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THE BEST OF... Pleasure Driving

By Diana Davidson

(The Best Of is a monthly column that incorporates the recollections of people who have spent much of their lives involved in breeding, training, owning, showing and promoting Morgans as well as those who are just beginning in their journey with America's first breed. You do not need to be a professional or a longtime expert in this breed to have your memories included in this column. This will allow us to see the many different perspectives that the people who love this breed bring to their passion for the Morgan horse.

The May column will feature The Best Of Classic Pleasure Saddle. I encourage you to send your memories for this column via e-mail to; fax 561-381-0266; phone 561-381-0249; mail 5180 Bodega Place, Delray Beach, FL 33484; or come chat with me at a horse show, convention, sale or anywhere else the friends of the Morgan breed tend to congregate.)

The Morgan pleasure driving horse conjures up many memories in my mind. I have had the privilege of witnessing some of the breed's greatest champions in this division perform in show rings throughout the country. I have also been able to view some of these horses and others as "works in progress" on their home turf and on early morning pre-show training sessions. My personal memories also include my own first time show experience in this division.

Honeybee Senator was my teacher, and his patience and kindness will never be forgotten. The big chestnut gelding personified the ability of the Morgan to help teach the beginner and then step up and be a winning show horse. Together we won many blues and tricolors as well as my first Grand National Championship. I was fortunate to have some other special pleasure driving horses, two of which at 27 are still near and dear to my heart in Brae Farm Love Bug and Foxglove Tromp L'Oeil.

There are many stories our readers are eager to share about special pleasure driving horses and their performances as well.

Tami Johnson has many great memories of the multi-titled champion Thunderbay. "One of the last years we showed Thunderbay, he had a few fun classes that involved drivers who were somewhat less experienced. Of course, that never stopped "Bobby" from putting his 150 percent into winning.

"When we got to the Grand National that year, he was entered in Youth Pleasure Driving with a young man who was very inexperienced in the ring and driving. When they went through the gate, he essentially froze from stage fright and quit driving the horse. On the first pass, Bobby was jogging when the rest of the class was trotting to win. Renee Page was at the first corner of the ring and I was at the diagonal corner and we both saw what was happening. So as soon as Bobby approached Renee's corner, she hollered to him 'Up here, Bobby!' and the horse came to attention and shot down the rail. When he'd get to me I'd growl at him from my corner and he'd set up and head down the next rail.

"They lined up the class and Renee went out to head Thunderbay. When the judge walked the line, he turned to Renee as he came by and said 'Nice job driving, ladies' with a sly grin on his face. Thunderbay was Reserve Grand National Youth Pleasure Driving Champion that year, which we thought was pretty good for a horse without a driver!"

Sue Friday had an unusual story to share as well. "I have a memory of just one such horse. It was Applevale Kinsman, shown by Jeanne Herrick back in the '70s. At that time we had an all breed show here in Saratoga called the Palomino Show, which was a three-ring show with Arabs and Half-Arabs, Paints, Pintos, Morgans and oh so much more. This particular year the rings were set up in such a fashion that two rings were quite literally side-by-side. Jeanne had Kinsman in a pleasure driving class that I was in with UVM Jennifer and about eight other horses.

"However, in the ring right next door was a Pinto costume class--yep Indians yelling and the works. Someone entered a horse into the driving class which was not quite broke to drive and the first way of the ring it chose to leave, leaving its driver in the lurch. Yes, demolition derby time ensued. The horse went flying past. However, just as Jeanne passed Fred Herrick, he warned her to watch out. Too late, the horse knocked Jeanne from the buggy and discarded his cart right into poor Kinsman. Fred managed to get Kinsman stopped in very short order, which was nothing short of a miracle.

"Several horses left the ring; Fred re-hitched Kinsman and Jeanne got back in the buggy. Kinsman never put a foot out of place. I don't think I have seen such a confident driving horse. He was simply spectacular. Kinsman went on to win that class and several others that weekend. For this performance alone, he ranks way up in my book."

When I first began showing at Morgan shows in the late '70s, the horses from Whitney Stables defined the pleasure driving division. They had a signature look that still stands out in my mind. Judy Whitney Harris relates, "When we started showing pleasure driving horses, we tried to update them to include more style, and have them set up higher in the bridle than most did at that time. Bob was so excellent with a harness horse, and he tried to incorporate a showier look into the pleasure driving horses. He felt it was more attractive and would be more enjoyable for the spectator to watch.

