There are times in life when road blocks are put in your path, and some people find a way to navigate around the road blocks while others accept the barrier as a limitation. Then there’s Morgan Wagner, who has navigated life and horse challenges with grace and unwavering determination.
I first met Morgan Wagner and Endo last winter at the barn where I board. After watching her and Endo work together for a few weeks I approached her with the idea of doing an interview and shopping it to a national equine magazine. She agreed and almost a year later, here we are, with Morgan and Endo featured in a national horse publication and me with my first ever national publication. The story of Morgan and Endo is not only meaningful because Endo is blind (as in no-eyeballs blind) but also because Morgan has Lupus and yet works through her own challenges to live a full and passionate life.
Endo’s eyes were removed in 2012 and 2013. After numerous bouts with uveitis, his eyesight was diminishing and he was in pain. He became unsafe to be around as he started spooking at the shadows that crept into his visual field. Morgan knew she was taking a gamble by removing his eyes. She risked not only the ability to ride him, but even his ability to keep living a safe life. It is a testament to Morgan’s patience in training and Endo’s trust in Morgan that they came out the other side of blindness and flourished together. They compete, and win, in working equitation competitions.
Morgan is no stranger to setbacks. Her own struggles are partially to blame, or credit depending on your view, of why she wanted to give Endo a chance at a meaningful life despite a disability. Morgan was diagnosed at age 19 with lupus, although looking at her you wouldn’t suspect anything is amiss. Lupus exacts its dysfunction in numerous ways that aren’t always obvious to a passive observer, but can be life altering for the individual experiencing them. Until recently, Morgan hasn’t shared much about her own challenges, not wanting to give people the impression she is seeking fame or charity. But her own struggles give greater depth and meaning to the special bond between her and Endo, as well as her patience for Endo’s learning curve after becoming blind. Before he lost his sight, she taught him tricks to help mitigate some of the challenges due to her lupus. She taught him to lie down to easily get on him if there was no mounting block. She also taught him to lower his head so she could bridle him without a struggle, as Endo is 15.2 hands and Morgan is only 5’3” tall. She also taught Endo to stop if Morgan became unbalanced, an important skill due to dizzy spells she would experience from medication.
Together, Morgan and Endo have shown what teamwork can look like, regardless of rider or mount deficits. They have also become unofficial ambassadors of the sport of Working Equitation. The only reason I came to know the sport was because of this pair in a video on YouTube. Each of their videos have thousands of views.
In an age when fewer people are getting involved in horse sports, this pair is a boon to the business. And what a way for the equestrian community to show that your ability (horse or rider) is what matters. A disability does not define you or your horse.
Not everyone is as impressed with the time and energy Morgan has put into Endo. Though she has not only helped him to navigate the world without sight, but also to excel in working equitation competitions, some people have asked why she bothers and question whether she asks too much of the gelding. They have gone so far as to ask why she didn’t just put him out to pasture and let him lead a simple life. Her pat answer to such questions is that every positive experience Endo has in a new place, and the mastery of every new skill, makes him that much safer of an animal to be around. She originally started training Endo with the hope she could demonstrate that blind horses still have value and could be rescued and have meaningful relationships with their owners. But Morgan’s own disability stood in the way of being able to continue working and barred her from being able to continue her work rescuing and rehabilitating blind horses.
Sometimes people inquire how Morgan can ride with a disability such as Lupus. That shouldn’t she herself preserve her life and lead it carefully? Within the confines of managing a chronic disease?
And to that, Morgan asks, “Do they expect people with disabilities to just lay down and die? I want to live my life doing the things I enjoy. I sold all of my material possessions so that I could afford to show him. I want to pursue the things that make me happy.”
It’s a fair question. Being a horse lover myself, I could never expect someone to give up their equine hobby because it didn’t fit my perception of what a person with disabilities can do. And watching Endo and Morgan together, I tend to think Endo feels more at ease with Morgan than he would being turned out to pasture. He sticks his head out of his feeding window at the sound of her voice, “looking” for her. He also will stretch his head toward her, using sound and touch to find her, for scratches. Sometimes while riding my own horse while Morgan is working Endo, I forget that he’s blind. They share a deep bond that is almost visible while watching them together. Endo’s extraordinary talent seems to be the product of their bond and Morgan’s dedication to him, not some kind of forced display pushed by Morgan.
I asked Morgan if she received much attention from people with disabilities, telling her she and Endo have been an inspiration.
“Not really.” She shrugs. “Mostly people ask for advice about coping with their own blind or going-blind horse.”
I press for more and ask what she would tell someone who was looking for encouragement in dealing with a challenge or disability.
She takes a moment and responds, “Do what you want, don’t put limitations on yourself. You’ve got to find a way to do what you want.”
And Morgan has demonstrated that drive time and time again.
Recently the three different United States Working Equitation associations voted to adopt a uniform rulebook. The changes made in the rules now prevent Morgan and Endo from competing in events put on by two of the associations, as the rules state blind horses are not allowed to compete. However, in true resilient-Morgan fashion, she is just happy to be able to continue to welcome new-comers to the sport and still be able to compete with Endo in the WE United association events. Morgan is also bringing up Sephiroth, her Andalusian who she trained and competes with as well.
You can read more about Morgan and Endo in the January issue of Equus Magazine. And if you see Morgan around, I know she’d sign your copy for you, or have Endo add his own slobbered stamp of authenticity.
If you haven’t seen this pair in action, check them out here. You’ll forget he’s blind as they navigate their world with such sure steps. In a time when we can be cynical, Morgan and Endo will remind you of why we all love horses: the partnership, the silent conversations, the promise of having a relationship with an animal that transcends the senses. Getting the opportunity to interview Morgan was truly an inspiring, and humbling opportunity. I look forward to watching their progress. Frankly I think they should star in their very own Disney movie. It’s been awhile since there’s been a great horse flick. And I’m offering to help write it!
You can follow Morgan and Endo on Facebook.
I’m definitely not as cool as Morgan OR Endo, but you can still follow me as well on Facebook.