Horse Experiences, Memories and Opinions

My name is Tom Simmons. I have had Morgan horses since 1963. I have trained almost any breed you can think of. I have had a good amount of success. I have written articles for Western Horseman, The Morgan Horse, and The Carriage Journal. In the 47 years that I have worked horses, I have seen a lot. I would like to share with you some of my experiences, opinions and memories. Please feel free to email your thoughts. I will try to address them. Tom

Location: North Carolina

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Quite often, when I talk about horses on this blog I am talking about Morgans. Most of the responses that I get come from people with other breeds. But the things that I talk about could apply to any breed. Today I am going to talk about Morgans again.

There is a movement by some Morgan people to start a foundation registry. It sounds like a good idea, but when I look at it closer I am not so sure. As I understand it, horses with proper breeding, meaning horses from certain families will be accepted into the registry. The problem I have with this is that horses are being accepted on the merit of their papers. These animals may be of poor type and conformation, and may have a poor way of going. So I don’t see how they are going to improve the breed. A good Upwey Ben Don horse is better than a poor J.K. horse in my opinion. How are you going to improve the breed by breeding poor conformation, type and way of going to poor conformation, type and way of going, just because they are from an acceptable family. I personally don’t think all of the families are acceptable. There are families in that acceptable group that I want nothing to do with. This opinion comes from 40 years of training all of these families. At least show horse people want performance.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Trail Horse

When I think of trail horses, I always think about the palomino ½ arab that I broke for me a Mr. White that lived at English, Indiana. This mare was kind of a tough cookie but I got her riding pretty good and sent her home. After about a week, Mr. White called me and said he was having a hard time getting her to pass about 4 or 5 places on the farm. He had about 800 acres of woods with some nice roads through it. He thought that if I came down on Sunday and brought the wife and kids we could have a cook out. He and I could ride the trails, with me riding the mare of course. When we got the mare saddled I asked him what horse was he going to ride. He told me he thought that he would drive the pick-up and I could follow him to the places tha the was having trouble passing. So off we went. The first two places were a snap. The third place was on top of a little hill where the road dropped over the other side. The mare started to give a hard time about passing a large rock right at the top of the hill. Mr. White stopped the pickup and was watching me. She didn’t want to go at first, but when she decided to go, she went. I can see Mr. White now, he was a large man so it was difficult for him to turn and watch us through the back glass. I can see his eyes now as this mare was closing in on the old pickup which had no tail gate.
When we got to the truck the mare went right up into the back of the pickup with me still sitting in the middle of her. As she was stomping in the bed of this pickup every once in a while I would get a glimpse of Mr. White’s eyes, which were wide with amazement. I didn’t know what to do but I knew that we couldn’t keep stomping in the bed of this pickup. So I turned her around and rode her back out of the pickup. I asked Mr.White if he could not stop quite as close to the crossing.


Super Con
Talking about thoroughbreds made me think of Super Con, a thoroughbred gelding that I knew and did a little training on. A few years ago I had a customer that had a couple of Morgan horses in trainig with me. He told me that his father-in- law had a 5 year old TB that had never been sound enough to race. But this year he looked good. His father-in- law has asked if I would be interested in training a TB. My reply was that I had always wanted to train a TB for the track. I could not train on the track, but I sure could work him at home. I always felt that if they were mannered like regular horses and trained to be a little more user friendly, they would run better times.
So when I got Super Con I put a stock saddle on him and started trail riding him. I rode him in the woods, in the fields and everywhere. There was a large field way back in the woods that had not been farmed for a long time. The footing was uneven but good and the land was rolling. This is where I started to galloping Super Con. After about 2 months of trail riding and galloping around this field I told his owner that he was ready for the track. I will never forget the first time I asked him to run. We had been just galloping along up to that point. So as we were galloping along I just dropped down on him and asked him to run. I will never forget the way he left there. The field was about ½ mile around and we were burning it up. After two trips around the field I thought I would bring him back to an easy lope so I took a hold of him. He just dropped down and put it in overdrive. We really made a trip around the field that time. So I softened up on him and relaxed my seat and he came back to me. That was quite a ride.
When his owner took him to the track he told his trainer at the track that the horse was ready to run, enter him. The trainer said that there was no way a horse that just come off the farm and could be ready to run. But they found that when they started to work him that he was ready to run, so they entered him. He won his first race after being on the track just nine days. That summer Super Con won most of his races. I never went to the track to see him run, but the son-in-law would always bring me win pictures. Looks like the whole city of Tell City, IN was in the winning photos. He was the pride of the town. Sometimes he would be second, just loosing by a nose. He was a late runner,coming from way back and sometimes he didn’t quite get there. But all around Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky, the announcers got to know him. And when the horses turned for home, the announcers would say “AAAANNNNDDDD HEEEEERE COMES SUPER CON!!!! After about a year he was back to where he was before. But for that one summer he was something to behold.

