History of the Morgan Horse

The Morgan Horse, America’s first national breed, sprang from one bay stallion, “Figure”, who is believed to have been foaled near Springfield, Massachusetts, in the American northeast in 1789.

His parentage is somewhat of a mystery. Some stories say the bay colt was given in part payment of a debt to a poor music teacher, Justin Morgan, who took the horse home to Randolph, Vermont. Others say Justin Morgan bred the colt himself. Figure was subsequently used for farm work, clearing land and also ran and won many races both under saddle and in harness.

Later, Figure became known as ‘the Justin Morgan horse’ and then ‘Justin Morgan’. Figure put his stamp on his progeny, passing on his willing nature, intelligence, strength and speed to his offspring irrespective of their dam.

His progeny became known as Morgan horses. All registered Morgans trace to Figure.

Justin Morgan, the founding sire of the Morgan breed.
Justin Morgan, the founding sire of the Morgan breed.

As well as establishing the Morgan breed, Figure’s descendants were regularly used as foundation stock for the other, newer American breeds of horse, namely the Standardbred, the American Saddle Horse, the Quarter Horse and the Tennessee Walking Horse.

Today, Morgan horses are much loved for their courage and generosity, and for their stylish appearance; they are also greatly respected for their strength, stamina and intelligence. They are used as mounts by police and military in the US and Canada; as ‘Roadsters’ in harness races; as stock horses in the West; as show horses; and as pleasure saddle and harness horses throughout North America, and various other countries.

The average size of a Morgan is between 14.2hh to 15.2hh, with some individuals over or under. Morgans have a natural high action, a high-held crested neck, a well defined head with small ears, large, widely spaced eyes, a slightly dished nose and a small muzzle.

Their bodies are compact with well-sprung ribs, well-muscled hindquarters and chest, and a short back. They are known for their thick, silky mane and tail and their coat colour is predominantly chestnut, bay, brown and black, but there are also palominos and buckskins and even a few grays.

Morgans have been crossed successfully with many breeds and as the Morgan horse is so prepotent, part breds usually resemble the Morgan part of their breeding more than the non-Morgan.