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15 Facts About the Morgan Horse

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Morgan horses are not very popular in America, despite being a foundation breed for many common horse breeds of today.

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The Morgan horse has more than earned its place in equine history and it is a breed that every equestrian should at least be familiar with.

Morgan horses are compact horses that are adaptable and easy to train. Throughout the many years of its existence, this horse breed has proven its worth time and time again.

Here are several facts about the Morgan horse that you need to know.

A morgan horse stallion exercises at liberty

15 Facts About the Morgan Horse

1. The Morgan Horse Breed is One of the Oldest American Horse Breeds

The horse that equestrians would later call the founding Morgan horse sire was born in 1789.

It would take years of breed cultivation to create the Morgan horse that exists today, but technically the breed began in 1789.

Figure was an extraordinary bay-colored male horse that belonged to a man named Justin Morgan. Figure passed his ability to outperform other horses around him on to his offspring, and they were instrumental in the breed’s eventual creation.

2. The Breed Aided in the Development of Several American Horse Breeds.

The Morgan horse was such a popular horse that many horse breeders decided to use it to develop new horse breeds.

The Standardbred, Tennessee Walking, and the American Saddlebred horse breeds all owe their existence to the Morgan horse breed.

The Morgan horse was also influential in the creation of the American Quarter horse and the Missouri Fox Trotter horse breeds. Unfortunately, as these horse breeds became more and more popular, the Morgan horse slowly faded from the limelight.

3. There are Some Gaited Morgan Horses

Morgan Horse Mare and foal  colt exercising at liberty

While not all Morgan horses are gaited, there are some gaited Morgan horses that exist and have ambling gaits.

This means they move at a four-beat gait instead of a two-beat gait, creating a much smoother and more comfortable ride.

Gaited horses have the unique ability to move their legs independently from one another when they trot or walk quickly. This allows the horse to always keep at least one hoof on the ground when they are moving and watching these horses perform is an experience like no other.

4. Most Morgan Horses Have Black, Bay, or Chestnut Coats

Many Morgan horses have either black, bay, or chestnut-colored coats. Morgan horses can also have gray, dun, silver dapple, palomino, cremello, and perlino-colored coats.

They can also come in patterns other than solid like roan and pinto. Pinto-patterned Morgan horses can be sabino, overo, or splashed white, but not tobiano.

5. Morgan Horses Can Develop Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy

While it is not common, Morgan horses do have a small chance of developing a disease known as Type 1 polysaccharide storage myopathy or PSSM. This glycogen storage disease causes severe muscle degeneration and weakness in horses.

Horses inherit the disease from their parents, and currently, there is no cure for it. Fortunately, there are several ways that horse owners can treat horses with PSSM.

With the proper diet and daily exercise, many horses suffering from this disease experience positive results. Horses of any breed that have PSSM can live long lives with the right care despite their condition.

Brown Morgan Horse head looking through the window of a red barn

6. Morgan Horses Should Have Genetic Testing Before Breeding

Morgan horses can inherit a couple of genetic coat-color disorders, one of which can be quite fatal.

The American Morgan Horse Association, or AMHA, recommends genetic testing for most Morgan horses before breeding to make sure they do not carry these genes.

Multiple congenital ocular anomalies, or MCOA, is an ocular tissue disorder that scientists believe to be associated with a homozygous silver dapple gene. If both parents carry the silver dapple gene and both pass it on to their offspring, the foal will likely have vision issues due to MCOA.

The frame overo gene can lead to lethal white syndrome if a foal inherits the frame overo gene from both parents. Lethal white syndrome is fatal in foals afflicted with it, so it is important to test horses before breeding, especially if you know at least one of them carries the frame overo gene.

7. The Morgan Horse Breed Excels at Harness Racing

Herd of Morgan horses racing in an open field

Morgan horses excelled at harness racing during the 19th century thanks to their muscular build and perseverance. Harness racing is still a featured equine sport, where horses race while pulling a driver on a two-wheeled cart or chariot.

Equestrians also used Morgan horses to pull coaches, work as stock horses on the ranch, and for pleasure riding. Some Morgan horses compete in other horse events apart from coaches, carriages, and harnesses.

