A Brief Morgan History
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The Morgan is the first American breed of horses, and the only breed
to spring from a single fountainhead sire. The foundation sire
of the Morgan Breed was named Figure, and he was foaled in 1789,
the same year George Washington was inaugurated
first president of The United States.
Figure was later re-named Justin Morgan, after his most famous owner.
He stood his first season at stud in 1792, in the stable of
a cavalry captain in West Hartford, Connecticut.
Later that year, the captain sold Figure to Justin Morgan,
and the three-year-old bay stallion went to Vermont,
where he lived the remainder of his thirty-two years.
Figure’s sons and daughters were appreciated in the Green Mountains
of Vermont. The handy little horses with the tough feet
could live on almost nothing at all, and they were very agile and quick
for plowing on the steep hillsides. They were also
the very best horses for the farmers, because they were versatile.
A Morgan could plow the fields, haul logs out of the woods,
pull a sled for collecting syrup buckets, and be a reliable driving horse
to go to market or take the children to school.
The Morgans were also fearless and flashy mounts
for riding to military drills. By the middle of the 19th century,
the Morgan’s versatile qualities made it the preferred driving horse throughout New England, and in New York.
They were the business transportation of the day.
When The Civil War came, eleven hundred Morgans left Vermont.
Fewer than four hundred came home.
The First Vermont Cavalry was mounted mainly on Morgans.
At Gettysburg, they charged up hill and over stonewalls into a fusillade
of Confederate gunfire. They broke General Lee’s supply lines,
forcing him to withdraw from the field.
Others had tried and failed, but The Morgans took the hill.
After the war, harness racing was all the rage,
and the Morgan was a big part of the sport.
Morgans like Black Hawk and Ethan Allen set standards
on the harness tracks of the day. To this day, many Morgans
descend from these two famous trotters.
In 1894, Joseph Battell published Volume I of The Morgan Horse
and Register, the first volume of the Morgan registry.
In the 20th century, the Morgan met its most formidable
challenge of all — the automobile.
By the end of World War I, the horse had lost almost
all its transportation markets to cars and trucks.
But the United States Government still valued horses for cavalry mounts,
and the horse still had economic value as a farm animal.
The government started a Morgan Horse Farm in Weybridge, VT called
The Government Farm. They bred Morgans for cavalry,
and they conducted rigorous endurance trials for breeding selection.
Only the best athletes were retained for the Government breeding program. The Government also sent some of their best stallions
to Army Remount Stations across the nation, so those stallions
could improve on the local farming stock.
By the end of The Great Depression, it was obvious that the days
of the horse as a utility animal were numbered. A few Morgan lovers
came together to form The Morgan Horse Club,
which eventually became The American Morgan Horse Association.
Many of these people realized the best hope for a future for this breed
was as a show horse and a family pleasure horse.
Some began to breed toward a more refined show horse
that could compete with The American Saddlebred.
Others selected for family mounts, while still others bred
for cattle work on the western ranges.
The versatile Morgan excelled in all these areas.
In 1950, the government realized the cavalry horse was history,
and decided to disburse The Government Herd. All but a handful
of horses were sold by sealed bid auction, and the farm
was deeded to The University of Vermont. Morgan enthusiasts
were certain this would be the end of the breed, but the Morgan
had yet another surprise in store.
The horses from The Government Farm were sold
all across the nation, and they founded some of the greatest
Morgan breeding programs of the twentieth century.
Wherever they went, Morgans found enthusiastic owners
who loved their willing dispositions and versatile ways.
The University of Vermont Morgan Horse Farm became
one of the leading Morgan breeding farms in The United States.
In addition to the many disciplines you will see
at any Morgan Horse Show, Morgans lead
The United States Equestrian Team
in Singles Driving and in Pairs Driving.