Morgan horses are one of the earliest breeds that were exclusively developed in the United States. The history of this breed traces back to a horse named Justin Morgan, named after one of his owners, but given the original name of Figure. This stallion was born in 1789 and given to Justin Morgan as a debt payment 3 years later.
Justin Morgan (the person) was a composer whose work is still heard today in some churches. Many of his compositions were fuguing tunes and he would also write several hymns. More than 100 of his hymns are still published in common collections, especially when voice-leading melodies are preferred.
In his spare time, he would also work with horses and run his own breeding program.
The exact pedigree of Justin Morgan (the horse) is not known and records exist for just six of his sons. Three of his sons would become the foundation for the Morgan breed.
Many Morgans were used for harness racing, pulling coaches, and other transportation needs since they had good endurance and speed. When the Gold Rush occurred in 1849, Morgans were part of the experience. They were the preferred horse breed during the US Civil War and the trotting ability of the Morgan became so popular that the breed was exported to Europe to influence several other breeds.
As part of the development process within the breed, Morgans have formed into 4 specific bloodline groups. One of those groups happens to be the Lippitt Morgan Horse.
The History of the Lippitt Morgan Horse
The Lippitt Morgan Horse traces its bloodlines to the breeding program for Morgans that was established by Robert Lippitt Knight. He was the grandson of Robert Knight and the great-great grandson of Christopher Lippitt, who served in the Revolutionary War and founded a mill.
The goal of the Lippitt family breeding program was to preserve the purity of the Morgan bloodlines. They brought in horses that were descendants of Ethan Allen II and many of the Lippitt Morgans can still trace their lineage all the way back to Figure. There have been no crossbreeding or outcrosses with this specific bloodline in the last century.
Three other bloodlines exist as well: Government, Western Working, and Brunk.
Lippitt Morgans are thought to be the purest of the bloodlines that exist for the breed, but the Government bloodlines are the most extensive. It is one of the few breeds where the US government was officially involved in the program, producing war horses and other service horses on the US Morgan Horse Farm. It was managed by the USDA, but would eventually be sold to the University of Vermont.
The university continues to manage the program to this day, including management of the Morgan breeding stock.
The Working Western Family (2WF) are bred to be stock horses that work cattle. There is no common ancestry for this line. There isn’t a common breeder from them either. Their primary connection to the Morgan breed is that they are descendants of some of the Government horses that were shipped west after the US Civil War.
The Brunk family bred Morgans for athletic traits, looking for soundness and movement more than genetic clarity. Their breeding program was based in Illinois.
There are additional sub-families that are smaller and less prominent available in the breed as well.
The first breed association for Morgans was established in 1909. Founded initially as the Morgan Horse Club, it would become the American Morgan Horse Association and the registry has been closed since 1948.
About the Lippett Club and Its Support for Morgans
In 1962, the final sale of the Lippitt herd of Morgans occurred. A few other breeders, such as Marshall Winkler, began to advertise in local papers and in the Morgan Horse publications over the coming years to generate interest in preserving the old bloodlines.
Eventually, several families would come together and begin to meet on a regular basis in 1970. They began to draw up the requirements for eligible horses and would then show those horses at local events, most notably the Tunbridge Fairgrounds. Demos, trotting races, and parades with the eligible horses helped to attract additional interest in the club.
The Lippett club was founded in 1973. The goal of the club continues to be to preserve the older Vermont Morgans which had a history in the region from the 18th century. The club wishes to preserve the genetic purity of the breed, in its original type, while still promoting the overall Morgan horse.
When they first formed, they called themselves the “Old Type Morgan Fanciers.” They would seek out permission from Knight’s son to use the Lippitt name for their club and it has stuck ever since.
In July of 1973, the Morgan Horse Magazine featured several horses from the Lippitt farm. Several horses were given the Lippett prefix in the article, along with articles about pure line breeding and Lippitt characteristics. This would provide the beginning of the efforts to establish the Lippitt Morgan as a specific family within the Morgan breed with specific conformation requirements that are above and beyond what the breed characteristics and expectations happen to be.
Characteristics to Expect with the Lippitt Morgan Horse
Although Lippitt Morgans are considered the “pure” version of this breed, all families and sub-groups must meet one official breed standard. These standards apply regardless of the bloodlines or discipline of the individual horse.
Morgans should have strong legs, a refined build that is noticeably compact, and have an expressive head that is straight. A slightly convex profile is still accepted. The forehead must be broad and the eyes prominent and large. The withers of a Morgan must be well-defined, with the shoulders laid-back, but the neck arched prominently in an upright fashion.
The back of a Morgan is noticeably shorter than other breeds, but the hindquarters are above average in strength. When combined with a croup that has prominent musculature and a tall, graceful carriage, the end result is a horse that appears to be powerful and strong.
Lippitt Morgans are easy keepers and consistently meet the breed standards for physical appearance and temperament. The occasional individual will be gaited, performing an intermediate trot like the pace or the rack.
Morgans will usually be between 14.1-15.2 hands high, but some individuals can be a little smaller or taller and still qualify for registration. Lippitt Morgans tend to be on the upper end of the height scale.
Several coat colors are available within the breed as well. Most registered Lippitt Morgans tend to be chestnut, black, or bay. Additional coat options, such as roan, dun, gray, and cream dilutions are also possible. Three pinto patterns are also recognized as being part of the Morgan conformation, though not the tobiano pattern.
The Lippitt Club officially recognizes bay, brown, black, and chestnut coat colors only if the horse is to qualify as a Lippitt Morgan.
Two coat color genes and one genetic issue that lead to diseases and disorders have been linked to the Morgan Horse. These include Type 1 polysaccharide storage myopathy, MCOA, and the silver dapple allele, which can cause cysts. There is also the possibility of lethal white syndrome within the breed.
What Makes the Horse Become a Lippitt Morgan?
Lippitt Morgans are often referred to as “old type” Morgan horses. Coming out of Vermont, there were 25 horses that came out of the Lippitt family breeding program that would be identified as foundation stock for this family of Morgans.
For the horses to be chosen as foundation stock, they had to meet three core characteristics without exception.
- There had to be a registered Morgan with the AMHA or Canadian Morgan Horse registries.
- Each individual had to be a close cross to Ethan Allen II, who had been chosen as the foundation stallion for this family.
- They must have produced a minimum of one descent line that was present in the current population.
Unlike other breeds, it is the pedigree of the horse instead of the breeder that determines if it is part of the family. The Knight family ran an extensive breeding program and outside bloodlines were sometimes used to meet their needs. There were other breeders who bred Morgans at the time that did not meet the established definition of what a Lippitt Morgan would be.
This means a horse that has been given the prefix of Lippitt within its pedigree may not be a full Lippitt Morgan. For a horse to be considered a full Lippit, the entire pedigree must be fill Lippitt. All lines must be able to go back to the foundation Lippitts that are listed by The Lippitt Club.
Lippitt Morgans are the “old style” Morgan horse. Some may argue that they are the “true” Morgan, based on lineage and bloodlines. Keeping them pure comes at a higher cost than a traditional Morgan, but for many, it is an expense that is worth the sacrifice.