Sunday, August 24, 2014


A long time ago, in 1789, a horse named Figure was born in West Springfield, Massachusetts.  He turned out to be the founding sire of the Morgan horse breed.  The way this happened was that in 1792, Figure was given to a man named Justin Morgan to pay a debt.  After a while, Figure got to be known as "the Justin Morgan horse," and the breed of horses that came from him were called Morgans.

Photo:  Ken Martin
No one knows exactly who the parents of Figure were, even though a lot of people have tried to trace his history.  One of his parents may have been a thoroughbred, but as I said, nobody knows for sure.  Anyway, we think that Figure was about 14 hands (56 inches) tall, and that he weighed around 1,000 pounds.  He was a good-looking, athletic horse with a fine temperament, and he passed these qualities on to the horses he sired.  Sadly, Figure was kicked by another horse in 1821 and later died of his injuries.  He was buried in Tunbridge, Vermont.


Black Hawk, who was sired by Figure in 1849, was used as a foundation sire for the Standardbred, American Saddlebred, and Tennessee Walking Horse breeds.  He was known for his unbeaten harness racing record.  One of Black Hawk's colts, Ethan Allen, was born in 1849 and was also very fast in trotting races.  He went on to be another important sire in the Morgan breed.

Photo by Dave and Andy

The main uses of Morgans in the 19th century were for pulling coaches and for harness racing.  They were also good for general riding and for light driving.  During the California Gold Rush, miners often used Morgan horses, and they were the horse of choice for the U.S. Cavalry during the Civil War and afterwards.

In 1907, the USDA established the U.S. Morgan Horse Farm in Middlebury, Vermont.  The reason they did this was so that the breed could be carried on and improved.  Later, the farm was transferred to the University of Vermont.  The Morgan is the state animal of Vermont and the state horse of Massachusetts.

The Morgan Horse Club was founded in 1909.  Later it changed its name to the American Morgan Horse Association.  By 2012, about 179,000 horses had been registered since the organization began.  More than 3,000 foals are registered every year.  There are probably between 175,000 and 180,000 now worldwide.  The breed is most popular in the U.S., but there are also Morgan horses in Great Britain, Canada, Sweden, and other countries.

Photo by Dave and Andy

Registered Morgans are usually bay, black, or chestnut.  They can also be gray, roan, dun, silver dapple, palomino, buckskin, or pinto.  They are compact and refined in build.  The height standard is 14.1 to 15.2 hands (57 to 62 inches).  Morgans are known for their intelligence, courage, and good dispositions.

Combined Driving

Horse owners use Morgans in a lot of different ways.  Of course, they are good for just general pleasure riding or as stock horses.   However, they can also be shown in both English and Western events, including dressage, show jumping, Western pleasure, cutting, and endurance riding.  In driving competitions, they might be in combined driving or carriage driving.  Also, they are so gentle and steady that they are good horses for kids to ride, or for use in therapeutic riding programs.

Photo by Dave and Andy
So that's the story of how America made its first home-grown horse breed.  And I think that for a first effort, it was pretty darned good!

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