We all have our preferences (and a laundry list of reasons why) for what we consider the ideal horse. But in keeping with the underlying theme here at Hooves, that the discussion and focus is often primarily on riding and what constitutes good riding conformation, let’s stay on that train of thought…thusly based on several factors, including but not exclusive to, conformation trends within breeds, temperament, size and movement, I’ve come to the conclusion that the ideal average owner’s horse – that is your horse for your average older child (we’ll assume past the pony stage) to adult – is the Morgan.
If you rolled your eyes, slap the back of your head to put them back into place and hear me out. I didn’t just pull that breed out of thin air or my butt. I’ve said a time or two (or twenty) that Morgan breeders seem to have their acts together (for the most part). Whereas so many other breeds have been ‘Americanized’ (turned into a Thoroughbred replica), the Morgan is one that has stayed relatively true to type. There’s irony in that as the Morgan is recognized as the first ‘American’ breed.
The Morgan is still a smaller horse, squarer in build with a naturally arching neck set on high, has good substance, good feet, a big hip, well-placed LS joint, laid back shoulder, open shoulder angle, well-structured head, and generally of a more level build. All those traits make them excellent, versatile riding mounts; dressage, jumping, even gaiting. The Morgan is also an excellent driving horse. And before anyone says, ‘But, but, but with the exception of gaiting most horses can do all those other things at a lower level’, I’ll add that many Morgans can do all those things to at least a medium level. This is a breed that’s generally built well enough to exceed the capabilities of your average owner and in spite of your average owner.
It might help at this point to tell you why I don’t think the three most popular breeds; the Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse and Arabian are ideal average owner horses.
Thoroughbred: Most of what’s on this continent are specifically racing bred, which means downhill built with a straighter hind leg conducive to quick, thrusty strides, often lower set or ewe necked, and plagued with flat soles, underrun heels and stick legs. On top of that, this is a thin-skinned, sensitive breed that tends towards a weak constitution and thus it’s harder to maintain health and soundness. The OTTB – if it isn’t already unsound – requires retraining that shouldn’t be tackled by your average owner, nor could it be accomplished to the horse’s benefit by your average owner. Simply put, this is too much horse with too many potential problems. But hey, they are a dime a dozen and can be had cheap!
Quarter Horse: Navigating the QH breed is like taking the Titanic down a class VI rapids. The breed has several sub-types for specialty work, but that hasn’t stopped breeders from crossing those sub-types and making matters worse. You then have to be on the look out for the post legs, low set neck, downhill build, closed shoulder angle, calf-knees, stick legs and double aught feet. While there are plenty of solid riding conformed individuals in the breed, there’s so many that are not, and so many that have been used up by the time they are three that it can be a daunting task. And while their temperament is often considered great for the average owner, I feel that their ‘I’ll take it and then simply shut off when I can take it no more” attitude means that many owners think they are doing way better with the horse than they really are. A horse that’s forgiving is wonderful, but a horse that forgives all is on a slippery slope of self-destruction. But again, dime a dozen and can be had cheap!
Arabian: It’s no secret this is one of my least favorite breeds, but it’s not because it isn’t a good riding breed. Indeed, with the exception of the halter-bred individuals, the Arabian is a very good riding conformed horse with few problems. I eliminated it from being the best choice based on its general sensitivity and natural tendency to want to excitedly prance around with its head and tail in the air. This puts the horse into a hollow, inverted posture that is often perpetuated by the average owner, who then hauls on its face. The Arabian is superbly designed for Competitive Trail and Endurance and because of this I’ve seen a vast majority of people show up at these events with horses that are not in fact conditioned properly, but that ‘up-ness’ that Arabians have coupled with their lower average heart rates, and the ever efficient ability to dissipate body heat so well, fools people into thinking they’ve done a better job at conditioning than reality suggests. I find this breed is ignorantly physically used and abused a lot, but without the same repercussions to soundness of a bigger muscled breed like the QH, or the finer boned Thoroughbred.
It’s been a year since HighonEquine sent me a picture of their Morgan horse, Duke. In this picture, Duke is 17.
The biggest issue is the lack of conditioning; tight back and loin, sagging weak abdominals, and excess bulk on the base of neck. My first thought was that this horse was gaited because I see nothing else in his conformation that would suggest a natural tendency to move hollow. I believe Duke is standing up hill, so he wouldn’t be as level built as the photo suggests, but also not as straight through the stifle and hock. He is tied in behind the knee, and we might want a less round eye, more almond shaped. We could nitpick a few other things; a little more femur length, a little less tibia length, knee set on a touch lower, but overall he’d be a good riding candidate for your average owner; far easier to ride correctly than most OTTBs or specialized QHs.
The floor is now yours, but let’s assume we all understand that some individuals within any singular breed might very well be ideal for an average owner. No argument, and I’ve said as much already. The exercise here is to consider what breed, as it currently stands in the world, offers the most to your average owner and why, while still being able to have a modicum of self-preservation. A horse with a great temperament, but horrid conformation does neither its owner nor itself a service by suffering in silence and killing itself a little bit each day. We’re looking for the whole package. What say you?
To scroll down and see my horse about knocked me over! Talk about a surprise!
I’ve actually wondered myself if he isn’t gaited. He has this REALLY fast feeling walk that is almost a trot. It just feels different. I’ve never been on a gaited horse so I don’t really know what it is. He may just be walking fast. 😉 He usually insists upon this when we are heading back to the barn.
I believe his tight back and loin at that time was do to my own riding. I’ve just recently come to the realization that you shouldn’t be sitting the trot on a horse who isn’t relaxed and engaged in the back. You end up uncomfortable and stiff, because the horse is and it just becomes a vicious cycle.
So the last month I’ve done a butt load of research. I’ve been through a ton of Art2ride’s videos. I’ve been lunging and long lining, working on him relaxing and moving out. He will drop his head down and stretch at the walk really well, but can’t take more than a few strides at the trot that way. I’ve even been doing stretches with him. Focusing on the back and abdominals. We even through in some ground poles and hills.
I keep meaning to take pictures so that I can track his progress. I’d really like to see him use himself properly and improve.
I hole heartedly agree. I love Morgans. Duke is tolerant to a point, but under enough stress or discomfort he will let me know. Which has been a valuable learning experience. He learns quickly and tries so hard. I couldn’t have asked for a better first horse.
So glad to see you’re still perusing the articles here after all this time. Feel free at any time to send some updated photos (when you feel you’ve made enough progress) and we can do some comparisons for people.
I say “SSHHHHHHHH….let’s keep this to ourselves!” The other breeds have been mutated by their popularity and breeding inferior stock to meet the resulting demand. I certainly don’t want to see this breed “suffer” from popularity, so let’s just quietly enjoy the fact that we own the greatest breed of horse, so Morgans don’t take the path of those other formerly wonderful breeds.
You bring up a great point, Brenda. Popularity does seem to have a link to breed destruction.
What planet are you from? This is one of the most bastardized breeds in North America.The original Morgan was described as being 14:1 hands tall. While the popularity of the Morgan in the 1700’s was exceptional, people wanted a taller, leaner, longer, higher stepping horse, and was bred to Saddlebreds, Thoroughbreds, Hackneys, you name it. Up until 1950, you could literally breed a Morgan with an elephant and register the offspring as a Morgan. The Registry was finally closed to these crossbreds, but MUCH damage had been done. Go to the Morgan Nationals in Oklahoma City this October and see a Coliseum full of 16:2 Saddlebred looking Morgans with pencil thin, swan like necks. When they bred away the conformation of the original Morgan, they also bred away the great mind of the Morgan. Flighty, suspicious, spooky- just like a Saddlebred. How bad is it? The World Champion Morgan Stallion about 15 years ago was found out to be HALF-Saddlebred. https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/rec.equestrian/PGVIB1u8Chg
How bad is it when a half-saddlebred wins World Champion Stallion to represent breed type?
