What is a Morgan Horse

What is a Morgan Horse? [America’s first horse breed]

The Morgan horse is one of the oldest and most prominent American horse breeds. This horse is known for being great at pleasure riding but due to its athletic ability, the Morgan has taken on a wide variety of roles. The Morgan horse gains its name from Justin Morgan who is credited with starting the breed in the late 1700s. 

The Morge horse has one of the most fascinating stories of any horse breed. Keep reading to hear all about it and to learn everything you need to know about the amazing Morgan horse!

Morgan Horse Breed
Morgan Horse Breed

The Morgan Horse History

The Morgan horse has a rich and exciting history!

The Morgan Horse History
The Morgan Horse History

Morgan horses are often called the first American Breed of horse fully developed and originating in the United States. Morgan horses are used in professional settings for all types of disciplines. 

Morgan horses are one of the most popular horse breeds in the United States.  

The story of the Morgan horse begins with a man named Justin Morgan of West Springfield, Massachusetts in 1789.

Who Was Justin Morgan?

Justin Morgan worked as a school teacher, musician, and businessman in the late 1700s.  He was also a horse breeder. As repayment of a debt, he received a stallion named Figure from a fellow businessman.  

Was Justin Morgan Real?

Yes! Justin Morgan was a real person and the story about the origin of the Morgan horse breed is factual as well.

Was Justin Morgan Real
Was Justin Morgan Real?

This was a young bay colt, whom, as the story goes, Justin named him Figure because of his beautiful stature and grace.  

Who is Figure?

Figure is a small stallion that is widely credited with being the founding sire of the Morgan horse breed.  

During the time that Justin Morgan owned Figure, he sired out the horse as a stud to many breeders in the post-Revolutionary War New England area. 

Figure had excellent physical characteristics and his stud services were highly sought after and in great demand. 

These superior attributes were passed on to his immediate offspring but also to many future generations which created the legend of the Morgan breed.

What Happened to Figure After Justin Morgan Died?

Interestingly, Figure outlived Justin Morgan and took on the name of his past owner. The Justin Morgan Horse (Figure) became well-known in horse circles.  

Figure lived on for many years under new ownership.  He died at the age of 32 years in 1821.

Unfortunately, his death was the result of an untreated kick by another horse.  32 is very old for any horse yet he may have lived longer if he had not been so severely injured. 

Modern Morgans have a long lifespan! Thanks to Figure!

Morgan Horse Characteristics

How Tall is a Morgan Horse?

How Tall is a Morgan Horse
How Tall is a Morgan Horse?

The average Morgan horse ranges from 14 hands to just under 16 hands in height.

If you don’t already know, a horses’ height is stated in a unit of measure called “hands”. Each “hand” is equal to four inches.

Are Morgan’s Considered Large Horses?

A Morgan horse is considered to be in the average height range for horses. While not being considered large horses, they do have strong muscular bodies and wide chests.

Their large muscular hindquarters give them a powerful advantage in hauling harness carts under heavy loads.

What Does a Morgan Horse Look Like?

The Morgan horse breed stands tall and elegant! They have a sculptured-looking body, well-proportioned legs, and a beautiful head with small ears, and expressive large eyes.  

What Does a Morgan Horse Look Like
What Does a Morgan Horse Look Like?

Their necks are naturally arched, and they hold themselves with pride and dignity showcasing a graceful stance that gives them a magnificent look. 

Morgan horses just have a showy, almost fancy look about them whether they are pulling a cart, riding western pleasure in the show ring, or trail riding in the deep woods.  

Morgan Horse Colors

Morgan horses come in a variety of colors that you will find in other horse breeds. 

  • Bay – Brown or reddish-brown body with black points on the mane, tail, ears, and legs
  • Black – Having a black coat is unusual. Sometimes the bay color can be confused with black
  • Buckskin – Goldish tan color with black points on the mane, tail, and legs
  • Chestnut – Brown to reddish-brown body with same or lighter brown on the mane and tail
  • Cream
  • Dun – Pale, almost dull brown color
  • Gray
  • Palomino – Light tan color with white mane and tail. Sometimes white stockings on legs
  • Pinto – White coat with large patches of brown or black
  • Roan – Light color dappled with red
  • Silver Dapple – Dilution of a black coat makes it look more brown with a silver or gray mane/tail

Some Morgans will display a tobiano color (white with large blotches and patches of only black or only brown) but this is not an acceptable color trait and is not bred into Morgans. 

Morgan Horse Build

The Morgan horse’s forehead is broad, they have large bright eyes, short ears that are set far apart, and their necks are slightly arched and graceful.  

Morgan mares (females) typically are more slender than males.  

