By: Jessi Greenberg
Special to the SEC Digital Network
Entering her sophomore year, Kentucky volleyball setter Morgan Bergren feels more at home in Lexington than the average student-athlete.
Growing up just two miles from her father's farm, the Muncie, Ind., native began riding horses with her mother before she could even walk. Inspired by both her mother and father, who are still active in the horse industry, Bergren discovered her love for horses at a very young age.
Bergren's parents both grew up surrounded by horses and met for the first time at a horse show, so it's no surprise that Morgan took an early liking to the horse world.
"My mom showed at nationals when I was 3 months old, and there's pictures of me when I'm just a baby sitting in front of her on the saddle," Bergren said.
Bergren's "showing" career began at age 9 when her father got her started in halter, but she immediately decided that she was looking for something a little more fast-paced. Bergren describes halter as being similar to a dog show.
"They judge you on your trot, you walk one way and reverse, and they judge you on their walk," Bergren said. "Then you come to the center of the ring and stand them up and they judge their head, body, feet, legs, etc."
But despite her feelings about the event, Bergren continued to compete, and even took second place at regionals when she was 10.
One year later Bergren followed in the footsteps of her mother and began her riding career by competing in hunter. In hunter competitions, the rider actually sits on the horse and guides it through a series of tasks, including trotting, cantering, hand galloping, and walking.
Although the Bergren household is decorated with trophies and ribbons from successful competitions, there was adversity along the way.
"When I was 5, my first big experience on a horse was on our stallion named Razz. He was beautiful, but he was crazy," said Bergren. "He hated plastic, but my grandpa decided I should wear a plastic helmet for safety and I got bucked off and almost broke my middle finger."
Luckily, Bergren wasn't too traumatized by the incident, and like any true equestrian, she hopped right back on.
Another challenge came when Bergren started getting more involved in her club volleyball career.
"When I was younger we would go to three or four small shows and three regionals every year," said Bergren. "I didn't have to stop riding horses because of volleyball, but I only went to one regional and a few small shows during the year."
As Bergren continued to have success in volleyball - including leading her club team to an AAU National Championship in 2011 - she started getting attention from some elite programs.
"We came to Lexington every year, and I loved the horse park, but I never even saw the school," she said. "But when Kentucky started recruiting me, I thought it was pretty cool that it was so close. My parents really liked it here too."
Despite her demanding schedule as a student-athlete, Bergren still finds time to stay involved with her horses and take advantage of living in a city known as the "Horse Capital of the World."
"My mom and I went to a show this year and I got two first places and two second places," she said.
Not surprisingly, Bergren "for sure" wants to continue riding and showing horses after she graduates from college.
"My dad knows horses so I'll have him pick me out a good horse to ride and show," said Bergren. "I love it."
Living in Lexington has allowed Bergren to watch her father compete in some big horse competitions, including an Egyptian event at the Kentucky Horse Park this June. At the same event, she also got to watch the hunter jumper competition, which is one of her many future aspirations.
"I've always wanted to go to Youth Nationals, and someday I really want to learn how to jump," Bergren said.
Because she grew up around mostly Arabian horses, Bergren didn't witness her first horse race until she went to Keeneland last year. Even though she enjoyed watching the race, Bergren doesn't foresee jockeying in her future.
"I have to ride our half Arabian, Junior, because I'm so tall, and my feet almost drag on the ground," she said.
However, there have been discussions about bringing the rest of the volleyball team out to Muncie to ride horses on the Bergren farm.
"I think it would be hilarious to see Lauren (O'Conner) on him," said Bergren.
Although you may not see the 6-foot-5 O'Conner on a horse anytime soon, Bergren will undoubtedly continue to pursue her passion for horses as much as possible during her time at UK.