The Preakness

A few weeks ago I watched what was to be a great race. But something tragic happened. Barbaro, the favorite pulled up short in the very early going of the race. Something went terribly wrong with his right back leg. We saw another great horse go by the wayside.
I noticed before the race that this horse was very agitated. They had to saddle him on the go. Then there were two grooms leading him. They were having a hard time containing him. He had his head down and his mouth gaped open and he was bulling. My guess and it is purely a guess, before he ever came onto the track, being unruly, he could have hurt himself in the stall. His breaking through the gate is further evidence that something was not right with this horse. I told my wife he is not going to win today. I was thinking this horse is not broke, he needs training. Many race horse trainers do not discipline their horses. They seem to think that the horse will loose something when in reality the horse would gain. He would be easier to rate. Safer for people to work around. I think a relaxed horse could run a mile faster than a nervous or anxious one.
His trainer is an ex-eventer. And in all the years that I have done horses I have seen very few eveners have good mannered horses. They know how to leg yield, change leads, jump, but no manners. So on Preakness day we lost a great horse to no manners.


Saturday, May 20, 2006

Halter Horses # 1

Two halter classes stick out in my mind more than most. One case involved a mare and the other a stallion. Both of these horses just happened to have two crosses to Pecos.

This one class that I saw the mare in was probably one of the most exciting in hand classes that I have ever seen. I have seen lots of halter classes, and lots of good horses. In most halter classes the horses trot in, some with brilliant action and proud carriage. They line up and do their individual work and then are placed by the judge.

But on this particular day, this mare started her class outside of the ring. Just as the other class of mares was leaving the ring, this mare's tail started to rise. And it went up and up until it stood straight up. Then she started to blow and she started to trot in place, pausing momentarily at the highest point of each diagonal. When the class was called into the ring she came in blowing and snorting while doing a trot that looked as if her feet did not touch the ground. She made her entry pass, as we call it, and lined up to wait for her turn to be presented to the judge. But today this mare came to show and show she did. The judge was doing his best to judge the other horses, but there was this thing behind him snorting and blowing and trotting in place. He kept looking back at her. She was stealing the show. While he was having the other horses work he would find himself staring at this mare. Boy was she putting on a show, and she never did let down. It got to be funny. Everyone in the stands started laughing. Even the judge started laughing. There was but one mare in that class that one day. She won her class that day. Her dazzling display won everyone's heart. That day she did what she was bred to a show horse. Conformation you could pick her apart, but that day she was the most beautiful mare any of us had ever seen. Saddleback Lisa # 076063

Halter Horse #2

I happen to be leading the horse in this story.

I worked for this gentleman who owned a very nice black stallion that won almost all of his driving classes. He won a lot of halter classes. One day I said to the owner, why don't you leave him out of the halter classes at the next show. He answered why should we. I replied he really is not a halter horse. He wins all of his driving classes, why do we have to show him in halter. He said, the judges like him. I said that's why we shouldn't show him. The judges should not like him that much.

The next show we were entered in the halter classes. Owners always have the last say. As I waited for our class to start, I just did not want to show this horse. I showed this horse, but not too enthusiastically. There was about 19 or 20 horses in his class, and the judge lined us up 5th which was about where we belonged. As we stood there, I suddenly didn't want to be 5th. So I told my whip hang on, we are going to move this horse. She asked what are you going to do? I said hang on. Then I went into my show horse mode. I moved the horse out of the lineup. I moved him about 5 feet to the left, still in our 5th place , but just out of the line. A I went I snapped my whip and started barking Whoa! Whoa! in a very sharp voice. The judge turned to watch and as he did I asked this old horse to park out. He could park like few horses could. Now I said he was not a good halter horse meaning conformationwise, but I never said that he couldn't show. I parked him out about 8 inches farther than any horse should be and all the rough edges flowed into a very smooth body , and he found something , as he usually did, way up in the top of the grandstands to look at. He had a plain head, but huge eyes. He stood there fixed in place as if he were stone. The judge hurried back to him, looking at him intently and wondering how did he miss this horse. He looked at him then told the ring steward to switch these two horses. Now we were 4th. The judge seemed to say to himself what else did I miss. So he started walking the line again. Who he got back to us, he told the ring steward to switch these two horses. Now we were in 3rd place. He walked the line again. My horse was still modeling as few horses can. The judge switched us one more time and we ended up reserve champion 5 and over stallion. So a super attitude will whip correctness in many cases. Correct conformation does not always win conformation classes. I will never forget the look on Rock Walker's face as he led his horse out of the ring as we were getting our ribbon. He knew our horse should not have beat his.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

