Breed Organization American Morgan Horse Association AMHA Website: http://www.morganhorse.com National Museum of the Morgan Horse Website: http://www.morganmuseum.org Native Country United States of America Other Names N/A Average Height See Breed Description Adult Weight ------------ Rider Experience Level ------------
Breed Description The Morgan averages between 14.1 and 15.2 hands and occasionally reaches 16 hands. It is most frequently found in the colors bay, black, brown,
chestnut, gray, palomino, creme, dun and buckskin. The Morgan is easily recognized by its proud carriage, upright graceful neck, and
distinctive head with expressive eyes. Deep bodied and compact, the Morgan has strongly muscled quarters. The Morgan horse has a dramatic gait
with considerable action.
History The Morgan breed originated in West Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1789, with the birth of a bay colt named Figure. At one year of age, Figure
was given to a Randolph, Vermont, schoolmaster named Justin Morgan in partial payment of a debt. Figure was a stylish bay horse of many
talents. He became widely known for his ability to pull stumps and logs while clearing the land of new settlers. In addition, he won races and
pulling contests, was a favored parade mount at militia training, and was used as a saddle and driving horse. His strength, endurance, and
easy-keeping qualities served him well on the Vermont frontier. Among horsemen he became widely respected for his prepotency (the ability to
pass his own looks and qualities on to succeeding generations).
Figure was said to be sired by True Briton, a horse widely respected
for his excellence and known for siring quality horses. He was said to have been "of the best English blood." Whether it was Thoroughbred blood,
blood of another breed (such as the Welsh Cob), or a combination of types remains open to debate. Figure's dam was a mare bred and owned by Justin
Morgan (having been sired by a stallion he stood at stud in 1793) and is described as being of the "Wildair breed."
As was the
custom of the day, Figure became known as the Justin Morgan horse. After the death of Justin Morgan, Figure passed into other hands and spent
the balance of his life in Vermont and the Connecticut River Valley of western New Hampshire. He died in 1821 at 32 years of age after sustaining a
kick injury from another horse. He left a legacy of sons and daughters who were used by farmers to develop a type of horse well suited to the hilly
topography of northern New England.
The round and compact bodies of Morgan horses enabled them to "get the best of their feed" and made
them suitable to perform a wide variety of tasks. Their large eyes, small ears, and short, broad heads set on gracefully curved necks carried high
provided them with a proud countenance. Also blessed with ground-covering gaits, the Morgans were able to cover many miles day after day at steady
rate of speed. This ability, combined with a businesslike attitude to get the job done, made them a favorite horse of all work. (In later years, when
a taller horse became the vogue, the Morgans would be criticized for their relatively short stature.)
Sherman Morgan, Bulrush Morgan, and
Woodbury Morgan were Figure's most famous and influential sons. These stallions, along with other unrecorded offspring, came to dominate the horse
industry of New England and northern New York. In the 1820's they were favorite teams for the stage lines and for fieldwork on farms and transport
to town. Their reputation as "horses of all work" was becoming widespread.
Black Hawk, a son of Sherman Morgan; and Hale's Green Mountain
Morgan, a grandson of Woodbury Morgan, were the dominate Morgan sires of the mid-19th century. Green Mountain Morgan had a host of admirers gained,
in part, from his appearance as a parade horse at militia training. He was also renowned for his resemblance to Figure. Black Hawk was famed for his
speed and elegant style and he, in turn, sired the world champion trotter Ethan Allen. In the 1850's these two rival stallions were shown at Midwestern
state fairs with great success and heightened the continuing demand for Morgan horses.
New England supplied big city markets such as New
York with Morgan horses for public transportation and freighting as well as private driving. Morgan horses comprised the preferred teams of stage line
owner M. O. Walker of Chicago. They were taken to California to be employed as ranch and harness racing horses. In other areas of the West they were
also used as ranch horses.
