Morgan Caplane: From County Shows to the Grand Prix Ring

BY JESS CLAWSON

Morgan Caplane got her start in horses in the most delightfully unfettered way a child could, and has grown that seed of passion into a successful imports and sales business in California. Her desire to be in the barn every single day has turned into the gift of finding the right horses for specific jobs.

Neither of Caplane’s parents were horse people, but when she was a young child they bought a property in Mariposa as a weekend getaway. “The guy who came to do the fencing told them the property would work for horses,” she said. “So my dad, who grew up above a liquor store in New Jersey, thought, ‘I could be a cowboy.’”

Morgan’s parents bought a couple of pasture horses, and she was immediately hooked. On the weekends, she spent all day, every day in the fields with her dad and the horses. “We went through all the moronic experiences you go through when you don’t know what you’re doing: we had horses who bucked me off, who we couldn’t get on, couldn’t catch. But horses became my everything at a pretty early age,” Morgan said.

When she was around 13, Morgan started taking riding lessons during the week and riding her quarter horse on the weekends in the county shows. “I was the kid who entered every single class,” she said. “My poor horse!”

Learning to ride and love horses in an unstructured setting helped Morgan become the innovative horsewoman she is now. “It’s such a gift to learn about horses in that environment, and to get to figure out what works and what doesn’t for yourself. You find yourself on the ground thinking, well that didn’t work,” she laughed.

Kumonia, Morgan’s current GP horse who came from Julian Kraaij, her partner in the Netherlands. 

Morgan deferred college for a year to ride with the deal that she would sell her horse when she started school to focus on her education, but within weeks of starting college she had tracked down the three nearest barns. By her sophomore year, she and her horse loving classmates started an IHSA program at Wellesley. Morgan looked forward to being a lawyer, but ultimately realized that no matter what else she did, she always wanted to be in the barn more than anywhere else.

“My perspective changed,” she said. “My father died. I realized that I was lucky to have a passion and life is short, so I needed to do what I loved.” Morgan worked as a test prep tutor and in barns until she was able to go to Europe in 2010—a life changing experience for her.

“In Europe, riders are so innovative in their approaches to solving problems,” she said. The frequency of competition in Europe desensitized the horses, and the riders, to nerves. She started working with Alan Waldman and then with Julian Kraaij, both of whom taught her a lot about what is important. Having a good eye for a young horse matters, but the frills of banners and awnings don’t.

Daughter Jordan (2 1/2 years old) and husband Whit Griffinger. Biggest supporters. Photo courtesy of Morgan Caplane.

Morgan returned to California in 2012, where she still lives with her two and a half year old daughter Jordan, to begin building her horse-centric program. She bought a green mare mare, All Shenanigans, a tricky but incredibly talented horse with whom Morgan had a successful Grand Prix career. “She taught me a lot about myself, about riding. She’s one of those horses with whom you can’t carry any baggage into the conversation; you have to be 100% focused on what you’re doing and on her. She’s a true partner,” Morgan said of the mare. “She also taught me that I could pick out a good young horse and have the ability to develop one all the way.”

But regardless of challenges and successes, Morgan never loses sight of what’s most important to her: “We get to ride horses. It’s unbelievable.” She loves the moments of connecting with a horse and helping it feel safe and challenged, “to improve a horse and have a horse trust you, give you access to their body and allow you to challenge them and push them physically when they do not have to, that’s a gift. Who wouldn’t want to do that every day?”

All Shenanigans horse after a 2nd place finish in the Sherri Ellis Memorial Grand Prix

She also loves teaching riders the importance of communicating effectively with horses. “Riding is 20% what you do, and 80% how you do it,” she said. “I can teach the mechanics all day, but the riders also have to learn the feel. Look how many successful riders have unconventional styles.”

Her work with Julian taught her a lot about that openness to new approaches. “He gave me a lot of belief in myself,” she said. “Julian helps me remember to think outside the box and be creative and I find that really helpful.”

Morgan and Julian work together to import horses for sale. Julian is based in Holland, where he finds promising young horses, spends time with them, and then sends them to Caplane, who acclimates them to California and looks to find their perfect match. “I love getting to ride so many different types of horses, and it is so rewarding to find them the right home to watch them go on to be successful with their new riders.”

Casmir Z. Imported from Julian Kraaij in the Netherlands. Shown here winning the USET Finals.

Morgan’s horses have gone on to win the USET finals, take young riders from their first time jumping in the 1.0m to consistently winning in the 1.20m classes. “It’s really fun to be a part of that,” she said. “We’ll look around at a show and see half a dozen horses who came from us out there being successful. That feels good.”

Julian is a good partner in her sales business. “He’s a genuine, authentic person, and a good friend. He understands what we’re looking for in horses over here, and always finds quality horses who enjoy their job, who want to go out and do it,” she said. “This partnership is everything I dreamed it would be. I have so enjoyed seeing these horses be everything we expected that they would be over here.”

Wasco. Imported from Julian Kraaij in the Netherlands and shown by me in GP’s then sold 2 years ago to an amateur. 

Morgan wants prospective buyers to know that when they call her to come try horses, they will be riding good quality horses that she has represented accurately. “I really take the time to get to know my horses, because that helps me know what is and isn’t going to work from a sales perspective,” she said. “And if someone calls and wants a type of horse I don’t have, I probably know someone who does. I love seeing those connections be successful too.”

“When people come to try my horses, they usually get much more information than they expect,” Morgan said. “I’ll tell you every little quirk and preference, whether it’s the details of how we prepare the horse for shows or that he loves bananas. I want buyers to know everything I do about the horse so they can be as successful as possible. I am invested in that success, so I am also always available to help down the road if any difficulties arise.”

Fun Fun. Also imported from Julian and now owned by Kaitlin Campbell and has competed in GP with her as well as Low AO Jumpers with an amateur.

Morgan understands the importance of the team—with the horse, with Julian, with her clients, buyers, and the other people at her barn. “I’m really lucky to have an amazing team of people who’ve supported me on this journey, like my husband. It takes a lot of support to do this. It’s a hard job. And it takes a lot to come out and challenge yourself every day and want to get better.”

But that’s what Morgan does, day in and day out. “Every time I swing a leg over a horse, I smile,” she says. “I still can’t believe I get to do this with my life.”


About the Author: Jess is a professional historian and educator who lives in northwestern Virginia. They completed their undergraduate degree in English at William & Mary, and did their masters and doctoral work at the University of Florida. Jess is an event rider with a passion for thoroughbreds, and has extensive experience in community organizing around queer identities, racial marginalization, and labor.
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