"I have had the opportunity to work with many wonderful pleasure driving horses. Sir Winston was one of the neatest horses. He was a little unsure of himself at first, but he wanted to be a show horse, and he was so much fun. Serendipity Storm B was a great individual; he was named Pleasure Driving World Champion and English Pleasure World Champion in 1984. It was quite a feat; he was so exciting and had so much personality. Then, we had Whit Haven Benmore, the three-time Amateur Pleasure Driving World Champion in 1978, 1981 and 1982. He was a wonderful little war-horse, who took such great care of Dr. Jarrett in the ring.

"I have also enjoyed so many wonderful ladies pleasure driving horses over the years, too many to list. I really love the elegance of the ladies horse. I am proud to say that we helped to establish the style of the pleasure driving horse."

Jean Arcuri has fond memories of one of the winningest pleasure driving horses from the 1980s Westenfeld Cormandy. "I always think of Westenfeld Cormandy as one of the great pleasure driving horses. She won the Three and Four-Year-Old Pleasure Driving World Championships (1982 and 1983) with Mike Slomkowski for Nanton Farms. I started showing her as a ladies horse for Fire Fox Farm, and I will never forget how much fun she was. She was always a challenge to walk, but sometimes we did! She never dropped an ear and there was always a little more there if you needed it. I was lucky enough to show her to three Ladies Pleasure Driving World Championships (1985, 1986 and 1988). Those were unforgettable moments for me!"

Nancy Hendricks is a pleasure driving fan with memories of some of her favorites. "Being a longtime pleasure driving fan, a couple of horses stand out in my mind. Those being Foxridge Command and Opies Boy. The year I saw Foxridge Command at Mid-A she won the Mare In Hand classes with loads of snort and then was driven by Mrs. Pugh the next session and won. People were talking about what a great horse to make the transition with such style and energy to spare. The talk on the grounds was that she was what the Morgan breed was based on, beauty, endurance and sensibility. She knew her job and did it well with elegance.

"I first saw Opies Boy at Mid-A when he was showing out of Showcase Stables. I was immediately taken by the small bay geldings apparent love of showing. He had a look that made one think he enjoyed his job. He caught the eye of the crowd and had people wanting to know who was his sire and dam. Later I enjoyed seeing Cindy Nord go to the winner's circle many times. I was in line at Cindy's party in Oklahoma to wish Opies Boy well in a much deserved retirement."

Paula Brown is another fan of the division and also of one of Cindy Nord's horses in particular. "In two words: HVK Frango! Frango's charisma, beauty and effortless way of going caught my attention the first time I laid eyes on him. He was a wonderful performance horse who never seemed to give less than 110 percent...didn't matter if it was his trainer or amateur owner on the lines. I admired Frango so much that I bred a mare to him and got an incredible black colt in 2001."

The pleasure driving horse means many different things to different people. For Sandy Sessink, "My favorite memories of the pleasure driving division are from judging. I vividly remember more than once, standing in the middle watching a great class come charging in the ring and getting goose bumps, it was so exhilarating. Some of the best horses seem to know exactly whom they are trying to impress. Other than sitting behind one of those awesome horses, that has to be the very best place to experience a great pleasure driving class…from the 'hot seat'."

Elaine and Neil Galatz have had the pleasure of owning and showing some of the most outstanding pleasure driving horses over the past 25 years. Each earned an Amateur Pleasure Driving World Championship in the 1990s - Neil with Brief Encounter in 1993 and Elaine with Arboria Landmark in 1995. "We have had some wonderful pleasure driving horses - my favorites being Arboria Landmark and Brief Encounter. They were preceded by some great animals that will always have a special place for me. Some of the best times have been when Neil and I were in the same class," remembers Elaine Galatz.

Festival Calypso is one of the winningest pleasure driving horses of the day. He has amassed six world titles in the division, and still counting. Calypso won his first two world titles for breeders George and Joan Arnold and trainer Ann Miller. "Calypso was far from the prettiest baby. When we started working him, he was the easiest to break. We never really had to train him, he was a natural. We just let him do his thing. We would jog him and keep him legged up, and when we would check him up, he was ready to go. He was the easiest show horse to maintain," remembers Ann Miller of her first world champion.

Mike Goebig has great faith in the pleasure driving division, "For our breed, the ladies, amateur and open pleasure driving championships are the most consistently competitive classes at Oklahoma, year after year. When the show isn't as strong in certain divisions, those three classes tend to rise above. That holds true year after year. Personally, I like my pleasure driving horses to go somewhere, and move with fluid stride pulling the buggy.

