The Morgan Horse is America's first true breed of horse. All Morgans today descend from a single, foundation stallion--Figure --who was born in 1789 in Springfield, Massachusetts, and who was given to a music teacher named Justin Morgan in payment for a debt. Justin Morgan walked home to Randolph, Vermont, with Figure trotting along beside him. Over the next 30 years, the small bay colt of disputed parentage grew into a versatile and indefatigable stallion who could out-pull draft horses, out-trot the best roadsters of the day and out-run the Thoroughbreds. In addition, little Figure was hardy, intelligent, gentle, and willing.
The fame of "Justin Morgan's horse" spread far and wide and many horse owners brought their mares to "the Morgan horse" to improve their stock. Every one of his offspring strongly resembled "Justin Morgan," as he became known, in appearance and talents. Justin Morgan served as a parade mount for President James Monroe in 1817. His great-grandson, Ethan Allen, by the equally famous Justin Morgan grandson, Black Hawk, was the world champion trotter in the early 1800s. Currier and Ives created indelible images of Ethan Allen's victories in their prints, and the popular trotting horse weathervane is based on Ethan Allen's silhouette.
In the mid-19th century, Morgans were the principal breed for the US Cavalry Remount Service, resulting in a significant role for Morgans in the Civil War. Sheridan's mount, Rienzi, was a Morgan horse. 90% of Standardbreds carry Morgan blood and the breed played a part in establishing the Saddlebred and Tennessee Walking breeds as well. In the later part of the 19th century, many Morgan stallions were foundation sires for working ranch horse herds in the western United States. Morgan versatility made them favorites for farm horses throughout the country as they could plow the field during the day and drive the family to church on Sunday at a sharp trot.
Today Justin Morgan's special qualities of athleticism, willingness, and beauty are preserved in his descendants who excel at the national and international level in fields as wide-ranging as competitive carriage driving to endurance riding to reining to dressage to refined saddleseat disciplines. And of course, Morgans are most beloved as trail and pleasure four-legged members of the family. You can learn much more about the Morgan horse and its history at the American Morgan Horse Association, which is the national registry for the breed, and the National Museum of the Morgan Horse, a repository of more than 200 years of Morgan history. Our club members also love talking about the talents and history of the Morgan horse. Feel free to contact any of us for more information.