The Morgan Horse Breed

Origin Of The Morgan Horse Breed

The horse, Justin Morgan was a living legend who began as an unremarkable colt and became the father of an entire breed of horses recognized for their quality and dependability.

Born in 1789, Justin Morgan started life as a small rough-coated colt known as Figure.

In 1791, he left his birthplace in Springfield, Massachusetts with his new owner, the soft-spoken schoolteacher Justin Morgan, by whose name the stallion eventually became known.

His breeding was unknown but thought to be Dutch, Thoroughbred or Arabian breeding.

The quality of Justin Morgan’s ancestry showed in his straight clean legs; deep muscling over his quarters and shoulders; and fine, intelligent head with large expressive eyes and short, pricked ears.

Justin Morgan

Add to these the quality of his movement, a thick but silky mane and tail, and a clean-cut throatlatch, and you have the conformation of the ideal light horse.

Despite these fine qualities, Justin Morgan’s lack of size was such that his debt-ridden owner found no buyers on their journey north to Randolph Center, Vermont. It was simply fate that no one but his new owner realized what a little giant he was.

Over the next 30 years, the little bay stallion worked long, hard hours in the fields and on the roads of Vermont.

Gradually, the local population began to talk about the feats of the Justin Morgan horse.

Standing just over 14 hands tall, Justin Morgan’s exploits gained him fame because he was not as big as colonial workhorses nor as tall and long-legged as racehorses, yet he consistently outperformed both.

  • There was the time he pulled a log no draft horse could budge,
  • the day only he had the beauty, spirit and manners to carry President James Monroe on a muster-day parade ground;
  • and the time he outran the most winning racehorse central Vermont had ever known, at least until that day.
Doing it all and doing it well, Justin Morgan remained sound of eye, wind, and limb throughout a lifetime of two ordinary horses.

That should have been enough, but the stallion added still more:

  • showy, ground-covering gaits with speed to spare at any one of them;
  • a gentle disposition that made him safe enough for a child to handle yet spirited enough for any horseman,
  • beauty men would recall decades after his death;
  • and a rare courage that made men who lost bets on him hit their flagons of rum and say, ‘To the little Morgan!’ and drink deeply.

Justin Morgan also proved to be one of the greatest breeding horses of all time.

As the saga of the little stallion grew, countless mares were bred to him. So potent were the genes of this stallion that no matter what type of mare he was bred to, be she of heavy draft or refined racing-type, his offspring inherited his image and abilities.

While most breeds develop by breeding horses of similar characteristics to each other, Justin Morgan’s ability to pass his characteristics to his offspring for generations to come allowed this single stallion to found an entire breed in his likeness.

Today, every registered Morgan horse can trace his ancestry back to Justin Morgan

All through his best-known sons Bulrush, Sherman and Woodbury.

In the coming years, the offspring of these strong, willing, able light horses grew along with the young nation that was building itself upon hard work and determination.

In the hands of American colonists, Morgans cleared rugged Vermont mountainsides and converted them into rich farmland.

But they weren’t mere workhorses, Morgans had the style and elegance to capture the admiration of any city horseman. While some Morgans earned their keep on the farm others were in high demand to become smart roadsters for Boston and New York financiers.

When harness racing reached its heyday in the 1800s, the World’s Fastest Trotting Stallion was Ethan Allen 50, old Justin’s handsome great-grandson.


As America grew so did the feats of the Morgan horse.

Keogh's Morgan-bred horse Comanche in 1887

  • New England men answered the call of gold and headed for California on Morgans.
  • In the Civil War, the famed Vermont Cavalry was mounted on Morgan horses.
  • Not only did the Union’s General Sheridan ride his Morgan Rienzi, but
    Stonewall Jackson rode his Morgan, ‘Little Sorrel,’ for the Confederacy as well.
  • In the Indian Wars, the only survivor in the Battle of the little Big Horn was Keogh’s Morgan-bred horse Comanchee.
Morgan Horse Breed