Behind the Slide – Dr. James Morgan, Maryland

Forty years. Forty horses. Forty finals. Dr. Jim Morgan reached a milestone in his reining career during the 2019 NRHA Futurity. At 74 years old, he’s still riding colts at the biggest reining event of the year. 

“I never really kept track of those things. I was never worried about the last one, I was worried about the next one.” 

A vet by trade, Dr. Morgan is a reiner purely by choice. But his medical degree certainly comes in handy for breeding and raising his own futurity horses over the years. 

“Most of the horses I’ve ridden I rode their mothers, fathers and relatives before them. I had a pretty good idea of what they were going to be. Some of them were not great horses, they were just horses. I just went out there and made it work somehow.” 

Making the finals at an aged event, like the Futurity, should be the goal of every rider. The results of the finals don’t exactly matter because getting there is an honor in itself. 

Back in the old days, open and non pro riders competed in the same classes. There were several years when Dr. Morgan made both the open and non pro finals. This year, he’s riding in the prime time non pro finals. 

“Everybody goes in there and starts at 70, and then goes from there. I’ve just tried to make the most out of every horse that comes along.” 

There were years when Dr. Morgan didn’t anticipate making the finals. He surprised even himself on several occasions. Last year Dr. Morgan didn’t have much confidence in his mare, but she went ahead and won her go-round of the futurity to take the pair to the finals. 

“Sometimes I would be the last one in the finals, just kind of snuck into it. A couple times I made it out of the consolation class.” 

With his sights set on making 40 finals in a row, the pressure was on in 2019. Dr. Morgan’s mare, Guns R For Girls, isn’t exactly a dream to ride. In their first three shows together, things didn’t go quite as planned. 

“This horse is pretty complicated to ride. She has a list of rules that are kind of hard to uncover and abide by. But once I started doing that, things got better rapidly. I was very pleased with the way she showed because it was a lot less complicated than it had been in the past.” 

The palomino marked a 215.5 during their run. Since she’s the only horse Dr. Morgan brought to Oklahoma City, he said all he needs to do is keep her legged up and ready for the finals. This gives him plenty of time to scoot around State Fair Park for the week. 

“Without Brian [Bell], this wouldn’t have been possible. He kind of takes care of me. He’s been a big part of it. I can call on him any time, and he is glad to help.” 

Since Dr. Morgan is the oldest NRHA million-dollar rider in history, he’s still competing against people who are at least 50 years younger than him. The fresh perspective Brian brings to the table gives Dr. Morgan his competitive edge. 

“Brian has extended himself to me in a way that is so special. I’ve done most of the riding on her myself, but when I run into trouble, Brian stops by the house and he rides her and helps me get through it. He’s really made it so I could compete.”