So much for original Morgan type. About the only remaining original Morgan bloodlines are found in Lippitt Morgans. A purebred Lippitt Morgan can trace the sire and dam back to the original Justin Morgan Horse without any “known” outcrosses. Today there are slightly more than 1500 purebred Lippitt Morgans left today, it is actually on the Equus Survival Trust listed as an endangered bloodline. More than 95% of Morgans today have been polluted with infusions of other breeds.
So when you claim “Whereas so many other breeds have been ‘Americanized’ (turned into a Thoroughbred replica), the Morgan is one that has stayed relatively true to type” -you obviously haven’t done any homework or research on this, or you would be horrified to learn how bastardized the Morgan breed actually is. There are two VERY different forms of Morgan type- original type found in the purebred Lippitt Morgan bloodlines of which their numbers are perilously low, and the “contemporary Morgan” which is 2 full hands plus taller than the original Morgans, and more closely resembles and acts like a Saddlebred- no surprise since outcrossing was rampant with other breeds up until 1950 when the Registry was closed to cross breeding- but the damage remains in what you see today in the show ring.
We’ve been breeding Morgans for 35 years and are horrified at what has become of an exceptional horse. Make a trip to OKC this October to see the in-hand classes and Park Horse classes and tell me Morgans have stay relatively true to original Morgan type. You may not stop throwing up.
We have been breeding Morgans for over 50 years and have seen the breed change. The good changes are taller horses and refined necks that can hinge. As far as saddlebred-looking horses, sure they are out there, but the breed, with DNA testing, is reverting to type. They are, for the most part, unmistakably Morgan. Perhaps it would be better if you spent time promoting the beautiful Lippitts rather than tear down other Morgans.
MorganMan I agree 100%. I’ve been around a lot of Morgans from a lot of bloodlines recently and none looked like a Saddlebred … including a “grand-daughter” of the “infamous” Lost River Sanfield. There are a lot of different builds but they do mostly retain something “Morgany.” When people are looking for Morgans that are not like the “show” ones, I refer them to the Cornerstone Morgan Club for high percentage Foundation Morgans usually bred for temperament and soundness, and looking like Morgans.
Cornerstone is good, or Wedtern Working Morgans. Condemning the modern Morgan by what you see in-hand or in Park Harness seems to ignore all the dressage, jumping, trail and carrige horses you will see at the Hrand National show or at any other Morgan show. I don’t judge Lippitts by the littlest, chunkiest horse at the Country Show. I just wish we could see more of their best typiness brought into the show horse lines.
Yes it is odd that the uniquely american horse the Morgan that can be ridden, driven, pull a log, etc. is not more popular, at least in my neck of the woods. Also, I have never understood why the Lipizzan was not used in dressage and why everybody goes for these huge warmbloods. As a trail rider, I look at the individual horse, and have never been partial to a breed. Just about every breed can have good trail horses.
But to play along, let me pull something out of the air, the Nez Perce. If I ever win the lottery, I will at least look at some of these.
The Lipizzaner is used for Dressage, but because a) it’s a very rare breed, only a few thousand worldwide and, b) it doesn’t have the exaggerate movement in its extension, which is incorrect anyway, it doesn’t show up in competition much.
It (Lip) is my favorite riding breed followed very closely by the Lusitano and then the Andalusian, but none of those made my pick because they are generally too much horse for the average owner and rather expensive to purchase. I considered ‘all’ criteria when making my selection.
I don’t know enough about the Nez Perce to comment, but I’d think rarity would play a role.
Yes I know the Lipizzan is used in dressage, just could never figure out why people don’t use it for showing in dressage more. It has always been my understanding that some breeds will do better at the extension, some better at the collection, but it is all proper movement for the individual horse.
Well, again, they are super rare and there are people who are Americanizing them as well…sadly. But it’s a misnomer to think of extension and collection as two different things. They are not. Correct extension comes from collection. You can’t have it any other way. What you see in the competitive Dressage ring is not correct extension and as such the horses are also not correctly collected. ‘They’ve’ also in error bred a rectangular Dressage mount, instead of staying to the true square build that easily produces correct collection and thusly correct extension.
OK, maybe I used better incorrectly. But the movements of a thoroughbred and a lipizzan will be very different at the collection and extension. This weird notion of using cart horses for dressage is just what’s popular now.
Yes, those two tend to look very different in those states of movement because the Thoroughbred will struggle to collect and the Lipizzaner can do it in its sleep.
Had the pleasure of riding a few Lusitanos in Portugal last month. Compact, smart and willing, I have to say that they’ve become my new favourite (coming from someone who currently owns a DWB). The amount of collection, extension, ridability was incredible – granted there was quite a bit of training put into those horses, but the overall movement and conformation was beautiful. Now, if I could just find one of those elusive money trees, I’d bring one home in a heartbeat!
Totally too expensive and too much horse for the ‘average’ owner, but excellent riding horses – and I hate you for being in Portugal and having that opportunity. 🙂
Maybe you can get one at a discount here? http://www.nezperceappaloosas.com/MakeOffer.cfm
Interesting: these look like what I remember appaloosas looking like in the 1970s. Rangy stock horses with straight necks, quite different from a quarterhorse.
My first ” good ” horse was a lippit bred Morgan mare. Being a child in Ct made this a readily available an popular New England choice. Great horses – but I’ve seen a lot of changes from
The pic of the study guy you e posted here. The national Morgan show is at the fairgrounds every oct.
HAD to comment…never have before Bc haven’t felt I could hold my own on one of these discussions…but…I rode at a Morgan farm for over 20 years and absolutely agree with you on all accounts. With the exception that more and more saddlebred- like looks and movement is creeping into the saddle seat classes. And now that I have moved onto a new place (moved across the state) where all riding is based on classical dressage, I now can see all the incorrect training and muscling found at the breed shows. I actually own an OTTB, though. Shes quite level headed, i love her etc, but boy does she have some physical issues that I never saw in a barn full of Morgans! Its a good thing I’m someplace now where I can learn more correct riding to keep her going more comfortably! Not to mention a 20 yr old Morgan is like a 15 year old in any other breed.
Oops…posted early before editing…basically meant to say that for longevity and useability the Morgan cant be beat! Would have bought one but wanted something bigger, and when horse shopping was looking more for a good horse- not breed specific
So nice to see this! As a lifelong Morgan owner I couldn’t agree more. They are sound, sane and, really, good at everything. I have used mine for endurance, very low level dressage and as excellent cow horses.
There is no reason to think Duke wouldn’t be gaited, Many Morgans are. I spent years showing my gaited Morgan mare against some very nice quarter horses in ranch horse competitions, and winning.
My “old” gelding, 17, is still going strong as sound and energetic as a youngster even after spending his life putting in hard miles as a ranch horse. He has never been lame, no matter how bad the footing, and it has been pretty bad, despite never having been shod. Ever.
I have often thought about sending in a conformation shot of him just because I think he is so perfect, not that I am prejudice or anything, and thought it would be interesting to hear a more knowledgeable opinion. His legs are thick and straight with big bone and large round hooves and this seems to be the norm for the breed. Sorry for rambling but Morgans and my old gelding in particular are a favorite subject of mine.
I can’t argue with this post – I agree completely, coming from a former Arabian owner.
I bet you were all waiting for me to comment. 🙂 I was raised with grade quarter-type horses, although the horses I had growing up were almost surely half-morgan, as they were foaled out of my mothers “harness” mare from Iowa. When I met my wife (whose family have raised Morgans from 1957) she looked at old photos and confirmed she was a very typey Morgan. I like to say that Morgans have much of the beauty of the Arab with the common sense of the Quarterhorse.
