts, The Morgan Horse.


The Stanbro room was the site of Thursday evening's festivities. Convention attendees gathered for the ninth American Morgan Horse Institute Gala Auction & Cocktail Party. Ellen DiBella served as auction chairman while AMHI President Mark Staehnke was on hand to welcome bidders and take a bow. John Coppley, John Green and Art Perry were on hand to spot the many bids in the well-filled room while phone bids were also being fielded. This was the first year that the items were also available for bidding on the Internet. Ace announcer Bill Carrington worked the crowd for their bids on 35 fabulous auction items. It was another memorable night for AMHI along with the many successful bidders and generous donors as over $36,000 was raised for the many programs funded by AMHI.

A $3,100 bid from Hayes and Bonnie Sogoloff topped the night. They put the pressure on daughter Keely for it to be a wedding getaway as they purchased a marvelous five-night vacation in La Jolla, Calif., at an oceanside property donated by the Yum Kee Fu family. Mark Staehnke dug deep in his pocket to come up with the second highest bid of the night. For $2,500, Staehnke and 50 friends will enjoy a Grand National party planned by party mavens Ellen DiBella and Meredith Sloan.

Perhaps it was a trip to Boston in February that did it. Trips to warm locations were the big sellers of the evening. It was Kathie Horman who offered a bid of $2,500 for a week in the sunshine in the Fountain Hills, Ariz., home of Dr. and Mrs. Herb Sloan overlooking the first fairway at the Desert Canyon Golf Club. Among their many winning bids on the week, Jean and Bob Morgan purchased for $2,000 a lovely suite and dinner for two at the Compton Place Hotel in San Francisco donated by the Yum Kee Fu family. The evening also featured happy winning bidders on advertising space, artwork, equipment, vacations, jewelry and other rare finds.

The AMHI works hand in hand with the AMHA to promote the Morgan breed through its fund-raising activities. Beside the Grand National and World Championship Morgan Horse Show, this auction is AMHI's primary fund-raiser for the year. The funds raised by AMHI over the last several years have sponsored activities including; youth programs, educational materials, judging seminars, improvements and maintenance of the headquarters and grounds in Shelburne, and the retirement of the Morgan Horse Complex mortgage.


The schedule for Friday and Saturday featured many choices for convention attendees. There were a myriad of topics of interest presented depending on your focus and viewpoint within the Morgan breed and industry. While moving from meeting to meeting attendees visited with the many commercial exhibitors in the Morgan Marketplace located in the Georgian room.

Friday's meeting schedule included a daylong meeting of the AMHI Trustees under the leadership of President Mark Staehnke. The AMHI welcomed four new trustees, for three-year terms: Jack Gatewood, Gaeton Lorino, Robert Morgan and Robin Rednor Veghte. They join the other officers and trustees: Mark Staehnke - president, Ellen DiBella - vice-president, Richard Hawkins - treasurer, Ann Taylor - secretary, and the following trustees: Fred Dills, Susan Fu, Elaine Galatz, John Green, Kim Hildreth, Kathie Horman, Darwin Olson, Art Perry, Sally Plumley, Fran Pugh, Barbara Rudicel, Mona Skager, Meredith Cox Sloan and Jim Stewart. AMHI Trustees Emeritus are: Dane Bettes, Muffin duPont, Al Lucine, Barrie Savage and Polly Quinn.

The youth of the AMHA were also involved with a full schedule of events of their own under the direction of AMHAY President Sarah Miner. Other committee meetings/forums included; AMHA Youth Steering, AMHA Breeders, AMHA Disciplines, AMHA Memberships/Clubs, AMHA Media Steering, AMHA Regional Shows, AMHA Owner/Amateur, USEF Morgan Rules, AMHA Judging Standards and AMHA Half-Morgan.

The seminars offered were very informative and wide-ranging. Breed type, which is always a popular topic of conversation, was discussed in a two part series with Bob Brooks. Ben Qua updated his fascinating discussion of the Waseca Farm breeding program and its influence with some wonderful stories and pictures.

One of the main topics once again was marketing. The topics included; Morgans In Today's Marketplace presented by Ivan Beattie, How To Market Your Horse with Chris Cassenti and Financial Planning with George Fayad. The lesson program is one area that is an often under-appreciated avenue for marketing as Chris Cassenti, Melissa Morrell and Mary Neidlinger discussed in a seminar on developing a successful lesson program.

