Simply Morgan 2008

An interview by Steve Giberti of TuHawke Farm with Shannon Hanley of The Quietude Stud. 

Shannon and Susan Hanley have been breeding Lambert Morgan horses for the last thirty-three years. Without their efforts the oldest family in the Morgan breed most certainly would have vanished. The following interview is an insight into a successful preservation breeding program with a closed herd of seventy to eighty Lambert Morgan horses that has produced 288 foals to date. 

Q. The Quietude Stud has had a successful breeding program that has lasted for over three decades. What do you attribute for your success?

A. Our great foundation stallion Criterion, the last living grandson of Jubilee King and our  shared passion for these wonderful Morgan horses.

 Q. Francis Bryant, who owned Jubilee King for the last ten years of his life, is an important figure in the annals of Morgan breeders. You were fortunate enough to know Mrs. Bryant personally. What lessons did you learn from her?

A. Most importantly—that “there was another line back”. She got us to look back beyond Jubilee King himself to the true foundation stallion of this family—Daniel Lambert. Both Francis Bryant and Joseph Brunk knew and valued this sire line source behind their stock. However, she never mentioned this family by this name to us. Perhaps because early in the twentieth century ‘Lambert’ conveyed ‘trotting blood’. Anyway, I think she was pleased with our efforts to revive this family, restore its rightful name, and work to gain an equal standing for this family alongside the Lippitts (‘Woodbury’ family prior to1918) as one of the two great surviving historical Morgan families.

 Q. How has the marketplace changed in the last 33 years?

 A. I think there has been a gender shift. Girls, women and horses have always enjoyed a heaven-made marriage. But I recall more interest and sales from men in our early years. Maybe NASCAR has won all the guys away—their loss, I say. But maybe, too, it had something to do with our settling in West Virginia. Here so many of the old timers had grown up behind a team of draft horses. When we arrived they many came to see these Morgans we had. Tellingly, one very old man, looking Criterion over, said, “We use to have horses like this round here when I was little. Only we didn’t call them Morgans—we called them Green Mountains.” I later learned that the great Hale’s Green Mountain crossed through Pennsylvania and Ohio in a boxcar, making whistle stops here and there to cover mares. Some of his issue evidently must have found their way down here into the Greenbrier Valley of West Virginia—making him, I guess, a kind of equine Johnny Appleseed.  

Q. You had a successful program long before the Internet arrived. How has the adoption of the Internet affected your program?  

A. It has brought our unique Lambert Morgans to the attention of many more people than magazine ads could have. Susan, once a professional photographer, with her extraordinary website can showcase our stock now in a way never possible in the days of snail mail, handwritten letters, and snapshots. She has over sixty flash and Quick  Time movies of our Lambert Morgans on our website.  

Q. How do the foals produced at The Quietude Stud in 2007 differ from the foals produced ten, twenty, thirty years ago.  

A. As the Lippitt/Woodbury’s influence has receded in our herd, the Jubilee King/Daniel Lambert influence and identity has become fortified and able to express itself more powerfully with each succeeding generation. Now the Lambert loveliness and character, the Lambert grandeur and nobility, is more vividly evident than before.  

Q. Life on the farm can be very rewarding, but it also can be very difficult. What has been your biggest disappoint? 

A. No shattering disappointments—big or small. Save one perhaps—that of not having met Susan earlier in my life. This rich charmed life would have been impossible without her.  

Q. In golf, the weekend duffers use a Mulligan if one of their shots goes astray. It’s an unofficial ‘do-over’. If you had a Mulligan to use for your breeding program, when would you have used it and why?  

A. Not having bred closer sooner with Criterion. When we finally did it was like we had struck The Lost Dutchman goldmine. Thereafter, we steadily learned what this family had to offer—what rich ore it contained.
The great seventeenth century English livestock breeder, Robert Bakewell of Dishley Grange, had made much the same discovery when he, to the horror of his contemporaries, employed close breeding to fix the identities of existing British cattle and sheep breeds. I had read about him and his successes, now I was seeing the truth of his tactic unveiled before my eyes. 

Q. What would you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?

A. Not going under farming. So many farmers of my generation did. Considering I started out as city kid from the west side of Cleveland, who didn’t know which end of the cow the silage went in and which the compost came out, it borders on the remarkable that I’m still at it.

Q. In fifty years time, when someone reads this interview, what would you like them to know about The Quietude Stud that they wouldn’t find out anywhere else?

