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UPHA Larry Bacon Lifetime Achievement Award: Larry Bolen

If in the late 1970s you saw the performances of this horse and rider and if you had a crystal ball to look into the future, you would have foreseen amazing horseflesh, meticulous training, flawless presentations, consummate professionalism, and oh the best aisle parties ever at Morgan Grand National.

The horse is the Morgan mare Antoinette. The rider is Larry Bolen. Together they pretty much set the world on fire in Amateur Park Saddle from the late 1970s into the early 80s. Like the evolution of most horse careers, however, the story didn’t start with victory passes and world class purebreds. The beginnings were much more modest.

“My first ride was on a Shetland pony at the Clark County Fair.” Larry recalls. “All the other kids wanted to go on the rides at the fair and I’d get off one Shetland pony and pay my quarter so I could get right back on another one. I was hooked.”

Eventually a pony, one of the good ones named Bobby, came into Larry’s life; co-owned with the Hacketts who were family friends. He rode him bareback, frequently at a gallop, out in a pasture. He says Bobby taught him everything. And a lifelong friendship with fellow enthusiast Marilyn Hackett began. In 1967, the Hackett’s let him show their gelding Zephyr at Morgan Gold Cup, in Saddle Seat Equitation and the beginnings of his precise show ring style emerged. 

After a stint in the military, Larry was drawn back to the Midwest where he landed his first job as a professional. At Dee-Bob Morgan Farm in Bluffton, Indiana he supervised 50 head, cleaned stalls, bred mares, gave riding lessons and showed. He remembers they attended more than 30 shows a year on the Indiana Horse Show Association circuit. This involved loading ten horses every Saturday and Sunday morning into two trailers. “We won more trophies at the year-end award banquet than anyone could dream of,” Larry recalls. 

Claude Morette recruited Larry to become the resident trainer at his Whitmorr Farm in Lambertville, Michigan. There, in 1973,  two enormously important introductions took place. First Larry got the opportunity to train Whitmorr Bellanna. Eventually, Larry says, “…she became the foundation mare for Cedar Creek Farm and she was the dam or grand dam of nearly every great Morgan we ever had.”

Secondly, through a social connection at Whitmorr Farm, Larry met Robert Burger. Bob would become Larry’s life partner. They were together more than 40 years until Bob’s passing in 2014. As Larry tells it, “We started Cedar Creek Farm in 1975, built the barn that Spring, and bought Whitmorr Bellanna, Cedar Creek’s first horse.” Larry got his amateur card back and they showed under the Cedar Creek banner.

When Larry and Bob acquired Antoinette through Terry Rutledge in 1977 the historic pairing was made leading to major park saddle titles in the earliest years of Morgan Grand National. At the same time, Larry was training and showing homebreds, all of which attracted the attention of others and Cedar Creek welcomed its first clients as a public barn in 1981. 

 “We were so lucky to get some of the best amateur riders in the country,” Larry remembers. Among the first came from the Fu Family of Dragonsmeade; they were showing the likes of Java’s Charmer, Prince Of Highland, and HVK Hotspur at the time. “I was so fortunate to get Ling and Iann in the barn,” Larry says.

“They were very talented and because of their success they attracted other amateurs who wanted to be in our barn.” These included Marylyn Hackett, the Wahlstroms, Elizabeth Reeves, Ally Diamond, Janice MacKenzie, Julie Bryn, Cindy Sheldon, Stacy Resler, Judy Dunville, Terri Travers, Mary Fisher, Diana and David Vicente, Katie Duncilovic, Susan Silverman, Jack Gatewood and his daughter Amy. 

But Larry and Bob also wanted to breed Morgan horses. As a stallion prospect, they bought the three-year-old colt I Will Command in 1979, one of three famed siblings who would impact the breed (the other two are Wham Bam Command and Ladybird Command). 

I Will Command eventually spent three years as the number one sire in the breed, one of those years as the leading sire of winners at Morgan Grand National. The amazing list of champions includes Cedar Creek interlude, Cedar Creek Heritage, DM Fortune Cookie, Alter Ego, Total Addiction, Brief Encounter, Nonchalant, Aspenglow Genesis. His son Cedar Creek Harlequin is an important sire of show horses and, especially broodmares. His daughter Cedar Creek Pirouette is a Broodmare Hall of Fame inductee.
Horses who got their start at Cedar Creek and went on to have world championship careers for others include Cedar Creek Giselle, Cedar Creek Elite, Cedar Creek Pazazz, Cedar Creek With Bells On, Brief Encounter, Cedar Creek Quartermaster, Cedar Creek Harlequin, Nonchalant, Cedar Creek Quiet Riot, Cedear Creek Vizcaya, and Cedar Creek Flambeau GCH.

“I was very fortunate people gave me the opportunity to do the thing I loved. I never imagined having the life I have had or that I would be so fortunate,” Larry says of his career. Part of his gratitude has involved giving back. He has been a Large R Morgan judge for 38 years having judged in the United States, Canada, England and soon in Sweden. 

He was the chair of the UPHA Morgan Classic for many years, clinician for the Morgan Judges School since 2001; a member of Morgan Grand National committee for last five years as well as serving on the USEF Roadster Committee and Morgan Committee.

“None of this would ever have happened without Bob Burger. He was the force behind everything,” Larry says. They closed Cedar Creek in 2005 to enjoy Bob’s retirement years. “I’m proud we ended the Cedar Creek years at the top of our game,” he says. “Horses were the only thing I ever wanted to do.”

Tonight the United Professional Horsemen’s Association is pleased to honor Larry Bolen with the UPHA Larry Bacon Lifetime Achievement Award.

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