The Morgan horse is one of the first breeds that was developed in the United States. They have often been used throughout history as a coach horse, a general riding animal, and were even used as war horses during the US Civil War. Numerous breeds have influenced Morgans, including the American Quarter Horse, the Standardbred, and the Tennessee Walking Horse.
There are currently more than 175,000 Morgan horses that are known to live around the world. Here are some interesting Morgan horse facts that can help you get to know this breed on a more personal level.
#1. Morgans are incredibly versatile horses.
Morgan horses are often used in both Western and English riding disciplines. This versatility is not seen in the breed standards, however, as there is just one official breed standard no matter what the bloodline or the discipline of the horse may be. They are compact horses, refined, and generally black, bay, or chestnut in coloration.
#2. The foundation sire had its name changed.
The foundation sire for Morgans was originally named Figure. Figure was born in Massachusetts in 1789 and was believed to be sired by an English Thoroughbred. His name was eventually changed to Justin Morgan to honor the owner that helped to establish the breed. Figure would be owned by several different individuals over his lifetime, often working as a stud to pay off debts.
Despite the extensive use as a breeding stallion, records exist for only 6 of his sons. Half of them would be included as foundation bloodstock for Morgans.
#3. There are four bloodline groups within the Morgan Breed.
There are also smaller subfamilies, but the primary bloodlines are referred to as Lippitt, Government, Brunk, and Western Working. Each family can trace their bloodlines back to certain breeding programs that existed in the 1800s and 1900s.
One of these breeding programs still exists today. The Government family is currently owned by the University of Vermont, which took control of the lineage after the US Government stopped their involvement through the USDA.
#4. The American Morgan Horse Association was founded in 1909.
It was initially named the Morgan Horse Club. In its early days, like with many other US-based breeds, there was a great debate about whether to have the stud book be open or closed. Beginning in 1948, the stud book was declared closed to any outside blood. It would not be until 1985 when agreements between the US association and the Canadian association allowed for reciprocity. A similar agreement with UK Morgans was signed in 1990.
#5. There are multiple types of Morgan associations.
Morgans are an average size of horse, often reaching 14.2-16 hands in size. Not every Morgan reaches this height requirement, however, and that would exclude them from the primary registry – even if the horse is purebred. To counter this issue, the National Morgan Pony Registry was created in 1996 to provide representation to Morgans who are under 14.2 hands in height.
#6. Unusually colored Morgans are supported by their own registry as well.
Morgans can come in a wide variety of colors, although it is rare for the coat to be other than black, bay, or chestnut. The Rainbow Morgan Horse Association, which was formed in 1990, was created to support purebred Morgans that have unique coat colors and to develop breeding lines from them. The association specializes in promoting silver dapple and cream genes within the breed, but any coat color outside of the norm is supported.
#7. Morgans were the first American horse breed to compete in the World Pairs Driving competition.
Although American horse breeds have never been very successful in the World Pairs Driving competition – no US horse has even placed in the last 30 years – the ability to compete at championship levels is a step in the right direction. The Morgans were the first horse breed to take American efforts to the highest levels in this form of competition.
#8. Morgans are state animals in 2 US states.
The Morgan horse is the state horse of Massachusetts and the state animal for Vermont. This is because of how closely this breed’s history is tied to these two states. This happened in 1970 and 1961 respectively.
#9. Morgans have been a popular figure in US literature.
From children’s books to poetry to movies, you can find Morgan horses have been highly influential in US literature. Robert Frost wrote a poem about a Morgan colt who is afraid of the snow in his work “The Runaway.” A children’s book published in 1945 was entitled Justin Morgan Had a Horse and was about this breed, which won a Newbery Honor. Walt Disney also made a move based on the book. Ellen Feld has written an entire series of children’s books about Morgans as well.
#10. Morgan horses can be gaited.
The gait of a Morgan horse is not a requirement for the breed, but it does sometimes run in certain horses within the breed. Gaited Morgans are somewhat rare, but when it does exist, they can perform lateral gaits such as the pace, rack, and foxtrot. The trait is found throughout all of the families and subfamilies of the breed, so it is not believed to be connected to any specific bloodlines.
#11. Morgan horses live longer than the average breed.
With adequate care, Morgans can easily live into their upper 30s. According to registry information, the average lifespan for a Morgan is between 20-30 years, which makes them a fairly long-lived horse when compared to other breeds.
#12. Morgans have a distinctive head shape.
You can tell that you’re looking at a Morgan horse just by looking at its head. The eyes are quite expressive and the Morgan stands with a graceful, upright neck. The carriage of this breed offers a distinctive appearance of pride, especially with its strongly-muscled quarters and compact, deep-bodied structure.
#13. Some Morgans used to be considered a different breed.
A stallion named Black Hawk was the first US stallion to receive a stud fee of $100. His high-strung personality and high energy levels were considered unique and in the 1800s, he was considered to be a foundation horse for his own breed, which were called Black Hawks. Not bad for a horse who was almost gelded because of how difficult he was to work with. Over time, Black Hawk and his lineage were incorporated into the Morgan line.
These Morgan horse facts show that one of the original breeds in US history is still going strong, even if there weren’t any early breeding structures in its earliest days. Nearly as old as the United States, it is easy to see why Morgans have long been a favored mount once you see one in person.