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Morgan Horse Breed: Facts, Colors, Origins, and Temperament

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Morgans are a popular horse breed, although I’ve never owned one. So, when a friend asked to look at one he’s thinking of buying, I decided to research Morgans to learn about their breed characteristics, colors, temperament, and general facts.

Morgan horses are intelligent and gentle-natured with exceptional conformation and strength. Their bodies are deeply muscled, and their legs straight and sturdy, yet they have style and elegance. The most common colors of Morgans are bay, black, and chestnut.

Morgan horses are best known for their friendly personality, beauty, and versatility. However, there’s a lot more to learn about this fascinating breed.

Picture of Morgan horses,

Morgan Horses have distinct characteristics.

The Morgan horse breed has distinctive characteristics: a graceful crested neck, expressive eyes, and small ears. These features mask the breed’s underlying power and its versatility.

Characteristics

Height and weight

The breeds’ height standard range from 14.1 to 16.2 hands. The average height of a Morgan is between 14.1 and 15.2 hands; however, some Morgan horses stand as tall as 16 hands, but it’s not common.

The average Morgan weighs between 900 and 1,100 pounds, which is massive for a horse, only 14 hands tall.

Colors

Registered Morgan horses can be in various colors but are most frequently bay, black, brown, chestnut, gray, palomino, creme, dun, and buckskin. The less common colors of Morgans are gray, roan, and silver dapple. Morgans can also have pinto color patterns except for tobiano.

Ideal Morgan horse conformation

The term conformation is often mentioned when describing a horse. In the present context, it’s used to describe not the straightness of a component but rather how the parts tie together for optimum balance and performance.

Head

A Morgan horse should have a broad forehead, large eyes, and a straight or slightly dished short face. Their ears should be short and set wide apart. The underside or throatlatch is deep and refined, which allows proper flexion at the poll.

Neck

A Morgan’s neck should be slightly arched and blend with the withers and back. A mares neck should be noticeably more delicate than its male counterpart. The top line of the neck should be longer than the bottom line of the neck. Stallions will have more of a crest than mares and geldings.

Body

Ideally, a Morgan horse is compact with a short back, thick loins, deep flank, and well-muscled with its tail high. A strong, straight back with the croup level rounding into a well-muscled thigh is desired.

The underline should be long and the body deep through the heart girth and flanks. The Morgans’ chest should be well developed, and the front legs should be perpendicular to the ground and closely attached to the body.

Its underline is long, and its body is deep through the heart’s girth and flanks. A Morgans withers are well defined and proportionate to the angulation of the shoulders. The croup should not be higher than the withers.

Legs

Morgan horses should have straight legs with short cannons, flat bones, and an appearance of refinement. The forearm should be long in proportion to the cannon. The pasterns should be of sufficient length and angle to provide a light, springy step.

The Morgan horse should have thickly muscled thighs and gaskins. Its gaskin should be long in relation to the cannon.

Feet

Morgans have good solid feet that are open at the heel with a concave sole and thick hoofs. They are sturdy and proportionate to the size of the horses.

Morgan horses are easy keepers

The Morgan is a hardy horse breed. They maintain their health and strength on very little food and often live a long life eating grass and hay. Even when worked, they don’t require supplemental food to maintain a healthy weight.

Animals that are easy keepers have a propensity to put on weight quickly when overfed. So be aware of the proper feeding routine for your Morgan.

Morgan horses are versatile

Picture of three Morgan horses in a field,

Morgans are used in farming

From 1805-1811 Justin Morgan cleared land and worked on the farm of David Goss for ten months and was used for breeding for the other two months each year.

Justin Morgans’ offspring inherited his strength and willingness to work, and like him, they also cleared land and worked the fertile farmland of colonial America.

Morgan’s stout and compact bodies enabled them to perform a wide variety of tasks around the farm. Their endurance, gait, and attitude to get the job done made them a favorite horse of all work.

Morgans are used as a draft horse

Morgan horses were the desired big city breed for public transportation, private driving, and hauling freight. They were the best horse to navigate the twist and turns of city streets or stand quietly in crowds. Horses were bred and raised in New England then shipped to big city markets.

As technology developed, Morgan horse’s usefulness as a carriage horse diminished, and their numbers dwindled. However, due to the enduring qualities only found in Morgans, they were bred to taller horse breeds.

Modern Morgans compete and excel in driving sports and have represented the U.S. in international competitions.

Morgans were cavalry mounts in the Civil War.

During the Civil War, hardy, dependable horses were needed, and Morgan horses fit the bill. These horses are easy keepers that can endure rough conditions while maintaining their strength.

Entire units of the Union cavalry consisted of Morgans. General Sheridan’s famed horse was a Morgan, as was the mount for Stonewall Jackson. The lone survivor of the Battle of the Little Big Horn was a Morgan horse.

Picture of a harness race.

Morgan horses competed in harness racing.

Harness racing was at its peak in New England in the 1800s, and the best of the best was a Morgan stallion. Everyone envied the strength and consistency of Morgans.

Some Morgans were exported to compete in races in England. One Morgan stallion stood out, Shepherd F. Knapp. His trotting speed was so impressive that countless English mares were bred to him. Even today, some English Hackneys carry his name in their pedigrees.

Morgan’s are good horses for beginner riders.