"Opies Boy is a once-in-a-lifetime horse. He was a show horse who showed so much consistency in competing with the great competition that he showed with. He was just a horse trainer's dream. As a trainer, I am always waiting for that one unusual horse to come through the door. It's just fate."

For those in the audience in Oklahoma, we have watched as Cindy Nord has driven a trio of great horses (Royal Oaks Annton 1986, HVK Frango 1992, and Opies Boy 1997-2000) to an unprecedented six Amateur Pleasure Driving World Championships. For Nord, it is far more than the tricolors, "For me showing is all about personal growth. Could I conquer my fears? Each horse took me to a new level and I am so grateful. I had an incredible relationship with Amos (Royal Oaks Annton). He was the easiest of the three to drive, but I had less driving skills then. He was a horse who was very available to have a relationship, and we always had a strong bond.

"Frango was certainly the most difficult at times. I wasn't having fun driving him, and Mike made some changes and made him easier for me to drive. I got into some battles with Frango that I couldn't win. He was waiting for me to take the lead and give him some guidance, when I thought he was in the lead. He needed my reassurance, and when I figured that out, I had learned a lot. I have him at home now and he is a totally different horse out in the field. He comes up to the fence and poses with his big Morgan foretop. He is the first horse I see when I drive in, and it's a great pleasure to see him.

"Opie always knew his job. His job in life was to show. He wasn't interested in having a relationship or bonding with you. The biggest part of showing Opie was staying out of his way. He knew what he was doing, and I just had to let him do it. He has gone back to his roots now that he is retired."

Gerry Rushton Stables is home to a pair of horses who have helped define the pleasure driving horse of the 21st century. "In 1998 Meadowland Farm had a dispersal sale in which Bill and Connie Myers bought a foal in utero. It was by Sharp Shooter and out of J'st Coastn Countess. In 1999 the foal was born and it was a beautiful filly to be named Dreammaster J'st Sharper. We had her full brother MLF Sharper Image and really liked him. Early in 2002 the sister was put in training with us and while they had been trained until this point by different trainers, the similarities were uncanny.

"By OKC 2002, 'Justy' had figured things our fairly well for a three-year-old and she became the 2002 Reserve World Champion Mare and World Champion Futurity Three-Year-Old Pleasure Driving. She had officially become the 'princess' of our barn. Throughout 2003 she got even better and by OKC was doing great. She won her four-year-old pleasure driving qualifier. Come championship time, it was loud and crazy in the ring and she started the first direction a bit flustered. With a bit of luck, a time out was called and there was time to figure out if I could settle her and with a few laps of the ring things were getting better. By the end of the first direction, we were back to normal.

"Now the point of the story... On the reverse she was great! I believe I have never had one that good at the right moment. She was everything she could have been and more and was absolutely perfect to drive! She won that class beating a bunch of great horses. I have to say that that was one of the more satisfying driving moments of my career and I do believe I was driving a great one," Gerry Rushton recalls.

And she has some pretty tough competition right in her barn. Stacy Hennessy adds, "2001 Open Pleasure Driving World Champion CCR's Outrajus Corajus. In his first year competing as a pleasure driving horse, 'OC' was rather green and each show we gained new ground. We went to Santa Barbara thinking we were doing good and were in good company. 'OC' put on his best performance to date (but by no means his best harness performance since) and was tied third in the qualifier and championship. Knowing we still had work to do, we tried to ignore the fact that we had just gotten two thirds under an upcoming OKC judge and we continued our preparations.

"Our owner was feeling discouraged and decided not to attend OKC herself. When the time came for the stallion qualifier, OC was ready for the challenge. While still green, he certainly noticed the OKC atmosphere and rose to the occasion. Partway thru the first direction there was a time out called. It seemed like a fairly long one and we were just standing and waiting when we noticed that the very judge that had recently concerned us was talking to Howie and it appeared that they were looking at and talking about OC! Very interesting...

"We were pleasantly surprised when we heard the announcement that not only had OC and Gerry won, but it was a unanimous decision! After the class, I called his owner and told her that the horse that she owned and bred was heading for a World title and if she didn't get on a plane, she was going to miss it! She was delighted to hear of his victory and made it in time for his championship. He won that class unanimously as well and a happier owner I have never seen!

"I will always remember that win as the show that OC realized he was a star! He has looked down upon us ever since."

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