AMERICAN MORGAN HORSE
American Morgan Horse
About the Breed
The Morgan breed originated in West Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1789, with the birth of a bay colt named Figure. At one year of age, Figure was given to a Randolph, Vermont, schoolmaster named Justin Morgan in partial payment of a debt. Figure was a stylish bay horse of many talents. He became widely known for his ability to pull stumps and logs while clearing the land for new settlers. In addition, he won races and pulling contests, was a favored parade mount at militia training, and was used as a saddle and driving horse. His strength, endurance, and easy-keeping qualities served him well on the Vermont frontier. Among horsemen he became widely respected for his prepotency (the ability to pass his own looks and qualities on to succeeding generations).
Figure was said to be sired by True Briton, a horse widely respected for his excellence and known for siring quality horses. He was said to have been "of the best English blood." Whether it was Thoroughbred blood, blood of another breed (such as the Welsh Cob), or a combination of types remains open to debate. Figure's dam was a mare bred and owned by Justin Morgan (having been sired by a stallion he stood at stud in 1793) and is described as being of the "Wildair breed."
As was the custom of the day, Figure became known as the Justin Morgan horse. After the death of Justin Morgan, Figure passed into other hands and spent the balance of his life in Vermont and the Connecticut River Valley of western New Hampshire. He died in 1821 at 32 years of age after sustaining a kick injury from another horse. He left a legacy of sons and daughters who were used by farmers to develop a type of horse well suited to the hilly topography of northern New England.
The round and compact bodies of Morgan horses enabled them to "get the best of their feed" and made them suitable to perform a wide variety of tasks. Their large eyes, small ears, and short, broad heads set on gracefully curved necks carried high provided them with a proud countenance. Also blessed with ground-covering gaits, the Morgans were able to cover many miles day after day at steady rate of speed. This ability, combined with a businesslike attitude to get the job done, made them a favorite horse of all work. (In later years, when a taller horse became the vogue, the Morgans would be criticized for their relatively short stature.)
Sherman Morgan, Bulrush Morgan, and Woodbury Morgan were Figure's most famous and influential sons. These stallions, along with other unrecorded offspring, came to dominate the horse industry of New England and northern New York. In the 1820's they were favorite teams for the stage lines and for fieldwork on farms and transport to town. Their reputation as "horses of all work" was becoming widespread.
Black Hawk, a son of Sherman Morgan; and Hale's Green Mountain Morgan, a grandson of Woodbury Morgan, were the dominate Morgan sires of the mid-19th century. Green Mountain Morgan had a host of admirers gained, in part, from his appearance as a parade horse at militia training. He was also renowned for his resemblance to Figure. Black Hawk was famed for his speed and elegant style and he, in turn, sired the world champion trotter Ethan Allen. In the 1850's these two rival stallions were shown at Midwestern state fairs with great success and heightened the continuing demand for Morgan horses.
New England supplied big city markets such as New York with Morgan horses for public transportation and freighting as well as private driving. Morgan horses comprised the preferred teams of stage line owner M. O. Walker of Chicago. They were taken to California to be employed as ranch and harness racing horses. In other areas of the West they were also used as ranch horses.
During the Civil War, Morgans were dependable cavalry mounts and artillery horses. Again, their easy-keeping qualities and ability to endure grueling condition allowed them to outlast other types of horses. Several units of cavalry in the Union army and one (known) of the Confederate army were mounted on Morgan horses. United States General Philip Sheridan's famed charger Winchester (a.k.a. Rienzi), who was immortalized after the war, was a descendant of Black Hawk.
Due to a trend in which taller horses were becoming more desirable with great speed at short distances, the popularity of Morgan horses began a decline, which would not reverse itself for several years. Morgan mares continued to be widely used by horse breeders, but were bred to taller stallions of non-Morgan breeding. The purpose was to capture the enduring qualities of the Morgan but with increased size in the offspring. The result was a more marketable product for farmers selling to the city markets. As a result of this practice the Morgan, as it had been known earlier in the 19th century, almost disappeared.
From this type of foundation other American horse breeds were developed. Harness racing had become an exceedingly popular sport for which the Standardbred was developed. Other major American breeds that contain the Morgan horse in their initial development include the American Saddle Horse, Tennessee Walking Horse, American Quarter Horse, and American Albino.
Continuing modernization and development of new technologies however, were affecting the horse market nationwide. Electrification of trolleys and continuing expansion of trains reduced the demand for harness horses significantly. Larger farms and a corresponding increase in the size of agricultural machinery to do the work were creating a demand for larger, heavier draft horses.
