Morgan Horse Origin and Characteristics

The Morgan horse is a true American success story. With a lineage that can be traced to a single stallion in the 18th century, this breed has grown to become an integral part of US culture – even if some may not realize its influence.

 

During the US Civil War, for example, both sides used Morgans as part of their cavalry regiments.

Morgan horses have also been integral in the establishment of several new horse breeds. One Morgan stallion in a foundation stallion in 3 different breeds that exist today. Exported Morgans helped to influence the breeding of the Hackney horse as well.

In total, there are an estimated 200,000 Morgans living around the world today. It is a versatile breed, willing to learn new skills quickly, and serves as the state horse of both Massachusetts and Vermont.

Morgans have also been part of US children’s literature over the years. Notable authors, such as Ellen Feld and Marguerite Henry, have portrayed the breed as a primary character in their books. Disney has even picked up stories about Morgans and turned them into movies.

It is rare to find a horse that is social and loving at home, but calm and courageous while serving in battle. Because the Morgan horse has proven itself in both arenas, time after time, it is understandable to see why it has become such a popular breed for so many. 

What Is the History of the Morgan Horse?

The Morgan horse is named after Justin Morgan. He was living in Randolph, Vermont, but decided to move to Springfield Massachusetts. He was a composer, a teacher, an early entrepreneur, and an avid horseman. As part of a debt, he was giving a bay colt to have it settled. Morgan would name this colt Figure.

Figure would then move on to other owners after Morgan passed away. He spent a life that involved farm work, hauling freight, and serving as a parade mount. Figure’s name would be changed to Justin Morgan, as was the practice of the day, to honor the owner. Although Figure died in 1821, his legacy continues on with the establishment of the Morgan horse breed.

This makes the Morgan horse one of the earliest horse breeds that was exclusively developed in the United States. Morgans are also the only breed of horse that were managed by the US Government.

The exact pedigree of Figure is not known, even with extensive efforts to determine what his parentage may have been. What we do know is that he was the sire of 6 sons that have formal records and they each became part of the integral foundation of the Morgan breed. One of his sons, named Black Hawk, would also serve as a foundation stallion for the Standardbred, the American Saddlebred, and the Tennessee Walking Horse.

In the first days of the breed, Morgans were almost exclusively used for harness racing and pulling coaches. As westward movement continued to occur in the US, especially with the gold rush of 1849, the temperament and strength of the breed was discovered to be a positive influence in battle and other difficult situations. Morgans would be one of the most-sought after breeds of horse during the US Civil War. 

There Are 4 Morgan Bloodlines in Existence Right Now

Within the Morgan Breed, there are 4 distinct bloodlines with unique characteristics. Two are based on family breeding programs, the third is based on the government programs, and the final bloodline is a generalized category that focuses on how the horses were used rather than their physical traits.

Here are the 4 bloodlines and what they add to the Morgan breed.

  • Brunk. This family had a breeding program in Illinois for Morgans and their focus was to create horses that were athletic with superior soundness.
  • Government. This group of Morgans comes from the government breeding programs that were directly maintained from 1905-1951. This breeding group is still active through the University of Vermont on the same farm that the US government once owned.
  • Lippitt. This group of Morgans is often treated as the best example of a pure horse, directly descended from Figure with zero outcrosses to other breeds since the beginning of the 20th century.
  • 2WF. The western working family of Morgans does not have a common ancestor, but is instead the group of horses that were shipped west to work on ranches. Some of the horses in this group came from the government’s breeding program.

The American Morgan Horse Association accepts horses from all 4 bloodlines as long as the parentage of the horse can be proven. Associations for each family group, however, may exclude purebred Morgans because they do not meet the specific expectations of that lineage. A Lippitt Morgan, for example, could potentially be a 2WF Morgan, but couldn’t be a Brunk Morgan.

Founded in 1909 as the Morgan Horse Club, the American Morgan Horse Association sees more than 3,000 new foals begin registered every year. Since 1996, a National Morgan Pony Registry has also been active, creating a specializing for purebred Morgans that are under 14.2 hands high. There is also the Rainbow Morgan Horse Association, which began operations in 1990, to serve Morgans with unusual coat colors, such as those with the cream dilution or silver dapple genes.

Several different associations help to serve the breed as well. The Foundation Morgan Horse Association registers stocker-type horses that were seen in the late 19th century before the American Saddlebred was introduced to the breed. Then there is the Lippitt Club exclusively serves horses with lineage from that line and maintains a DNA database. 

What Are the Expected Characteristics of the Morgan Horse?

Despite there being 4 lineage branches within the Morgan breed, there is just one breed standard which applies to all horses. A Morgan should be refined, visually compact, and have an expressive profile and personality. The head should be straight, but a slightly convex profile is still acceptable. This will be complemented by a broad forehead, prominent eyes that are large, and withers that have excellent definitions.

Morgans should provide a visual appearance of being strong and muscular. The back is short, but the neck is upright and arched. Laid-back shoulders help the horse to drive forward with power, supported by hindquarters that should be strongly muscled.

Although Morgans have warm and hot-blooded tendencies, their temperament is somewhere between a warm-blood and a cold-blood. They are definitely easy keepers and enjoy making social connections with humans. There will always be the individual horse who is stubborn, defiant, and refuse to work with anyone, but for the most part, Morgans are a good family horse and well-suited for beginners.

Most Morgans will be at least 14.1 hands high, with stallions often achieving 15.2 hands. Some individuals can be smaller or taller, but height is generally not a restriction for registration.

There is a wide variety of coat colors that can be found with the Morgan breed. Chestnut, black, and bay coats are the most common, while roan, dun, gray, and silver dapple coats are still seen on a regular basis. Cream dilution coats, such as buckskins or palominos, are also a possibility. Perlino and cremello Morgans are rare, but possible. Pinto color patterns are also recognized within the breed.

Morgans with the silver dapple gene are more likely to experience health problems, especially with their eyesight. The possibility of lethal white syndrome also exists within the breed. Because of this, the American Morgan Horse Association promotes genetic testing to identify horses that are carriers and to have them excluded from the breeding pool. 

The Morgan horse is extremely versatile and can participate in numerous competitive and show events. They excel in show jumping and dressage, but endurance, cutting, and pleasure riding are all possible from the same horse. Morgans were also the first breed to compete in the World Pairs Driving Competition for the United States.

Their gentle disposition also makes them a fantastic therapeutic horse for those who would benefit from experiential therapies.

What Is the Future of the Morgan Horse?

The Morgan horse may be one of America’s first breeds, but it isn’t going away any time soon. With such consistency and versatility, it has become a global phenomenon. You’ll find large populations of Morgans in Australia, Europe, New Zealand, and throughout North America. Many countries have their own breeders’ association, with some affiliated with the American Morgan Horse Association.

As long as DNA testing continues to remove carriers of potential genetic and health disorders from the breeding pool, Morgans will continue to be healthy, long-lived horses with an almost infinite upside. 

Morgans choose to be with you. You can make the coice to be with a Morgan today too.