QH Mare

Today I took my or should I say my daughter Tori's mare to be bred. Tori is only 5 but we bought her a young Q.H. mare. I have had Morgans for what seems to be forever. But we decided that when she got old enough to do serious showing we wanted her to show quarter horses. With a quarter horse she can do High School rodeo and go to a college that will have a good equestrian team as well as having a good scholastic program.

Tori is young and not quite ready for this. So I bought her this young mare with the idea of breeding her and hopefully breeding her offspring, if it is a filly, when it is old enough. I like breeding horses so this is very exciting to me. This is a very pretty filly with pretty good breeding. We hope to improve her and her offspring by breeding to top bred and performance horses. Today I took her to a grandson of old King P234. He is 28 years old and still pasture breeding. While looking for a stallion to breed to this mare I found a world of good QH stallions for $500 and less. I think a breed is made stronger by reasonable stud fees. The QH registry registers 103,000 foals a year while our Morgan registry registers less than 3000. Part of it could be the reasonable stud fees.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Stallions and Trainers

I think stallions get trainers in trouble with owners more than anything else. At least it has been that way with me. I have been training since 1961, so there have been a few people angry with me over the years. I can't think of any business that doesn't have a customer get mad once in a while.

I'll tell about three cases here. All three cases have been over 25 years ago, so you see I have learned. All three cases involved stallions mostly because people send me lots of stallions. There was a time that I would have 20 horses in training and 10 of them would be stallions, not counting my own.

Case #1
This stallion was sent to me because he was having problems with his gaits, if I remember correctly, it was over 25 years ago. This was a pretty little horse that had a good disposition and boy could he trot, but he also racked which was not so good. The problem was when he came to my barn he was not the only stallion there. As I remember, his training went well, but he fretted about the other stallions and lost pounds. His owners were upset, but never said much, at least not to me. A few years ago I posted to a list and this owner came on the list and jumped on me about something that happened over 25 years ago. I never said a word. But I was very surprised that a person could still be so angry after 25 years. This was a very small horse, under 14H and slight, any pounds he lost showed and made him look bad very quickly.

From this horse I learned to talk to the owners as soon as possible about any problem. I learned that some families are more likely to do this than others. There are families that I talk to the their owners about before I take them in training. And if I had been a plain old bad guy who didn't feed his horses, maybe I learned. But anyone that stayed angry 25 years never learned to forgive.

Case # 2

This horse was inbred. His owners wanted to get more of a good thing. I think it was a full sister to brother breeding or something that close. This horse was beautiful and was one of the best western pleasure horses I ever sat on. We worked him over the winter and everything was fine. When spring came and we started breeding he went nuts. His weight stayed good but he was obsessed with the thought of breeding. I talked to his owners and we had the vet to put him on special medicine. Nothing seemed to help. So I sent him home. At home he never got over his obsession with mares and he had to be gelded. Being at a barn with lots of stallions was just too much for him. Once that door was opened it could not be closed. I have had two other stallions of this breeding and they don't do well around other stallions. Once you breed them, you really loose your show horse. This horse's owner never did get mad, but they did ask me questions that made me mad. After they took him home and when he did not settle down, they called me and asked if I had teased mares with him. My answer was no, we tease with the stallion that we used for breeding. Why would I tease with a stallion that I was showing? From this horse and others like him I learned never breed and show this family. They can't handle both. And I learned that a owner's trust can go to hell in a hand basket very quickly.

Case #3

This horse was bred very much like the horse in case#2. He came to me in the fall of his 4th year. He had been with a lady trainer and just got to be too much for her. When I started to work him he wanted to buck a little, but mostly he wanted to run. After I got those things fixed, I started taking him to schooling shows. Like the other horse of his breeding he was a great western pleasure horse. At one point I had showed him 12 times and he had 10 blues and 2 red ribbons-this was in open competition against quarter horses and all. He was really good. He was so good his owners wanted to breed a few mares to him. I told them of my experience with horses of this breeding and I felt that if we bred him we were going to loose our show horse. After lots of talk they decided that instead of breeding four mares, they would breed just one, surely that wouldn't hurt. I finally said he is your horse, do what you want. Well we bred the one mare and I never won another class. He eventually went home and was gelded. These owners were never angry with me, but they questioned me, wanting to know if the other trainer that shared the barn with me had been riding the horse. They thought that maybe the other trainer had ruined their horse.

