(Calcutta of Quietude x Dulcimer of Quietude)

Shown at the age twenty-four.

(Quietude Merit x Coretta of Quietude)

Written by Tess Lloyd owner of Quietude Gibraltra

One mark of a successful horse breeder is his or her ability to product horses that are consistently true to type.  Susan and Shannon Hanley have such a knack for this skill that, as a fellow breeder once commented, they seem to have discovered the secret to cloning.  As I head down the hill from the foal barn to the bright green pasture of Morgan broodmares, colts, and fillies, I am embarrassed that I cannot tell one of the twelve chestnut mothers from the other.

            The Hanleys 400-acre horse farm, The Quietude Stud, lies in the Greenbrier River Valley of West Virginia.  With its fifty Morgans, Quietude is like a little section of New England magically transported south, and, indeed, atop the high mountains that rim the valley are alpine forests and bogs.  I have come here in search of the perfect country horse, the one who will carry me over trails with the verve of a hunter and pull up my firewood with the steadiness of a draft animal.  I am beginning to think that the Morgan might be just the horse.

            Clustered at the far end of the pasture, the broodmares are all head down and chomping away at the lush, early summer bluegrass.  A few foals frisk around their mother; most are stretched out flat on the ground, snoozing, and motionless except for an occasional ear wiggle or tail wag.

            At first I am ignored, and I observe the foals.  Even the most blue-blooded colt or filly when newborn resembles a small giraffe, with a high-set neck that seems better designed for stretching up to reach its dam’s nipple than bending down to graze.  Still, the foals insist on imitating their mothers, and they crook their forelegs, spindly as a shorebird’s, in their effort to nibble the grass.

            Eventually the most curious of the colts trots over to check me out.  He tentatively stretches out his muzzle, and in good equine form I too lean forward until, almost touching noses, we exchange sniffs.  The nappers wake up to see what’s happening, and soon I am conversing with most of the foals.

            Finally one of the mares approaches and, ear back, admonishes her foal to stay away from me.  Protecting her offspring, I think, until I realize that the mare, continuing to stand beside me, is simply asking for her share of the attention.  Before I return to the stable yard, I have to scratch the heads of several more mares.  Amazed by the horses’ friendliness, I remember a story Susan has told me about a previous visitor, a woman with two preschool children who dashed up to a young stallion loafing in a paddock and hugged the animal’s forelegs.  “He simply stood there and gently touched each head with his muzzle,” Susan had said.  “He wouldn’t have hurt those kids for the world.”

            Later, as I look through the breed bible, The American Morgan Horse Register, I pause at one statement:  “In this best horse, constitution, form, style, disposition, intelligence, and beauty are all to be desires.  A cheerful disposition for work is very essential.”  It is, I realize, no accident that the Quietude horses are so kindly and, as I will discover, so well suited to a variety of activities, from showing to plowing to herding cattle.  From the beginning, Morgan breeders have striven to product amicable, versatile horses.

            Since they arrived on the scene in 1789 in a one-horse act names Justin Morgan, the Vermont stallion who was progenitor of the entire breed, Morgans have played a dual role.  One the one hand were sparkling playboys like Daniel Lambert, a record-breaking trotter who was referred to as “one of the most beautiful of the family.”  On the other were Morgans like those that West Virginians called “Green Mountain” –modest, unsung work horses, the farmer’s favorites, famous only when they won local pulling contests.  In between came animals such as Jubilee King, Daniel Lambert’s famous descendent who, when he wasn’t siring top breeding and show horses, was hitched with four stable-mates to a plow.  And all seemed to possess the cheerfulness that made them, as one nineteenth-century observer noted, “willing at all times to do their best without stimulation from the lash.”

            With the advent of the internal combustion engine and the speedier Standardbred Trotter racehorse, breeders saw that the demand for Morgans for driving, farming, and racing was on the wane.  They felt that to prevent the breed’s dying out they needed to product a taller horse for pleasure riding and showing.  To achieve this greater size, breeders were allowed to cross their Morgans with larger horses like Thoroughbreds and American Addle Horses and still register the offspring as Morgans.  But extensive outcrossing can destroy the qualities that make a breed special, and in 1947 the Morgan Horse Association forbade further outcrossing lest the Just Morgan look disappear forever.

            In the midst of all this outcrossing, a few breeders believed that Morgans were perfectly good as they were.  True, they lacked the height of some other breed, but a horse 14.1 t 15.2 hands high—the typical Morgan size—was no midget.  Besides, old-line Morgans had nice, springy gaits that made them comfortable for riding, and they were athletic.  Above all, they had the combination of sweetness, spunk, and stamina that had made the breed so popular.  These breeders insisted on maintaining the purity of their horses.  Today, only three percent of the breed is free of outcrosses, but to the traditionalist, they are the finest Morgans, and among them are the Quietude horses. 

