Meet the Morgan Horse:
When I was ten years old Walt Disney Productions released the movie ‘Justin Morgan had a Horse’, based on the book of the same name by Marguerite Henry. I became smitten with the breed and started decorating my room with pictures of Morgan horses and wishing desperately for a Morgan horse of my own. I was very fortunate that shortly thereafter, I became the owner of a Welsh mare that was in foal to a Morgan stallion. I called the foal ‘Caramel’ and we eventually competed both in the show ring and on trail. Caramel had many of the qualities that make the Morgan horse so popular with both riders and drivers.
The breed standard of the Morgan horse is very specific and outlines the ideal qualities of the breed. The head should be refined and chiseled, ears short and well shaped. Their neck should be set on elegantly and be strong but supple. The body is distinctively compact, suggesting strength and agility. The legs should be strong, but refined. Overall, the Morgan should give an impression of strength, elegance, sturdiness and alertness.
Morgan Horses average from 14.1 hands to 15.2 hands high. There is no strict standard, so horses may be shorter and taller.
The original Morgan horse was said to have been able to out-walk, trot or pull any horse. They were the ultimate all-purpose horse, as at home plowing the fields as pulling the family buggy to church in fine harness. They were used as trotting horses on the race track, cavalry mounts and Morgans were hitched or ridden on the way to open up the American west. They've also been used as cow horses and pack horses. Today Morgans can be found competing in almost every sport from endurance riding to saddle seat show classes. Morgan horse shows often feature side saddle classes, trotting races under saddle, driving classes, dressage, jumping and more, all showcasing the unique versatility of the breed.
Color and Markings:
Morgans are usually dark, solid colors like bays and chestnuts although there is no official breed standard for 'correct' colors. There are breeders who specialize in producing Morgans with color coats like palomino, pinto, gray, dun, roan and other less usual colors. My dream Morgan was a liver chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail, and my Morgan Welsh cross was a palomino.
History and Origins:
The founding stallion of the breed was a horse named Figure, owned by a schoolteacher who lived in Vermont in the late 1700s, named Justin Morgan. No one knows with certainty what Figure’s pedigree was, but it’s felt that he was the offspring of horses with Arabian and Thoroughbred and perhaps Welsh Cob or Friesian bloodlines. As people heard of the elegant little Figure’s ability to out-pull and out-distance any other horse, combined with his calm and intelligent disposition, he became a desirable stallion to breed to in the New England states. It was found that Figure passed these qualities on to his offspring, no matter what mare he was bred to. The Morgan became the ultimate all-purpose horse, equally at home in fine harness, on the race track, doing work in fields, or under saddle. Figure, eventually known by his owner’s name, Justin Morgan also contributed his qualities to breeds such as the Canadian, Saddlebred, Tennessee Walking Horse, American Standardbred and American Quarter Horse.
The strong compact body and refined and neat top line are distinctive. They have chiseled heads with a large expressive eye. They are tractable and courageous, although some people say they have a stubborn streak. Their demeanor is proud and alert, and they carry their heads and tails elegantly. They are known to be 'easy keepers', not requiring special care or pampering. The one word that most succinctly describes the Morgan however is "versatile'.
Morgan Horse Champions and Celebrities:
Figure had three sons, regarded as the foundations of the breed: Sherman Morgan, Bullrush and Woodbury. When trotting races were popular in the 1800s, Ethan Allen and Black Hawk distinguished themselves on the track. Comanche, The only survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn was thought to be of Morgan breeding. In 1907, the U.S. Government established a breeding farm in Middlebury, Vermont. These horses were bred for use by the United States Cavalry. The Morgan Horse was made the official Vermont State Animal in 1961 and is the Vermont State Horse.