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Coming To America - Monnington Farm

by Bob Funkhouser

Seven years ago Lionel Ferreira brought five Saddlebreds and two Morgans to the United States for the John Bulmer family’s Monnington Morgans, Hereford, England. The invasion of the South African trainer and the English owned horses has given the show scene in the Morgan and Saddlebred worlds a truly international flavor.

With a few twists and turns, Ferreira has taken his passion for horses worldwide with all roads leading to America.

"I guess I followed the quality," stated Ferreira. "There are more opportunities here, more money, more prestige and they finish American Saddlebreds so well."

Ferreira is originally from Welkom, South Africa, and at the age of eight his family had to replace his polo pony. His family bought a horse for him and unbeknown to them, it was a Saddlebred. While attending a club event someone told them it was a Saddlebred and told them they should check out the local shows.

"We went to a few local shows and decided this is what we would do," recalled Ferreira. "My family was instrumental in guiding my obvious enthusiasm for Saddlebreds. I must confess though, he was a bad Saddlebred."

Ferreira became engulfed in the Saddlebred world and slowly upgraded his stock. He also paid attention to the top trainers of his day including Harold Poil and Bill Rowan, knowing this was the path he was destined to follow. However, as soon as he turned 18, Ferreira was off to America to further his education.

While in the States, he worked for Omega Farms and Joe Becker as well as spending two years with George Knight.

"George taught me a lot about routine, hard work and turning one out correctly," said Lionel.

While he was learning so much about the American way of finishing a horse and taking care of one, Ferreira suffered a set back, one that would possibly end his career. Shortly after leaving Knight’s, he broke his back and returned to South Africa to have surgery and recover. Doctors told him he might not ride again, but that didn’t deter him from wanting to return to the training industry; it would just have to be on a somewhat limited basis.

Enter the Bulmer family. John and Angela Bulmer established Monnington Morgans in 1975 and they imported the first Morgans to England. Angela’s father worked for the United Nations so the family spent some time in the States and became acquainted with the Morgan Horse. They decided to start a breeding program in England for the purpose of raising show, driving and carriage driving horses. A number of people, including Fred and Jeanne Herrick and Bob Brooks, were instrumental in helping the Bulmers get their first Morgans to England.

The Bulmers’ daughter, Georgia, also became a horsewoman while growing up at Monnington. The family had several different trainers over the years, English and American. Georgia and Angela rode on the World Cup team, and while visiting and competing in South Africa, the family was exposed to the American Saddlebred. It was also where they first spoke with Lionel Ferreira, who had just returned to South Africa to recover from back surgery.

Back in the States the Bulmers had purchased the Morgan MLF Cimerrian from Gerry Rushton Stables, and Stacey Hennessey had told them about Ferreira as a possible trainer for their farm in England. So, they made him an offer and in July of 1999 began a partnership that would bloom in many ways.

"He started a two-month trial and 12 years later, here we are," said interior designer/horsewoman Georgia Bulmer, who is also now Lionel’s fianceé. "Lionel loves the Saddlebred and enjoys the Morgan but the whole driving thing was a shock to his system. We promote the Morgan Horse about four times a year in England. He has done a great job with the Morgans and the driving horses, but the Saddlebred has stayed in him."

The following year Lionel and Angela traveled to South Africa and purchased their first Saddlebred, Vida’s Eraser. They imported him to the U.S. where Lionel trained and sold him. It didn’t take long for the whole family to get hooked. In 2002, the Bulmers imported seven horses to the states, five Saddlebreds and two Morgans. Included in the group were the walk-trot sensation SJ Like A Champ and the gaited stallion Don’t Worry Be Happy. Both of these stars were sold and the door was now open for annual returns to the USA with a new group of horses.

"Lionel always wanted to be in America because of the top level of competition. In England, we’re all by ourselves as far as the Saddlebreds are concerned. The people over here really don’t understand them.

"We bring what we bring to America and hope it compares to the best; some times it does and some times it doesn’t. Everything over here is completely different that it is in England and South Africa: the shoeing, veterinarians, the show office, everything. We feel like outsiders because of the differences, but we have met some very nice people who have gone out of their way to help us. Melissa Moore, Bridget Parker and Scott Bennett were among the very first.

"The thing about us showing here is that it is an achievement just to get the horses here. If you buy something in South Africa and import it to England or here it is such a long, slow process that you lose your horse for quite a while. So when we do get to show something in the States, each show is so important to us. We don’t have many chances so we have to make it count. Lionel thrives on the pressure and the showing."

With the addition of Saddlebreds to the training program, Monnington Morgans is now Monnington Farm. Today, they still support both breeds avidly.

"The Bulmer family has relished the addition of Saddlebreds to their barn, enjoying the thrill and excitement of the breed and all it entails while still remaining very passionate about the Morgan breed," said farm manager Trudy Connolly, who also works the horses at home while Lionel is away.