The 1890's witnessed efforts on the part of many to locate and "regenerate" the Morgan horse. A business horse or roadster was desired with not only speed but with the classiness which would reflect upon one's social standing as well. Writers berated the disappearance of the "ancient" type Morgan and called for its regeneration, if it could be found. Pockets of these Morgans had survived, particularly in northeastern Vermont, though much reduced in number.
Many new breeding programs were established. Edwin Hoffman of Lyndon, Vermont became a Morgan horse dealer and assisted many nationwide with locating and purchasing Morgans for their farms. It was at this time the foundation was laid for the highly influential Brunk bloodlines. The National Morgan Horse Breeders Association was formed during the 1893 Colombian Exposition (although it was not destined to last). Joseph Battell published his 1,000 page Morgan Horse Register in 1894.
The Vermont State Fair of the 1850's and 1860's had been a popular venue for the showing of Morgan horses. This fair was discontinued in the 1890's when as economic downturn forced it to cease operating. It was revived in 1907 and, within a very few short years, became the national showcase of the Morgan horses. In 1909 the Morgan Horse Club was formed during the fair. Morgan horses from as far as Illinois and Pennsylvania came to participate in a highly competitive atmosphere.
It was here that the first endurance rides were held. The Morgan Horse Club created a challenge to prove that the Morgan was the best horse for cavalry purposes. These rides were eventually held at various locations around the United States and were extended to 300 miles in length. These rides were the forerunners of today's competitive trail and endurance rides.
By an act of Congress in 1905, a farm to perpetuate the Morgan horse was established. The United States Morgan Horse Farm was established in Weybridge, Vermont, on Joseph Battell's former Bread Loaf Stock Farm. The farm was operated under the auspices of the federal government until 1951, when it was transferred to the University of Vermont, which continues to manage the farm today.
Again, modern technology interfered, with the advent of the automobile effectively reducing the need for horses. After this time, the primary focus of the horse market would become recreational. With exceptions, of course -- horses used for ranch work and, until the tractor became economically viable, for draft work on farms. In many rural areas horses continued to be a major source of transportation to market, church, and school. Although the need was diminishing, the Army sought remounts for its cavalry with demand peaking during World War I.
Throughout the balance of the 20th century the Morgan horse, like other types and breeds of horses, has been used primarily for recreational purposes. The majority of Morgan horse owners use their Morgans for pleasure. Many also compete with their Morgan horses in a wide variety of sporting events. Morgans are highly competitive in driving competition as well as in horse shows and on trail rides. They are competing in reining, cutting, and dressage with success.
Compiled by Elizabeth A. Curler
The Morgan averages between 14.1 and 15.2 hands and occasionally reaches 16 hands. It is most frequently found in the colors bay, black, brown, chestnut, gray, palomino, creme, dun and buckskin. The Morgan is easily recognized by its proud carriage, upright graceful neck, and distinctive head with expressive eyes. Deep bodied and compact, the Morgan has strongly muscled quarters. The Morgan horse has a dramatic gait with considerable action.
Versatility of the Morgan
Today, Morgans can be found in all 50 states and in more than 20 foreign countries. They have changed very little. The Morgan has remained a stylish, spirited mount with conformation that lends itself well to a vast range of disciplines. Morgan versatility is widely recognized. The breed's soundness, power and stamina make it the choice of many driving enthusiasts. Morgans comprise a large number of entries at Combined Driving and Carriage events, and was the first American breed to represent the United States in World Pairs Driving competition. Morgans also excel in many other disciplines, including Park Saddle and Harness, English and Classic Pleasure Saddle and Driving, Western, Hunter, Jumper, Eventing, Dressage, Reining, Cutting, Endurance and Competitive Trail. They are gentle enough for lessons, 4-H and Pony Club involvement, and due to their steady, comfortable gaits, are in great demand as therapeutic riding horses. Morgans are equally well known for their loving, kind dispositions. Those who buy a Morgan often say they have not only purchased a horse, but have welcomed a new family member.
Morgans lead the pack when a horse is wanted who can pull a vehicle up and down hills, navigate twisting turns and obstacles and even stand quietly if (heaven forbid) his driver errs and needs to unhook and reorganize after getting caught on an obstacle. In the world-class sport of pairs driving, Morgans have represented the U.S. three times in international competition.
In 1995, the Morgan pair driven by Lisa Singer led the World Championship charge until an unexpected obstacle took her and the next two competitors out of the running. In 1985 and 1987, Larry Poulin drove a pair of Morgans and set the international driving world on its collective ear by finishing first in dressage and sixth overall their first time out.
