Action Hero, Julie Morgan

Julie and Silverado VO

Recently at the Valley Oak Arabians Open House, we watched as Julie Morgan presented an exquisite collection of mares and babies, many from the *Emigrant¹  line. Her feel and rapport with the horses is evident.

{1Michalow Stud and Polish National Champion, *Emigrant, sired by the legendary Palas son, Ararat.}

Besides an obvious love and empathy for horses, we wondered what it takes to be a horse handler/ranch manager? This is the answer.

First, you must absolutely be horse crazy!  Check.  Love hard, physical work?  Check.  Be willing to start at the bottom (or the tail end)! Check. Be dedicated and reliable! Check.

At 45, this Napa, California native is just as enthusiastic about horses as she was in the third grade, and she does check (tick) all of the boxes.

Morgan collected model horses and read horse books including Black Beauty and the Black Stallion, a must for every horse-crazy young girl. What helped to transform this equestrian infatuation to knowledgable horse enthusiast was a High School horse management class. Add in a good measure of tenacity, a bundle of fortitude, and a bale of dedication, and you’ll know a bit of what it takes. I’ll let Julie tell the story.

Julie and **Star of the Roses

“I’ve always loved horses,” she began. “We had no horses but my aunt and uncle had a horse, and they encouraged me. They introduced me to Arabians, and my aunt took me to the Jack Tone Ranch near Stockton, California (home of Fadjur).

My parents agreed that I could have a horse if I bought one. I started my first savings account when I was 10, and added to it by doing chores for family and friends and saving birthday money. When I was 11, I had saved enough to purchase Smokey, a $200 pony. By the time I was 15, I rode my bike to a dressage barn and cleaned stalls for a couple of hours before school.”

“Attending Vintage High School in Napa, there was a Horse Management class taught by one of my mentors, Lalani Schwartz. I learned so much about horses from her and this program. In two years I learned about anatomy, breeding and all aspects of horse care. There were six farm horses that were the students sole responsibility, and we foaled out a horse in the spring every year. Lani was not only a fabulous teacher and great lady, she helped me through some rough teen-age years and allowed me to buy my first Arabian, one of the foals from the program.

When Lani’s daughter, Donna Waggoner, mentioned that they needed help where she worked at West Coast Arabians in Santa Rosa, Lani recommended Julie. “I was hooked,” she stated emphatically.

Julie’s first job was groom, which meant clipping, cleaning and anything else.

“I worked there for almost three years with partners and trainers, Mike Neal and Ron Bechtel,” she remembers. “They stuck me with a wild group of horses. I was totally green. I knew the book work side, but had very little hands-on with difficult horses. Fortunately, I learned fast.”

She remembers good advice she was given on how to handle the colts: ‘Keep them as far away from you as possible.’  “I did have a colt that would rear, bite and kick, but on a long lead, he did it in his space.”

“Ron Bechtel is a true horseman,” she continued. “He taught me by example. I learned not to fight but to tell the horse what I want and persist until they give to me. I learned to control their nose to control the horse. It makes all the difference in the world working with a horse that is soft and not braced.”

After West Coast, Julie worked at Silver Moon Arabians. In 1992, Ron Bechtel hired her as Assistant manager of his own boarding and training facility in Sonoma. During this time, Julie found love, married Mike, and stayed close to home to raise her children. Her son, Jacob, is now 16, and daughter, Katherine, is 14. “I halter-broke babies and clipped horses for many years while I was raising my children and out of the main stream horse business,” she concluded.

The Arabian connection is a finely tuned machine. In 2007 Manny Vierra had finished his beautiful breeding barn in Brentwood, about an hour outside of San Francisco, California. He needed a fitting backdrop for his recently purchase prized sire, *Emigrant. He also needed full-time help with the growth of Valley Oak Arabians. Ron recommended Julie. Vierra quickly offered her the job of full-time Ranch Manager, and she was delighted. “I said, yes and never looked back.”

In five years, the number of horses under Morgan’s care has swelled to 80.  A typical day for Morgan might start with the evaluation of the weight and condition for every horse. She puts together grain and supplements as needed, then supervises turn-outs. There is full-time staff to help, but she prefers to handle all of the studs and stud colts herself. There are vet and farrier appointments, and she is the vital set of hands, as needed. She handles the foals from their earliest moments and does all of the clipping on the ranch. The babies have their faces clipped within a few days of birth, which makes it easier for all as they grow and mature. Veterinarian and farrier appointments run on a schedule as well, and she helps to organize the many social and business events held at the ranch. And last but not least, she keeps the records…”and everything else”, she said with a laugh.

In breeding season, she is the one that is in charge and hands-on. “Manny tells me which mare to breed to which stallion, and I take it from there,” she said.


One of Morgan’s jobs is the presentation of the horses to the public. The horse, if not shown at halter, must show off their best attitude at liberty in an arena, and come quietly back to her. “I start them as babies with no halter,” said Morgan. “I never go to the horse; they learn to come to me. This is my own version of joining up. I want them to understand things correctly and clearly and to be a good horse.”

Valley Oak generally foals 10-15 babies a year, and they use a camera in the foaling stalls that is viewable from a smart phone, aided now by the Foal Alert system, which sounds an alarm when the mare is ready to foal.  Manny and Jose take those night shifts, as they live close enough to respond within minutes of the alarm sounding.

In her spare time, Morgan’s favorite pastime is riding her own Arabian horses, but she could not be prouder of the horses under her care.

“These are not just halter horses. If you get these Emigrant horses under saddle, they are amazing,” she declared.

A recent reward and proud moment for Morgan came when top USA horse breeder and trainer, Sheila Varian, complimented her on her handling of the horses. “ It felt great to be recognized by such a true horsewoman,” she said.

The hardest part of the job? “Is selling my babies,” said Morgan.

And the best part?  “Is working with these fantastic horses. I love my horses. Arabians are so sensitive. It is a privilege to work with horses with such great minds, great bodies, and pedigrees to boot.”

Would she recommend this work? “If you can get into an aspect where you can make a living,” she replied. “It’s a lot of hard work, but I love it. If you have the mind set, I would certainly recommend it.”

Hard work, dedication, lover of horses. Apply here. “This is my dream job,” Morgan concluded.

When asked if she would like to be doing this in five years? “

I hope so,” was the emphatic answer. “This is my life.”          


Follow Horsereporter On Facebook

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.