The next group of Saddlebreds to make the trip from England included Trujo A Wish Come True, Coco Chanel and SJ Denmark’s Geronimo. In 2005, Lionel realized one of his dreams, winning a major American Five-Gaited Stake. He thrilled the Lexington audience with Carlswald Prince’s Dominoe to win the Five-Gaited Grand Championship. On to Louisville and they captured the Five-Gaited Gelding World’s Championship and the Five-Gaited Reserve World’s Grand Championship following a three-horse workout.

"If I had ridden that horse before I bought him I probably wouldn’t have bought him," said Lionel. "He was tough. One of the most powerful horses I had ever ridden but he was very raw.

"Winning Lexington was really a thrill. After we won the gelding stake at Louisville, I didn’t sleep again until Saturday and then I made the biggest mistake of my life. I chased [Callaway’s] Forecaster during the class and used my horse up. I loved that horse. I’ve never had one do that old time slow gait like he could."

Lionel has had a good eye for a young horse. He selected Gothic Revival for the Bulmers as a weanling, took him to England and developed him, before returning to the USA and winning the Three-Year-Old Fine Harness World’s Championship and selling the well-chromed young stallion.

For the 2006 season, Lionel and the Bulmers stayed in England to focus on the Morgans competing in the driving competitions that are extremely competitive. Only 14 turnouts can qualify for the Horse Of The Year Show, the annual highlight of the British Carriage Driving calendar. Lionel trained John and Georgia Bulmer’s turnouts and they both qualified for the prestigious Horse Of The Year Show. John’s four-year-old was the youngest horse to ever qualify.

Lionel’s next group of Saddlebreds to make the trek across the pond included Calif First Night Out, who was sold to Elisabeth Goth; SJ Smart Lady, who won classes at Rock Creek and Shelby County before taking Lexington Junior League’s Amateur Three-Gaited Under 15.2 title with Georgia in the irons; as well as SJ Space Buccaneer, who had several good wins that year and finished with the Ladies Five-Gaited Reserve National Championship at the American Royal with Melissa Moore riding.

Last year a green three-year-old named Jonazell Mighty Spirit made his debut in America to win the Junior Fine Harness class at ASHAV. This year he came back strong, just recently winning the Open Fine Harness class at Midwest Charity in his season debut.

Settled into the old Redd Crabtree barn in Simpsonville, Ky., Lionel and Georgia are enjoying the summer so far while being surrounded by everything horse. From the county fairs to the biggest shows like the recent Midwest Charity, they are taking it all in. In fact, they made headlines at Midwest with the extremely athletic three-year-old gaited stallion Marc Of Charm owned by Riverdreams LLC; a powerful open gaited horse named Cloverleaf Master And Commander; the junior walk-trot mare Miss U Got It All; and the above-mentioned Open Fine Harness Champion Jonazell Mighty Spirit.

Lionel’s greatest joy in the horse business is picking and developing youngsters. He likes to bring them out as three and four-year-olds and sell them. You’ll never see him show a two-year-old.

That passion for young horses has also inspired a breeding program in England crossing South African and American bloodlines to create a new age, old-fashioned Saddlebred.

"I love the Wing Commander blood," said Lionel. "I also like the mares that go back to Will Shriver. Supreme O’Lee did a lot for the South African breeding combining power and beauty.

"We have five mares by [Arborlane Tango’s] Wee Pee and we are breeding to the best studs: Call Me Ringo, Deep Blue, Marc Of Charm. Wee Pee was the most athletic horse I’ve ever seen and those mares will be producers. The South African horses have huge hearts and lots of motion but they aren’t as refined as the American horses. I don’t necessarily believe that South African horses are that much gamer as a whole, but the horses that do make it are the strongest that have survived. It is survival of the fittest as there are no vaccines for foals and they run out with the sheep and the cattle. The weak ones have died and what makes it are really strong; it’s part of the natural selection process."

For the vibrant, young couple, spending their summer in the heart of the Bluegrass is a dream come true. Surrounded by a wealth of history and the greatest concentration of American Saddlebreds in the world, Lionel lives and breaths for all that he can soak up during each trip to the States. In fact, horses are his life.

"Getting him away from horses is like pulling teeth," said Georgia. "He just loves being around horsemen. Travel is my passion, but for Lionel this is what he lives for. On our first date we went back and watched the Sky Watch/Imperator tape from the first time those two great horses met.

"This has all been so rewarding. My dad has such a passion for his Morgans and he really appreciates Lionel’s passion."

That passion has taken the Bulmer/Ferreira team from continent to continent in search of raising, training and showing the finest show horses; a journey that has been thoroughly enjoyed and is far from over.

"I’m totally indebted to John and Angela for supporting my endeavors in every way," said Lionel. "They have made it possible to live my dreams."

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