While there is no World Championship for the Singles division, Morgans are the breed of choice. In 1992, Bill Orth and his gelding, New-Ran's Hawk, traveled to Windsor, England, to win the Single Horse title at the Harrods International Driving Grand Prix competition. Who was the closest competitor? Why, another Morgan of course! It was Morgan Woods Yankee and his driver, George Hoffman. These men drove their Morgans against the best drivers from nine countries during the competition.
What kind of horse do you need to take part in an event which involves obedience in dressage one day, endurance and power over massive cross-country fences the next day and speed and agility over a stadium jumping course on the third?
One Morgan who has proven itself in this sport is Minty's Stardust, a 15.1-hand gelding in New Hampshire. "He is great at it because boldness and honesty are two of his top qualities," said his owner, Pat Fay. In 1993 Star won the Green Mountain Horse Association Preliminary Championship in Vermont. So impressed were the show personnel with the 15.1-hand Morgan's victory over his larger competitors that they played Aretha Franklin's "Respect" over the loudspeakers as he collected his winnings.
Yet another success story can be found in TJ Paddy O'Shea and his 16-year-old rider, Ariel Edwards, from California. The 15-hand gelding also proves that ability is not determined by size. In 1994 the pair finished in the top five, five times out, giving Ariel the opportunity to enter him in the 1995 Young Riders Championship where they finished in seventh place.
Competitive Trail & Endurance
People familiar with competitive trail and endurance riding, which requires a light-weight frame which can cover up to 100-miles a day, might not consider the muscular Morgan. But if you go to a few of these rides, don't be surprised to see the Morgan entries taking some important awards home.
One you might see is WCM Beaumark Morgan, owned and ridden by Susan Greenall. One of Beau's most recent, and greatest, accomplishments was winning the New York 100-Mile Trail Ride twice, in 1993 and 1995.
Originally purchased for carriage driving, endurance is relatively new for Sue and Beau. "This horse can gallop across uneven ground in the dark, and it is really something," she said. "He never stops impressing me. There are very few horses who can go between endurance and competitive," she continued. "They have to understand the difference between the two, and Beau is smart enough to have figured that out. In competitive riding he knows when he is supposed to be on. He really understands the game of competition."
While Quarter horses may dominate the event of cattle cutting, the Morgan gets a tip of the hat when it comes to separating a cow from the herd and holding it there. One Morgan that is competing in the event with typical Morgan style is Kizzy's Crackerjack and his owner, Geraldine Paiva of California.
"Other cutters are surprised that a Morgan makes a good cutting horse," Gerry explained. "But they love the long mane and tail! Crackerjack's athletic ability, intelligence, and ability to watch a cow are his strongest points. In 1994, our high point was winning the Reserve Championship in the Shasta Cascade Cutting Horse Association Novice Cutting Class."
With the breed's close-coupled, compact build, quickness and balance come naturally. When it comes to out-thinking an ornery cow, Morgans move to the head of the class.
Known for its power, elegance and ability to go from collected, precise movements to fully extended gaits, the modern dressage horse must have the athletic abilities associated with human ballet. While most modern dressage stars are European horses bred specifically for these demands, the American Morgan is proving itself just as capable.
In 1994, the palomino gelding Triple S High Noon was 15th in the nation at Third Level dressage, besting 795 competitors from all breeds. Likewise, the stallion Em-Jac's Tenacity was 20th in the highly competitive First Level, against 1,831 competitors.
In 1995, Deborah Dougherty of Washington state confirmed that Morgans can go the distance, when she earned her U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) Gold Medal, riding her home-trained Morgan gelding, Beckridge Patrex.
Dougherty was the 94th rider to earn this distinction out of the USDF's 30,000 members, and one of the few to achieve it on an American-bred horse.
The Morgan's compact, agile build makes the sport of reining another enjoyable challenge for both horse and rider.
One of the breed's reining stars is the buckskin stallion Primavera Valdez, owned by Bob and Carol Simpson in California.
"We were looking for another Quarter horse when we saw Valdez," said Carol. "We were absolutely against owning a stallion, and knew nothing about the Morgan breed, but felt that Valdez looked similar to many Quarter Horses we had seen in working cow horse competition. At the time, we were also unaware of the Morgan bloodlines that had been infused in the beginning of the Quarter Horse registry, which explains why Valdez looks like so many of the Quarter Horses."
