Name: Maggie Morgan
Day Job: Helicopter pilot
Morgan started flying when she was 16, and after college, she became a pilot for a regional airline for five years. She joined the U.S. Coast Guard in 2012 and became an aircraft commander. For years she was stationed in San Francisco with her husband, Blake Morris, who holds the same position as Morgan in the Coast Guard. Now the couple resides in Mobile, Alabama, where they primarily train new students at a flight school.
Adrenaline Junky: While living in California, Morgan did a lot of search and rescue calls. “Out on the West Coast we have cases where people get swept off the beach by waves, or surfers and swimmers get pulled out by currents, and the water’s extremely cold there, so your time of survival is not very long, even if you have a wetsuit,” Morgan said. “We have to get in the air within 30 minutes of getting the call. San Francisco is well known for its fog, and that can be a big challenge with helicopter flying. It’s very mountainous, and I’ve had a couple of cases where people fell off cliffs and had to be rescued, and the weather was too bad for highway patrol helicopters or EMS. We call it vertical surface flying. We usually have two pilots, a flight mechanic who operates the hoist, and then the rescue swimmer who’s on the hoist. They go on the side of the cliff and get the person and bring them up.”
Morgan also helped with police and Medevac calls for fishermen and people working on tankers in the San Francisco Bay and assisted in patrolling for drug boats from Mexico.
She and her husband have flown during hurricane season, most recently working Hurricane Michael in 2018.
Finding Her Way Back To Horses: Morgan grew up in North Carolina and competed on the Paint circuit as a child. She took a break from riding during high school until she was 24 after graduating from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, with a psychology and biology degree. Another break due to work and travel meant she didn’t pick up the reins again until she was in her early 30s while living in San Francisco.
She bought Kodiak Bear, a Thoroughbred-Trakehner gelding, and discovered eventing. After moving to Mobile in 2018, Morgan found a supportive eventing barn, Sandstone Equestrian Center, and trainer Stephanie Tyler Wright, to help her on her journey. She and “Kodi” competed at the 2019 USEA American Eventing Championships (Kentucky) in the beginner novice amateur division and finished 19th before she sold the gelding a junior this spring.
Now she’s leasing Kegan MacCruise, a 13-year-old Irish Draught gelding (Macha Breeze RID—Eireann Cruise), and Morgan hopes to compete at novice this season.
Balancing Work And Play: Morgan’s job can be unpredictable due to being on call for missions, but before the pandemic, she had a Monday-Friday schedule teaching eight- to 10-week courses to students on how to fly a Dolphin helicopter or how to use a simulator.
“My job is all over the place,” she said. “Last night I had a night flight and got home at 11:30 at night. If we have a student flight we might be coming in at 6:30 in the morning. They make the schedule day by day.”
2020 Challenges: Kegan MacCruise or “Paddy” had been sitting in a pasture for years, and Morgan wasn’t sure what he could do. “He was very out of shape,” she said. “He’s a super easy keeper, and he was fat. It took a couple months just to get him baseline in shape, but he started doing really well.”
They were able to get one beginner novice event in at Majestic Oaks (Florida) before the COVID-19 shutdown.
Now everyone is on shifts and working from home for the office work, and Morgan is on call seven days a week. “We still have students coming here for training, because if we completely shut down, we have to provide pilots for the other stations to stand search and rescue duty,” Morgan said. “The unique thing about the Coast Guard is we always have a mission. The other services are always ramping up to get deployed somewhere; we’re always ready to do our mission and have to be ready. With a pilot, it’s all about proficiency, so you can’t just not fly for a while and come back. There has to be a process doing that.”
While states are opening up, in June, the military was still on a travel restriction, so Morgan couldn’t go to events out of state with her barn. She’s since received a waiver from her supervisor so she can travel to compete in July.
Why It’s All Worthwhile: “The barn has been awesome because we’ve made a ton of friends, and the barn will have parties for holidays,” Morgan said. “It’s become our family here. My husband’s from Colorado, so his family is far away, and mine’s from North Carolina, so we don’t have any family close to us. We actually like it so much we’re trying to do another tour here and stay as long as possible. I’m sure we’ll have to move eventually, but we’d like to make this last as long as possible.”
Even with her busy schedule, Morgan relishes her time in the saddle.
“I think horses don’t ever fully leave you, and I’ve seen a lot of adults who can return, and I just feel lucky that I’m at a place now where I’m back riding, and I really like eventing,” she said. “Hopefully I won’t have to take any more breaks because of finances or work. We’re trying to prioritize where we put in our requests where we can keep horses so I can keep eventing.”
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