A New Country, A New Breed: The Morgan

MarryingMinda Crop to UseWhen my editor e-mailed me last weekend that “you need a breed” for the stolen horses in my novella for next year’s Lawmen and Outlaws Christmas anthology, I realized anew that a horsewoman I am not.Morgan horse frolic

So I searched and snooped and came up with Morgans as well as lots of cool pictures. This historic American breed started up about the same time as the United States itself, when legendary stallion Figure was born in 1789 in southern New England. He is the origin of our country’s first breed of “light horse”.justin_morgan_sign

Although Figure was not as big as colonial workhorses nor as tall and long-legged as race horses, he consistently outperformed both. He became widely known for his ability to pull stumps and logs for settlers, and was also used as a saddle and driving horse. As his reputation swelled,  he had fun, too, winning races and pulling contests, and was a favorite mount at militia parades. He even carried President James Monroe on a muster-day parade.

All Morgans today trace back to Figure, the “foundation sire.” Since Figure was at one time owned by a man named Justin Morgan, the horse later came to be identified by that name. Subsequently, the entire breed as well. “Justin Morgan” became famed for his prepotency –the passing on all of his distinctive looks, conformation, temperament and athleticism no matter if the mare breeding with him was a large draft horse or an elegant racing type.


The “prince of steeds” died at the age of 32 from a kick in his flank by another horse. His offspring and descendents didn’t disappoint. Blessed with ground-covering gaits, Morgans covered many miles day after day at a steady rate of speed. They were dependable and determined to get the job done, making them a favorite horse in all lines of work. Earning a reputation as “horses of all work,” they were the preferred teams for stagecoach lines, for fieldwork on farms, and for transportation to town by the 1820’s. In the 1840’s, the breed’s trotting ability made it a favorite for harness racing, and its strength found Morgans headed for the California goldfields. Morgan horse 1888

Justin Morgan’s grandson, Black Hawk, and great grandson, Hale’s Green Mountain Morgan, dominated the sires by mid-century. Black Hawk, beloved for his speed and elegant style, sired a world champion trotter, and in the 1850’s, these two stallions charmed visitors to Midwestern state fairs and heightened the demand for Morgans in the west. They were taken to California as ranch horses and harness racers, and helped run the Pony Express.

Several units of cavalry in the Civil War were comprised of Morgans, including the Vermont Cavalry. U.S. General Philip Sheridan’s charger Winchester (a.k.a. Rienzi), a noble horse immortalized after the war, was a descendant of Black Hawk. General Sheridan's ride







The only survivor of Custer’s regiment at the Battle of Little Bighorn was his Morgan-mustang, Comanche.

Comanche, sole survivor

 Bred to be taller today, the Morgan’s deep body, lovely head, and straight-clean boned legs make still make it a hit from cowhands in Montana to show-rings and dressage. The Morgan is at home mounted by tourists on America’s trails and by-ways as well as mounted by police in the city. Its gentleness and soundness makes this horse beloved as a therapeutic riding horse for those with various disabilities. When you’re in Shelburne Vermont, you can visit the Morgan Museum.Morgan horse Museum Shelburne VT

How about you? Authors, what horses “ride” through your plots? Ever ridden a Morgan? Share your horse-tales today!

Morgan horse 1

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46 thoughts on “A New Country, A New Breed: The Morgan”

  1. Great blog, Tanya. I was aware of Morgans but you told me some things I didn’t know. Gorgeous photos – can’t believe the color on the horse at the bottom.
    The horse in my upcoming release, THE HORSEMAN’S BRIDE is a thoroughbred stallion, which the hero “borrows” for a fast getaway. Clara, my heroine takes one look and starts scheming to have the stallion breed her mares.

  2. Fascinating! I loved that glimpse into horse breeding and history. What a fun American success story. Usually in books I read, and in those I write, the most descriptive I get is the color, or markings, or gender. I have mentioned quarter horses in comparison to thoroughbreds or plow horses, but it’s rare to ever name a breed.

    Thanks for sharing about the Morgans, Tanya. A fine breed, indeed.

    • HI Karen, always good to see you at the Junction.
      Your comment is kind of what my editor said. I kept calling saying ‘roans’ and she said, that’s a color. not a breed.
      By the end of the 19h century, the trend was to breed them with a “taller” horse. Why mess with a good thing LOL.

  3. Hi Tabitha, thanks for stopping by today! I love horses too although I wasn’t raised in a horsey environment and know little about them. Never too late to learn, huh?

  4. Hi Elizabeth, I just loved the photos. They pretty much inspired this blog. And the one you’re admiring, yes, I aboslutely couldn’t resist using it.