I agree with the comment that the show-type Morgan is quite a contrast from the old-style Morgan (which surely had its good points, especially the Lippitt family), but about 10 years ago, the Registry went to DNA parentage testing (after a huge scandal when our Grand National Champion Stallion was found to have a Saddlebred dam!). What has happened since then is the breed is reverting to the norm and the distinctive breed characteristics of a clean head, little ears, neck rising from the back, good legs and powerful rear end driving a strong trot are reasserting themselves. The show type Morgan was not all a bad influence however, The old Morgans were often small (under 14.0) and there is a distinct size increase. The other big change was a refinement of the neck and throat which allows Morgans to accept collection that the cresty old Morgans simply could not achieve.
If you want a horse that you can do pretty much anything with, the Morgan (like the other Baroque breeds) has the physical and mental capacity to do it well. They are NOT specialists but they will get you in the ring and give you a good ride or drive in just about any class, which is why many families love their Morgans. They excel internationally in particular at carriage driving in singles and doubles and are highly respected in Europe for that. They are about the prettiest horses I have ever seen under Western tack where their proud head carriage is a distinct contrast to the “peanut rollers”. They will turn heads wherever they go.
Our breed magazine this month profiled 10 Morgans who have reached Gran Prix level. While they have a tough time against the Warmbloods on the upper levels, they are getting recognition in the intermediates. The same issue profiled Four different 4-in-hand Morgan driving teams, including the owner of Black Prong and Herbert Kohler.
I apologize for the length of this post. Most Morgan owners will not shut up about their horses. Look, every breed likes to highlight the different things their horses can do, and you can find individual Saddlebreds who jump, QHs who drive in carriage, Arabs who are lesson horses. All well and good. The average Morgan’s conformation and intelligence lets him do almost all horse activities well, and some of them very well. In an absolutely shameless plug, I direct you to the American Morgan Horse website, http://www.morganhorse.com.
Actually I was hoping you’d comment on this topic. You’ve reaffirmed what I’ve always thought about the breed and reenforced why it’s a great pick for a larger audience.
Do you have the current world population numbers? And how many are bred/registered each year?
There are about 100,000 registered worldwide (2007). We have them in U.S., Canada, England, Australia, Sweden, Netherlands and a few elsewhere.
Right now, there is a lot of anguish in our breed discussions because only about 600 foals were registered in 2013. This is down from 1189 in 2012 and 3090 in 2000. However, all of the saddle seat/show breeds (ASB, Hackney, TWH) have had their numbers decrease steeply since the Recession. Much of the agonizing is from the viewpoint of the show horse people (understandably). Without 2 year-olds to feed in one end, trainers, farriers, vets all see a drop in business. While I sympathize, I do not believe the circumstances are as grim as projected. I think many breeders (including myself) made a conscious decision that we would not breed more horses to push into a saturated market. Contra, we saw some QH farms still pumping out 300plus foals and the excess were ending up on semis to Canada and Mexico.
While clearly a subject for another posting (or even another blog), the saddle seat horse show structure in the U.S. is very much in need of an overhaul and contraction. The affected breeds may finally be concerned enough to do something about it.
Feel free to write that article and submit it for posting here. 🙂 Thanks for the breed and registration numbers.
The AMHA just released revised registration figures for 2012 and basically doubled their figure to around 1200 (2013 registrations are NOT all in yet, and some of the panic over 2012 might have been because the numbers were released too early.) Not that 1200 is a lot, but it’s better than 600.
Thanks for those updated figures.
Just a quick update: to the embarrassment of some of the show people, the registration of Morgans has been corrected to around 1300 for the last year, so our “crises” is not yet upon us. In a way, I sort of wish the registration numbers WERE down drastically, so we as a breed would sit down and ask some hard questions about where we are going and how we are getting there. As a breeder, I would prefer lower numbers of quality horses coming into a soft market rather than see hundreds of horses searching for a buyer. Sadly, some horse activities eat up horses about like war: racing(galloping), steeplechase, 3 day eventing, hunter/jumper and the “who is the new star!” attitude of some of the saddle seat competitors. They NEED two-year-olds to come onto the market and at a low enough price so that the training and showing expense do not price them out of reach for the average owner.
Not to sound like an old crank, but the unholy expense of A.I., Foaling Centers, vet exams up the wazoo (literally and figuratively) have meant that many foals in our breed have $10,000 in expense before they stand and nurse. And that does not include the amortization on the stallion and the mare. As a small breeder who is winding down, I cannot afford this, plus raising, training and feeding a 3 year old to bring it on the market. So, it will have to continue to be a labor of love, with a hope of that special individual who will put a new roof on the barn or replace the ol’ truck.
In this day and age of computer record keeping, I find it strange that a registry can be ‘off’ that much. Why such a huge mistake?
Mercedes, according to the Registry, a lot of people registered their foals later than usual. Some people don’t want to register them before they are sold, and foals are selling more slowly these days.
Ah, I see…there’s no time limit on registration. Is there a penalty for registering later?
Registration up to 6 months is $90, 6-12 months $100, 12 to 18 months $125, and then jumps to $210 for 18 to 24 months. A bit more expensive than QHs, but Morgans don’t have the volume of registrations to allow “economies of scale.” Part of what happened is that people waited until their foals sold before sending in the paperwork, and it was taking longer for foals to sell (or for owners to give up on selling them and just register them.) So there were probably a bunch registered in the 6-12 and 12-18 month gap… The year of foaling where “600” registrations were first reported was 2012, not 2013… It will be interesting to see what happens for 2013 foals.
I don’t breed, but if I did I would just register them before 6 months, because I value registration highly. It kills me to see ads saying an adult horse “can be registered” (for $410) or “might be registered but needs blood typing and DNA to find out” (for $250.) Some of this is because of Amish practices; the Amish love Morgans to use as fancy driving horses, and often don’t register all their foals (one of my filly’s grand-dams came from the Amish, and at the time the breeder bought her, she had only 2 registered foals but she was sold because she was too broken-down to drive and she no longer reliably got in foal — so probably 6 or more of her foals were never registered.) Or they will hold back the papers when sending them to auction so they can claim they are in the magic 7-10 year age range when they are really much older. There are some very honest and ethical Amish breeders/trainers but the Amish and AMHA have a wary coexistence to put it mildly. (And this relates back to rescue — see https://www.facebook.com/notes/morgan-safenet/hip-tags-and-numbers/311307439025820 for a good summary.)
Ah, okay. Since my breeding days started with Stbds, I was ‘trained’ from the get go to simply register when the foal hit the ground. Just way cheaper and way easier to do all the paperwork at that time.
It made sense to continue on that way with other breeds. If the horse was worth breeding in the first place, it was worth registering right off regardless of my personal plans – since things can change.
I have been the ‘victim’ of a seller withholding breeding information on a horse and then demanding additional ‘thousand’s of dollars’ for that information. Took me five years and an entire circus of hoop jumping, but I did get that horse registered.
You asked about a fee schedule, and there is a hefty penalty if not registered by age two, $400! But up to six months is $90, and many of the larger and/or western ranch breeders in this economy are having a tough time coughing it up. I don’t blame them, that’s a load of hay for me. Many have waited because they don’t show and will register at time of sale so the sale covers the expense. There has been much work done to promote the traditional Morgan by several clubs including Cornerstone Morgan Horse Club http://www.cornerstonemorganclub.com/ , the gaited club http://gaitedmorgans.org/ , and The Rainbow Morgan Horse http://www.rainbowmorganhorseassoc.com/ to name a few. Also of note is this past year, the traditional morgan as defined here http://www.cornerstonemorganclub.com/Learn-More.html#whatisa is also now on the Livestock Conservancy on the Critical list — http://www.livestockconservancy.org/index.php/heritage/internal/morgan
Morgans are a baroque breed in many aspects and I am saddened that true baroque breeds are not more the norm in dressage etc. instead of the huge warmbloods. Morgans are like sports cars to handle, fast, smooth and handy vs. many other breeds. I can’t even handle riding QH’s and paints anymore because their short choppy strides kill my back. I ride mine dressage, in CTR’s, western, have cut cows, and they do farm work like haul logs out for me etc. Having had Arabs and QH’s, morgans are #1. Arabs are my 2nd.
