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What is a Morgan?

The Morgan breed was founded on bloodlines. Originally, all horses registered had to trace in the sire line to Justin Morgan, and it was also mandatory that they did not have the tendency to pace. They also had to have at least a certain minimum percentage of Justin Morgan blood.

Although the horses registered were not inspected for "type", there was always a particular type, a resemblance to the descriptions of Justin Morgan and his immediate descendants, the first Morgans, that resembled each other in type. Every breed has type, whether it is a dog breed, hog, chicken or cow. In the Morgan breed, those horses that have the most of the original old Morgan lines virtually always have the most "type".

The original type was a muscular, baroque look that has a certain look of Arabian about it as well, in the high head and neck carriage, compactness, flowing top line and high carried tail, since the Morgan came from Arabian and Barb bloodlines
imported into England in Medieval and Colonial times and then imported into New England in the 1700s.

Just like any other breed, such as the Arabian, the Morgan breed has to have a particular look that sets it apart from other breeds so that people can look at it and say "Yes, that is a Morgan!" To have a true Morgan, one must have the "old" bloodlines without recent outcrosses to other breeds, and one must have "type". The Morgan breed has always had a distinctive "look" or "type" that has set it apart from other breeds.

What many new people coming into the breed often do not understand is that
in the past 30 or 40 years, there has been a lot of illegal outcrossing to other breeds, virtually all of it to Saddlebred and Hackney, to obtain a Saddlebred and Hackney look for the Morgan horse shows. Some of this was done before bloodtyping and dna started beginning in 1980 to verify parentage. But, some of the illegal outcrossing has been much more recent due to a secretly passed rule for the registry called "Rule 3". Under Rule 3 the Morgan registry can secretly register horses that do not match any known Morgan dna. This has been a big source of concern for dedicated and knowledgeable Morgan breeders who want the original breed and type to survive.

The other source of "outside" blood, again Saddlebred, has been the "legally" admitted blood of a few Saddlebreds that were let into the registry in the 1930s and 40s, before the Morgan registry was closed. It was meant to retrieve the Morgan blood that was supposed to be behind those Saddlebreds, but it became a loophole so that horse show people could bring in and concentrate Saddlebred blood carrying virtually no Morgan to create a horse with Morgan registration papers that did not look like a Morgan. This was done to cater to the Saddlebred look for the show ring. Today, more than 60%, or even much higher, of horses with Morgan registration papers carry large amounts of recent Saddlebred blood, both "legally" and illegally from back-of-the-barn secret crosses to Saddlebreds, and also to Hackneys, both cob sized Hackney ponies and horse sized Hackneys.

These outside crosses and concentrations to those two other breeds have
brought a plethora of faults into the Morgan breed that was once considered the soundest and best legged of all. For one, the very long slender cannons and weak joints of the Saddlebred are very entrenched in the lines that carry Saddlebred. The legs simply do not last under realistic work.

Club feet also come from the Saddlebred lines. One secret university study identified inherited cataracts that cause a pop eyed look (a look popular and selected for in the show ring) that can make the horses very nervous and spooky and often dangerous for the amateur to handle. It is prevalent in one of the most popular of the "show" lines that carry the Saddlebred crosses.

Inherited lordodsis (swayback) is now prevalent in the Morgan show lines, coming directly from recent and concentrated Saddlebred crosses. That defect is causing alarm in the Saddlebred breed and is now under university study. In the meantime, the Morgan show breeders have ignored the whole problem and continue to breed horses with lordosis backs due to concentrated Saddlebred blood. Horses with this defect may be swaybacked at even a year or two old. (This is not, by the way, the sway back that an older Morgan or horse of any breed may get due to being overweight, or aged or from having foals.)

There are more and more of the Saddlebred and Hackney narrow, long necks in the Morgan breed due to concentrating those outside lines, and the selection for them by the show judges that come from Saddlebred and Hackney backgrounds.