            Although Susan and Shannon Hanley are now one of the largest Morgan breeders in the East, they had no intentions of ever owning more than a few broodmares and maybe a stallion when they bought their farm.  In fact, except for raising a garden and a handful of pet goats, pigs, and chickens, they were hardly the type one would have pegged for farmers.  They lived in the New York City suburb of Westchester County, where Susan worked as a freelance photographer and Shannon taught English and wrote.  They still laugh about the time they took a sow to the vet to be castrated.

            But like many people in the early ‘70’s, the Hanleys were committed to the idea of farming.  Their newly purchased land, with its good pastures and barn, looked like the perfect set-up for a cattle and sheep operation, and that was the direction in which they first headed.  Through the years, their herds swelled to twenty cows and 150 eyes, and eventually they had to build a new barn to handle the lambing.

            Horses were in the picture in those early days, but more as draft animals and a pleasurable sideline than as the mainstay of the farm.  Susan was responsible for there being Morgans.  As a girl, she had hunted on a Morgan with the Groton, Massachusetts, Hunt Club, and she remembered her little horse’s ability to out-maneuver the larger Thoroughbred hunters in the rough terrain.  She also remembered the fortitude of the old-line Morgans she had seen on endurance rides, which can be as long as 100 miles.

            While searching for a Morgan broodmare, they Hanleys ran into Mrs. Frances Bryant of Woodstock, Vermont, who “bred more good horses than any other barn in the northeast,” says Susan.  Mrs. Bryant had just the mare for them, plus something else; a top-notch old-line stallion names Criterion.  “We really weren’t in the market for a stallion,” says Susan, but Mrs. Bryant, then in her seventies and cutting back on her herd, “wanted him to come to us—she ‘placed’ her horses with proper families,”

With great difficulty, they located as many Lambert mares as they could.  Some were in their twenties, but this fact did not disturb Susan and Shannon, who knew that long-lived Morgans often continue to be productive in their old age.  These mares—and, later, their daughter—were bred to Criterion.  Frequently such close inbreeding can lead to problems, but because Lamberts are, as Shannon puts it, “so strong genetically” because the Hanleys have bought other Lambert stallions, and because they occasionally bring in Lippitt blood, the result of their program has been the handsome “clones” I visited in the broodmare pasture.

            Upon selling their first foal, the Hanleys saw with surprise that their hobby had the potential to make money.  As they watched their account books each year, they realized that their horses—not their cattle or sheep—were paying the mortgage.  Convinced, as Shannon observes, that “horses were better for making money than making hay,” they prudently purchased tractors and put away their harnesses, converted the sheep barn into a foal barn, and held back young stock to renew their aging herd.  Local people began calling them “the curiosities of the county” for their ability to turn horses, traditionally a pastime of the wealthy, into a financially viable enterprise.  The West Virginia Department of Agriculture had another term for the Hanleys: in 1981 it named them one of the Farm Families of the Year.

Susan and Shannon attribute their success to the uniqueness and, even more, to the talent of the Lamberts.  The horses have the height and lively action that breeders mistakenly thought Morgans were lacking when outcrossing was begun, and they are therefore excellent for jumping and dressage.  They’re also fine driving horses for those who fancy trotting over the countryside in a cart or sleight.  And of course, as Susan notes, “If they’re built like Jubilee King, they can work!”  Before Shannon decided that farming with horses was “a fantasy more suited to a romantic than a middle-aged realist,” he sometimes used Criterion for plowing the garden and hauling hay. 

            As with all farming, life on a horse-breeding farm follows two cycles prescribed by nature—the sweeping patterns of the seasons, the smaller patterns of a day.  Yet within these cycles come countless unexpected variables.  My visit coincides with two of the large, early summer cycles, the end of foaling season and the middle of breeding season; this morning I am helping with one of the smaller, feeding.

            When Susan and I enter the first barn, we are greeted by the low chuckles horses give when they see the breakfast-bearers on the way.  A dozen heads poke over stall doors and crane as we walk by.  This is expected.  At the far end of the barn, a red hen perches atop a wagon load of hay.  This is one of the variables.  Because of two unexpected flat tires yesterday, Susan and Shannon were so late getting the hay to the barn that they barely missed the evening rain and scarcely found time to unload the wagon.

            As I fill water buckets, Susan tosses hay into the mangers—one small biscuit for each horse:  Morgans are easy keepers.  As Shannon later tells me, “Almost every Morgan in this country is overfed.  They’re designed to subsist like a goat.”  Of course a Hanley goat would be well-fed, since Quietude pastures grow in rich limestone soil.  During the summer, most of the Quietude horses—even the broodmares with foals—live solely on these pastures.

            The horses gathered in the barns are breeding stallions, who must each be kept in a separate paddock, and mares who will soon foal or be bred.  With twenty broodmares and seven stallions (not counting the young stock), the Hanley farm can get rather wild, like a good-free school of teenage boys and girls.  To some people, having seven stallions seems preposterous, but to Susan and Shannon it makes good sense.  Getting a mare to settle is a tricky business—so tricky that as Shannon describes the difficulties, I wonder how horses ever evolved as a species.  The conception rate for mares is low—between fifty and sixty percent.  This means that often they must be bred again, and again, and again.  If the stallion to which a mare is breeding live in her barn rather than on a farm 150 miles away, the process is easier.