Thank you for adding to this discussion, Maribeau.
One of the reasons my filly was reasonably priced is that her breeder does not do AI unless there is a specific reason. Her stallion does live cover (I was there when my filly’s dam was rebred, and she has checked in foal.) She does the old fashioned thing to find out if her mares are in heat… watches for tail lifting and then takes them up to the stallion (with a fence between them) to see how he reacts and the mare reacts. Covers every other day, three times (or two if the mare goes out of heat quickly) and has close to 100% conception rate. She has a few stalls for foaling, sick/injured horses etc. but for the most part her horses live outside with run in sheds year round. Her foals ALL sell before weaning, some in utero even, and she provides great customer service — I will get my filly with great ground manners and a very trainable attitude, and can send her back to the breeder for starting in a couple of years, at a very reasonable rate. I doubt she’s making any money on the foals (mine was low to mid 4 figures, partly because she’s not a colorful and she’s not 100% foundation, but still very old-fashioned breeding, not the show ring lines). She has 2 to 4 foals per year, and could breed more, but would rather stay small and more “hobby-ish”.
I do think breeders are subsidizing the rest of the horse industry world right now.
I agree entirely with the old-fashioned means of checking. An old acquaintance had a solid board fence between the stallion run and the mare pasture with a few small holes in it. If the mares were interested, they would come over to the fence and whicker at the stallion through the holes. He would, of course, start honking and the handler would be able to note who was coming in, who was bred, who was uninterested. Pretty low tech, but nearly 100% effective! Now, with A.I., we end up propagating “silent” heat mares, mares that won’t settle, stallions with poor quality semen. Yes, there are benefits in getting that one foal out of the old broodmare before she is retired, but I have to think that long term it is a recipe for breed degeneration.
😦 Just typed a post and the website failed. How frustrating!
It’s no suprise that a Saddlebred became Grand Champion, even if only half. I’ll never understand why the little chunky monkeys had so much outside blood brought in, other than to increase their size and like you said, provide functional refinement. But one of the traits that identifies a Morgan quickly to the eye is the upright neck attachment, little ears, round butt and typically thick manes and tails. There is little distinction between Park Morgans and other foot pounders and IMO, the Morgan has it all over the firey, wild-eyed types.
I have to assume that height plays a big part in their value. UCONN has been breeding Morgans forever and one of their herd sires, Doc Daniels, was a tad on the smaller side as were his offspring. For the training they get, often both under saddle and driving, there aren’t offers consistent with what that training ought to be worth. He was a nice stallion, middle of the road type with just enough body and a superior disposition. Students drove him and held him for breeding and he was a perfect gentleman, every time. Nice, nice horse.
Not all of us QH types want a peanut roller though we still love our breed. I find them to be a bit more slow-legged than a Morgan, which I personally like (easier to sit to!) but harder to bridle up. the neck attachment is just wrong – though they can work considerably higher than most people think when the rider is correct. I think both breeds are quite versatile though I’ve seen very few Morgans jumping competitively. Maybe Merc can jump in here and give us a rundown on the shoulder and its ability to enhance or prevent a good jumper. 🙂
Blondemare; I agree the Thoroughbred/QH types can make excellent jumpers and our guys cannot match them except for the occasional 16 hh Morgan. I really like the ranch-type QHs and I note that many of them carry their neck and head up where they can see what is going on. I think a useful type horse will always tend to a certain appearance because they have to in order to accomplish the task.
I think that many people get the misconception that QH’s can’t lift up their heads because they’ve only seen reiners and rail horses. While they’ll never have a Morgan neck, a poll a bit above wither height can look quite nice and the horse can quite easily do this for western dressage (easy does it there Merc), western riding, versatility, cow work, etc. The rail horses are falling apart mentally and physically and nothing ‘we’ say seems to change a thing. Helping a gal now find a new ride as her WP mare she bought for a trail/pleasure horse finally came apart at the seams and started bucking and rearing. The gal then sent her to a Parelli trainer (sorry, but many of you make horses WORSE with your stupid games), has her back and is afraid of her. The mare must go….but who is going to want her now?? She may end up just digging a hole at this point. Another reasonably young, quite attractive horse destroyed for the sake of trendiness. Another naive buyer taken to the cleaners. Sorry. Rant over.
The front end is quite good for jumping. I’ve seen a lot of ‘kids’ jumping their Morgans at the local level and they do quite well and even have the speed and agility for jump offs. They also do quite well in eventing.
Many of the knees to ear jumpers have more upright shoulders combined with a very open shoulder angle and long humerus. The Morgan has a laid back shoulder, but still has an open shoulder angle and long humerus, so the form is still good. They’ve got plenty of hip for power and tend to be decently scopey. I’d jump one – if I was so inclined to have my horse leave the ground like that, which I’m mostly not nowadays.
As you know, a lot of people buy way more horse than they can possibly ride. Certainly horse and rider need to match in terms of size, but a taller person can ride a 15h horse and look quite well matched if the horse has a well-sprung ribcage to take up the rider’s leg.
It’s a shame that so many normal sized horses get passed over. I have a 34″ inseam and I ride a 15-hander and I don’t particularly care what people think of his size. His barrel eats up enough of my leg to be comfortable to me. Until the top levels, there’s really no reason to have a huge horse. Judges aren’t as biased at smaller shows when there are multiple sizes and breeds competing (Dressage). And really, how many of us are going to ride Prix St George?
There was a 4* Grand Prix on recently and the announcer had to make a very obvious point about one of the horses being ‘extremely small’ at 15.3. That little mare jumped her heart out and had turn of foot that the 17 handers couldn’t come close to. If I liked to leave the ground on horseback, I’d opt for a little one too. Hell, I can barely stay on my 15 hander over a log…why add another coefficient?
UC Doc Daniels was a good guy. I should have mentioned the UC program as well as UVM and UNH.
He was always my favorite – they also had a red, more modern stud, can’t remember his name to save my life but he lived to be in his mid to late 30’s. And there was a black, “Toranado”, very modern type, pretty horse but very Saddlebred’y in looks and temperament. High strung guy.
After I read this post, I thought about the few Morgans I’ve known. In the early 80’s, I took a few lessons on a big gelding that was a dream to ride. He was close to, if not 16 hands…I remembered his name somehow and googled it – Kickapoo Kracker Jax and found him! He was a 13 time Grand Champion and inducted in 2012. I remember the owner saying to me during a lesson that she was teaching him lead changes….and I tried a couple (not at all sure of anything I was doing) and he changed every time! She was thrilled (I was more so). He was a special horse.
That is great that you rode Kickapoo Kracker Jax! He really opened a lot of Morgan people’s eyes to sport horse possibilities. I noted that my head broodmare shares Doc Daniel’s grandsire UVM Watchman.
not a bad choice, but agree with those who said there had been considerable change in the saddle seat/park Morgans more recently that weren’t all good, but they still have more substance and more correct build than modern ASB.
Morgans aren’t at all common down here and are ‘pricey’ for that reason.
One reason that Morgans did well as sound using horses is because of their association with the military, being popular from the Civil War era on, and being part of the remount breeding programs. Unfortunately, when the remount program was being wound down, the US military ordered the stallions destroyed in 1942 rather than sold into private hands (the fate of the original Appaloosa’s captured from the Nez Perce Indians that almost destroyed that breed). That ended many bloodlines of substantial Morgans sized in the 15-15.2 / 1200 pound size. Even then a lighter more park-like horse was starting to dominate the Morgan show breeds, preserving the other bloodlines would have been good for the breed.
