Morgan horse breeder Nancy Eidam has an office crammed with championship ribbons, plaques and silver cups - a testament to her 40 years of success at training and showing horses. But her latest prize, an induction into the American Morgan Horse Association's Breeder's Hall of Fame, is one that really makes her proud.
"There's this magic moment when they're born," she said. "This perfect little creature has so much potential to bring joy to people, and to improve the breed ... . It's very special."
Eidam has been a horse lover since she was 2 years old, but her passion took flight when she discovered Morgans, one of the earliest horse breeds developed in the United States.
Named after Justin Morgan, the 16th-century owner of the stallion from which the breed descends, Morgans have long been prized for their versatility and intelligence. For many years the U.S. government maintained a breeding program for them in order to supply the cavalry, mail service and the National Park Service.
Eidam said most Morgan lovers discover the breed after flirting with "the others." She can wax all day about their beauty, smarts and inherent kindness. The kind of horses she strives to breed are so gentle she calls them "pocket children" - they are so easy to handle they're practically in your pocket.
Not that all Morgans are suited for beginners, Eidam cautioned. There are the "bomb-proof" old-timers that are perfect for children, she said, and then there are the "deluxe models" for accomplished horsemen and women.
"That's like going from a stick shift to the ultimate sports car," she said.
Eidam has learned over the years how to match a person's temperament with the right horse, and her success can be attributed to not just her understanding of horses, but people, too. She specializes in coaching young people in the art of horse showing - an intricate, challenging world where the competition is fierce. In addition to 10 regional championship shows and many other "Class A" Morgan Horse shows, there is the Grand National and World Championship Morgan Horse Show held in Oklahoma City every year.
Just to prepare a horse for a show takes a great deal of time and effort, Eidam said. For example, Morgan horse tails are not brushed, they are hand-picked so that individual strands are not broken. The equipment, and the riders, must be absolutely spotless - and that's just the beginning. Once in the ring, riders must deftly, quickly work with their horses and complete the required pattern or course.
"It's like a chess game," Eidam said. "You must train your mind - it's a mind game and a half."
But what it teaches kids, she said, is how to prepare, and strive, for something they really want. Eidam said every class, or competition, will teach a young rider something, regardless of whether they win or not. The sun will come out tomorrow if they make a mistake, the trick is to focus on what they did right, she said.
"A ribbon color doesn't matter to me, it's the improvement and accomplishment in each class," she said.
Eidam has been on the AMHA's National Youth Steering Committee for many years, and is a past president of the Blue Mountain Morgan Horse club, the Pacific Northwest Morgan Horse Association and the Oregon Horsemen's Association. She's been a Morgan horse judge for 40 years and has traveled to shows in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and England.
"I have friends all over the world," she said. "This breed is like a large family."
Eidam's won Youth Person of the Year and Woman of the Year awards from the AMHA, as well as the Golden Reins Award for outstanding professional horsemanship, and a Masters Certificate.
Most recently, Eidam organized the Hermiston Horse-A-Fair, a full day of horse activities and education this past March at the Hermiston Conference Center. The idea was to bring horse-lovers, and the "non-horsey" public together, she said. There are too many divisions among horse people, she said.
The event brought area horse people together in a non-competitive environment, Eidam said. There were presentations by horse experts and veterinarians, a western style show featuring vintage riding wear, and a slide show of high mountain riding and packing by the U.S. Forest Service. Eidam brought one of her beloved Morgans, Higgins, for the kids to pet.
The event was such a success that Eidam is already planning next year's Horse-A-Fair.
"It was an amazing day," she said. "Everyone had such a good time."