Meet the Morgan Horse, One of America's Earliest Breeds


The Morgan horse breed began at the same time as the county of its origin, America in the 1700s. Over the centuries both America and the Morgan changed and not always for the better. Morgan horses have gained fans all over the world for their beauty, strength and intelligence. Morgan horses have thriving and passionate breed associations in Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. There are about 180,000 Morgans in the world. All of them descend from just one stallion – the legendary Figure or Justin Morgan.

History and Origins of the Morgan Horse

About 1789, a runty dark bay colt and a large gelding were given to poor schoolteacher Justin Morgan in exchange for a debt. The gelding was quickly sold and quickly went into obscurity. The colt, named Figure, would wind up founding a breed named after his owner. In those days, horses were often known by their owner’s name. Tiny Figure managed to work all day in fields and pulling logs and still manage to win sprint races in the evening. His foals took on his traits and themselves came in demand for their versatility, speed, beauty and strength. Figure himself died from another horse’s kick at the estimated age of 29.

Morgan Breed Particularities

Two main types of Morgan horses. The first type is considered the original type, often called Lippitt Morgans after the breeder Robert Lippitt Knight who fanatically stuck with the original type rather than the flashier Saddlebred type. For a while the University of Vermont bred Morgan horses for the U.S. Cavalry and introduced certain American Saddlebreds into the program. The Morgan was a main influence in the creation in the American Saddlebred, so only horses with definite Morgan ancestors were included. However, this made for a taller, longer horse. The University of Vermont still breeds Morgan horses.

Physical Characteristics of the Morgan Horse

A Morgan horse is usually a medium sized horse standing 14.1 to 15.2 hands high and weighing from 900 to 1000 pounds. Occasionally smaller or larger Morgan horses are foaled. They are still purebred although they are atypical. The Saddlebred types are usually taller and heavier than the Lippitt types.

Morgans are often photographed in common colors like bay, brown, chestnut or black. However, they come in a wide range of colors, including grey, dun, roan, buckskin and palomino. Common colors were bred more often in the 1800s and early 1900s because the unusual colors were suspect of not being purebred (even though they were.)

Morgans usually sport straight profiles topped with small ears that point toward each other. The eyes are large and bright. Lippitts have shorter backs and legs than the Saddlebred types. Both types feature thick manes and tails and deep chests, which give them ample room for get enough oxygen to complete difficult tasks. With luck, a Morgan lives an average of 30 years.

Morgan Horse Temperament

Morgan horse temperament differs with each individual horse. Morgans are sensitive, intelligent horses but not usually stoic or tolerant of mishandling. Temperament varies depending on how well the horse was trained and if he or she was exposed to any abuse. Morgan horses generally like people and other animals. They need company and do not do well in isolation.

Having a Morgan Horse

Owning a Morgan horse is a huge commitment not only in time and energy but in money. It is very expensive to own any horse, let alone a Morgan of either type. The lowest cost of owning a horse is usually the initial purchase price, which can range wildly according to the horse’s pedigree, beauty and abilities. Expect to pay around $15,000. Since this is such a popular breed, there are (sadly) many for adoption in animal shelters. Adoption fees tend to be $1000 or less.

A recent survey by the University of Maine listed the average yearly costs of owning just one horse at just under $4000. At least $1000 is just for food. Hay and oat prices vary according to where you live and how poorly the crop grew.

Other costs include:

  • Tack: Shop around for deals on used saddles, bridles, martingales, cruppers, harness or carts. With luck, a good used saddle costs about $800. It must be cared for carefully with soap for leather and oil to stay together. Saddles may or may not include pads.
  • Boarding: The costs depend on what services are provided by the boarding stable. Sometimes costs could include food, but they can run hundreds of dollars a month.
  • Veterinary and farrier: To compete or live at a boarding stable, horses must have recent vaccinations, worming medications and an annual check-up. Even if the Morgan is healthy, vet costs can start at $500 per year. Getting shoes cost about the same per year unless the Morgan horse needs special shoes for health reasons.
  • Registry expenses: Morgan horses need to be registered to be bred, to compete in certain shows or to claim a higher selling price. Registering a horse with the American Morgan Horse Society costs an average of $600. Other fees are added depending on the horse’s age, if the horse is being imported from another country or if the horse needs a name change. Breeding your Morgan costs a lot more.
  • Miscellaneous expenses: These add up fast. Expect to pay at least $1000 per year. These include riding boots that cost hundreds, grooming kits that cost nearly the same amount, halters, blankets, fly sprays, feed buckets, wheelbarrows and pitchforks to clean stalls and pastures. Prices on these vary wildly, so shop around for deals.

Common Uses for Morgan Horses

Morgan horses are commonly used for riding and driving. They used to make a superior harness horse but since cars have taken over the roads, most Morgans are used for riding. They perform well in English or Western tack. They can jump, work cattle, perform dressage, compete in three day events and make good trail horses. They also are used in breeding programs for new breeds such as the Morab (a cross between Morgans and Arabian horses) and the Moresian (a cross between a Morgan and a Friesian.)

Image taken from depositphotos.com.

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