As a matter of fact, many of the remount bloodlines lived on in our Western bloodline Morgans, and that is where much of the size and substance we find today came from. A lot of the blood was lost when the remount stations turned over their stock to Indian tribes in an attempt to upgrade the ponies. Also, some land-grant colleges were given horses for Equine programs. UVM and UNH are most recognizable, but even South Dakota State College equine program had its founding with remount Morgans. My wife’s first horse was a Morgan from the college. Not all the stallions were destroyed, as a number were on lease from Morgan breeders and returned, particularly to the Midwest, to found families which are still recognized.
Thanks to both of you for some historical data. I had forgotten about the transformation for the park/saddleseat mounts, but it’s incredibly encouraging to hear that that is being corrected, at least by some involved in the breed.
I am prejudiced in favour of the Morgans. In comparison to Duke, my Morgans have a little more refined looking heads but the general outline is completely familiar. They are hardy & versatile, but they can be a little like peanuts…. can’t have just one.
I have 3 Morgans who singlefoot, & a Standardbred who both paces & single foots.
Riding the pace is not easy, I always stand in my stirrups.
Riding the single foot is unique, comfy, & wonderful – I sit straight in the saddle and there is NO bounce, more like your pelvis is gently moving around like a wide swivel.
I rode a morgan in riding lessons for a year or two. Early-stage jumping, we made it up to cross-poles 🙂 She was 25, had taught her last little girl to jump, and ended up in good lesson program where the horses only did one ride a day, in private lessons. She was 16 hands, registered, but looked more like a draft cross. I saw her exact double once, but 12 or 15 years younger, on EquineNow in another city, advertised as a registered “draft-type Morgan.” By the time I met this horse she was getting stiff, needed careful warm up, but she was still a trooper. And a “good” horse, a horse that clearly wanted to be good. She came wide awake whenever she saw anything that looked like a jump, and nearly popped herself out of the cross-ties the day she saw someone else loading a trailer for a show, she wanted to go and get on so badly. She went into a decline and died quickly: one day she wouldn’t canter for me in lessons, two days later she was all hunched up in the pasture like an old cat, and over the weekend she was pts. I didn’t ever hear the exact diagnosis, I think just old age, things shutting down. I think that whoever had her at 10 or 12 had a real treasure. But by and large, there aren’t a lot of Morgans around here. And I wonder whether most of the riders I know think of themselves as “average riders.” Part of the fun for them seems to be dreaming that they will “go up the levels” in their discipline of choice, and so they need a horse with “potental” or “scope” even if it turns out to be way too much horse for them, and they never really do get comfy on it, can’t ride trails or even in the outdoor rings, etc.
Well, I’ll toss in my two cents worth, if only to keep things interesting. I dislike Morgans due almost exclusively to the temperament of all of the 20 – 30 I have met /seen in my life. Mostly the ones I’ve encountered have been being used for trail riding and they have ALL been wide-eyed, prancey-dancey fools. In 40 years I have not met one I would own, but have mostly seen ones that I love to look at; they are certainly attractive. The ONLY one I’ve met who wasn’t like that was a young mare who I started as a four year old, she was quiet and sensible but as ugly and conformationally flawed as the day is long. She did not look at all like a Morgan although she was registered, and I would seriously suspect there was some QH in her.
Where were these misfits? If you are from the East Coast or Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, you may well have met some “hot” show-type horses. There certainly are people in the breed who claim the show lines are too hot now, and can only be handled by professionals and gifted amateurs. I am surprised you ran across that type on a trail ride. On the other hand, I kinda like riding a horse who is “up” and who prances a bit. On trail rides, my Morgan will impatiently step out until he passes everyone and is leading. Trudging along with his head below his withers just isn’t his style!
I imagine that a lot of people think a trail horse needs to be a dead moving, dead looking horse that meanders with no regard for its surroundings.
I am always amazed by the number of people who want to teach their nice fast walking horses to walk slower. I love to cover country on a good fast walking horse who is looking around to see where we are going.
Also it would be hard for a Morgan to have any QH, the stud books were closed about the time QH came to be. If a Morgan looks like a QH it is more likely due to the amount of Morgan blood in the QH breed.
The QH was developed long after the morgan. It was based simply on time of the quarter mile and numerous breeds and horses qualified for that. In actuality, there were roughly 30 morgans used in the foundation QH books in the first 10 years of their registry according to one of the founders, Beale Queen. The old papers still have the designation of a circled M after some of the horses who were morgans although some QH breeders would use a different name. Some history here– http://www.creamridgemorgans.com/documents/justinmorgan_contribution_qh.pdf and http://www.creamridgemorgans.com/forsale/documents/MorganQuarterHorseconnection.pdf
Not me. I like a good walking, attentive horse that is aware of their surroundings. What I don’t want is a fire breathing, jiggy, spooky fool. lol We ride a lot in the mountains and in groups and none of the Morgans I’ve seen have done any good in either of these settings. Morganman, I’m in Western Canada and have no idea of the breeding of any of the ones I’ve seen. They very well could have been show bred but I know not all of them would have been.
In Western Canada you certainly would not have a show-type Morgan. Sorry those horses were a poor representation of the breed I have known. I certainly wouldn’t want a jigging idiot on a mountain trail either! 🙂
We must remember that the average person can’t actually train horses well either, so a lot of times a horse/breed will get a bad rap because of the lack of human ability.
I’ve no idea what’s going on with the Morgans that TG has seen, but I’ve known several that are used for trail, competitive trail, endurance, driving, pony club, jumping, dressage etc… and I’ve not seen one that behaved in an absurd way, even when they really had every right to be upset.
I’m also surprised by the number of people who would think my comment means I want a horse that trudges along, or that I want my fast walker to go slower. I didn’t say any of those things. I do want a horse that moves along in a sane manner, will ride in a group wherever I want and doesn’t need to be only at the front, isn’t prancing along not looking where it’s going. A horse that’s doing any of those things is not a horse I want to side hill along a mountain or ride relaxed in a group trying to visit. But why the assumptions that the only other option is a dead moving, low headed horse? To me, the ideal breed would be in between the two.
If it doesn’t apply then don’t assume that people assumed that it did. 🙂
I apologize if I came across that way. I agree that an ideal backcountry horse would be a combination of a surefooted mover who was not jigging along constantly. I had to ride a Morgan on a parade route who had no experience in that and I had my hands full as he pranced and snorted for 3 miles and then cantered back to the trailer. But, he never tried to bolt or freeze. Perhaps those 20-30 horses over a 40 year period were pulled from someone’s backyard and just taken up into the mountains-a bad decision and an unsafe one. I try not to paint all QHs with the “peanut roller” stamp and apparently your only exposure to Morgans has been in an environment where they did not react well at all. I am not doubting you, but I wonder how many other breeds would react the same. I try not to be “breed blind” but I have seen Morgans doing everything from police work to pulling carriages through fireworks to pushing cattle and while they will stare and snort, most of them will get on with the job at hand. A good ranch-type quarterhorse will do the same.
Well Morganman, you’ve said something that caught my attention in your last reply, that’s the mentioning of the type of exposure I’ve seen them in. That made me realize that under the circumstances, the horses that I would have noticed specifically would have been the bad actors, some of which certainly have included other breeds, not just Morgans. That also made me realize that there just MAY have been some Morgans around that I didn’t notice because they weren’t being idiots. I still stand by my original post in what my overall exposure has been, partly because I do also notice horses that impress me with good behaviour! lol But I am certainly wiling to admit there could have been some that I didn’t know were Morgans that were doing their job well.