Case #4

I said I would tell three stories but I thought of another that think is pretty interesting. I had a young mare for these people and she was very special. I worked her some as a two year old, but she was too little to do much good at showing. They wanted her to be a fine harness horse but she was just too little. As a three year old I talked them into letting me make a pleasure horse out of her. She did pretty good in pleasure driving and I started her under saddle that summer. She was still a little small and I felt that as a four year old she would be outstanding in harness and under saddle. That summer they brought me her full brother. He was a big colt but clearly not the quality of the mare. The owners felt that the mare was so good that her brother would make a good stallion. But I finally talked them into gelding him. About an hour after he was gelded his intestines fell out of the hole where he had been gelded. The vet that gelded him, worked with him for hours, but to no avail. If a horse lays down when this happens and gets any dirt on his intestines , you can seldom save them. He died after a couple of days. His owners said that they understood, but they were never the same with me. Later that fall they got the mare home for the winter, she was to return early in spring. She never did come back. In this fall from grace I lost a customer and good friends. They were always nice to me, but never the same.

That spring they took the mare to another trainer. This decision turned out to be a good one. I was just sorry for the way it happened. This trainer had a wife that was a very good rider and driver and she was just the right size for the mare.That fall the mare was World Champion English pleasure 4 year old and W.C. pleasure driving 4 year old. For about three years she was ladies W.C. English pleasure horse and W.C. pleasure driving. Quite a horse.


Saturday, May 06, 2006

Blame the Trainer

A few years back I knew a pretty good trainer, we'll call him W.D. He had lots of horses in training and used to win his share. He worked for a private stable, but he could take outside horses. He finally got tired of all the ups and downs of the horse business and quit. He took a job that paid pretty well and for the first time , he had health insurance for his wife and kids. Most horse trainers have no health insurance.

The interesting thing about his quitting was that every horse I met for about three years had been wrecked by W.D. according to their owners. He was a great trainer while he was training, but when he quit, he got blamed for everything.

I was in a driving class once and a lady driver called for a time out. She told the judge, of all people, that a piece of white plastic on a fence that was near the ring was bothering her horse. She told the judge and everyone around the ring that her horse was scared to death of white plastic because W.D. had beat him with plastic. I always just thought that her horse was crazy. I think he was born that way. For a few years, if your horse was making you look bad, just lay the blame on dear old W.D.

If you have a horse that came home from the trainer a little crazy and is still crazy after a year, your horse has a problem other than his trainer. Horses don't stay crazy without a stimulant. If given a chance, most horses want to be quiet.

A horse will change any behavior once he discovers he is wasting his time. Horses that don't change can have a deeper problem. They really aren't all born equal you know.


Thursday, May 04, 2006

Horse Trainers

I started training horses in 1961. In that time I have seen them all, the good, the bad and the ugly. Some horse trainers get the credit for things they had nothing to do with, and other times they get blamed for things that don't go just right. Sometimes they are to blame, sometimes they are not.

To help understand horse training and horse trainers there are some things that should be looked at. There are trainers that are good at showing. Some are good grooming. Some are really good trainers. Some are good at teaching. Some are good at B.S. But the owner chooses them, no matter what they are, the owner chooses them. So no matter what they are, they were made that way by owners. As an owner, you can determine the success or failure of any trainer.

Today it seems that to be successful you have to have a million dollar facility. The talent of the trainer seems to be an afterthought. If he has a place that nice, he must be good. He does have to be good, he has to be a good businessman.

When a trainer starts to pay for a million dollar facility, he has to train large numbers of horses. You have to have lots of help. Just the upkeep is staggering. Once a trainer has over 20 horses in training, he has to have lots of help, or should have lots of help. That is why the cost is so high today. I hear anywhere from $500 to $1200 and more per month. You pay for Joe Blow to ride your horses and his assistant rides your horse. Why didn't you just send your horse to the assistant? Because the assistant doesn't have the facility. So you are really sending your horse to a facility.

Is your goal to go to the Nationals for your breed? If so, does your trainer tell you that your horse is not going to make it or does he keep him around for 5 or 6 more months to help pay the bills? There are trainers that will send them home, and there are others that will keep them forever if you let them. Someone has to pay for that facility. There will be much more coming on this trainer and training thing. I should say here as with anything that I write, THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULE.