Morgan horse is one of the earliest horse breeds developed in the
United States. Tracing back to the foundation sire Figure, later
Justin Morgan after his best-known owner, Morgans served many
roles in 19th-century American history, being used as coach horses and
for harness racing, as general riding animals, and as cavalry horses
American Civil War
American Civil War on both sides of the conflict. Morgans
have influenced other major American breeds, including the American
Quarter Horse, Tennessee Walking
Horse and the Standardbred. During
the 19th and 20th centuries, they were exported to other countries,
including England, where a Morgan stallion influenced the breeding of
the Hackney horse. In 1907, the US Department of Agriculture
established the US Morgan
Horse Farm near
Middlebury, Vermont for the
purpose of perpetuating and improving the Morgan breed; the farm was
later transferred to the University of Vermont.The first breed
registry was established in 1909, and since then many organizations in
the US, Europe and Oceania have developed. There were estimated to be
over 175,000 Morgan horses worldwide in 2005.
The Morgan is a compact, refined breed, generally bay, black or
chestnut in color, although they come in many colors, including
several variations of pinto. Used in both English and Western
disciplines, the breed is known for its versatility. The Morgan is the
state animal of
Vermont and the state horse of Massachusetts. Popular
children's authors, including
Marguerite Henry and Ellen Feld, have
portrayed the breed in their books; Henry's
Justin Morgan Had a Horse
was later made into a
1 Breed characteristics
2 Breed history
2.1 Justin Morgan
2.2 Breed development
2.3 Military use
4.1 In literature and film
6 Further reading
7 External links
A Morgan in horse show competition
There is officially one breed standard for Morgan type, regardless of
the discipline or bloodline of the individual horse. Compact and
refined in build, the Morgan has strong legs, an expressive head with
a straight or slightly convex profile and broad forehead; large,
prominent eyes; well-defined withers, laid back shoulders, and an
upright, well arched neck. The back is short, and hindquarters
are strongly muscled, with a long and well-muscled croup. The tail
is attached high and carried gracefully and straight. Morgans
appear to be a strong powerful horse, and the breed is well known
as an easy keeper. The breed standard for height ranges from 14.1
to 15.2 hands (57 to 62 inches, 145 to 157 cm), with
some individuals over and under.
Gaits, particularly the trot are "animated, elastic, square, and
collected," with the front and rear legs balanced. A few Morgans
are gaited, meaning they can perform an intermediate speed gait other
than the trot such as the rack, fox trot, or pace. The United
States Equestrian Federation states, "a Morgan is distinctive for its
stamina and vigor, personality and eagerness and strong natural way of
moving." The breed has a reputation for intelligence, courage and a
good disposition. Registered Morgans come in a variety of colors
although they are most commonly bay, black, and chestnut. Less common
colors include gray, roan, dun, silver dapple, and cream dilutions
such as palomino, buckskin, cremello and perlino. In addition,
three pinto color patterns are also recognized: sabino, frame overo,
and splashed white. The tobiano pattern has not been noted in
One genetic disease has been identified within the Morgan breed. This
is Type 1 polysaccharide storage myopathy, an autosomal dominant
muscle disease found mainly in stock horse and draft horse breeds
caused by a missense mutation in the GYS1 gene. Morgans are one of
over a dozen breeds found to have the allele for the condition, though
its prevalence in Morgans appears to be quite low compared to stock
and draft breeds. In one study, less than one percent of randomly
tested Morgans carried the allele for this condition, one of the
lowest percentages amongst breeds in that study.
Two coat color genes found in Morgans have also been linked to genetic
disorders. One is the genetic ocular syndrome multiple congenital
ocular anomalies (MCOA), originally called equine anterior segment
dysgenesis (ASD). MCOA is characterized by the abnormal development of
some ocular tissues, which causes compromised vision, although
generally of a mild form; the disease is non-progressive. Genetic
studies have shown that it is closely tied to the silver dapple
gene. A small number of Morgans carry the silver dapple allele,
which causes cysts but no apparent vision problems if heterozygous,
but when homozygous can cause vision problems. There is also the
possibility of lethal white syndrome, a fatal disease seen in foals
who are homozygous for the frame overo gene. At present, there is one
mare line in the Morgan breed that has produced healthy heterozygous
frame overo individuals. The American Morgan
advocates genetic testing to identify carriers of these genetics, and
advises owners to avoid breeding horses that are heterozygous for
frame overo to each other.
Morgan horse with rider in colonial attire at the Kentucky Horse
Park. Costuming intended to resemble
Justin Morgan and Figure.
Figure (horse) and Justin Morgan
All Morgans trace back to a single foundation sire, a stallion named
Figure, who was born in West Springfield,
Massachusetts in 1789.
In 1792, he was given to a man named
Justin Morgan as a debt payment.