Oh, and Mercedes, why wouldn’t I ASSume. lol :p
I am sorry for implying that you wanted a plodder. I must also admit that my beloved trusty old gelding is a complete idiot. And I love him dearly for it. He will prance and jump around acting stupid, he likes to look big and scarey. He is however as trustworthy as they come, he has taken things that most horses would explode over in stride. Calves on his back, a cow ran under his belly one time, long story, ropes around his legs and worst of all having to ride double with me and my daughter.
For us the stupid scarey look is just for show though I am sure people watching may not realize it.
Have to agree with you, TG. I’m in Australia and there are a few breeders here including my old riding school. I wasn’t a fan, all were flighty, spooky but were pretty to look at. I would recommend a English native pony, cobs or a cross for an average owner. I own a Highland Pony x TB, who is lovely to own and can turn her hoof to anything. I’ve found that these types are hardy, low maintenance and friendly.
I don’t know who you’re familiar with over there but you may want to check out Wirraway Morgans. Their one mare, imported from her who happens to be the daughter of two Morgan Sport Horse Award Winners came in, I believe 14th, in the this past Tom Quilty Gold Cup endurance ride and was the first morgan ever to do it. They have her son as well and are breeding very sane horse. I know the breeding on this side and have been in all kinds of situations with them from trails, competitions, parades, expositions etc. and they’ve been rock solid. http://wirrawaymorgans.com/mares
I don’t think a purebred is necessarily a good choice for the average owner. Years ago the ‘grade horse’ was the mount of choice for the casual rider. This horse was a ‘mutt’ if you will, tended to common sense and hybrid vigor – the purebreds were for the pros. I know they are pretty hard to find now and probably the product of backyard breeders with questionable knowledge, but there are still plenty of crossbreds that fit the bill – TB/QH, Morabs and quarabs, Welsh/TB, and Aztecas just for instance. I had a Welsh cob/Arab cross who I thought was pretty perfect too. When it comes to a solid trail horse type that’s purebred my first inclination would be the Standardbred. Also had one of those who was a really great, all purpose mare. Granted, if they’ve been on the track they have issues but they are much more level-headed than thoroughbreds and something your ‘average rider’ can take on successfully. I have both a TB and Arab now and agree in general with Merc’s assessment – although there are special cases (my Arab being one) they are generally better for more experienced horsemen who are willing to put a lot of time into training, not the rider who just wants to saddle up and enjoy the afternoon. I’ve never owned a QH so have no opinion – except for the godaweful conformation lines – or a Morgan but those I’ve ridden with have been great horses.
Crossbreds or grades didn’t make the pick for the simple fact that there’s no consistency in riding conformation among that group that would allow the average person to pick one without serious help. Ironically, one of the most consistent crossbreeds is the Morgan/Friesian, but that’s generally too much horse for the average owner and expensive.
I haven’t seen or experienced enough Morgan/Arabians, but logically that cross has potential for consistently producing a good riding type for most people as long as no halter bred Arabian is used or no excessively bred saddleseat Morgan is used. Unfortunately that can’t be guaranteed.
Standardbreds (and I love this breed) didn’t make the pick because they are predominantly of racing conformation and require extensive retraining when taken off the track, which is not something the average owner should, or can tackle in a way that is beneficial to the horse. The breed is pretty much idiot proof based on their temperament and general solid build, but they can not be ridden effectively or well by most average owners.
Choosing a horse shouldn’t simply be about which one won’t kill the ignorant or average, or give them too much of a hassle, but also about which one can protect itself against the ignorant or average by being generally well-built themselves.
You mention ‘trail’ riding, but I don’t believe the average owner simply wants to trail ride. Some may say they just want to do that, but invariably they don’t. They like to dabble having found other disciplines that intrigue them. There’s a big segment that end up wanting to do something else once they have a horse, so a racing conformed individual like a Standardbred is a bad choice. And on that topic, the average owner doesn’t work with or ride their horse consistently enough, so you get them pulling the horse out of a field or stall once or twice a week. With that in mind you have to pick a horse that has a better chance of standing up to that type of treatment. That eliminates horses of bigger bulk, horses of hotter temperament, horses of lesser ideal riding conformation, horses with weaker constitutions, etc…
Based on all that, I’m still calling the Morgan the top pick. 🙂
I suppose what you call ‘average owner’ can vary. Here, when I started out I knew about 30 people who rode and none of them ever had or ever wanted to do anything but trail ride. To me they are ‘average’ riders. A lot of them had QHs – the old fashioned kind – and 6-8 had SBs. These horses generally came from the SB rescue society and had some work put on them and I think were screened for suitability . My own SB mare had never raced but her previous owner had done cross- country and western games with her. I learned to jump on her and she could sail over 3’6. She was fine for local ‘B’ shows although she would never have gone to the ‘A’ level. The fact that these horses are level headed and tough as iron is why I personally recommend them for first time owners. And they are also ‘a dime a dozen’ !! 🙂
I don’t disagree with your last in terms of why they (Stbds) are good for the average owner, but I’ve long since ceased to only be concerned about the people.
Stbds are rather long suffering and will stand up to a lot of pounding, ignorant or otherwise. So this goes back to my original thoughts about the QH, a breed that puts up with a lot and often to its own detriment. That Stbd fits into that category.
They are racing and gaited conformed, so their natural tendency is to be heavy on the forehand and hollow. That’s not good (for the horse) if you then add on the weight and imbalance of your average rider.
I’ve done Competitive Trail and Endurance with Standardbreds and was able to beat a lot of Arabians, but then I knew which Standardbred/s I could get away with doing that on, knew how to condition my horse/s better than most in the sport, and could be creative in my training (like doing a majority of the stamina building by driving on a perfectly groomed, flat track, thus saving my horse’s back from my weight) etc…
I would recommend the Stbd to your average owner who wanted to drive and even compete in the cross country phase of driving. Fool proof. All the rest, not so much.
I once saw a demo of a Stbd doing reining…not really an endorsement for the breed or for reining. In fact, the mule reining I saw was better and still not something to write home about.
Certainly, the Stbd to pick for a riding mount is likely the one that sucked on the track. Those that can’t make the speed, or stay sound at speed often have a conformational reason.
Strikingly, one of the rumored ancestors of the original Justin Morgan horse was a “Dutch Horse”. I know the first time I saw a Friesian (Goliath in Ladyhawke-great movie), I was astounded at how much he looked and moved like a Morgan of the old type. One of the sons of “Figure” (Justin Morgan) was Bulrush. No picture exists of him, but he was said to have a very heavy mane and tail and more feather than the others. That line has almost completely died out but perhaps the Morgan/Friesian cross is just making a trip to the same well.
I’ve never seen a bad cross of the two, so it wouldn’t surprise me if that were true. The most consistancy, imo, of crossbreds is when both breeds share some historical commonality, even if distant past. Additionally, if both individuals are true to original type and not Americanized, then booyah!
Well, I agree with all of the pro-Morgan ideas, but…my first “adult” horse is half morgan; he had a rough start to life, though I don’t know all the details. His dam was grade. He started to develop arthritis in his hocks at 9 or 10, and at 16 the arthritis makes him sound for light riding only. He’s also always had sensitive feet! So much for that morgan sure- and hard-footedness. It’s a shame, because he has an awesome temperament, is super smart, and otherwise great and healthy. I heard (somewhere) that some morgan lines have soundness issues, although most others I’ve known have been super hardy.
That’s not really a fair comment considering this is a crossbred horse you’re talking about. It’s quite likely that all the issues came from the grade horse genes and not from the Morgan genes.
Ah, but mine is a purebred and developed similar issues at a similar age. You really, really have to watch leg conformation with Morgans… a lot ARE too straight behind. Also to watch out for: club feet, crooked front legs, etc.
