With a history that dates back over two hundred years, the Morgan Horse is one of America’s best-loved horse breeds. What makes them unique? First of all, thanks to their power, strength, and excellent conformation, these compact horses can do pretty much anything a larger horse can. Morgan Horses are also handsome, intelligent, and great all-rounders. They are strong and healthy and will tackle any work that comes their way. Morgan Horses also bond closely with humans. It’s not surprising this all-American breed has so many fans across the globe.
The History and Origins of a Celebrated Horse Breed
Thanks to a famous book by novelist and horse enthusiast Marguerite Henry, American horse lovers know that “Justin Morgan had a horse.” But who was Justin Morgan and how did his horse acquire his name? Born in Massachusetts in 1747, Justin Morgan was a composer, music teacher, and farmer who lived in Vermont. In 1792, he was given a young bay stallion named Figure in payment for a debt. Born in 1789, Figure was a small animal at just 14 hands high (56 inches/142 cm) and weighed about 1,000 pounds (450 kg).
However, his reputation soon grew as a work horse as well as a riding and driving horse. For his size, Figure had phenomenal strength and endurance. He was a true asset to any farm. His offspring inherited his qualities, his looks, and his ability to catch people’s attention. He certainly had charisma and also a mysterious background. Some say he had Welsh blood and others that he was descended from a Thoroughbred called True Briton.
Others believe he was descended from Canadian horses, as he came from a place close to the border between America and Canada. “Justin Morgan’s Horse” was soon even better known than his owner. Many people wanted their mare to breed with him. He passed into the ownership of several farmers and breeders, only taking on his owner’s name after the human Justin Morgan had died. The famous American Morgan Horse breed was born!
Morgan Horse Conformation
Most modern Morgans are between 14.1 hands (57 inches/145 cm) and 15.2 hands (62 inches/158 cm) tall. They can reach 16 hands (64 inches/163 cm) high. Their conformation and color (collectively known as their phenotype) are distinctive. Compact and muscular are words frequently used to describe them. Their beautiful heads have broad foreheads, large eyes, and small, shapely ears.
The slight dish to the nose suggests Arabian ancestry. Their backs are short and strong and their quarters muscular and powerful. The barrel is rounded and well-formed. The neck is proudly arched above the withers and carries the head high, drawing the admiration of onlookers. Today, while there is more than one bloodline, the desired conformation is standard to all of them.
In the Morgan Horse, the legs must show outstanding quality:
- Straight front legs, with short cannons and good, flat, dense bone.
- Powerful rear legs, without any sign of cow hocks or sickle hocks.
- Pasterns of good length to give both elevation and length of stride without weakness.
- Sound, strong, round feet, with dense hooves.
Characteristics of the Morgan Horse
Bay, black, and chestnut are the colors most associated with the Morgan Horse. The stallion Justin Morgan certainly stamped his characteristics on his offspring, including his color. This is known as prepotency in a stallion. It means that many of his descendants bear a remarkable similarity to their celebrated ancestors. However, these horses have a range of coat colors and the breed has a horse association devoted to promoting the more unusual ones.
These include palomino and perlino, buckskin, silver dapple, dun, and three types of pinto. Regarding character, the American Morgan Horse Association still prizes the qualities of the founding stallion above all else. These include stamina, vigor, and versatility. Morgan Horses are known for being able to turn a hoof to anything, from Western riding to dressage. They also have an arresting look of alertness and are willing learners. Some say it’s their willingness to work and above all, their amazing attitude that makes Morgans star performers. Some are gaited, adding an extra dimension to these attractive animals.
Morgan Horse – Breeding and Uses
One of the most interesting things about Morgan Horses is that next to nothing is known about the original stallion’s ancestry. The most enduring tales make him the offspring of either famous Thoroughbreds of the period or an Arabian stallion. These popular and fashionable choices of the day would have given his reputation a boost. Not that he needed it – his own qualities made him a marvel! The important thing is that whatever his ancestry, he was a legendary work horse that created a beautiful breed.
Today, the four leading bloodlines of the Morgan Horse are Lippitt, Western Working, Brunk, and Government. These are a remarkable reflection of American history in themselves. The Lippitts were a leading industrialist family in America who developed their horses from the Morgan stallion, Ethan Allen II. They have made a major contribution to the breed through various foundations. The Western Working bloodline, as the name suggests, has developed the Morgan as an outstanding stock horse. The Government line descends from horses bred at the government-owned farm in Vermont. Morgan Horses were used in the American Civil War. Today, they are widely acknowledged as a great all-round family horse, as well as an outstanding working horse.
Diet and Nutritional Requirements
Morgan Horses are thrifty and survive on good basic forage. Care needs to be taken over nutrition and exercise, as they gain weight given rich grazing and too little work.
Health and Behavior
On the whole, there are few breeds that can match the Morgan Horse for good health. They can remain sound and hearty into old age. Figure lived to be 32. However, some genes, which are influential on coat color also have disorders associated with them, particularly the silver dapple gene. Genetic testing is advisable in some cases. In character, they are willing, easy to train and alert, and intelligent.