During the Civil War Morgans were dependable cavalry mounts and artillery horses. Again, their
easy-keeping qualities and ability to endure grueling condition allowed them to outlast other types of horses. Several units of cavalry in the
Union army and one (known) of the Confederate army were mounted on Morgan horses. United States General Philip Sheridan's famed charger
Winchester (a.k.a. Rienzi), who was immortalized after the war, was a descendant of Black Hawk.
Due to a trend in which taller
horses were becoming more desirable with great speed at short distances, the popularity of Morgan horses began a decline, which would not
reverse itself for several years. Morgan mares continued to be widely used by horse breeders, but were bred to taller stallions of non-Morgan
breeding. The purpose was to capture the enduring qualities of the Morgan but with increased size in the offspring. The result was a more
marketable product for farmers selling to the city markets. As a result of this practice the Morgan, as it had been known earlier in the 19th
century, almost disappeared.
From this type of foundation other American horse breeds were developed. Harness racing had become an
exceedingly popular sport for which the Standardbred was developed. Other major American breeds that contain the Morgan horse in their initial
development include the American Saddle Horse, Tennessee Walking Horse, American Quarter Horse, and American Albino.
modernization and development of new technologies, however, were affecting the horse market nationwide. Electrification of trolleys and
continuing expansion of trains reduced the demand for harness horses significantly. Larger farms and a corresponding increase in the size of
agricultural machinery to do the work were creating a demand for larger, heavier draft horses.
The 1890's witnessed efforts on the
part of many to locate and "regenerate" the Morgan horse. A business horse or roadster was desired with not only speed but with the classiness
which would reflect upon one's social standing as well. Writers berated the disappearance of the "ancient" type Morgan and called for its
regeneration, if it could be found. Pockets of these Morgans had survived, particularly in northeastern Vermont, though much reduced in number.
Many new breeding programs were established. Edwin Hoffman of Lyndon, Vermont became a Morgan horse dealer and assisted many
nationwide with locating and purchasing Morgans for their farms. It was at this time the foundation was laid for the highly influential Brunk
bloodlines. The National Morgan Horse Breeders Association was formed during the 1893 Colombian Exposition (although it was not destined to
last). Joseph Battell published his 1,000 page Morgan Horse Register in 1894.
The Vermont State Fair of the 1850's and 1860's had
been a popular venue for the showing of Morgan horses. This fair was discontinued in the 1890's when as economic downturn forced it to cease
operating. It was revived in 1907 and, within a very few short years, became the national showcase of the Morgan horses. In 1909 the Morgan
Horse Club was formed during the fair. Morgan horses from as far as Illinois and Pennsylvania came to participate in a highly competitive
It was here that the first endurance rides were held. The Morgan Horse Club created a challenge to prove that the Morgan
was the best horse for cavalry purposes. These rides were eventually held at various locations around the United States and were extended to
300 miles in length. These rides were the forerunners of today's competitive trail and endurance rides.
By an act of Congress in
1905, a farm to perpetuate the Morgan horse was established. The United States Morgan Horse Farm was established in Weybridge, Vermont, on
Joseph Battell's former Bread Loaf Stock Farm. The farm was operated under the auspices of the federal government until 1951, when it was
transferred to the University of Vermont, which continues managing the farm today. Again, modern technology interfered, with the
advent of the automobile effectively reducing the need for horses. After this time, the primary focus of the horse market would become
recreational. With exceptions, of course -- horses used for ranch work and, until the tractor became economically viable, for draft work on
farms. In many rural areas horses continued to be a major source of transportation to market, church, and school. Although the need was
diminishing, the Army sought remounts for its cavalry with demand peaking during World War I.
Behavior Throughout the balance of the 20th
century the Morgan horse, like other types and breeds of horses, has been used primarily for recreational purposes. The majority of
Morgan horse owners use their Morgans for pleasure. Many also compete with their Morgan horses in a wide variety of sporting events. Morgans
are highly competitive in driving competition as well as in horse shows and on trail rides. They are competing in reining, cutting, and
dressage with success.