Laura Dean Bennett
Morgans are one of America’s preeminent horse breeds, tracing their lineage back to the late 1700s.
The breed began with the birth in 1789 of its foundation sire, a sturdy and stylish Vermont colt named Figure, who was owned by a man named Justin Morgan.
The stallion gained a reputation for versatility and the ability to outperform other horses, no matter their breeding or their size.
He became known as an excellent sire – passing along his good temperament and good looks.
Morgans became one of America’s favorite horse breeds during the 19th Century – after all, they made excellent coach horses, harness racers, work horses and cavalry mounts.
Two hundred years later, in the mountains of Pocahontas County, the tradition of breeding fine Morgan horses continues.
Shannon and Susan Hanley, of Hillsboro, have devoted the past 46 years of their lives to the preservation of one particular line of Morgans – the Lambert Morgans.
Quietude Farm was established here in 1973, when the Hanleys arrived from Westchester, New York, with their family – Marcie, 13, Mark, 11, a dog, a cat, two chickens and their newly acquired Morgan stallion, Criterion.
They were searching for property for a breeding operation and discovered Pocahontas County when Susan’s mother, traveling through Lewisburg, happened to see a real estate ad, and the rest, as they say, is history.
“Now we have three adjoining properties – Quietude Stud Farm, Marcie’s Farm – Highland Trace ( a beautiful house used as an airbnb) and the River Farm – 100 acres along the Greenbrier River,” Hanley said.
Nestled along a winding road and perched atop a wide plateau of rolling, grassy fields ringed by steep mountains, sits one of the best kept secrets in Pocahontas County.
And it is there, starting with Criterion, that the Hanleys have dedicated their lives to preserving one particular Morgan horse family line.
A Lambert Morgan is a horse whose sire line traces directly back to pedigreed foundation horses – Justin Morgan I through Sherman Morgan 5 and Daniel Lambert 62.
All this to say that the Lambert line is one of the oldest Morgan lines in existence.
“Criterion was the foundation of our Lamberts,” Hanley said.
“We wouldn’t be here to- day if it wasn’t for him. When we got started, many Morgan people didn’t even recognize Lamberts as a Morgan line.
“But Lamberts go back to the Daniel line – they are even older than the Lippitt line,” she explained.
Hanley, the 91 year old matriarch of Quietude Stud, is an expert horsewoman who maintains a hands-on relationship with every stallion, mare and foal on her farm.
She graciously took me on a tour of the breeding farm.
I rode along with her in her ubiquitous golf cart to survey a sea of chestnut horses, most with flaxen manes and tails.
There are patient mares nursing sprightly foals, retired stallions, breeding stallions turned out with their mares and young stallions at liberty – all as stately as royalty, but friendly, gentle and curious.
The farm is clearly an equine paradise.
The rich grass, rolling hills and limestone water make for well-fed, well-exercised and strong-boned horses.
“I guess a family owned horse breeding farm is out of reach for most people nowadays,” Hanley said.
“There are still a few small breeders, but land is hard to come by, and horses are so expensive.
“But it’s a wonderful way of life.”
We make the rounds past fields where beautiful stallions graze until we come close enough to pique their interest, and then they trot up to be petted.
They are all as docile as puppies, but they retain an air of nobility, and I could swear that, when I raise my camera, they are posing for me.
Hanley tells me about the decades of selective breeding – hand breeding, field breeding and AI breeding – and the work that it takes to keep a herd of 40 horses healthy, happy and in top form.
We pass a field where a visiting mare is turned out with a stallion named Olympian. The mare’s owners in the U.K. are hoping for a foal who will have a career in dressage.
The Quietude Lambert Morgans have made a name for themselves in competition trail riding, endurance, driving and dressage.
“We’ve sold horses to Canada, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Bermuda, New Zealand and now, Cezanne is getting ready to make the trip to Australia.
The $25,000 journey is going to be arduous for Cezanne, including travel time and a stay in quarantine in California.
His new home will be in Adelaide, Australia, with award-winning novelist Eva Hornung.
Hornung should have excellent taste in breeding stock, she’s Australia’s Morgan Horse Pure-Bred Registrar.
Sadly, the Lambert Morgan horse line is nearing extinction.
“There are only two hundred Lamberts still able to produce offspring in the whole world,” Hanley lamented.
“These horses are so special – even the stallions are so gentle and easy to handle; they never, ever bite or kick at you.”
If the Lambert line of Morgans does survive, it will be due to the passion of Susan and Shannon Hanley for this stunningly beautiful family of horses, who so gracefully embody the best traits of the Morgan horse.
Laura Dean Bennett may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org