    It was fun to learrn this, that’s for sure. thanks for posting.

  5. Hi Tanya, Wonderful post! I learned a lot today. I generally don’t give my characters a particular breed of horse, but the horses get names. Mustangs have shown up now and then. For horse info, I call my brother the cowboy : ) He’s the best.

    • Hi Vicki, oh, a cowboy for a brother! How fantastic! Yes, I’d definitely use him as a resource, too. Mustangs sure are a good horse to mention in a western, that’s for sure. I always name the horses, too.

      Thanks for commenting.

  6. Great post I really enjoyed it! I do know that breeding plays a key roll in horses, but I don’t know much about them. I have not been around horses much but enjoy reading about them.

  7. Hi Tanya – the breed I’ve written most about is the mustangs. They are stout smaller animals but very powerful. The MORGANS are stunning! I love all breeds of horses and love learning about them!
    My cousin in Las Vegas not only boards and owns 12 horses, but she’s an advocate for Wild Horse sanctuaries around the country.

  8. Tanya, I always thought of the Morgan as small and compact. Thanks for setting me straight.

    I don’t usually worry about breed either – no editor has asked. 🙂 Just color and name.

  9. I love the beauty of horses, but never really looked into specific breeds… now your have me curious… love the pics!

  10. I think it’s fascinating to hear where breeds come from. I mean thoroughbreds, clydesdales, morgans–where to they all come from.

    Great Danes, dobermans, collies. It’s weird that there are so many. I don’t understand it really.

    Angus, holstein, guernsey….doesn’t this sort of tilt the whole evolution thing on it’s head? Otherwise wouldn’t they all be wolves or coyotes or dingos or….jackals? Are those dogs?

  11. Hi Mary, I usually have mustangs, too. Epitome of the west, I think. But in the story the outlaw wants some special breeding stock, so Morgan seemed work LOL.

    I don’t know how stuff breeds or genetics works. It’s weird that Justin Morgan’s offspring all took after him on matter the mother.

    I watched an Animal Planet program on dogs once…and all dogs are the same shape at birth. (Of course some puppies are smaller than others) But look how different they grow up. Yet…we can still recognize a Yorkie as a dog as well as a mastiff. Go figure.

    Thanks for posting today.

  12. Hi Quilt Lady, same here. I will be learning something about horses in August…we’re taking a modern-day wagon train trip around the Tetons. Of course I’ll be letting ya’ll know how it goes LOL.

    Always good to see you at P and P!

  13. Hi Charlene, yes, those wild horses must be preserved! I read 22 already died during the big round-up. Grrrrrrrr

    Hi Tracy, I think the Morganas of yore were smaller and more compact than today’s. Supposedly taller horses became trendy and they began to breed them to be taller. But the traits remain.

    Thanks for posting, my filly sisters! 0xx0x0x

  14. That was a great blog post, just chuck full of information, and great shots to accompany it! I love horses, was on one once as a kid, when you grow up in the suburbs, horses are hard to come by, they are so intelligent and majestic to me!

  15. Hi Karyn, welcome to the junction today. I’m a surbanite too, so I hear ya. We used to go horseback riding at Girl Scout camp but I refuse to admit how many years (decades? LOL) that was.

    When we first were married, my husband’s dad had a race horse but eventually, “eat like a horse” was too true to keep it up.


  16. Hi Tanya,
    I’m not a horse person either, but I learned a lot from your post. I don’t generally mention breeds in my books other than mustangs. You gave me something to think about.

  17. I wish I knew more about horses. We have some distant relatives that breed Percheron’s – the largest breed. They use to own the largest one in the U.S. – his name was King Kong lol. I got to see him once and it was the most magnificent animal that I’ve ever seen. I could almost walk under him standing up (I’m 5’6″).

  18. Hi Margaret, thanks for stopping by, filly sister. I learned a lot, too. BTW my local paper’s Communities section today has a whole article on you and your upcoming book signings and talks! Yee-haw!

  19. Hi Jeanne, I’ve seen Percherons…can’t recall if it’s the zoo or the county fair, but I agree: they are magnificent. Not only strong and brawny but gorgeous eyes and faces. I clearly remember the eyelashes. King Kong cracks me up. Thanks for posting today.

  20. Tanya,

    What a great post. I love horses. I want a ranch one day to keep wild horses on. I love the informantion you always provide.

    I must tell everybody. I have a new siamese cat. He is beautiful. His name is Feather.

    Walk in harmony,

  21. Hi Melinda! It’s always so good to see you here. Give Feather a special hug from me. We lost both our black Labs not long ago in a short space of time, and I miss them!

