What Is a Morgan Horse? – History & Origins
Have you heard of the trustworthy and calm Morgan horse? These horses are incredibly popular and were actually one of the first horse breeds in the United States.
Back before the Wild West was tamed, settlers in the “New World” needed a sturdy horse with a calm temperament and an affinity for working to help people establish themselves in America.
The very first Morgan stallion went by the name of Figure and was owned by Justin Morgan, a school teacher in Vermont. Figure was not exactly special at the time; he was simply used as payment to settle a debt – a bay horse with a lovely demeanour and a strong build.
The Morgan Horse farm in Vermont – the home of the breed
Figure quickly became a local celebrity, pulling logs, working harder than many of the other farm horses, and requiring much less food! Soon Figure also began winning races and pulling competitions. Because of this, it is no surprise that Figure became a desired stud with the ability to pass on his favourable traits.
Although Figure’s legacy sadly ended in the early 1800s, the “Justin Morgan Horse” legacy continued throughout the States.
As European colonisers spread out across the US, the Morgan breed remained the preferred horse for citizens due to its ability to work on the farms, pull carriages and carry riders.
When automobiles entered the scene, we almost lost the Morgan horse completely. Farmers wanted stronger draught horses, ranchers wanted the stocky Quarter horse, while recreational riders wanted taller horses.
Morgan mares were bred with Thoroughbreds, and so purebred Morgans started to decline. Fortunately, the government finally intervened, the Morgan Horse Club came into existence (later called the American Morgan Horse Association) and a Morgan breeding program was established to allow these horses to thrive.
A Morgan stallion called Shepherd F. Knapp was exported to England in the 1860s. This marked the introduction of the Morgan horse breed to the UK, where they continue to be very popular to this day.
Today Morgan horses are often crossbred with other breeds due to their ability to perform in various horse competitions. Morgans have been crossed to produce other popular breeds such as the Tennessee Walking Horse, the Standardbred and the Quarter horse.
Breed Profile and Physical Characteristics
Here is a quick breakdown of the Morgan breed:
Horse family: American Work Horse
Breed: Morgan Horse
Common name: Morgan
Height: Morgan horses stand at 14.1 – 15.2 hands
Weight: 900 – 1,100 lbs / 408 – 500 kgs
Colours: No standard colours, but Bay and Chestnut are the most common
Temperament: Docile, calm, friendly, intelligent, hard-working
Use: Both English and Western disciplines
Who should own: Novices and experienced riders; families.
Bloodlines and Colours
Although Morgans descend from their original sire, Figure (interestingly Figure was eventually renamed Justin Morgan, after his owner), today there are four primary bloodlines for the breed:
Western Working family
These bloodlines trace back to the breeding programs of the 1800s and 1900s.
Although all these horses are considered Morgans, there are slight differences between the families.
The Brunk family traces back to Joseph Brunk from Illinois. These horses are incredibly athletic and sturdy, with stronger builds than the other families.
The Lippitt breeding stock is named after Robert Lippitt Knight. He took a lot of pride in his horses, and no outside influence was allowed in, which means horses from the Lippitt family can be traced back directly to the stallion, Figure.
The Government horses were bred by the US government from 1905 to 1951. This is the largest family and was started by the sire General Gates.
The Working Western family is a bit of a mixed bag. These horses cannot be traced back to a single sire, but include Morgans that have been bred to be stocky and are commonly used on cattle ranches.
Bay, chestnut and black are the most common Morgan horse colours, but other equine colours are also present.
There are some expert breeders that are able to produce Morgans that are palomino, dun, roan, brown, buckskin and on rare occasions even silver dapple!
How Long Do Morgans Live?
Morgans tend to live a little bit longer than other horse breeds. I speculate this is because they are slightly smaller than other horses, or because they are simply just that tough!
On average, Morgan horses live to around 30 years of age.
Interestingly, the father of all Morgans, the foundation sire Figure, actually outlived his owner and made it to 32. It may not sound that impressive, but having a horse live to that age in the late 1700s is quite a feat! And odds are, Figure might’ve lived a little bit longer if he wasn’t kicked in the head by another horse.
Morgans are one of those horse breeds that simply get on with everyone.
