The Morgan is a truly American Jack-of-all-trades. An excellent work horse, pleasure horse and show horse, this breed is loved and adored throughout the world. With his gentle disposition and eagerness to perform any task, the true ancestry of this remarkable horse really doesn't matter. All that matters is that from one horse of questionable lineage came an impressive and wonderful breed.
History and Origin
The Morgan, also called the American Morgan, is one of only a handful of horses that can trace his contemporary lineage to a single stallion. What breeds were responsible for developing that all important founding father remains shrouded in mystery.
In the late 1700s, horses were in demand for transportation, helping on the farm and for sport. Horse breeders were continually trying to breed and develop selectively a horse that could run faster, provide a more comfortable ride or had more strength. Through their efforts, various horse breeds were developed, each with his own specific abilities. Little did anyone know at the time, but in 1789, a little bay stallion was born in Springfield, Massachusetts that was destined to change everything.
This stallion, whose original name was Figure, was not intended to be a special horse. There were no confirmed records of his birth, dam or sire. At the time, he was just considered a somewhat small, likely to be worthless, horse. Thankfully for all the Morgans in the world today, this was not the case.
In 1792, a man named Thomas Justin Morgan traveled from Vermont to his previous home state of Massachusetts. The purpose of this visit was to collect on an old debt. Fortunately, the indebted farmer was unable to pay in cash and instead gave Mr. Morgan a 2-year-old gelding and a small 3-year-old stallion in lieu of payment. Mr. Morgan then took these horses back to Vermont and was quickly able to sell the gelding. The stallion, however, was not so easy. No one was interested, probably due to his small size. So, since Mr. Morgan had no use for the horse, he rented him to his neighbor.
This farmer began to use the little bay stallion on the farm. He soon realized that the horse was very strong and easily outperformed all other horses. The farmer even went so far as to bet on the ability of his horse. Legend has it that Figure pulled a large log carrying three grown men down the street. Several other draft and work horses had tried before him but they had failed. After this remarkable feat, Figure became a popular and much sought after stud horse. He also became the pride of the farmer, Mr. Morgan and the state of Vermont.
After Figure's legendary log pull, he excelled in weight pulling contests and seemed to outrun, outwalk and out-trot any horse that challenged him. After Mr. Morgan's death, the horse was renamed Justin Morgan, in honor of his owner.
Justin Morgan was quite a prolific stud. He sired many foals and each had his characteristic strength, gentle disposition and abilities. Three of Justin Morgan's foals became very important, each beginning the various Morgan lines.
In 1821, the Morgan horse world lost its founding father. Justin Morgan died due to an infection from an untreated kick wound at the age of thirty-two. He will not be forgotten by anyone who has ever been lucky enough to ride, meet or own a Morgan.
In the early 1900s, the popularity of the Morgan waned. As with most horses, the motorized vehicle caused a rapid decline in Morgan numbers. The Morgan Horse Club, which was founded in 1909, was responsible for maintaining the breed and today, there are over 147,000 registered Morgan horses throughout the world.
Personality and Appearance
Though the Morgan of today is a little taller than the original horse, the appearance has remained the same. Today's Morgan stands about 14-15.2 hands. The profile is straight with a broad forehead. The eyes are large and expressive and the ears are short, alert and set wide apart. The body is compact and deep with a short back, sloping shoulders and a fined arched neck.
The tail of the Morgan is set high and the legs are straight with long sloping pasterns. The mane and tail are soft and full. The Morgan is available in bay, chestnut, brown and black. There should not be any white markings above the knee or hock but some white on the face is acceptable.
Abilities and Aptitudes
The Morgan is a strong, intelligent and curious horse. Eager to please, the breed is one of the most versatile of all breeds and tends to excel at everything. Used to plough fields, pull logs and pull harnesses, the Morgan is also a popular pleasure horse and show horse. You can even find the Morgan competing as a cutting horse, reining horse, hunter-jumper and in dressage. This breed is one of the few breeds shown in pulling contests as well as a riding horse.
This horse is a wonderful choice for families. The gentle disposition and small size make the Morgan an excellent mount for children. Even after playing with the kids all day, the Morgan is still eager and willing to work.