Breed evolution: More than any other breed that evolved in North America, the Morgan is traced to one foundation stallion, the progenitor of the breed. The true story of a Vermont school teacher and his talented stallion has inspired Disney movies and award-winning books. Many horse-loving youngsters have read Marguerite Henry’s classic, Justin Morgan Had a Horse.
According to the American Morgan Horse Association, the bay colt born in 1789 was most likely sired by a Thoroughbred stallion and was out of an Arabian mare. Word of the remarkable abilities of the colt, named Figure, soon spread.
Figure triumphed at running, trotting, and pulling competitions. More important, he passed on his physical talents and eager-to-please disposition to more than 300 sons and daughters. He worked hard throughout his life, tilling fields and pulling stagecoaches. He died at age 32 from complications of an untreated injury. In life, he’d been known as Justin Morgan’s horse, but today the horse is simply known as Justin Morgan.
Justin Morgan’s influence was immense over 200-plus years. The stallion was bred to a variety of mares, yet he stamped his offspring in his likeness and bequeathed them with his renowned athletic abilities. As the young nation grew, Justin Morgan’s descendants helped cultivate land, explore new territory, and carry mail.
Today, Morgan Horses are distinctive, with an average height of 14 to 15 hands high; short backs (they share with their Arabian ancestors one less vertebrae than other breeds), well-muscled bodies with dense bone, luxurious manes and tails, large eyes, quick intelligence, and kind natures.
A registry for Morgan Horses was founded in 1909; today, every Morgan traces back to one of three Justin Morgan sons. In 1947, the registry closed its book to any Morgan without two registered parents. In 1974, the Morgan Horse Club became the American Morgan Horse Association, Inc. The AMHA currently has 10,000-plus members with 110,000 purebred horses registered.
Owners tell us: Linnea Sidi of Meadowlark Morgans in Loveland, Colorado, is the Region 9 Director for the AMHA, representing much of the trail riding in the West, including Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Utah.
“There’s nothing like a ride on a good Morgan Horse,” Sidi says. “I started riding as a small child in California, and I remember watching the old vaqueros ride their spade bit horses. A lot of my youth was spent watching those horsemen – and many of their horses were part Morgans. I’ll never forget the beauty and elegance of those horses.”
Sidi started her own Morgan herd (which now consists of 18) with a half-Morgan mare before purchasing registered stock. She now promotes the breed with her band of well-bred broodmares.
Sidi wants her horses to represent the “old, western, working” lines she remembers seeing in her youth. To make that possible, she makes sure all the youngsters at her ranch have a variety of experiences, such as loading in trailers and hitting the local trails as soon as possible.
“These horses are sensible and well mannered, as well as having classic old style Morgan conformation and looks” Sidi says.
On the trail: When Sidi isn’t working with her favorite mount, Hi Pass Thunderhawk or Reggie, to polish his high-level dressage and show skills, you’ll find her on the trail.
“Reggie is my companion and the only gelding on the place – he’s not replaceable!” Sidi says. “He has a heart of gold, he’s easy to train, he’s level headed, he’s fun to ride, he has a great work ethic, and he stays sound for our journeys throughout Colorado, Wyoming, and around Nebraska’s Fort Robinson. He’s a trickster and loves to climb hills, cross water, and look at nature. We can go anywhere!”
And the team does go everywhere together, climbing mountains and enjoying the scenery at the top. “That’s my favorite moment,” Sidi says. “When we get to the top and can see how we got there.”
Selection savvy: “You want a horse that you bond with, one that will take care of himself; thus he will take care of you,” says Sidi. “As a wise reminder, make sure you don’t buy the first horse you see; go home, and make your decision away from the emotion of the moment.
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