No doubt! I’m just sayin’. Although he has the look of old type Morgan, he’s a good example of why indeterminate crossbreds might be a gamble
We have a Friesian/Morgan gelding for sale at the ranch. These two breeds are really not my thing, and I don’t condone attempting the cross, but something magical happened when this particular horse popped out. He is so well conformed, I just sit and stare at him sometimes, in spite of my bias. If you are in Alberta, come and snap this thing up. He’s exquisite.
Is he reasonably priced?
No, they are asking too much. I’ll see if I can get permission from the owner to photograph him.
I think the blog would really enjoy having some pictures of this prodigy! I have not seen any Friegans around here.
I agree with you based on conformation of the Morgan breed and the fact that breeders have done a good job keeping the breed usable! I’m not particularly a fan of the Morgan temperament however, you can’t beat a QH in the temperament department 🙂
I should clarify, I’m not anti-Morgan by any means. I own a pure QH and a grade Paint/Morgan…love them both 🙂 I’ve just known some fantastic QHs!
Certainly temperament is an individual matter and each of us does best with a particular type. There’s no denying that the QH temperament suits a lot of people, but my point was that an overly generous horse in this department often causes self-injury and that’s not good for the species.
There’s a lot of variance in QH’s by breeding and they can be quite different based on TB influence in their genetics. Some of the best working lines can be difficult to train because they are so thick (tolerant) yet devious (learn to take advantage of overly soft owners). These often make the best horses once you get their attention and they tend to be comfortable in their jobs. I have an array of personalities from the ‘I’ll just ignore you kick ride’ to overly sensitive and hot. The most responsive to human aids are the braver and the least responsive seem to be the least confident. The most sensitive mare would definitely go hard enough to hurt herself if asked. She doesn’t know the word quit.
I would say that… Morgans aren’t for everyone. They definitely are, on average, more “up” than your average QH, they are wicked smart and many have a strongly developed sense of fairness. My mare is a bit on the hot side but quite safe — easy to ride, hard to ride well. She is very athletic and “thinky” in a way a lot of QHs just aren’t. (To be fair — I have just not had good experiences with QHs.) I also own a young Morgan filly (not yet weaned) who should, if her relatives are any indication, be a bit easier to deal with but just as much fun.
A thinking horse for thinking riders, love my Morgans!
A horse that encourages, or even requires, a thinking rider is to be embraced.
Pfffft, Thoroughbreds are the best! I’ve (mostly jokingly) come to the conclusion that we really don’t even need all those other breeds, because Thoroughbreds can do it all!
Virtually all of the OTTBs I’ve known have been easy, friendly, uncomplicated, and quiet. There’s a 10 year old OTTB at my barn that packs around his 4 year old girl walk-trot.
There’s not a better, more athletic horse with more heart than a Thoroughbred.
Of course, I also don’t understand the appeal of andalusians, friesians, Lippizaners, baroque horses in general, colored cobs, or any sort of spotted horse (pinto, Appaloosa, knabstrupper), so my preferences are quite simple… I like bay Thoroughbreds, although I’ll settle for chestnuts. Colored horses, heavy riding horses, and hairy horses are just plain unattractive and unappealing to me.
That’s why this blog; to educate people on why that OTTB isn’t a very good choice for the average owner, why they struggle to get the horse off its forehand, and why because of that the horse suffers from inverted muscling, various soundness and behavioral issues.
Or, how to actually pick a good riding conformed TB from the tens of thousands that are suited for racing, and understanding the importance of understanding those differences for the benefit of horse and human.
As well, explaining why irrelevant things such as color should never hit the criteria list when deciding which horse is the better individual to ride.
All I can do is put the information out there. What people choose to do with it is entirely their own. I’d suggest, though, if you can’t understand the appeal of a true riding conformed individual such as a Lipizzaner, then you’ve not got a good grasp on equine conformation and biomechanics, nor have you had an opportunity to compare riding experiences of a racing conformed individual vs a riding conformed individual.
And so its entirely clear, I have nothing personal against TBs. Some TB’s are wonderful examples of their breed and some are not. I don’t allow personal equine preferences to cloud my judgment when examining individuals and accessing what they’re best built and suited for, even when choosing for myself. I long ago stopped making it about myself, instead making it about the horse.
That’s why I love this blog, because you discuss conformation and what it means for function so thoroughly!
I know color is irrelevant, and I have no doubt that Lipizzaners are great horses. I just don’t care for spots or some breeds. It’s 100% personal preference which has absolutely no bearing on the usefulness of the horses. I only brought it up to illustrate that my preferences are perhaps a bit odd, since most people love the characteristics I don’t. Since I don’t need a horse with any particular talent, I can be picky about other things ;).
One thing you said is, I think, unfair: “The OTTB – if it isn’t already unsound – requires retraining that shouldn’t be tackled by your average owner, nor could it be accomplished to the horse’s benefit by your average owner.” No horse that is green or in need of retraining is really appropriate for the average owner. I’m with you on soundness and conformation and all that, but counting a need for retraining against the breed in general isn’t fair. I think your assessment of Thoroughbreds isn’t quite an assessment of the breed in general, it’s more about OTTBs fresh off the track. What are your thoughts on Thoroughbreds (off the track or not) who have been in a regular riding program for some time?
Here’s a topic for another post–how much training does a horse need for the average owner, and what degree of retraining is the average owner reasonably capable of handling? And how much horse does the average owner need? The better the horse’s conformation, the better off both horse and rider will be, absolutely, but does the average owner really need a horse whose conformation makes it capable of doing Grand Prix jumpers or dressage, or advanced eventing? What aspects of conformation do you think absolutely must be correct for the average riding horse? Are there any conformation faults that aren’t a big concern for average riding?
I hope you don’t think I’m criticizing you or being argumentative; I have a lot of respect for you :).
What are your thoughts on Thoroughbreds (off the track or not) who have been in a regular riding program for some time?
Most are poorly trained and conditioned, as in, ridden on their forehands and displaying inverted muscling and posture. That isn’t, however, exclusive to TBs.
Since I am a stickler for fairness, let me answer that with a question. What source does the average owner have to obtain a reasonably priced TB, other than predominantly from racing breeders and racing trainers?
I think I’ve addressed a number of your last questions in various articles and certainly they are continually being addressed in the conformation series of which is almost complete. When the summary of our set of 6 horses is up, they will again be answered specifically in terms of conformation traits.
I tried to address how much horse an average owner needs, and how good the horse has to be for an average owner in this article in choosing a breed that is more consistantly of riding type and capable of medium level in a number of different disciplines to satisfy an average owner, who may be unclear which direction they want to take. The overall size and temperament of this breed is also in line with what an average owner would need; agreeability, trainability, sensibility, and generosity but without self-sacrifice.
It’s perfectly okay to criticize or be argumentative here, even with me, if it furthers the learning curve. But I thought neither of you.
Just to defend what Mercedes said, though she really doesn’t need my help, she did use the acronym, OTTB. An off the track horse is not just a typical green horse. It has had diet and shoeing and other handling that is atypical for young horses in many ways, and certainly not always the best for creating quiet well mannered horses.
It is the same for any horse that has been in a commercial setting where its value was only measured by its monetary potential. I spoke just yesterday with a young trainer who was mentioning reworking a professional’s horse back into a suitable mount for its teenage owner. Because the horse didn’t know how to be a horse, couldn’t respond to its new owner’s expectations, which were as much for a companion/pet as a performer, etc.
We all have our personal preferences. The question is, can we take the conformation and other mechanical/biological information and use it in purchasing our next horse or helping our current horse to stay more comfortable and sounder in the work we have for it, even if it is walking along a flat path for an hour or two a week? Can we go a step further and admit that our current horse can’t do what we want, and change what we want to help our horse?