The horse later came to be identified by the name of this particular
owner, and "the
Justin Morgan horse" evolved into the name of the
breed. Figure is thought to have stood about 14 hands
(56 inches, 142 cm), and to have weighed about 1,000 pounds
(450 kg). He was known for his prepotency, passing on his
distinctive looks, conformation, temperament, and athleticism. His
exact pedigree is unknown, although extensive efforts have been made
to discover his parentage. One historian notes that the writings on
the possibility of his sire being a
Thoroughbred named Beautiful Bay
would "fill 41 detective novels and a membership application for the
Liars' Club." In 1821, Figure was kicked by another horse and
later died of his injuries. He was buried in Tunbridge, Vermont.
Although Figure was used extensively as a breeding stallion, records
are known to exist for only six of his sons, three of whom became
notable as foundation bloodstock for the Morgan breed. Woodbury, a
chestnut, stood 14.3 hands (59 inches, 150 cm) high and
stood for many years at stud in New England. Bulrush, a dark bay the
same size as Figure, was known for his endurance and speed in harness.
Best known was Sherman, another chestnut stallion, slightly shorter
than Figure, who in turn was the sire and grandsire of Black Hawk and
Ethan Allen. Black Hawk, born in 1833, went on to become a foundation
stallion for the Standardbred,
American Saddlebred and Tennessee
Horse breeds, and was known for his unbeaten harness racing
record. Ethan Allen, sired by Black Hawk in 1849, is another important
sire in the history of the Morgan breed, and was known for his speed
in trotting races.
Morgan horse, 1888
In the 19th century, Morgans were used extensively for harness racing,
as well as for pulling coaches, due to the breed's speed and endurance
in harness. They were also used as stock horses and for general
riding, as well as light driving work. Miners in the California Gold
Rush (1848–1855) used the breed, as did the Army during and after
American Civil War
American Civil War for both riding and harness horses. The
Morgan trotting stallion Shepherd F. Knapp was exported to England in
the 1860s, where his trotting ability influenced the breeding of
Hackney horses. During this period, numerous Morgan mares may have
been brought west and integrated into Texan horse herds, which
influenced the development of the American Quarter
Horse breed. The
Morgan horse also was an ancestor of the Missouri Fox Trotter. By
the 1870s, however, longer-legged horses came into fashion, and Morgan
horses were crossed with those of other breeds. This resulted in the
virtual disappearance of the original style Morgan, although a few
remained in isolated areas.
Daniel C. Lindley, a native of Middlebury, Vermont, compiled a book of
Morgan breeding stallions, published in 1857. Colonel Joseph Battell,
Middlebury, Vermont native, published the first volume of the
Horse Register in 1894, marking the beginning of a formal breed
registry. In 1907, the
US Department of Agriculture
US Department of Agriculture established the US
Horse Farm in Weybridge,
Vermont on land donated by Battell for
the purpose of perpetuating and improving the Morgan breed. The
breeding program aimed to produce horses that were sound, sturdy,
well-mannered, and capable of performing well either under saddle or
in harness. In 1951, the Morgan
Horse Farm was transferred
from the USDA to the
Vermont Agricultural College (now the University
Morgans were used as cavalry mounts by both sides in the American
Civil War. Horses with Morgan roots included Sheridan's Winchester,
also known as Rienzi, (a descendant of Black Hawk). Stonewall
Jackson's "Little Sorrel" has alternately been described as a
Morgan or an American Saddlebred, a breed heavily influenced by
the Morgan. While Morgan enthusiasts have stated that the horse
Comanche, the only survivor of the Custer regiment after the Battle of
the Little Big Horn, was either a Morgan or a Mustang/Morgan mix,
records of the U.S. Army and other early sources do not support this.
Most accounts state that Comanche was either of "Mustang lineage"
or a mix of "American" and "Spanish" blood. The University of
Kansas Natural History Museum, which has the stuffed body of Comanche
on display, makes no statement as to his breed. All sources agree that
Comanche originated in the Oklahoma or Texas area, making his Mustang
background more likely.