Morgans of the show lines are losing their hindquarters, have porkchop shaped hindquarters, with no muscling and depth, and very short, weak croups. They also have long backs along with the tendency to have lordosis. In addition, there is no longer the traditional great body depth, hugely laid back shoulder and short legs of the original Morgans.

The naturally high set Morgan tails are now being artificially created by "cutting" the ligaments in the tails and using tailsets and ginger, cruel practices, rather than breeding for the naturally high tail carriage of the original Morgans.

The Saddlebred there in a pedigree may mean that there is even more Saddlebred than the papers indicate, since the recent cheating and addition of even more outcrosses to Saddlebred (and Hackney) blood has happened almost entirely to those lines that already had Saddlebred brought in from the 1930s and 1940s. That is because those are the lines that the Saddlebred and Hackney breeders and trainers gravitated to when they infiltrated the Morgan breed.

Why is the Saddlebred blood invariably a source of unsoundness and inherited
major defects? The Saddlebred started out as a registry in the 1880s as a
conglomeration of the blood of various breeds that existed in the American South, mostly Thoroughbred, but also a good deal of later Standardbred, some Canadian Pacer, and a minimum of Morgan.

As time went on, only Thoroughbred was admitted until the Saddlebred books were finally closed in the 1920s. Then, in the early 1930s, the Walking Horse registry was formed by disgruntled breeders who left the Saddlebred registry, and in doing so they took virtually all of the Saddlebred blood that carried Morgan (and Canadian, a breed related to the Morgan) in any concentrations. Thus, the first registered Walking horses were fairly baroque, and horses of great substance and soundness, due to their Morgan and Canadian blood.

That left the Saddlebred registry with overwhelmingly Thoroughbred blood, and some later Standardbred, which caused it to evolve totally away from any resemblance to Morgans at all. And, even more, the thoroughbred blood that went into the saddlebreds was mostly from "failed" runners that could not make it as race horses due to conformation and soundness problems. And, there was never any selection for soundness or reliable, kind, dispositions in the Saddlebred breed. It evolved from tall horses used by plantation owners to oversee their slaves in the fields, and they needed tall, long legged horses so that they could not be pulled from their horses by rebellious slaves. After the fall of slavery, those horses were then used as show horses by Southern society. The southern ancestors of the Saddlebreds never developed the need for soundness or longevity or adaption to hard work, since mules were used in the South for the hard work, and the wealthy landowners rode fancy horses that did not need to work.

In the North, that was entirely different. At the time of the Civil War in the 1860s, the Morgan breed was the major all-around utility breed of the North, bred for toughness, adaption to the harsh climate and still had the Arabian-Barb beauty, too, and it never lost its soundess, good mind and utilitarian virtues. Tens of thousands of Morgans were used by the Northern armies in the Civil War, and it was those tough Northern horses that were credited by Civil War experts of the time that helped the North win the war. The war, unfortunately decimated the Morgan breed, since so few came home that went into battle.

Nearly 50 years after the Civil War, the U.S. Government began an experiment
in breeding Morgan horses at the Government Farm at Middlebury, Vermont. It's initial purpose was to save the Morgan breed from extinction and to save the original bloodlines and Morgan type. Unfortunately, after buying up some of the very best of the old Vermont Morgan mares, and acquiring some of the best stallions of the old Morgan lines, the program was redirected by the War Department and U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., the horse interests of which were controlled by saddlebred interests from Kentucky. As a result, the best Morgan stallions were sold off into oblivion, some to as far away as Cuba, never to be seen again, and Kentucky stock of Saddlebred and later Standardbred breeding was brought in to "improve" the Morgan breed. The original intent of bringing in the outside blood was to make a larger, taller, buggy horse. This lacked the foresight that the buggy horse was to soon become extinct.

This wave of outside blood resulted in a huge loss and waste of old bloodlines
that the Government Farm had originally acquired, and the type was redirected towards creating a Warmblood looking cavalry horse patterned after what was being bred by the government in Germany. As World War II brought about the realization that horses would not be needed for war, the Government Farm managers turned their attention towards breeding for the eastern show ring,
to compete with Saddlebreds, as at that time all of the saddle and harness classes were open. Even more Saddlebred was added in the 1930s and 40s to
the Government lines that were already being linebred and concentrated to the Saddlebred that had previously been introduced.