 A. That not everyone wished us well in our efforts to preserve the Lambert Morgan family. Everyone has critics, of course. Fair enough. But sworn enemies, who have never once laid eyes on our horses, yet have chosen to malign our program. Why?  I don’t know. Jealous of our success perhaps. Every breeder is every other breeder’s competitor, I understand and accept. But to take the spirit of competition off into the twilight zone, however, boggles the imagination. Yes, I would like it to be recalled that there were scoundrels who tried to take us down—and failed.

Q. What has changed the most in the world of horse breeding in the last thirty years?

A. Horses have been breeding each other for thousands of years, sometimes with man’s help, mostly without. I doubt that little other than the advent of ‘the portable ultrasound machine’ and the overnight shipment of equine semen, is really new in the last thirty years.

I do think the rise of Natural Horsemanship in the same period had been a wonderful development, though unrelated to breeding, of course.

Q. Many breeders can’t make a go of it. What do you owe your success to while others have fallen by the wayside.  

A. Does getting by year after year qualify as success? I don’t know. But I think the fact we are still joyously at it after all this time is owed to two things. First and foremost, that our two hearts beat as one with everything we do here. Second, that, as luck would have it, three great farms fell into our hands. Lady Wentworth of Arabian Horse fame once remarked that no one could succeed in horse breeding without ‘the farm behind.’ Fortunately, we have been blessed with that. It has made all the difference in the world. 

Q. Besides the sheer beauty, what do you like the most about Quietude. 

A.  The limestone soil upon which it rests. All the great horse producing regions of the world are located in limestone rich areas. The Little Levels area of The Greenbrier Valley in which our farms are located is one of the choice grazing areas in the East. I’ve heard local farmers tell me that other than about a thirty mile radius around Lexington, Kentucky, the Greenbrier Valley’s grazing land is second to none.  

Q. Did you start out with a defined breeding objection and were you able to follow that objective or did circumstances dictate that you modify your plan? 

A. I think our objective, in the beginning, was to do right by this marvelous animal, Criterion, that Fran Bryant had entrusted us with, and to find the best mares for him. If we modified our ‘plan,’ it was simply finding our own way. Letting our mind’s eye and our literal physical eyes guide us forward. Susan, a graduate of the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts, had a background that has helped in this regard. Because, truthfully, there’s more art than science in breeding horses. There are breeders who try to ‘engineer’ a better horse, but I believe in the end it all comes down to that elusive vision thing. Remember that wise old saying. Thousands can talk for one who can think—hundreds can think for one who can see. So it is with horse breeding. Seeing aesthetically. Because when you get right down to it, we’re in business to sell loveliness.

Q. At what point did you feel like you had accomplished your goals?

A. Each year we are able to pay our farm mortgages.

Q. The Quietude Stud is a bit off the beaten path even in 2008. It could be the definition of ‘rural America.’ Do you think that the remote location was a hindrance or a help in your ability to sell your Lamberts? 

A. Neither. Horse lovers will travel far to find what they are seeking. Fortunately for us, some of them have been seeking what we produce and have sought us out.

Q. What advice would you give to someone thinking about becoming a Lambert breeder.

A. If you marry, marry well. And I don’t mean money. If a couple isn’t really in it together, the rigors and responsibilities of owning and caring for these large wonderful animals may not stand the test of time.

Q. What makes the Lambert Morgan so special?

A. A timeless loveliness, an athletic prowess, that has spanned two centuries now. Look at any artist’s rendition of Sherman Morgan. Look then at Criterion. Time can’t diminish the likeness. It’s just unbelievable. 

Q. In your opinion, why is the Lambert Morgan still one of the worlds’ best kept secrets?

 A. I think the Morgan horse itself is one of the ‘world’s best kept secrets.’ In the Lambert family’s case, I think it may have to do with these two historical Morgan families, Lambert/Lippitt/Woodbury comprising only one or two percent of the breed.

 Q. You have a very loyal following of Lambert owners. What makes these people so unique?

 A. I think they find something in these horses they already have in themselves. Kindness and dignity.

 Q. Why should anyone who is looking to purchase a new horse consider the Lambert Morgan?

 A. To have a love affair that will last a lifetime.

 Q. Is it true that Shannon hasn’t spent a night away from the farm in over thirty-three years?

 A. No, once he started to bicycle off with E.T to places unknown, but then thought better of it and stayed home.

 Q. The inner circle of horse breeders can be nasty at times with rumors and innuendoes. What has been the hardest thing to defend yourselves against that someone has said about your program?