Stallions often have a very thick crest (upper part of the neck that the mane grows out of) that can sometimes almost flop as it is so large.  

Morgan’s are compact with a long back. The crop, or top of their hips, on the rear end of the horse, is no taller than the withers of the animal. 

The term withers describes what is basically the shoulder area of a horse.

Their legs are straight and appear refined and well-proportioned to their bodies. Morgan Horses have thick muscular hindquarters that are ideal for heavy work.

Morgan Horse Types

There are four types (or blood groups) of Morgan horses. These groups are called families.

Morgan Horse Types
Morgan Horse Types
  • Brunk – Lineage traced back to horse breeder Joseph Brunk
  • Government – The largest group. Produced by the UVM Morgan Horse Farm
  • Lippitt – Lineage credited to Robert Lippitt Knight (see below in related questions)
  • Western Working Family (2WF) – Bred for farm work

What Do Morgan Horses Eat?

Morgan horses are what horse lovers call easy keepers.  Meaning they do not require a large amount of time and attention.

Many can maintain a good solid winter weight with simply hay and water.  They are not finicky eaters and do well in adverse conditions without a lot of grain in their diet.

Morgan horses are ideal for cold climates. They are a great animal for a horse lover who is not able to offer expensive feed and supplements to their animals.  

Morgan Horse Characteristics

A Morgan horse has many unique and appealing characteristics. Horse lovers from around the world consider the Morgan to be a very special animal.

Morgan Horse Characteristics
Morgan Horse Characteristics

Morgan Horse Personality Traits

The Morgan Horse is known for its quick wit and willingness to please any age human who handles them. Morgans love people!

These horses are very loyal and in my experience owning the breed they tend to choose one human to attach to.

Are Morgan Horses friendly?

While being very social and accepting of most all interactions with humans, Morgan horses often create a special bond with their handler and show their affection in many beautiful ways.

Whether it be a friendly snort or whinny when they see you or by nuzzling up close, Morgan horses are very friendly and loving animals.  

Morgan Horse Temperament

Along with their friendly temperament, the Morgan horse is also very patient, possesses a gentle disposition, and is always willing to learn.  

However, they are also excellent for basic riding lessons and are typically very affectionate towards younger handlers and young children.

Are Morgan Horses Sensitive?

Morgan’s, while always being willing to please, also tend to be very sensitive. They will not stand for outright aggression from humans or other horses.  

A Morgan horse does not like to be dominated by anyone.  They will quickly become uncooperative and unwilling if their handler becomes angry or aggressive.  

They are confident animals and are eager to perform for any handler who treats them with respect.

Are Morgan Horses Smart?

Morgans have a keen memory and are quick to learn new things. These horses are often used for professional competitions in a variety of disciplines because of their high intellect.

Morgan horses are widely known for being highly intelligent and smart. They can even tell the difference between an experienced rider and a complete novice.  

Their great versatility is a testament to their intelligence.

What are Morgan Horses Bred to do?

You name it and the Morgan horse is capable of doing it. From military service to horse shows to pulling carriages, to farm work, the Morgan has done it all.

Activities Morgan Horses Excel at Include:

  • Carriage Pulling
  • Carriage Horse Racing
  • English Dressage
  • Show Jumping Competition
  • Endurance Riding
  • Western Pleasure Riding
  • Cutting Horse Competitions (horse and rider handling cattle)
  • Competitive Trail Classes 

Morgan Horse Military Service

Once the Morgan breed was established, these horses were quickly utilized in military situations. They were well suited for carrying heavy loads for soldiers and hauling carts.

Most famously, the Morgan horse played a pivotal role in the American Civil War serving in the calvary and also pulling artillery.

Artillery horses had to be strong and possess a calm demeanor even while in the chaos of battle. The Morgan was a perfect fit.

Many military commanders trusted Morgans so much for cavalry mounts it is said they were used exclusively for entire units.

Morgan Horse Civilian Uses

They were also used by civilians early on for harness racing, and pulling coaches.  Morgans are well known for their endurance and speed under the harness.  

During the California gold rush, Morgans were even used as stock horses to haul heavy loads for the miners. Morgans show up everywhere in American history, even hunting for gold!

Morgan Horse and the Formation of Other American Breeds

Morgan horses became the inspiration and part of the bloodlines of many famous horse breeds including:

There is literally Morgan blood in many well-known American horse breeds.

How is a Morgan Horse Different From Other Breeds? 

While many horses are bred for a specific discipline, Morgan Horses have unique characteristics in their bloodline that make them ideal for many different disciplines.

Being a highly versatile horse they have the positive traits of several different horse breeds. 

What is a Registered Morgan Horse?

Most horse lovers probably don’t even know that to be a registered Morgan horse with the American Morgan Horse Association (AMHA) the horse must submit a DNA sample.

