In 1791 Justin Morgan, known as the "singing schoolmaster" in Randolph, Vermont, walked home from Springfield Massachusetts with a small, bay 2 year old colt taken as payment for a debt. The colt he called Figure, soon created a legend for his ability to outwork, outrun, out-trot and out-walk any horse in the area. As his saga grew over the thirty years he lived in Vermont, countless sons and daughters were produced in his image. For Morgan's horse, now better known by his master's name, was one of the greatest breeding stallions of any time - the only one to establish a breed by himself.
From the Champlain Valley, the popularity of Morgan blood spread across the growing nation. Every generation added to its luster: Black Hawk, epitome of equine symmetry and perfection at the trot, and often depicted as the horse on today's weathervanes; Ethan Allen, champion trotter of the world, renowned in the Racing Hall of Fame and familiar in Currier and Ives prints; and Green Mountain Morgan, winner of premiums and championships as a blood stallion as far away as Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan.
Throughout the 19th century, wherever and whatever the need for a horse, the Morgan seemed to serve the best. He earned his keep as a general purpose frontier horse, in teams hauling freight or passengers, on western cattle ranges, trotting races, pulling doctor's buggies, delivering rural mail, drawing carriages of Presidents and financiers, and being a cavalry horse. In the Civil War, the 1st Vermont Cavalry was mounted exclusively on Morgans, where they earned a reputation for being the best cavalry and artillery horses in either army, including Sheridan's "Rienzi" and Stonewall Jackson's "Little Sorrel". The Morgan is the only breed ever fostered by the U.S. Government to meet America's needs. From 1907 to 1951, what is now the University of Vermont Morgan Horse Farm in Middlebury was operated by the U.S.D.A. to perpetuate the breed and provide breeding stallions for Remount stations across the country. Some of the most famous endurance horses were foaled there.
The contribution of Morgan blood to all later American breeds is extensive and well documented: the Saddlebred, the Standardbred, the Tennessee Walker, and the Quarterhorse. Two hundred years of change from frontier Vermont to the Space Age has meant new uses for the Morgan, but as always they have adapted to every need. The Morgan's innate desire to please and to give his best has remained a constant.
In harness or under saddle, his marvelous disposition and willing attitude make him an ideal family horse. An amateur can raise and train him with minimal help. An easy keeper, he remains healthy and sound over a life-span that generally runs ten years longer than most breeds. On a noisy busy road or a mountain trail, working cattle or accepting the discipline and precision of dressage, teaching children the basics of horsemanship or exhibiting his brilliant and animated gaits in a horse show -- Morgans can do it all with beauty and pleasure!
In the 1960's, Walt Disney adapted the children's book, Justin Morgan had a Horse into a feature movie.