Valdez has won many open reining classes, and also excels in the working cattle and team penning rings.
Morgans in the Show Ring
Countless families have gotten involved with Morgans by way of the show ring. Morgan shows offer something for everyone. From the leisurely, easy-going way of the Western Pleasure horse, to the animated, energetic Park Horse, Morgan show horses offer you a way to enjoy your Morgan in a competitive setting, while enjoying the company of other fun-loving Morgan exhibitors.
In hand classes present the horses for evaluation of their conformation and action. Horses are presented in either a show bridle or halter (for young animals). Most horses will be seen with one person leading (the header) and another (the tailer) either following behind or jogging in front of the horse to keep it alert and polished so that the judge will get the best possible view of it.
One thing you may notice during the in hand classes and most of the performance classes is how the horses stand. Their front legs will be perpendicular to the ground, with the hind legs slightly behind their normal, vertical placement. This is called "parking out", and was developed years ago, when ladies rode sidesaddle. Parking the horse's legs behind him prevented the horse from moving away suddenly while the lady was getting on with bulky skirts. Today, the tradition continues as a way of showing off each horse's best characteristics.
Park Saddle and Harness Morgans are judged on their dynamic way-of-going. The class name has nothing to do with how the horses stand. Instead, it descends from the days when businessmen would take an afternoon jaunt through the city parks on their best horse. In the days before sports cars, the riders would look for the snappiest, most impressive horse they could find to leave an impression on the pedestrians and other riders and drivers who saw them trot by.
Today, the park class is where the entries are always on their toes. Judged 40% on conformation and 60% on way-of-going, this class has the elegance of high-stepping, snorting, energetic horses so keyed to their performance that their hooves barely touch the ground.
English and Classic Pleasure use the same equipment as Park Saddle classes, but importance is placed on the horse's manners. The saddle is an elegant flat style, with little support from the cantle or pommel. The bridle is a "full" or "double" bridle, which includes two bits. The curb bit has shanks, which put light pressure on the head behind the horse's ears each time the rein is moved. This pressure serves to ask the horse to arch his neck and bring his head into a set position. The smaller snaffle bit works on the horse's lips, and signals the horse to bend his neck from side to side, to slow his speed, and turn corners. In the English pleasure class, the horses' action should be snappy, with the forearm level with the elbow when the front leg is in the air. In the Classic pleasure class, the horse may have less action.
In Hunter Pleasure, manners are also of importance. The horse is shown in a "forward seat" saddle, suitable for jumping fences. However, no fences will be encountered in the pleasure class. Entries are judged on manners and way of going. The horses carry their heads lower than Park or English horses, to allow them to see the ground better, as would be necessary if they were indeed jumping fences. The horses actions will also be more ground-covering, with longer-strides and lower action.
In Western Pleasure, the brilliant silver trim worn on their saddles and bridles only enhances the Morgans' natural beauty. Western horses work at a walk, a jog trot suitable for covering miles of range, and a slow, rocking-horse-like lope.
Much of the western equipment also descends from traditional needs. The horn on the front of the saddle can be used to "dally" the end of a lasso after roping a calf. The wide brim on the western hat protects the rider from sun and rain. The high boots protect the rider's legs from snake bites when walking, and the leather chaps worn on the legs are tough and durable enough stand against the scratches of scrub brush and rugged range land.
As you can see, Morgan shows are a combination of the horses' historical past and present. In addition to these classes, a show will also allow you to see Pleasure Driving horses (judged on the same criteria as the English Pleasure horses), Roadsters (descendants of the days when horses were raced from sulkies), in addition to classes for Carriage, Dressage, Jumping and even Reining.
Philanthropic Morgan horse breeders and owners maintained the Morgan Horse Club for many years. In 1971 the name of the Morgan Horse Club was changed to American Morgan Horse Association.
The Association headquarters reside in Shelburne Vermont and the National Museum of the Morgan Horse (NMMH) may be found in Middlebury Vermont. The National Museum of the Morgan Horse maintains exhibits on the role of the Morgan horse in history. In addition, the museum conducts on-site programming of Morgan horses and art, maintains a library, and houses a broad collection of artifacts. The AMHA is a service organization of Morgan horse breeders and owners.
The American Morgan Horse Educational Charitable Trust, 501C3, provides funding for educational projects, grants, and conducts the Grand National Morgan Horse Show annually.
Visitors to the Kentucky Horse Park will find a Morgan exhibit in the breed barn including educational materials, videos and two mechanical horses that allow visitors to experience a ride.