Morgan horses are named after Justin Morgan, who is considered to be the founder of this breed. He acquired a colt in 1789 because of a debt payment that would become the founding sire of the breed, and would be later renamed after Morgan from the name of Figure that was originally given to him. This founding sire would have three sons, named Bulrush, Sherman, and Woodbury, and together they would create the legacy of the Morgan horse.
Morgan horses have some very specific conformation characteristics that must be met in order for the horse to be accepted for registry. This includes a broad forehead, prominent eyes that are large, a deep throatlatch, and sound legs that are straight with short cannons. Morgans are also distinctive for their overall temperament.
The Morgan horse is often considered to be the first breed that was exclusively developed in the United States. It is the official state horse of two different states and is the only registered breed that was given a commitment by the US Government. An estimated 125,000 Morgans are currently part of the global equine population.
What Can Be Expected with a Morgan Horse?
Morgan horses tend to have tons of personality. They are very eager to please and have a superior stamina with vigor. This has led the breed to be a popular horse for a wide variety of tasks, from fighting in the Civil War to performing general farm work in the agricultural sector. These traits can still be found in the modern Morgan horse today, though their jobs have transitioned more into sporting and recreational sectors.
What attracts so many toward the Morgan over other horse breeds is the complete evenness of its temperament. This breed is extremely willing without much exception. For this reason, Morgans are often one of the top recommendations when working with horses for the first time. They are equally happy with children or adults, amateurs or professionals, and individuals or families. They are somewhat sensitive, but they are also quite forgiving. If you make a mistake, most Morgans are willing to give you a second chance – and more.
Morgans are also a very patient horse. They enjoy putting on a good show, so their curiosity and skill-development is an asset for those that perform in formal riding disciplines. They’re instantly alert when called upon to enter a show ring, no matter how long they’ve been waiting.
This patience also translates into certain riding or racing disciplines, especially on the endurance circuits. It has also been a contributing factor to the mood stability and calmness that has been developed in other breeds as well. Morgans have been used to improve Standardbreds, Quarter Horses, Saddlebreds, and Tennessee Walking Horses.
One Morgan horse, named Stepherd F. Knapp, was exported to England in the 1860s. His unique trot would be used to influence an entire generation of Hackney horses.
There may also be additional breeds that have been influenced by Morgan genetics. Figure/Justin Morgan was known to be used as a breeding stallion quite extensively to help with owner debts over the years. Many records from those breeding efforts have been lost or were never created in the first place, so there may be more Morgans out there than anyone actually realizes.
What Rider Is Best Suited to Work with a Morgan Horse?
Morgans are quite flexible, which makes them suitable to work with just about any rider. They are comfortable in virtually any circumstance or environment where they can be treated right. This means they are a companionable breed that will become a great riding or working partner for just about anyone.
What Morgans will not stand for is blatant aggressiveness. They are forgiving to riders who are learning what it means to work with a horse, but they are not so forgiving to those who feel like a horse/person relationship needs to be one of dominance. Morgans will become quickly uncooperative if they feel like the relationship is being used against them for some reason.
The Morgan horse is also the first American breed to compete in the World Pairs Driving Competition. There are many Morgan-specific horse shows that are held annually in the United States, with more than 1,000 horses competing annually to be the Grand Champion of the breed.
Morgans are a proud breed. You can see it in their carriage as they hold their heads upright and tall. There is a certain zest for life that is found in this breed and they refuse to have that taken away from them. This is why they were used quite extensively in the 1800s as a carriage horse, for harness racing, and similar pulling tasks.
This is why you’ll often find Morgans being used for riding lessons, especially with beginners, because of their overall gentle nature. They’re also vital components of 4-H Clubs and similar student groups and agencies. They are wonderful therapeutic horses, especially for those that need a form of experiential therapy. They have lots of heart, plenty of athleticism, and a beauty that is all their own.
Does the Coat Color of a Morgan Dictate Its Temperament?
Unlike some other breeds, there are no coat color determinations that are believed to be present when considering the Morgan horse. There are, however, two different genetic disorders that are linked to coat color genes within this breed. They are MCOA, or multiple congenital ocular anomalies, and some Morgans carry the silver dapple allele, which can cause ocular cysts.
Morgans are also capable of developing lethal white syndrome, which is seen in foals who are homozygous for the frame overo gene. For this reason, genetic testing is often recommended for all horses who may be carriers of problematic genetics. Only one Morgan mare line in the breed has every produced healthy foals with a heterozygous frame overo.
There are four main bloodlines that exist for Morgan horses today, with each begin referred to as a family. Each family offers a similar temperament, but there are subtle differences based on the purpose of breeding that was in place. The Working Western Family, for example, are horses that are bred for working cattle, so they tend to be more willing when it comes to work.
The US Government gave up their involvement with Morgan horses in 1951, selling their program to the University of Vermont. It is a program that is still operating today. More than 3,000 foals in this breed are born annually and registered to their local association, which makes it one of the most popular and versatile breeds that has ever come out of the United States. Much of that is due to the fact that the Morgan horse temperament is the same today as it was over 200 years ago.