The excitement is building for the increased Morgan presence at the Kentucky Horse Park (KHP). Ed Creighton presented a discussion and slide show titled On The Road To The Kentucky Horse Park with insight from KHP board member Bob Morgan. KHP is a wonderful destination and everyone was invited to attend the Morgan opening ceremony being held May 1.

Each year a seminar is held on Morgan judging that prospective judges and anyone who shows in any discipline should attend. Cindy Mugnier and Harry Sebring gave a mini-clinic geared toward an understanding of the Morgan Judging Standards Manual and the USEF Rule Book. They also used a video presentation of guidelines for judging in most of the show ring disciplines. The theme continued with You Be The Judge as presenters Steve Davis and Ben Qua gave the audience a chance to judge using videos and slides.

The immensely popular Train The Trainer series returned to the place it began with another well-attended series of discussions on all disciplines and areas of training. The audience listened to a fabulous group of knowledgeable professionals and asked some great questions as well. The panel included; Ann Anderson, Dottie Brittingham, Jennifer Holton, Belle and John Hufferd, Barbara Irvine, Fay and Jim Lowry, Jeff Morse, Karen Myers, Jane and Tim Morrell, Ron Roesink, Tim Roesink, Harry Sebring, Sandy Sessink, Bonnie Sogoloff, Keely Sogoloff, Cliff Swanson, Scott Thacker, Joanne and Scott Travers, and Garn Walker.

The well being of our horses and exhibitors themselves were featured in some timely seminars. Veterinarian F. Richard Lesser gave an interactive 3-D presentation on anatomy and the physiology of colics. Veterinarian Dr. Robert Dressler spoke on the History of Equine Tapeworms in the United States. Sean Travers discussed many aspects of horse shoeing along with the reasons for USEF shoeing regulations and their effect. Betsy Green presented a seminar on growth rates in predicting the future through the past. Dr. Janet Edgette, a sports psychologist and always-popular speaker, spoke on a pair of topics. She discussed overcoming horse show nerves as well as keeping a positive perspective in a tough sport.


The annual AMHA membership meeting was held Friday afternoon. AMHA President Sherry Cole called the meeting to order and introduced the Convention Co-chairs, AMHA Board Members, AMHA staff, AMHA Youth Board Members, AMHA Directors Emeriti and AMHI Board Members to the large crowd in attendance. The minutes of the 2003 AMHA Annual Meeting were then accepted. Eileen Hunter then read the election notice for the 2004 AMHA Board of Directors.

President Cole went on to welcome everyone and thank the past and present AMHA Boards and officers, staff and committee members. In her statement, Cole discussed that it has been a challenging year for AMHA with both highs and lows, which have certainly been disconcerting. It is Cole's hope that we can focus on the positive, which includes the very exciting opportunity for AMHA with an expanded presence at the Kentucky Horse Park. This will showcase the Morgan to approximately 800,000 people annually from the United States and around the world.

The Morgan breed will have space in the museum, horses in competition display and breed building. Cole also announced that one of the two horse simulators, similar to the ones used in the movie Seabiscuit, would have its naming rights auctioned off during the Saturday night auction. Cole also thanked the Morgan community for its support of this project through private donations and Ed Creighton for all of his efforts in making this a reality. The grand opening will be May 1, 2004, and everyone is invited to be on hand for a great celebration in Lexington.

Cole went on to discuss the current lawsuit against AMHA that was due to be ruled on just a few days later. She thanked the membership for its patience, understanding and support in this matter. She said that the lawyers had given her the okay to give a presentation of the time line of the entire Ekstrom matter, which lead to this lawsuit. Cole made a two-hour presentation of the facts and AMHA's stance later that afternoon.

Cole also discussed the financial strain on the Association due to the lawsuit with over $250,000 already spent to defend the registry. The Association's year-end financial position is a direct result of this. However, the overall financial situation is positive nonetheless. The Association has cut expenses with less staff doing more work and putting in the extra effort.

It was also noted that AMHA has seen a decline in registrations and transfers in the last year. The decrease in registrations may be partially due to the after-effects of Sept. 11, 2001, as other breeds have seen the drop as well. Cole also noted that the Association did raise its registration rates in 2003 for the first time in 10 years. AMHA has also now completed a successful transition to DNA testing for registrations. AMHA's new software programs are now in place and doing well. Cole mentioned that membership numbers are for the most part stable with over 11,000 total AMHA members.