They are loyal, brave and calm, which actually makes them popular for police mounts since they don’t get riled up in crowds and their endurance means they can stay on the job for hours.
They are also incredibly intelligent, which makes them an absolute pleasure to train!
Because of their gentle temperament and smaller stature, Morgans are popular with children and are commonly used at riding schools.
These horses have a lot of stamina, making them ideal for events like cross-country, pulling competitions and endurance races.
Caring for Morgan Horses
If you are looking for a low-maintenance horse, then a Morgan horse is your best bet!
These horses not only live longer than many other horse breeds, but they also have relatively few health concerns.
These traits make them an amazing investment. And don’t just take it from us!
As the American Morgan Horse Association writes in their breed statement: “Morgan thriftiness and longevity have made this breed a good bargain for more than 200 years—easy to love and affordable to own.”
Let’s dive into the care requirements for this amazing breed.
Morgans don’t need any special grooming and will be just fine with a regular brush and comb twice a week. This will help remove dust and detangle their manes and tails.
Regularly bring a farrier around to check their hooves, and keep an eye out for infections.
Diet and Nutrition
Morgans are one of those horse breeds developed specifically to rely on less food. Sadly, we tend to want to give the best for our horses, and in the case of Morgans, it often leads to overfeeding.
Morgans require a high-fibre diet with just enough calories. They do not need copious amounts of food!
You should be able to notice your Morgan horse’s ribs if they bend away from you (not when they are just standing facing you). But even when just standing, you should be able to feel their ribs. If not, they might be overweight!
Common Health Issues
This family horse is one of those American horse breeds that seem to be able to outlast us all!
They are very easy to keep with no major health concerns, apart from obesity.
The only major health concerns that affect Morgans are those that affect most horses:
Cushing’s disease (abnormal hormone levels)
Morgan Horse Disciplines
Justin Morgan’s horse was so loved by the residents of Vermont because of his versatility, and his offspring have retained these skills.
Morgans are highly trainable and can be used for almost any task; be it jumping, dressage, trotting races, pulling competitions or endurance events.
Can Morgans Jump?
Your Morgan horse may not be the ideal light horse for jumping because of their height, but that doesn’t mean it won’t excel at it with proper training.
A lot of breeds that have been crossed with Morgans are also excellent jumpers.
Can Morgans Do Dressage?
Dressage is a discipline that aims to show the suppleness and strength of a horse while maintaining a calm manner.
Morgan horse lovers will be delighted to know that this versatile breed can do very well in dressage with just the right amount of patience and training.
Morgans excel at many other disciplines, including:
Western and English recreational riding
Endurance and competitive trail rides
Under-saddle and harness racing
How Fast Are Morgans?
Despite their stockier build, Morgans can reach top speeds of 20 mph.
These speeds combined with their stamina make them perfect for cross-country and endurance events.
How Much Do Morgans Cost?
Have we sold you on the amazing Morgan horse, and you eagerly want to get your hands on one?
The cost of a Morgan will depend on its age and training. That said, you can expect to pay anything from a couple of hundred pounds to more than tens of thousands of pounds for a Morgan in the UK!
Prices vary widely, from £5,000 to £20,000 or more! Perhaps if you are lucky you can find a Morgan horse at auction or at a horse rescue, but odds are these horses will require some medical attention and training, which will add to their cost.
Can Morgan Horses Live Outside Year Round?
Despite their hardy nature, Morgans were bred in America and are not the best suited for those icy winter days in the UK.
Morgans can do well in cold climates as long as shelter is provided, but they struggle quite a bit in humid weather and will need access to shade or a cool stable.
Therefore, it is best not to let your Morgan live out throughout the year. I recommend constructing a stable or barn to help your Morgan stay at comfortable temperatures.
How much weight can a Morgan horse carry?
Horses can carry 20% of their body weight, so a 1,000 lbs (454 kg) horse can carry 200 lbs (90 kg).
Are Morgan horses easy to ride?
Yes! Morgans are incredibly calm and love to work hard, making them great for children and novice riders.
Are Morgan horses intelligent?
Definitely. Morgans are known for their intelligent and confident natures, making them brilliant additions to any riding school.