History 'past to present'
He acquired a bay colt, born in 1789, giving him the name Figure. This colt was the founding sire of the Morgan breed. While his true origins remain hidden in history, Figure is thought to have been sired by True Briton, a horse widely respected for his excellence and known as a sire of quality horses.
Figure's dam, was "...of the Wild-air breed, of middling size, with a heavy chest, of a light bay color, with a bushy mane and tail - the hair on the legs rather long, and a smooth, handsome traveler." Her sire was Diamond; a son of Church's Wildair by Wildair (Delancey's) out of a mare owned by Samuel Burt named Wildair.
As Figure grew, his compact muscular body and stylish way of moving impressed many of the pioneer farmers and settlers. Soon tales of his beauty, strength, speed, hardiness, endurance, and gentle disposition spread amidst the small New England towns. His ability to outwalk, outtrot, outrun, and outpull other horses were legendary. His stud services were offered throughout the Connecticut River Valley and various Vermont locations over his lifetime. His most valuable asset, however, was the ability to pass on his distinguishing characteristics, not only to his offspring but also through several generations.
After Justin Morgan's death, Figure moved on to other owners and spent a life working on farms, hauling freight, and as a parade mount at militia trainings. In the practice of the day, he became known by his former owner's name, the Justin Morgan horse. He spent his life working and died in 1821 from an untreated kick received from another horse. His three most famous sons - Sherman, Bulrush, and Woodbury - would carry on his legacy to future generations of Morgan horses.
The offspring of Justin Morgan's sons and daughters grew along with the young nation that was building itself upon hard work and determination. Morgans worked along side their owners clearing fields and forests. When the week's work was done, they provided transportation to Saturday market and Sunday meeting. In addition, they pulled stagecoaches throughout New England. In the 1840's several breeders in Vermont and western New Hampshire began efforts to concentrate the Morgan lines.
By locating second, third, and fourth generation descendants of the original Morgan horse, they established the foundations of the breed.
By the mid-1850's Morgans were selling for high prices and were widely distributed across the United States. Morgans set world-trotting records when the sport of harness racing was in its infancy. Black Hawk and his son Ethan Allen were nationally famous and became household words. The majority of Morgans, however, did their daily work willingly and efficiently. They were highly regarded as general-purpose horses capable of performing a wide variety of tasks.
During the Civil War, Morgans served as cavalry mounts and artillery horses. A cavalryman was only as good as his horse and the Morgan is mentioned in many sources as a highly desired horse during the Civil War. The First Vermont Cavalry, mounted entirely on Morgans, gained a wide spread reputation as a fighting unit.
Of their more than 1200 horses, only 200 survived the war.
Morgans are noted for their small ears set above a broad forehead with large, kind eyes, tapered muzzle and expressive nostrils, an arched neck set on a well angled shoulder, broad chest, short back; deep, compact bodies set on legs with flat, dense bone; round croup, and round, hard hooves. Their proud bearing gives them a distinctive beauty that catches the eye of all.
The stamina and spirit of the Morgan, combined with its build and way of traveling, contributed greatly to the formation of other American breeds. These breeds include the Standardbred, Quarter Horse, Tennessee Walking Horse, and American Saddle Horse.
The first Morgan Horse Register was published in 1894. Since it's establishment, the registry has listed over 179,000 Morgans with breeders located in all fifty states and overseas.