The Morgan horse is one of the earliest horse breeds developed in the

United States. Tracing back to the foundation sire Figure, later named

Justin Morgan after his best-known owner, Morgans served many roles in

19th-century American history, being used as coach horses and for harness

racing, as general riding animals, and as cavalry horses during the

American Civil War on both sides of the conflict. Morgans have influenced

other major American breeds, including the American Quarter Horse,

Tennessee Walking Horse and the Standardbred. During the 19th and 20th

centuries, they were exported to other countries, including England,

where they influenced the breeding of the Hackney horse. In 1907, the US

Department of Agriculture established the US Morgan Horse Farm in

Middlebury, Vermont for the purpose of perpetuating and improving the

Morgan breed; the farm was later transferred to the University of

Vermont. The first breed registry was established in 1909, and since then

many organizations in the US, Europe and Oceania have developed. There

are estimated to be over 175,000 Morgan horses in existence worldwide as

of 2005.

In the 19th century, Morgans were used extensively for harness racing, as well as for pulling coaches, due to the breed’s speed and endurance in harness. They were also used as stock horses and for general riding, as well as light driving work. Miners in the California Gold Rush (1848–1855) used the breed, as did the Army during and after the American Civil War for both riding and harness horses. The Morgan trotting stallion Shepherd F. Knapp was exported to England in the 1860s, where he influenced the breeding of the Hackney horse. During this period, numerous Morgan mares may have been brought west and integrated into Texan horse herds, which influenced the development of the American Quarter Horse breed. The Morgan horse also was an ancestor of the Missouri Fox Trotter. By the 1870s, however, longer-legged horses came into fashion, and Morgan horses were crossed with those of other breeds. This resulted in the virtual disappearance of the original style Morgan, although a few remained in isolated areas.

Daniel C. Lindley, a native of Middlebury, Vermont, compiled a book of Morgan breeding stallions, published in 1857. Colonel Joseph Battell, also a Middlebury, Vermont native, published the first volume of the Morgan Horse Register in 1894, marking the beginning of a formal breed registry. In 1907, the US Department of Agriculture established the US Morgan Horse Farm in Middlebury, Vermont on land donated by Battell for the purpose of perpetuating and improving the Morgan breed. The breeding program aimed to produce horses that were sound, sturdy, well-mannered, and capable of performing well either under saddle or in harness. In 1951, the Morgan Horse Farm was transferred from the USDA to the Vermont Agricultural College (now the University of Vermont).

There are four main bloodlines groups within the Morgan breed today, known as the Brunk, Government, Lippitt, and Western Working “families.” There are also smaller subfamilies. The Brunk Family, particularly noted for soundness and athleticism, traces to the Illinois breeding program of Joseph Brunk. The Lippitt Family or “Lippitts” trace to the breeding program of Robert Lippitt Knight, grandson of industrialist Robert Knight and maternal great-great grandson of Revolutionary War officer Christopher Lippitt, founder of the Lippitt Mill. Robert Lippitt Knight focused on preservation breeding of horses descended from Ethan Allen II and this line is considered the “purest” of the four lines, with the most lines tracing back to Figure and no outcrosses to other breeds in the 20th or 21st centuries. The Government Family is the largest, tracing to Morgans bred by the US Morgan Horse Farm between 1905 and 1951. The foundation sire of this line was General Gates. When USDA involvement ended, the University of Vermont purchased not only the farm,[20] but much of its breeding stock and carries on the program today. The Working Western Family, abbreviated 2WF, have no common breeder or ancestor, but are the horses bred to be stock horses and work cattle, some descended from Government farm stallions shipped west.

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