            The multitude of stallions also aids the Hanleys in their attempt to breed Morgans that are perfect in conformation and disposition.  When Susan and Shannon match mares and stallions, they work from what Shannon calls “a vision, a Platonic ideal of the Morgan.”  First they study a mare to see how she meets up to the ideal:  then they look for the stallion who best complements her strengths and weaknesses.  Moreover, unlike breeding plants, which can product several generations a year, developing equine families is slow, since a mare will probably have no more than ten foals in a lifetime.  Thus, the ability to select from a wide genetic pool is important.

            Three mares are scheduled for breeding today.  To protect themselves from flailing hooves, Susan and Shannon put on helmets, which makes them look more like motorcyclists than horse farmers.  Susan brings out the first mare, a pretty little 996633 Lippitt: Shannon wraps her tail in a which bandage.  He then leads up the stallion, who proves a real ladies’ man; things are over before I have gotten settled on a truck fender to watch.

            The next mare presents one of the variables of horse farming.  She is plainly indifferent to the stallion, bored with the whole idea.  Somehow Susan and Shannon’s calculations are off; she is already out of season.  Returned to the pasture, she gleefully gallops back to her kinswomen, her foal bounding behind her.

            The last mare is definitely in season, and Shannon approaches with a third stallion.  But, unexpectedly, matters are prolonged.  Nearly a half-hour has gone by before the Hanleys can pull off their helmets and turn to the next tasks, bushhogging a field and cleaning stalls. 

            Two days before I am to leave, Susan and Shannon decide to move their cattle to a fresh pasture, and I volunteer to help.  Herding cattle and sheep are chores for which the Hanleys suspend their no-work-horse rule; you can’t whirl a tractor around to chase a stray calf or ewe up a wooded mountainside.  Over coffee, we discuss which horses we will ride.  Of the mares, only one, the 996633 Lippitt who was bred day before yesterday, is without a foal and of an age to carry a rider.  Susan suggests that I ride this mare; whose name is Rosemary, and that she use Crawford, one of the stallions.  Shannon is hesitant to send a stallion out with a mare in season, but Susan believes the two horses can work together anyway.  Although I wore western shirts and listened to Gene Autry when I was a kid, I am no cowgirl, and I hope Susan is right.

            When we arrive at Droop Mountain, where the cattle are pastured, they have already disappeared into the deep woods to escape the flies and heat.  We will have to ferret them out.  Shannon sets off on foot, a shepherd’s crook in his hand; Susan and I trot up a rocky ravine.

            Unlike some docile horses, Morgans are energetic under saddle, and today they seem glad to be out working.  We put Crawford in front, a ploy to distract him from Rosemary, and he is perfectly obedient.  When he does glimpse the mare, he calls to her, but Susan reprimands him with a “quiet,” and he gets back to business.

We scramble up a heavily-forested mountainside so steep that I wonder how the horses manage to keep from tumbling over.  I grab Rosemary’s thick mane, dodge branches, and envision that coming back down we will somersault head over heels like backwoods gymnasts.  But the horses are as agile in descending as in climbing.  At one place we come to a series of narrow, step-like ledges; Rosemary walks down them as calmly as if she has been using stairs all her life. 

            Eventually the cattle—or at least all we can find of them—are corralled, and we begin to drive them a mile up the road to the new pasture.  Susan and Crawford lead the way; Rosemary and I bring up the rear.  Our enemies are succulent front lawns, into which the hungry cow will dart for a bite to eat.  Rosemary and my job is to help Shannon, who jogs along on foot, round up these greedy stragglers.  Whenever I see one sneak off, I trot up behind it and yell, “Get on, Bossy!”  (No doubt an insult to an Angus.)

            At last we leave the cattle gobbling away in their new home.  As we head back to the farm, Susan laments that she and Shannon never have the time to stop work and just enjoy their horses.  I learn that Rosemary has been ridden only five or six times since the Hanleys brought her, and Crawford not much more.  I’m amazed; I had noticed that Rosemary was a little unresponsive to my hands, but in general the two horses were as cooperative as seasoned mounts.  I understand then the words of an old New Hampshire stagecoach driver, who in 1892 wrote; “For endurance, intelligence, and as trappy drivers the Morgans have no equal.  It was sometimes no easy matter to carry the mails through blinding sleet and heavy drifts, but I never had a Morgan horse look back at me.  They always faced the blast.  I have now a span of good Morgan mares on my farm, besides a Morgan stock horse, and they will draw more in a day, plow or harrow more ground, and keep fat on less feed than any team I know of.  I will keep them as long as I live.”  Like this old teamster, I know I have found the perfect country horse in the cheerful, hard-working Morgan.