 A. Ken Telford’s assertion that Jubilee King wasn’t a Morgan but a Saddlebred. This appeared in his 1988 vanity-published book, The Origins of The Modern Morgan. I, and many others, look on Telford as the literary equivalent of Timothy McVeigh—someone who got high on destruction. In truth, it wasn’t a charge difficult to defend against. Look at our horses. Having bred this family as closely and as intensely as we have, had he been a Saddlebred our stock by now should resemble African giraffes, not Sherman Morgan as they so undeniably do.

 Q. If you could make one addition to Quietude what would it be?

 A. A thirty year old Susan and Shannon.

 Q. When making your breeding decisions for the next year, what is the first thing you consider.

 A. Character! I think its what any horse lover lives with and loves in his or her animals.

 Q. Crispin of Quietude recently passed away at the grand old age of twenty-eight. He produced thirty-seven magnificent Lamberts during his life at Quietude. Although Crispin wasn’t the flashiest horse at the farm, you chose to breed him many times and had wonderful results. What was it about Crispin that led you to believe he would be a proficient sire.

 A. I’m not sure we knew what to believe about him when we started using him. Though tall, and an astounding mover, he lacked the majesty of Criterion. However, time and time again, he nicked beautifully with Criterion’s daughters and grand daughters. And while not the flashiest individual, he was a sire who spoke loud and clear with his Lambert genes. He was without question a remarkable breeding animal.

 Q. I’ve noticed that there are more than a couple of Golden Retriever dogs living the good life at Quietude. It might not be a coincidence that you chose them to be your canine companions Do you find any similarities that exist between the Lambert horses and the dogs?

 A. There is something gentle and frolicsome in both.

 Q. If you could keep only one stallion and one mare from the Lamberts living now at Quietude which would you choose?

 A. I couldn’t answer that question and won’t even try. What painter would toss away all the colors from his palette save one.

 Q. What is the biggest mistake a breeder can make?

 A. Listening to people who don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

 Q. Life at Quietude is very busy with the horses, sheep and cows and chores. What do you do in your spare time?

 A. Talk with Susan. Endlessly. It’s one off the enduring joys of my life. Right up there with drinking Guinness.

 Q. I’ve heard that Shannon is writing a novel. Will we be able to get a copy soon.

 A. You don’t even want to go there, Steve. Shannon’s novels are published in the wastepaper basket where they belong.

 Q. What should be the legacy of The Quietude Stud?

 A. We hope our grandkids will be riding horses and driving tractors here in years after we are gone. What more can a couple of American Gothics like us ask for. Perhaps one of them will choose to carry on this breeding program. Maybe not. But this heavenly valley will behere for our family for generations yet to come.

 Q. Within the Morgan community there are two factions at odds. Some are defending the ‘old style’ Morgan and some are defending the ‘new type’. These two types of Morgan horse quite obviously do not resemble each other. What are your thoughts on this friction and what do you think can be done to resolve the matter before it causes serious damage to the future of the breed?

 A. We just don’t get out of here to mix with people. I have no worthwhile thoughts on this topic. There’s no explaining taste. There never will be. But I do think there is a timeless appeal to the classic Morgan type. I think they will always win fans. I know they will. We see it with visitors all the time.

 Q. You both had successful careers before becoming caretakers of the Lambert family. What skills were necessary in your former jobs that are also necessary in breeding?

 A. Keeping order in a classroom must have some parallel with breaking up stallion fights. Sue’s photographic skills are the lifeline that keeps our operation afloat.

 Q. What worries you about the future of the Lambert Morgan?

 A. Very little, truthfully. I think good horses always find appreciative buyers.

 Q. Of all the traits possessed by the Lambert, which trait do you consider to be the most important?

 A. Their lovability.

 Q. When you look back at your journey through life, and the work you’ve accomplished with the Lambert Morgans at The Quietude Stud up to this point in 2008, what amazes you the most?

 A. That we’ve not been arrested for having so much fun doing this for a living.

 Q. At what point in a foal’s life does it become apparent that it might have the special qualities that you are looking for and thus decide to make part of your breeding program?

 A. What can I say. Some of them just turn your head. Now and then one whispers to you, “Psst, hey, boss. Don’t put a price on me. I might be your Once And Future King.”

 Q. How do you come up with all those great names?

 A. They’re all from old girl friends I once had. Yeah—don’t I wish. Seriously, I’m partial to melodious place names. In short, I go looking for them.