Written by: The Carolinas Equestrian Published: 12 April 2019
When looking into the Morgan breed, it’s clear from the start why so many people gravitate towards the breed – beauty, companionship, and usability. Descriptions of the horse include “easy keepers,” “reliable,” “loyal’’ and in this age of having a horse that can do it all – “versatile.” They are a breed looking to interact with their people, interested in what’s happening around them and ready to tackle life. Owners often tell how their Morgan chose them, not the other way around. As the American Morgan Horse Association (AMHA) states “the Morgan is known for his great qualities: intelligence, willingness, thriftiness and good sense.
But beyond all those things, the Morgan is known for his charisma and companionableness.” As a breed, Morgans are extremely well rounded and can be found in every discipline.
The largest and fastest-growing divisions in the Morgan show world are Hunter and Western Pleasure, though English Pleasure and Pleasure Driving aren’t far behind. The Morgan’s athleticism and stamina also make them ideal for jumping and eventing, while their grace and beauty give them a solid base in the dressage arena. Many people don’t know that Morgans – with their strength, endurance, speed and agility – are very popular for endurance and combined-driving events. Morgans were actually the first American breed to compete in long-distance rides, often 300 miles in length. These rides were the forerunners of today’s competitive trail and endurance rides.
Lynn and Jeff Yelton of Graycliff LLC have been breeding and raising Morgans for over 30 years and have a strong love for the Morgan. Lynn fell in love with the breed after reading “Justin Morgan had a Horse” as a young girl, “I always loved the history of the Morgan and the impact the breed had on the country. There is something special about a relationship with a Morgan, their beauty, work ethic and personality are unmatched.” The Yelton’s Graycliff Farm is probably best known for two popular stallions, ‘Pot of Gold’ who was World Champion Stallion in 1995 and ‘Graycliff Tony’ who just retired in 2018 after winning a total of eight World Champion titles. One of the Yelton’s goals has been to mix the best of these two stallions. That goal was accomplished when a Pot of Gold daughter was bred to ‘Graycliff Tony’ and then delivered a feisty bay colt, ‘Graycliff Tony Hawk.’ ‘Hawk’ has won every world championship he has competed in, including two unanimous World Champion Park Harness titles with co-owner/trainer, Peggy Alderman, on the lines. Lynn smiles, “right from the get-go, Hawk had ‘it,’ that quality you can’t describe, but you know when you see it. Just awesome, awesome, awesome!”
The Yeltons encourage people to look into the breed if they are looking for “a true relationship horse, hence the AMHA tagline – The horse that chooses you. Many people who work around, or stable with, different breeds have commented that the Morgan is extremely friendly and curious; he/she “always comes to the front of the stall.””
The breed tends to range between 14.1 – 15.2 hands tall. Coloring runs the scale from bay, chestnut and black, to even cremello and buckskin. Their confirmation includes large “expressive” eyes, a “straight or slightly dished short face,” “short ears,” with withers and a neck that are clearly defined. Their body is short and compact with solid, but graceful legs. According to the AMHA, “The Morgan is easily recognized by his proud carriage, upright graceful neck, blended with soundness of limb, athleticism, and stamina. In addition, Morgan thriftiness and longevity have made this breed a good bargain for more than 200 years—easy to love and affordable to own.”
Morgan horses can be traced back to 1789 when Justin Morgan acquired a horse named ‘Figure,’ who soon became known as “Justin Morgan’s horse” and the breed was born! ‘Figure’ is considered the founding sire of the breed. Eventually breeders throughout the Northeast began to focus on the breeding, often tracking down second, third and fourth generations descendants of ‘Figure,’ in hopes to preserve the greatness of the breed. By the 1850s, the breed was found throughout the United States, selling for high prices and highly sought after by all. There are several well-known Morgan horses throughout history, three of which are ‘Figure’s’ sons – ‘Sherman,’ ‘Bulrush’ and ‘Woodbury.’ ‘Sherman’ went on to sire ‘Black Hawk’ who was known for his speed and then, in 1849, he sired ‘Ethan Allen,’ a World Champion Trotter. ‘Ethan Allen’ won over 33 races and was celebrated as the fastest trotting stallion of his day. An interesting side note … the beloved trotting horse weather vanes that top many of today’s barns used ‘Ethan Allen’s’ silhouette for inspiration!
In the 1860s, Morgans also went on to be trusted mounts in the Civil War as cavalry mounts and artillery horses, as they would work endlessly and tended to be less disturbed by the gunfire than other horses. According to the AMHA, “The First Vermont Cavalry, mounted entirely on Morgans, gained a wide spread reputation as a fighting unit,” while a soldier stated, “the mounts of the First Vermont Cavalry were decidedly the best I have ever seen. Everyone was attracted to them.” By the way, if you are ever in Middlebury, Vermont, try finding time to visit the UVM Morgan Horse Farm. Established in 1878, this gorgeous, historic, working farm is home to the oldest, continuous Morgan horse breeding operation in the world. It’s open to the public May through October.
The Grand National and World Championship Horse Show takes place each October in Oklahoma City, OK. The event has classes for all range of Morgans, from in hand to carriage to saddle seat and dressage (Western and English), as well as hunt seat and pleasure classes. The show has run for over 40 years and has been held in Oklahoma since 1975. According to the show website, over 5,000 “Morgan enthusiasts with 1,000 horses from 45 states and 4 nations” will compete for over $300,000 in prize money this fall. To learn more about this beloved breed, check out the AMHA website, www.morganhorse.com.
Photographs courtesy of Graycliff LLC