    Oh, yes. A ranch for wild horses and other euquine friends like burros would be sure be something! Thanks for your comments. oxoxox

  22. My sister’s horse, Sir Gaylord (she didn’t name him!), was half Morgan. I remember him as having a thick neck and gentle nature. Thanks for the post as I learned something new today!

  23. Hi Tanya, great post! There’s a Morgan farm here in Nova Scotia, and the horses are beautiful. They’re still a great all-purpose breed. The pictures you chose are gorgeous, especially the last one!

    My hero in McShannon’s Chance has a Thoroughbred stallion that he raised himself. They went through the Civil War together. The horse’s name is Flying Cloud, and he’s almost a character in his own right. I love horses and dogs in romances.

  24. Hi Anne, so good to have you stop by. I love the fact that the Morgans are so noble and hard working but also gentle. I learned a ton! And they are gorgeous, no? 🙂

  25. Hi Jennie, I too add a dog whenever I can LOL. I’m glad Flying Cloud (great name btw) made it through the way! HOrses in war sure must have stamina to withstand all the noise and nonsense they can’t possibly understand. Thanks for visiting us here today.

  26. Hi Tanya! I’m no horsewoman either, but I do know Morgans. Prince and Lady, Almanzo Wilder’s horses in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series were Morgans.

  27. Hi Tanya,

    I’ve always been a horse person and one of the first “big” books I owned, was, Justin Morgan Had a Horse. It was the story of Justin Morgan and much of the history you talked about. I also grew up in Whiting, Vermont, which isn’t far from Weybridge where the Morgan Horse farm is located. Before I got my own horses my parents would take us to the Morgan Horse farm everytime a relative came from out-of-town. When I got older and joined 4-H, Steve Davis (trainer/manager) judged some of our club horse shows. Your post brings back lots of great memories for me.

  28. Hi Tanya!

    I love the post and I love the pictures. Horses really have a major role in many of my books. But most of the horses in my books were and still are called “ponies.” : )

  29. Great post. I grew up across Lake Champlain from Shelburne, VT. Have been to the Shelburne Museum, but didn’t realize there wa a Morgan Horse museum also. Will have to check it out next time we are up there.

  30. Hi Kathy, I’m so glad you had good memories today! I had some too…we visited Vermont two years ago. I had no idea about Morgans then LOL but everything we did and saw in that lovely state was fantastic. Someday I will go back! Thanks for posting today.

  31. Hi Kay, ponies of course 🙂 But I confess, the image in my head first comes as those little guys in a ring at the county fair where tiny kids can saddle up for a few minutes LOL. Thanks for the comment. oxxoxo

  32. Hi Patricia, good to see you here in the junction. Ah, Lake Champlagne. We took a ride around it on the Ethan Allen two years ago. Loved it. Loved the Shelburne Museum. I hope to get back to Vermont again someday and will definitely look up the Morgan museum, too.

  33. Hi Tanya,
    I’m so late, but saw your email about Morgans and had to mosey over to the Junction. Great post! I always have horses in my stories, of course. The Comanches don’t name their horses, but the white folks do. LOL

    When we owned horses, and over time we owned seven, the most we had at one time was four, and let me tell ya, they are hayburners! We bought 10-ton loads each time, and then grain on top of that. Shoeing added up of course. Fortunately our Vet bills were few and far between. Only had to have one of the horse’s teeth floated.

    It was a wonderful time in our lives, but those critters tie you down. It’s hard to find reliable poeple to feed for you, or it was then. Consequently, we only went away for short weekends jaunts for the 18 years we owned horses.

  34. This is the second blogsite I’ve been to today that
    featured a Morgan. Both are gorgeous, only the other
    was an automoblie!

    Pat Cochran

  35. Hi Nancy, thanks for taking the time!

    Joyce, better late than never LOL. Horse’s teeth floated? Hmmmm, better look that one up. Your personal experiences are great to read. Just think, in the past, we’d have to tend and tune up our horses rather than cars.

    Pat, your post made me laugh! Glad we made your day LOL.

    Thanks, everybody, for contributing to a post I had a terrific time researching!


  37. I now own two Morgans and know for a fact what an awesome breed there are! My favorite of all and I have owned many different breeds throughout my life. So glad you chose the Morgan as the breed of horse in your story/book. If anyone is interested in acquiring one of these awesome horses, please consider adopting a rescue from forevermorgans.org.


  38. Thanks so much for the post, Sherrie. I’d love to own a horse but my little culdesac won’t permit it LOL. BUT I do vol at our local rescue. Thanks for the good wishes!

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