Morris recounts more than 50 years in horse business
By Caitlin Boland
Leon Morris, a Thomson native born on Jan. 14, 1948, has been a part of the equestrian industry since he was 15 years old.
|Driven by John Conaster, Leon Morris acknowledges the great response from the crowd.|
“I was piddling around at Pete Reed’s farm in Thomson and fell in love with horses,” Morris said. “My first job was with Pete Reed, grooming horses.”
Morris graduated from R.L. Norris High School in 1967 and was drafted in to the Army in 1968. He was deployed to Vietnam in 1969, working in the mechanized infantry before suffering an injury. Morris said he continued to serve his two-year contract to complete his service.
While in Vietnam, Morris acquired Agent Orange which later caused Morris to become a double amputee.
After leaving the military, Morris worked for Kingsley Mill a couple of years before the horse industry drew him back in at Pete Reed’s farm.
During his career, Morris worked at Uniroyal and for McDuffie County.
“Somehow I always ended up back in the horse business,” Morris said.
After Reed’s farm, Morris took a job at Nancy Knox’s Seymour Farm, continuing to work as a caretaker cleaning the horses when they went for exercise and ensuring they were properly tacked. While working with Knox, Morris said he won an award for his outstanding grooming skills in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
He worked at Seymour Farms for approximately four years before moving to Charlottesville, Virginia, to work with a trainer named John Conaster.
In 1988 when Conaster moved to Kentucky, Morris and his family moved as well.
“Spanning 21 years he was part of our team at Seymour Stables, Bent Tree Farm and Carriage Lane Farm, Leon was an integral part of every aspect of our operation, especially the great horses under his direct supervision such as world’s champions Seymour’s Finest Hour, Shaman, Second Souvenir, TNT, My Lovely, Seymour’s Southern Heir, Net Worth, Polo Town, Callaway’s Criterion, Range Rover and See the Sights,” Conaster said. “Leon’s great personality, love of horse and professionalism made the long hours in the barn so much fun together. I’m proud to call him my brother.”
Morris said he enjoys caretaking because he isn’t closed in.
“If you like horses then you like them,” Morris said. “I have groomed horses from Madison Square Garden to Florida, Missouri and Texas at some of the biggest horse shows there are.”
While working with Conaster, Morris was able to exercise several World Grand Champion horses.
“Many people have been in the business longer than me and haven’t had that opportunity,” Morris said.
Morris said he has cared for 20 World Grand Champion horses in his career.
As a result of his long career in the caretaking industry and his dedication, Morris was inducted into the UPHA Caretaking Hall of Fame earlier this year.
According to the UPHA, the award is given to an individual for his or her contribution to the show horse industry. They are recognized for their care taking abilities and professional conduct.
The UPHA is an association “of professional horsemen and horsewomen who have united to improve the show horse industry and to define and clarify their professionalism within the industry,” according to the UPHA website.
“It was a great honor because you have people who have been in the business for so long and to be selected is like football player getting selected for the NFL Hall of Fame,” Morris said.
Morris said although he hasn’t lived in Thomson since the 1980s, his hometown will always hold a place in his heart.
“I lived in Thomson most of my life, and it was a great place for me,” Morris said.
FOR ADDITIONAL DETAILS, see the full story in Nov. 7, 2017 issue of The McDuffie Progress. To have The McDuffie Progress delivered to your home or business each week, simply call 706-595-1601 to subscribe. Or, follow the link on our home page to subscribe.