Starting in 2001 all Morgan horses must have their linage verified by a DNA sample which shows their parent horses have Morgan DNA.

Don’t worry the DNA test is simple and painless! Just send a few hairs from your horse to the AMHA and they will check for you.

Did You Know? The Morgan Horse is the official state animal of Vermont and the official state horse of Massachusetts!

Morgan Horse Ownership

Authors Personal Experience Testimonial

Many people ask me what it has been like owning a Morgan horse for the last 20 years. My Morgan was born and raised here on my family’s farm, over 20 years ago. 

I was 15 when he was born, and we have been a solid pair since.  

I have never met a horse more willing to please its human owner.  When young, and in training, he was eager to handle every challenge presented to him.

Trust is Key With a Morgan Horse

As with any horse, trust is the key when asking for difficult things.  This young horse would do anything asked of him which stands tribute to the Morgan breed. 

For example, when asked to cross a muddy creek, many horses question what lies within and balk. Other horses I’ve owned would show me they are nervous and don’t rely on the trust we have together. 

My Morgan horse, however, relies on that trust we share and boldly walks through almost every situation I ask him to.   Even when faced with danger, he stays calm and trusts me to keep him safe.

Morgan Horses are Great With Children

All three of my children ride this horse.  He has a fiery side for me, the adult, and a complete sense of calm and compassion when my kids are near him or on his back.  

He tailors every ride to each riders’ abilities.  Somehow he senses the level of expertise for each rider on his back.

He gives me a challenge as an experienced rider and pushes my boundaries because he knows my ability and knowledge of what is expected.  

When my young children are with him he is calm and delicate.  He is very in tune with their feelings, and at the slightest hint of fear, or apprehension, he stops and lets them regroup so they don’t become nervous or afraid. 

Should You Buy a Morgan Horse? 

I have owned several different breeds of horse, and the Morgan horse, by far, shows the greatest range of abilities in all situations.  

If you’re looking for a horse that can grow with you, and help you figure out which discipline you most enjoy, the Morgan is that horse. 

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Related Morgan Horse Questions

What is a Lippitt Morgan Horse?

According to the Lippit Morgan Breeders Association, a Lippit Morgan has the purest Morgan bloodline possible. 

In the 1970s, a group of people who were dedicated to preserving the purity of the Morgan horse dedicated this line of purebreds as Lippit Morgans in honor of Robert Lippitt Knight.

Robert Lippitt Knight, who died in 1962, had spent many years of his life dedicated to preserving the unique traits of the original Morgan horse breed.

Is “Justin Morgan Had a Horse” a True Story?

Justin Morgan Had a Horse is a book written in the 1940s by author and horse lover, Marguerite Henry, based on the true story of Justin Morgan.

The book was also made into a Disney movie with the same name and can still be viewed on the Disney Plus channel.

How Long Does a Morgan Horse Live?

A Morgan horse tends to live 20 to 30 years which is longer than some other horse breeds. It is not unusual to see a Morgan horse live to be 30 years old or older!

How Much Does a Morgan Horse Cost?

You can probably expect to pay between $1500 and $3000 for a Morgan horse but the price will vary based on the breeder you purchase from.

Are Morgan Horses Fast?

Morgan horses are built more for endurance running as opposed to pure speed. While not being the fastest breed of horse by any means they still run well.

Who is the Most Famous Morgan Horse?

Of course, Figure, the foundation sire for all Morgans, is the most famous Morgan horse but the next most famous has to be Black Hawk!

Black Hawk was the grandson of Figure and became one of the most prolific studs in horse lore.

It is reported that Black Hawk was bred with over 1700 mares and commanded a record (at the time) $100 stud fee.

Black Hawk also sired the incredible harness racing champion, Ethan Allen.

Who is Ethan Allen?

Ethan Allen is a Morgan horse stallion that is widely renowned for being one of the greatest harness racing horses ever. 

He is listed in the Harness Racing Hall of Fame and was touted as one of the most popular horses in American history.

What is the Morgan Horse Breed Slogan?

Due to the Morgan horse’s reputation as a people lover the saying, “The Horse That Chooses You” has been adopted as their official slogan.

How Many Morgan Horses are in the United States?

According to US Equestrian, there are over 90,000 Morgan horses in the USA.


The Morgan horse has a storied history in the United States and rightfully so as it is an impressive breed.

Being great at many things is what a Morgan horse is all about. They are strong, beautiful, and have great personalities.

The Morgan is truly an all purpose horse breed and a perfect choice for anyone wanting to own a horse.

You can learn much more about this truly great horse at the National Museum of the Morgan Horse located in Shelburne, Vermont.

what is a morgan horse

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