A young Morgan showing typical breed type
There are four main bloodlines groups within the Morgan breed today,
known as the Brunk, Government, Lippitt, and Western Working
"families." There are also smaller subfamilies. The Brunk Family,
particularly noted for soundness and athleticism, traces to the
Illinois breeding program of Joseph Brunk. The Lippitt Family or
"Lippitts" trace to the breeding program of Robert Lippitt Knight,
grandson of industrialist Robert Knight and maternal great-great
grandson of Revolutionary War officer Christopher Lippitt, founder of
the Lippitt Mill. Robert Lippitt Knight focused on preservation
breeding of horses descended from Ethan Allen II and this line is
considered the "purest" of the four lines, with the most lines tracing
back to Figure and no outcrosses to other breeds in the 20th or 21st
centuries. The Government Family is the largest, tracing to
Morgans bred by the US Morgan
Horse Farm between 1905 and 1951. The
foundation sire of this line was General Gates. When USDA
involvement ended, the
University of Vermont
University of Vermont purchased not only the
farm, but much of its breeding stock and carries on the program
today. The Working Western Family, abbreviated 2WF, have no common
breeder or ancestor, but are the horses bred to be stock horses and
work cattle, some descended from Government farm stallions shipped
A Morgan and rider in saddle seat competition
In 1909, the Morgan
Horse Club was founded, later changing its name to
the American Morgan
Horse Association. During the 1930s and 1940s,
there was controversy within the registry membership as to whether the
stud book should be open or closed; this mirrored similar
controversies in other US breed registries. The result of these
discussions was that the stud book was declared closed to outside
blood as of January 1, 1948. In 1985, the US and Canadian registries
signed a reciprocity agreement regarding the registration of horses,
and a similar agreement was made between the US and Great Britain
registries in 1990. As of 2012, approximately 179,000 horses had
been registered over the life of the association, with over 3,000
new foals registered annually. It is estimated that between 175,000
and 180,000 Morgans exist worldwide, and although they are most
popular in the United States, there are populations in Great Britain,
Sweden and other countries.
American Morgan Horse Association
American Morgan Horse Association (AMHA) is the largest
association for the breed. In addition to the AMHA, since 1996, there
has also been a National Morgan Pony Registry, which specializes in
horses under 14.2 hands (58 inches, 147 cm). There
are several other organizations that focus on specific bloodlines
within the Morgan breed. These include the Rainbow Morgan Horse
Association, begun in 1990, which works with the AMHA to develop and
promote unusually-colored Morgans, such as those with the silver
dapple and cream genes. The Foundation Morgan
registers those horses bred to resemble the stockier type seen in the
late 1800s and early 1900s, before crossbreeding with the American
Saddlebred became common. Two other membership based
organizations, both devoted to preserving the old-time
"Lippitt" strain of Morgans, also exist. The first, the Lippitt Club,
was started in 1973, and the second, the Lippitt Morgan Breeders
Association, was founded in 1995. The Lippitt Morgan Horse
Registry, Inc., was formed in 2011. It registers and maintains a
dna data base with pedigrees of Lippitt Morgans. There are also
associations for Morgans in several countries besides the US,
including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Sweden,
Austria and Germany. In
Middlebury, Vermont there is a museum
dedicated to the history of the breed.
Morgan horse used for Western riding
The Morgan breed is known for its versatility, and is used for a
number of English and Western events. They have been successfully
shown in many disciplines, including dressage, show jumping, Western
pleasure, cutting and endurance riding. They are also used as stock
horses and for pleasure riding and driving. They are frequently
seen in driving competitions, including combined driving and carriage
driving. Morgans were the first American breed to compete in the World
Pairs Driving competition, representing the US. They can be seen as
Pony Club participants and therapeutic riding
programs, due to their gentle disposition and steady movement.
There are Morgan-only shows held throughout the US, as well as an
"open competition" program run by the AMHA that gives points based on
competition success at all-breed shows. The first annual Grand
National and World Championship Morgan
Horse Show was held in 1973 in
Detroit, Michigan and in 1975 moved to its current home in Oklahoma
City, Oklahoma. Over 1,000 horses compete in the show each year.
In 1961, the
Morgan horse was named the official state animal of
Vermont, and in 1970, the official state horse of
In literature and film
A Lippitt Morgan stallion
The children's book,
Justin Morgan Had a
Horse by Marguerite Henry,
published in 1945, was a fictional account of Figure and Justin
Morgan. It was a Newbery Honor Book in 1946. A movie based on the
book was made by Walt
Disney Studios in 1972. Both the book and
the movie have been criticized for containing a number of historical
inaccuracies and for creating or perpetuating some myths about both
Justin Morgan and Figure. One equine historian stated, "these should
be looked upon not as true happenings but as entertainment
Ellen Feld, a children's author, is also known for her "Morgan Horse"
series. Blackjack: Dreaming of a Morgan Horse, won a Children's Choice
Award in 2005, following the 2004 award for its sequel, Frosty:
The Adventures of a Morgan Horse. These awards were given by the
International Reading Association and the Children’s Book
Morgan horse is the subject of the poem, The Runaway by Robert
Frost. In the poem, the speaker observes "A little Morgan" colt
who has been left out in a mountain pasture during winter and seems to
be afraid of the falling snow.
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Horse Division, Rule 102"
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Mellin, Jeanne (1986), The Complete Morgan Horse, S. Greene Press
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Morgan, W. Robert (1987), The Morgan
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Spencer, Sally (1994), The Morgan Horse, J.A. Allen,
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