President Cole warned members about the Internet and its positive and negative aspects, and reminded them not to believe false information being passed around. She hopes and believes that most people would not believe the negative rhetoric.

"We want to focus on positive projects and spending more time with our Morgan Horses," Cole said in closing.

Vice President of Finance John Coppley was next on the podium to discuss AMHA's current financial status. Coppley also mentioned the challenges that AMHA has faced financially due to the current lawsuit. He acknowledged the contributions to the AMHA Legal Defense Fund. The Association still remains strong financially with a net worth of $160,000 as compared to $500,000 in 1999.

Cindy Mugnier was next to the podium to present a report on the AMHA By-law changes for by-law chair Kim Hildreth. The amended rules concern; director nominations, committees, director election qualifications, inspection of ballots, membership terms and inspection of proxies.

The next order of business was the eagerly anticipated election of directors. This followed some delay due to last minute ballot casting, and questions to President Cole by a new member in the audience. The results were given as follows; Director At-Large Robert Painter, Region 1 Directors Eileen Hunter and Mary Jean Vasiloff, Region 2 Directors Mike Goebig and Kathy Newcomb, and Region 9 Director Linnea Sidi. The meeting was then adjourned with a private reorganization meeting held by the board of directors.


The Grand National Show Committee followed up their most recent January meeting with a progress report on the 2004 show at the convention. 2004 show chair Fred Dills and show manager Fern Bittner were on hand to discuss the show with interested audience members. Also on hand were Grand National committee members Barb Rudicel, Tony Lee and Georgie Green, as well as new members Phil Alderman and Sally Plumley along with AMHI Development Officer Sally Wadhams. The show will be held Oct. 10-17, 2004.

Dills made sure that everyone knew that the committee is working hard to put on a great show for the exhibitors, trainers, spectators and horses in attendance. He promised a bold new look and a freshening up of the show. He also mentioned he has a good dialogue going with professional trainers and members of the UPHA. Dills also mentioned that putting on this show is a year-round job especially working with the fairgrounds.

Fern Bittner went on to announce the full judging panel for the show. She also mentioned some of the other aspects of working with the fairgrounds particularly on the work areas and food concessions.

Barb Rudicel said that the deadline for Grand National banners has been extended to March 15. She also spoke about the The World Futurity in respect to the new World Futurity books, futurity nomination forms and deadlines, and the strength of the futurity with about 10 percent of registered foals nominated annually. Rudicel also discussed a Friday night event to be hosted by The World Futurity in Oklahoma after a shortened show session that evening. She announced that they are looking for sponsors and performers for the party and encouraged everyone to attend.

Georgie Green announced that there is a new fairgrounds director in Oklahoma City, and he seems very horse show oriented and willing to work with the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce.

She also announced changes in this year's prize list. New classes are Fitting and Showmanship, Dressage Level 4 and Above Test Of Choice, Three-Year-Old Reining Finals, and Carriage Dressage Driving. There are also a number of classes that have been historically split at the show that will now be split in the program. They are Hunt Seat Equitation 12-13, Junior Exhibitor Hunter Pleasure 12-13, Ladies Western Pleasure Geldings (which will be split by size), Amateur Western Pleasure Geldings (which will be split by size), and Ladies Classic Pleasure Saddle Geldings (which will be split by size). There was also quite a bit of discussion about the splitting of world championships. Green also mentioned that the walk/trot classes are all finals not world championships and that USEF rules dictate that informal attire be worn.

Fred Dills closed by announcing that chains will now be allowed for warm up. He asked that trainers police themselves for safety issues as well as outside appearance. Dills also spoke about the judging pool and possible changes in the pay scale and panels to help make it easier to hire qualified judges to officiate.


The voices of Morgan trainers are now being heard through their increased participation in an organized forum. Professional trainers were gathered Friday for the AMHA Professional Committee Meeting and Luncheon with co-chairs Mike Goebig and Sandy Sessink. This was followed Saturday by an open UPHA forum with Sandy Sessink as moderator. The large room contained approximately 25 professional trainers and a large group of other interested horse show exhibitors and proponents.

USEF Morgan Rules Chairman Mark Staehnke also addressed the group to relay the new USEF Rules as of March 1, 2004. The new rules are paraphrased as: professionals can now head all Classic Pleasure Driving horses; stripping is mandatory in Open and Junior Classic Pleasure Saddle Championships; when a qualifier is offered, the final is called a championship not a stake and is judged 50/50.