Temperament is an animal’s personality, makeup, disposition, or nature. It’s not a physical characteristic, but it’s a biologically based trait common to a breed. One of the most desirable traits of the Morgan breed is its temperament.

Morgan horses are social animals that are eager to please and have an even demeanor with personality. Morgans are known for their loving, kind dispositions. They are willing to work and have great stamina and boundless energy.

Because of their willingness and even temperament, they make great horses for beginners and experienced riders alike. They are also very patient and forgiving horses.

Morgans are gentle horses and are frequently used for riding lessons, and because of their steady, comfortable gaits, they are in high demand as therapeutic riding horses. If you are considering a horse, a Morgan will be a welcome member of your family.

Morgan horses compete in many equine events

Through the years, Morgans have retained the spirit, looks, and athletic ability that lends itself to a vast range of equine disciplines. If you frequent equine events, you’re likely to see a Morgan horse.

Morgan horses compete in dressage, reining, and many other English and Western riding events.

Dressage

Dressage horses must have power, elegance, and athletic ability, traits found in Morgans. Their patience, intelligence, and athletic ability allow them to perform at the highest level of dressage.

Morgan horses have competed and won in open national competitions, including USEF Horses of the Year and the United States Dressage Federation All Breeds Award. The sport has become so popular amongst Morgan owners that they formed the Morgan Dressage Association.

Reining

Reining is a competition for horses designed to showcase a horse’s athletic ability. Contestants guide their horses through a series of patterns at various paces.

During the competition, the horse must stay under control will no apparent resistance; any movement on his own is unacceptable. Morgan’s compact and agile build, coupled with its willingness to learn, makes reigning an ideal sport for the Morgan breed.

English

English riding requires riders to hold the reins with both hands, and riders typically “post” or “rise” to the trot; in other words, the rider rises and sits in rhythm with each stride.

In the United States, there are two major categories of English riding: Hunt seat, which is used both on the flat and over fences. The other primary style is the Saddle seat, which exhibits high-stepping breeds of horses. Morgans are competitive in many English riding disciplines.

Western

Western Pleasure is a competition that evaluates horses’ disposition and suitability for a relaxed but collected gait cadence at a relatively slow speed. The horses are also graded on demeanor and responsiveness.

The horse should display that it is a “pleasure” to ride and is very comfortable and very smooth. Morgans do exceptionally well in these events.

They have a gentle soft gait and natural ability to stay calm and quiet and have the ability to sustain the slow, controlled movements the competition requires.

It also doesn’t hurt that Morgans look great under a western saddle dolled up with silver trim.

The Morgan horse is the Oldest US breed.

The Morgan horse breed is the oldest breed to originate in the United States. This rugged horse helped tame the west, worked farmlands, and created other horse breeds. Their physical characteristics and temperament have made them desired by all horsemen.

Picture of a Morgan mare and her foal.

Morgan’s foundation, sire, was named “Figure.”

All Morgan horses trace to one stallion, Justin Morgan. Justin Morgan was initially named “Figure” and was born in 1789. A school teacher purchased him as a two-year-old called Justin Morgan, surprisingly.

“Figure” was available for Justin Morgan to purchase because the horse was of small size, and he had no other persons interested in him. He stood just over 14 hands tall, and during this period, colonial horses were taller.

“Figure’s” breeding is not confirmed but is thought to include Arabian, Thoroughbred, and Dutch bloodlines. As he grew, his superior conformation was evident; his legs were straight and clean, and his body was deeply muscled.

He had a thick silky mane and tail, intelligent head, and short, pricked ears. When he moved, he expressed power, quality, and refinement. He was the epitome of the ideal light horse.

However, “Figure” proved himself against all comers; he out-pulled draft horses and outran the winningest racehorses. “Figure” lived 32 years. During his life, he was used in about every conceivable equine activity; he even was a parade mount used to carry President Monroe because of his beauty, spirit, and manners.

“Figure” not only was accomplished superior feats, but he also did it with style and grace. He was calm and safe enough for a child to handle but spirited enough for the most experienced horsemen.

Throughout his life, “Figure” was bought and sold by numerous people and was always called Justin Morgan’s horse. The moniker stuck, and “Figure” became “Justin Morgan.”

“Justin Morgan’s” most significant accomplishment is his progeny. His feats of strength, word of his sound conformation, calm temperament spread, and countless mares were bred to him.

Morgan contributed to other horse breeds

Crossing Morgan horses with other breeds resulted in some of today’s top racing breeds. For example, The Standardbreds and Quarter horses’ speed was developed from a cross with speedy Morgans.

Morgan horses are still used today in competitive trail and endurance riding, which requires a horse and rider to cover up to 100-miles a day.

FAQ

What is the Morgan horse known for?

Morgan horses are known for their superb temperament, athletic ability, and versatility. They have enough athleticism to compete in a broad spectrum of equine events and can be used as a family horse due to the breed’s calm and pleasant disposition.

What breeds make up the Morgan Horse?

The Morgan horse breed is shrouded with mystery in a world where most breeds’ bloodlines are well-known. People have long tried to figure out what makes up these beautiful horses, but no one has been able to find evidence that proves their ancestry definitively. What we do know is their ancestors include Arabian, Thoroughbred, Welsh Cobs, and likely Friesians.