Since the Government was the only large breeder with major resources during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and then during the 1940s World War II, it was able to spread the outcrossed blood of the Government Farm far and wide by placing horses in remount programs throughout the country and particularly in the West. So, the Morgan breed, that had steadily been losing numbers since the Civil War, was actually being diluted and changed by the U.S. Government breeding program. The government dilutions changed the neckset of the horses, by evolving towards a straight neck that hung out in front, rather than being set on top of the shoulder, and much of the traditional, round baroque look was lost. The heads became long and plain, often smaller eyed, the shoulders straighter, the backs longer, the sides flat rather than round and well sprung, the croups short and dropped off. The tendency to pace was brought in from the Kentucky Saddlebred and Standardbred blood whereas previously the Morgan had been noted for its beautiful, round, easy trot, the kind seen in the Currier and Ives prints. Pacing had always been frowned upon by Morgan breeders since the beginning of the breed.

The Government program decimated and diluted the old Morgan lines and resulted in a loss of type and more of a generic look, but since soundness was selected for by endurance trials, the Government lines still remained basically sound and tough, and since the mare lines remained of the old Morgan blood.

But, there was worse to come, since the registry had the X Rule up until circa 1950, which allowed horses with one registered Morgan parent and the other of substantially Morgan blood to be admitted as registered Morgans. The purpose was to "retrieve" lost Morgan blood that had gone into other breeds.

This was used as a loophole to admit the pure Saddlebred stallion Upwey King Peavine who had barely a drop of Morgan blood, for the sole purpose of eastern tycoons and dandies to have Saddlebreds with Morgan papers to show in high society horse shows. The registry made the mistake of not having a rule, as most other registries have always had, to limit the outside blood to no more than a small percentage in the resulting descendants. Upwey King Peavine blood was bred to other later Saddlebred blood also admitted, and also combined with the Government blood that carried Saddlebred, until there were whole lines of horses that had Morgan papers but carried essentially no Morgan blood. Those are the lines today that are entrenched in the show ring and are selected for by the show people and judges. The true Morgans have been driven from their own shows and are essentially a minority in their own breed, with over 60% of the horses with "Morgan" registration papers carrying the later Saddlebred crosses.

Unfortunately, most of the old lines now have some government crossed in
somewhere, and so often to save the "old" blood we as breeders have to take
some government with it. The earliest government blood, prior to the use of
Bennington, whose dam was a Saddlebred, does not have Saddlebred blood and does not result in a loss of type and Morgan quality. And, sometimes, even taking some Bennington, used in a minimum and highly diluted by using concentrated old lines, is necessary to save many of the valuable old Morgan families from extinction. It is the later, "modern" Saddlebred blood from the 1930s and later, that should be avoided. A line has to be drawn somewhere to exclude the most harmful of the Saddlebred outcrosses, or the Morgan breed will not survive.

What must we do to save the original, magnificent Morgan breed? Every person who says they care about the breed should not settle for second best when they buy or breed a Morgan. They should select those that have the old Morgan bloodlines and that are true to type and soundness.

Every Morgan breeder and buyer that lowers his or her standards and buys and patronizes those with the Saddlebred crosses are rewarding the breeders and owners who don't care if the original, magnificent, baroque Morgan breed survives, and they are contributing to the extinction of the Morgan breed. There are plenty of Morgans of the old bloodlines for sale without patronizing those that are essentially only part Morgans. Would a buyer of any intelligence settle for an Arab with known outcrosses if they were being sold one with purebred papers, or any other breed? I bet not, and so why settle for less without protest by buying what is essentially a part Morgan with a watered down and questionable pedigree? In addition, the intelligent buyer will find that the horse with the true Morgan pedigree and true type will be a far better, all around, sounder, more intelligent horse and a far better investment in the long run.

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