Staehnke also spoke about the rules forums held at shows throughout the year, and how critical it is to attend if you want change. These forums need the support of the people who benefit from the rules. Cindy Mugnier, Jim Lowry, David Rand and Barb Goda all spoke about the need for us to be united and work together in this effort. There was discussion that the UPHA and Morgan professional trainers would like to make it possible to have a representative attend all of the regional forums with Sandy Sessink being the representative when available.

Sandy Sessink went on to address some of the news from the Grand National show committee pertaining to chains the warm up rings, judge’s salaries, potential changes in showing when relatives are judging and other areas that trainers are working with the show committee. She also went on to discuss the importance of taking a professional approach to initiating change. The atmosphere seems right and very accepting, and trainers need to keep things moving forward.

Sessink then spoke about the crucial importance in the election of AMHA Board of Directors. She spoke about the need for trainers to get involved in voting and educating their clients to vote. Sessink asked Cindy Mugnier if she would be willing to set up a committee to find regional representatives to help get the vote out.

Cindy Mugnier reiterated the importance of being organized and rallying behind our candidates. She also mentioned potential By-law changes concerning the elections and moving the incorporation of AMHA from New York to Kentucky.

Sessink closed the meeting with a promise of the group for support, action and change. She vowed that the professional trainers would work together to get the word out and get things done. It was a very positive and proactive finish to the afternoon.


The AMHA Annual Awards Banquet and Luncheon took place Friday evening and Saturday respectively in the Imperial Ballroom. The events were chaired by Eileen Hunter and Phyllis Shopbell and featured large turnouts. Harry Sebring lent his talents as master of ceremonies for the banquet, while Sarah Miner took over the microphone at the luncheon.

After the meal at the luncheon, Miner had this to say, "Good afternoon and welcome to the 2004 AMHA Awards luncheon. It is a privilege to be here on behalf of AMHA to honor a variety of worthy award recipients. Each year, the Awards Committee has the difficult task of choosing the most deserving people in the Morgan breed to receive the highest recognition we can give. The individuals you will meet today have been very successful in promoting our Morgans and are very deserving of the awards they will receive. I hope you will give each individual the full recognition they deserve and enjoy hearing some Morgan history and stories along the way."

Numerous recognition awards and special presentations were bestowed. Convention co-chairs Cindy Mugnier and Helen Herold along with dignitaries including the AMHA staff members and AMHA President Sherry Cole were introduced. The AMHA Outgoing Directors Awards were presented along with rousing ovations for Cindy Mugnier, Kim Hildreth and Cliff Swanson for their time, expertise and dedication in their years of service. Numerous club and club newsletter awards were also given out. AMHA Master's Certificates for devotion to the Morgan breed for individuals over the age of 60 were presented to Harvey Seidel, Constance Barker, Nancy Eidam and Sandra Wooding.

Royal Spade Flush, Chicago’s Nickelodeon, Canequin’s Fort Knox, UVM Worthy, Clay Gates Riptide, WTR Chocolate Bar, Creations Grand Finale, Greentree Courtney, Greentree Ever Reddi, Wintergreen Strike, Duke Remington and Meadowmere Courelation were all honored with AMHA Open Competition Awards. KC Sharmayne, Rohan Nimloth, and Clay Gates Fort Knox also earned Open Competition Medallions. Fern Hill Hale Royalty was presented the USDF All Breed Award.

AMHA honored Chris E. Bickford with a 25-year judges award. The five 2003 AMHA Gold Medal Winners were recognized Western Seat - Morgan Glenn, Saddle Seat - Lindsey Gama, Hunter Seat on the Flat - Kati Wood, Dressage Seat - Amie Van Dorn, and Hunter Seat Over Fences - Katie Klooster. Region 3 earned the honor as the Grand National High Point Region. NEMHA Scholarship winner Annie Wildermuth was also recognized. In closing, 2003 Grand National and World Championship Morgan Horse Show award winners were asked to stand and be recognized for their successes while a video of several of the winners was shown.

The luncheon also featured a special presentation by guest speaker, Scott Trees. Scott is a noted equine photographer who has traveled far and wide to capture the beauty and spirit of horses of many breeds, including Morgans. His exceptional work has been showcased in magazines throughout the equine world. Scott’s personal journal has included battling and conquering cancer. His outlook on life and view of the world is truly inspiring.

