Jim and Vali Suddarth's gaited Morgans are known for their versatility: hauling, running, endurance and trail riding

Jim and Vali Suddarth of rural Camden County, breeders of gaited Morgan horses, are an extraordinary couple in many ways. Both are self-proclaimed ‘horse nuts’ which they admit is a good thing as a married couple. “We know others where only the man or woman is horse crazy and that makes it hard on the couple as one is often riding and the other is waiting around, trying to understand this strange attraction.” Anyone who has ever known someone afflicted with this particularly delightful compulsion understands.
“Gaited Morgan horses are a rare breed, as are the people who breed them,” Jim explained recently while seated in his spacious living room, decorated with Western and horse memorabilia that reflects the couple’s passion for horses in a myriad of ways. Located just outside the tiny town of Montreal, Mo., their Missouri Morgans keep the two of them busy promoting their horses and their unique, comfortable gait.
“Lots of trail riders are getting older and they enjoy the gaited horse now more than ever,” Vali  picked up the narrative. “There are several families of Morgans within the Morgan registry, like Lippits, Lamberts and Brunk, but gaited Morgans can come from any of the Morgan families, if they’re not line bred.” 
“The gait we talk about, the way the horse moves is anything between a trot and a pace,” Jim stated. “What we’re looking for is a four-beat gait. That narrows it down to a smooth ride for the trail rider. As we’ve gotten older, our bones started saying something needed to change. Gaited horses allow baby boomers to remain in the saddle all day on a trail ride, enjoying the outdoors and that’s important. The market for gaited horses is very good right now.
“Probably less than 1 percent of Morgans are gaited,” Jim, a retired Camdenton Farm Bureau insurance agent, continued, “and we’re one of the few breeders of gaited Morgans in the world.  We pasture raise all our horses and sell to trail riders all over the country from our website. People can come and stay with us and ride for a couple of days, to really see and experience what we’re talking about with these horses.
“We have 35 gaited Morgans here on 80 acres, with five to eight babies a year, eight gaited geldings under saddle for sale along with yearlings and weanlings, three stallions and a dozen mares. We’ve had Morgans for 30 years and we’ve been breeding for gait for eight years now. We also have gaited buckskin Morgans and a couple of gray gaited Morgans, which are very rare. We have the only gray breeding stallion gaited Morgan in the world right now.”
Vali added, “Morgans are known as the pretty horse as well as the tough horse. They’re known and have been known ever since Justin Morgan began the breed in the late 1700s, for their all around versatility from eventing and dressage to hauling, endurance, running and of course, today, trail riding.”
In addition to horses, Vali owns Masters Touch Landscape and is the manager of Pirates Cove, a miniature golf operation, both in Osage Beach.  Jim is president of the Morgan Single Footing Horse Association (MSFHA), the national organization for Morgan horse owners and Vali is the editor of the group’s 40 page quarterly newsletter. “Single footing is the name generally given to gaited horses west of the Mississippi River,” Vali added, “and gaited is the name used in the east. Our association started in the west and so the name.”
Vali is also a member of the Independent Judging Association (IJA) which means she can work as a judge for all horse shows but she specializes in gaited horses. “There are 15 gaited breeds in our judging manual.”
Jim and Vali have five grown children, two in the Camden County area, two in Kansas City and one in Oklahoma City.  “We have one daughter who is somewhat involved with horses,” Vali concluded, “but none of them have the same passion for it as we do. We seem to travel a lot with different things with the horses. We don’t show a great deal but we trail ride a lot, like out in Monument Valley in Utah on the Arizona state line earlier this fall, on the Navajo Reservation. We were there as a part of the MSFHA national meeting and it was just beautiful there. We literally have lots of adventures with these horses.”


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