Everything You Need to Know About the Morgan Horse

Posted by Allie Layos
Morgan horse

You don't have to look far to find a Morgan today - riders favor this popular horse breed for many reasons. Its rich heritage is rooted in New England and today's Morgan is hardy, surefooted, and versatile. The Morgan is also known for having a great temperament, meaning it's often suitable for beginner riders and children, as well as more advanced riders looking for a talented show mount.

But Morgans aren't confined to the show ring. They're also popular trail mounts and pleasure horses, and you'll also find them driven or working on ranches or farms. Strong and beautiful, the Morgan is truly a horse for every rider.

The History of the Morgan

Like the Thoroughbred, American Quarter Horse, Tennessee Walking Horse, Saddlebred, and Standardbred, the Morgan horse is a true American breed, originating in New England. Few horse breeds can trace back to a single foundation sire, but every Morgan today can trace its lineage back to a horse named Figure, a hardy stallion who was born in West Springfield, Massachusetts in 1789. Figure was given to a schoolteacher named Justin Morgan, and this Morgan stallion passed on his looks, conformation, athleticism, and temperament to his offspring, which were often called the Justin Morgan Horse. Eventually, the name was shortened and the horses were regarded as the Morgan breed.

Today there are four main bloodlines of Morgans: the Brunk, Government, Lippitt, and Western Working "families." The Lippitt family is thought to be the purest family, but the Government family is the largest and traces back to Morgans bred by the U.S. Morgan Horse Farm between 1905 and 1951. Purchased by the University of Vermont when government involvement ended, this farm is still in operation today.

Morgan Characteristics

The American Morgan Horse Association (AMHA) oversees the registration of all Morgans in the United States today. According to the Association, the ideal Morgan should have expressive eyes with a slightly dished face, a slightly deeper throatlatch, compact body with a short back, well-developed chest, and straight legs with short cannon bones.

You'll find Morgans in nearly every coat color imaginable, including bay, black, palomino, buckskin, and more.

The Morgan Today

In the early days, Morgans were used as harness racers, carriage horses, stock horses, and general saddle horses. They were used by miners in the California Gold Rush, and as cavalry mounts by the army during and after the Civil War.

Today the Morgan is prized for its versatility. These horses are used for everything from pleasure riding to showing as saddle seat, dressage, driving, western, and hunt seat mounts. They're also competitive in harness racing. They are still prized for their looks, strength, and tractable personalities. If you have the chance to ride a Morgan, you're lucky, indeed.

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General Appearance

Compact, yet refined, Morgans mature anywhere between 14.1 - 15.2 hands, and weigh about 950 pounds. They have thick manes and tails, and their tails are carried high and straight.


The Morgan has a short back, broad loins, deep flank, and well-sprung ribs. They should be well muscled, and should be built "uphill," or higher at the withers than at the croup. The neck of a Morgan should be slightly arched and come out of an angled shoulder. The top line of the neck should be longer than the bottom.


Morgans are generally bay, black, or chestnut but come in a number of less common colors as well, such as palomino, grey, and roan.


The head of a Morgan is often its most distinctive feature. With a broad forehead, a straight or slightly dished face and large eyes and nostrils, Morgans are expressive and unique. Their ears are short and shapely, and their throat latch is slightly deeper than other breeds, allowing for proper flexion at the poll.


Morgans are known for their great temperament. They are intelligent, brave, inquisitive, and eager to please. They make excellent mounts for both adults and children.


Morgans are one of over a dozen breeds found to have the allele for the genetic disease Type 1 polysaccharide storage myopathy, an autosomal dominant muscle disease caused by a missense mutation in the GYS1 gene. However, its prevalence in Morgans is low compared to other breeds.

Body image: Merriewold Morgans

Do you have a Morgan horse? Show us in the comments below. 

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Everything You Need to Know About the Morgan Horse