The evening banquet began with Harry Sebring recognizing several people who have put forth a special effort on behalf of AMHA and the convention with certificates of appreciation. The lone equine award winner of the evening Sunup Shenandoah was honored as the AMHA Therapy Horse of the Year.

The evening continued with 14 prestigious award winners; Lisa Singer - International Award; June Davis - Cecil Brown Sportsmanship Award; Ann Anderson, Susan Martin, Milo Measel, and Pat Tataronis - AMHA Golden Reins Award; Sara Foy - AMHA Youth Person of the Year; Bob Morgan - AMHA Man of the Year; Karen Homer Brown - AMHA Woman of the Year; Bob Brooks, Patti Brooks, Fred Herrick, Claire Murphy and Barb Rudicel - Hall of Fame. (Please see the award speeches in their entirety in this issue.)


Saturday evening, the AMHA Stallion Service Auction took center stage to close out the weekend on a high note. For the second year in a row bidding began online with an increased number of stallions to 30 offered. Online bidding concluded Feb. 19, 2004. At that time the top 14 stallions went forward to the final round of live bidding Feb. 20 in the Imperial Ballroom at the Boston Park Plaza.

At the strike of 7:30 p.m., it was lights, cameras and action! It was time for the eagerly anticipated AMHA Stallion Service Auction co-chaired by C.A. "Tony" Lee, III and Ling Fu Wylie. Auctioneer Bill Carrington presided over the fast paced evening with Mike Goebig reading pedigrees with occasional color commentary by Mark Staehnke. Carrington explained the rules of the auction and began the live auction.

The top 14 stallions were auctioned off with live bids from those in attendance as well as the many cell phones that were pressed to the ears of many working the auction for AMHA and those bidding for others not in attendance. When the evening was finished, nearly $85,000 was raised. This impressive total will go to the AMHA Regionals and the promotion of the Morgan breed thanks to the generosity of the donors and the winning bidders.

The top 14 stallions, winning bidders and bids were; Mizrahi (Steve Tassinari) $5,900, Stand And Deliver (Jeff and Lynn Yelton) $4,300, Stonecroft Byzantine (Judy Caldwell) $4,000, Tedwin Topic (Bob Morgan) $4,000, HVK Courageous Flaire (Carol Franklin) $3,000, Santa Fe Renegade (Bob Morgan) $3,000, Astronomicallee (Kriskroft Farm) $2,500, Born To Boogie (Eli Lapp, Jr.) $2,100, Choice of UVM Stallions (Jane Wagner) $2,100, War And Peace (Anne Wyland) $2,100, Tug Hill Celebrity (David Stevenson) $1,900, MLF Sharper Image (Pat Gesler) $1,800, PT Cruiser (Johnna Ulmer) $1,650, and Immortal Command (Jill Reckis) $1,600.

Following the stallions, there were three more items that escalated the interest and the level of bidding. First up was a Gevril watch that went to Craig Clapp for a bid of $2,100. The bidding for a chance to be featured on the cover of the December 2004 Morgan Horse Magazine was spirited as always with Bob Morgan turning in the winning bid for the third year in a row, this time it took $5,000 to hold off his competitors.

The grand finale of the evening was the exciting opportunity to purchase the naming rights on one of the two virtual horses that will be featured in the Morgan exhibit at the Kentucky Horse Park. When word of this opportunity spread around the Convention, the anticipation began to mount. The bidding was fast paced with many eager participants. Once the bidding rose to around $5,000, it became a battle between two ladies who have done so many great things to promote the Morgan horse in their respective parts of the country, Fran Pugh and Ann Mears.

A photo of the virtual horse was shifted back and forth between the two ladies with corresponding bids going higher and higher. Between the bid spotter, auctioneer, AMHA staff and directors, and friends in attendance, these two ladies got plenty of encouragement to keep the bidding going. And indeed they did, until the hammer fell at $15,000 with Fran Pugh earning the honor of naming the horse. Be on hand for the unveiling on May 1, 2004, to see her choice at the Kentucky Horse Park.

As the auction came to a close, a fun night was just beginning as the legendary Harry & The Lashwhips took over the stage. It was a return engagement to be remembered as they retook the same Boston Park Plaza stage where they made their first New England appearance in 1997. It was another night to remember. And it was a good reminder about what Morgan people can accomplish when they put their heads together with a cause in mind.

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