8. They Were Popular Warhorses in the American Civil War

Soldiers favored Morgan horses as warhorses during the American Civil War thanks to their endurance and trainability.

Soldiers rode these horses on the battlefield and used them as harness horses when needed.

One group of soldiers, the First Vermont Calvary, had 1200 Morgan horses that served Gettysburg, Coal Harbor, and more. At the end of the war, there were only 200 Morgan horses left in the group.

9. There are Four Primary Morgan Horse Bloodlines

The four major Morgan horse bloodlines are the Government, Brunk, Lippitt, and Western Working Family. Each bloodline has its own claims to fame, but overall, each is a true Morgan horse on its own.

The Brunk bloodline features solid and successful athletes in various equine sporting events. The Lippitt bloodline traces all the way back to the founding Morgan horse sire, Figure.

The Government bloodline includes the most Morgan horses and the United States Department of Agriculture, or USDA started it many years ago. The Western Working Family bloodline are cattle horses that breeders cultivated from old Government bloodline sires.

Members from Wisconsin Morgan Horse Club rode on horses in festival parade

10. The American Morgan Horse Foundation’s Founding Club Began in 1909

Before there was an AMHA, there was a Morgan Horse Club that began in 1909. The club supported and promoted the Morgan horse bloodline for over 60 years.

In 1971, the club changed its name to the American Morgan Horse Association. The group continues to support the Morgan horse breed today, maintaining an active horse registry, and promoting education through 20 youth groups.

11. There is a Rainbow Morgan Horse Association

While the name may seem exciting, there are not any rainbow-colored Morgan horses that we know of.

There are several rare-colored Morgan horses like the silver dapple as well as those with cream-colored coats like the palomino, cremello, and perlino.

To support these horses, Morgan horse enthusiasts created the Rainbow Morgan Horse Association. Morgan horses with these coat colors are rare, but not unheard of, and it is important to support their existence so that maybe one day, they may become not so rare anymore.

12. Morgan Horses are Successful in Several Equine Sporting Events

Closeup portrait of Morgan Horse in Pasture

Morgan horses are born athletes, so there is no question that they are successful in sporting events. Some of the sports they excel at include harness racing, dressage, cutting cattle, endurance trails, pleasure riding, and carriage driving.

Horses within this breed are strong, versatile, and easy to train, which explains why they make such great athletes in and out of the arena. They are such great horses, that even children can perform well on them at beginner levels.

13. There is an Annual Morgan Horse Only Event in Oklahoma

Despite Morgan horses not being the most popular horses in this country, there are still plenty of them that compete in Morgan-only horse events every year.

The AMHA holds the Grand National and World Championship Morgan Horse Show each year in Oklahoma.

The American Morgan Horse Association runs most of the shows exclusively for Morgan horses. These shows help the association grow and support the breed.

Head shot of a purebred morgan horse at a rural ranch

14. The Morgan Horse is Massachusetts’s Official State Horse

Almost every state has a designated state horse, and the Morgan horse is the official state horse of Massachusetts. The state of Vermont has never selected an official state horse, but they do have a state animal and it is the Morgan horse.

It makes sense that Massachusetts would choose the Morgan horse as its state horse since the founding sire, Figure, was born in the state back in 1789. Vermont also has some stake in the game, since many Morgan horse enthusiasts believe the Morgan horse was technically born in Vermont.

15. Robert Frost Wrote a Poem that Featured a Morgan Horse

Robert Frost’s poem, The Runaway, tells the story of a young colt left out in the snow and cold. The horse is a Morgan horse, and it is afraid of the snow because it has never seen it before.

The poem itself is full of imagery and sadness at the plight of this fresh, young colt who is afraid of something he does not have to be afraid of. The fact that Robert Frost chose the Morgan horse to feature in his poem may be because he knew the horse breed’s popularity was waning.  

Final Thoughts

Morgan horses may not be as common as they once were, but there is no doubt that they were influential in the creation of several horse breeds this country is so fond of today.

Morgan horses are historical horses that made their mark in history and simply refuse to go to greener pastures. It is also imperative, now more than ever, that equestrians all over the country help this horse breed to survive as long as possible.


Learning about the Morgan horse was an adventure to say the least. I used my knowledge of horses and the following sources to write this article.