I’ve been enjoying your difference of opinion. As much as I love my Morgans discussions get boring when everybody agrees.
God bless you. I have dealt with a few sweethearts that are TB’s, but most had awful temperaments, and I can verify since I know 2 of them since birth they had no good reason for it. And their feet are terrible. My farrier always is happy when he comes to my barn and has good feet with no issues. He says my morgan feet can bust rocks, LOL. But different people are suited to different breeds. Morgans are partners, they want to be involved, to be asked, not told. They will gladly die for you if they are confident in you and trust you. They never stop thinking, and love games and work and are easily bored. It’s a reason I love them. You don’t just get on and plug along; you are part of an integrated experience from the first moment and it makes the horse/human relationship come alive in technicolor.
I am what I believe is an average horse owner, have had Morgans for my whole horse life. Starting with a grade gelding when I was twelve, (I will be fifty-six in two months) My first gelding was too much horse for a green twelve year old,but we went on to have many great experiences together as I grew up and was my kids first horse. My first purebred Morgan, a foundation, western working bred gelding, who’s name was Brandies Tallyjack, just in case his breeder should happen across this, was the greatest horse ever. Got him as a green three year old and had him all his life. Any thing I wanted to try, he would do. When we came upon a team penning practice while out on a trail ride, he became a team penning horse with out having seen a cow before. When dressage sounded fun, he could do that. Parades, no problem. Babysitting that was fine. And while doing these things people always came to look, and tell me how beautiful he was. He was sound and healthy his whole life. After he passed away, there have been more Morgans in the family, one a beautiful gaited mare, who had to find a new home because of an abcess that we could not fix at our barn (no shoes allowed, no matter why), one gelding who went off to live with our daughter, and now a twenty year old gelding from a Morgan rescue. He has saddlebred out crosses from back in the thirties,I would not hold that against him, he is very obviously a Morgan! He can be intimidating from the ground as he is sixteen two hands, very up headed and alert, but he is very well behaved. Started his life as a country pleasure show horse, spent most of his life as an amish road horse, and now he is learning to neck rein and work off my leg. He is peppy for adults, but trustworthy with the little ones. All that to say, I would agree that Morgans make a great horse for the average owner!
Tellingson: Thank you for your note. People like you are the best promoters of the breed we could ask for.
Aw, every time I have to be away from the internet for a while I miss a great discussion. I agree with this article and its endorsement of Morgans, except for that in some areas, they are rare and therefore would have a price tag outside of “average owner” territory. I’m in western Canada and I can’t think of the last time I even saw a Morgan. But I grew up on east-coast Canada, close to New England and to several Canadian Morgan breeders, and knew Morgans to be tough as nails, athletic and reliable. Tempermentally: feisty, perky and alert, not plodders, but not excessively hot. I also knew of several Morgan/TB crosses that were very successful as eventers (I had one myself), the TB giving a bit more height and stride length over the pure Morgans. I’ll have to go see if I can find a picture, since it would be an old paper photo in a box somewhere, of my Morgan/TB eventer, and look at him with a more educated eye, since I was kid so what did I know except the horse could jump. My recollection is of basically TB-looking horse, somewhere over 16 hands, but a bit thicker-boned than many TBs and with way too much mane for easy braiding, but a girl I showed against had one that looked more or less like a Morgan only taller than average (as is the way of cross-breds).
I can’t recall ever seeing this cross. Of course I may have and simply not known. Would love to see some pictures. With any TB cross, my concern would be with what the TB individual looked like; if it was predominantly racing conformed or not, and whether or not the Morgan riding conformation traits consistently overrode the racing traits?
A neighbour boarded a retired TB/Morgan gelding at our farm with whom she had made the Long List for Eventing. He had finished at Rolex. He was a very nice boy and not overly tall: must have been short of 16H.
The first stallion I rode was a Morgan. He was quite lovely, and had a wonderful personality. He always wanted to be with you, but wasn’t rude about it. Had wonderful ground and under saddle manners. The gentleman who owned him was my mentor a few years ago on the way to start a traditional bridle horse the vaquero way. He had a few quarter horses, paints, TBs, and sometimes the occasional Appaloosa or Arab, but he mostly had Morgans, both carriage and riding types. Most of them outdid the “stock type” horses on the ranch, and were mostly a LOT more intelligent. I would love to own a Morgan myself soon.
Wonderful discussion. Morgans are non-existant here (New Zealand), and I have been an Arabian fan for years. One of the advantages of being at the ends of the earth, is that it has only been in the last 20 years, that the breed has been contaminated by the “show” type. My old fashioned purebred gelding was my endurance horse for years, these days we compete at L2 dressage and play around with a bit of jumping. However, when I went to buy a more dressage orientated horse, I was a bit gob smacked at the price of what was on offer (i’m on an average income!), so ended up with the classic NZ Warmblood – TB/Clydie cross. Not too big, uncomplicated and low maintenance and can turn their hooves to most other things depending on the cross.
Actually, I just checked and there are enough Morgans in New Zealand to have a Morgan Horse Association of New Zealand! (They kind of sneak up on you). The website shows the April 2014 issue of Horse & Pony and there is a Morgan on the cover.
I love my Motrgan crosses. My first horse back in 1970 or so was a Morgan x mare and looking back, we were very lucky to have her. She was very type-y and we bred her to Morgans three times and kept the offspring for our family use. Bred the one daughter to an AWB (mostly TB) stallion who was very much of the same ‘type’ physically and we have the resulting filly (now mare) here as well. They have made the best school horses I have had, being appropriate for beginners to fairly advanced. They have great ‘heart’ and are capable, responsive and sensible. (The one possible exception being the little Morab gelding I bought: poor guy had a bad beginning that it has taken him years to get past. He is still wired a bit too tight for the average person to deal with. Friends who have Arabians laugh and tell me it is to be expected. Pity.) The other partbreds took a lot of riders from w/t to over fences (Hunt Seat and EQ) and held their own at open shows, did 4-H and rode miles and miles of roads and trails. As I said, I love them to bits: at the same time I also love my TB’s – for similar if different reasons.
I can spell: really. It’s typing I get messed up by. MORgan.
So do Morgans fit into the classification of Baroque? I saw it mentioned somewhere in a post on here. And is Baroque considered a “type” or does it only cover certain breeds?
Not really baroque, as that describes the breeds that existed then, but bearing many similarities, mostly riding horse conformation, a near level to level spine from SI joint to base of neck, proper leg conformation with correct angulation, a little less ‘dressage style’ as there can be a tendency to a little higher set stifle in drafty types because of femur/tibia lengths, but still more correct than say the post legged tendencies of racing breeds, etc., and overall height that tends in the traditional horses to be at or below 15.2 hands were leg bones and feet are in line with total weight of animal to stay sound, etc.
In the long run, the lessons of the blog are not about breeds per se, but finding in any breed a horse that comes closer to ‘riding conformation’ so that it can stay sound and happy in work if you plan to ride, not drive or race.
I ride an arab, though not a fancy one. Mine’s a backyard critter (~14 hh, non-typey, wonky back legs) from unfamous parents. If you have the chops to get along with Arabs, they make good riding horses and you can get ’em cheap. But, they’re not for everyone.
Nick can be hot and gets pissy. She will not tolerate rough treatment or poorly-adjusted tack. And she’s smart, prone to anticipate, and easily bored. She’s like… a horse border collie, kinda. Having a variety of things to do keeps her interested and happy, mindless drill infuriates her. I’ve ridden her for twelve years (she’s 16 this year) now and I adore her but I also understand why her style of critter might not work out for everyone. It’s like… she’ll give me her all, but only if I also bring MY best to the plate. That’s a lot like work, sometimes. I think she’s worth it, but maybe not everybody wants to try that hard every day. 🙂
Whatever your horse, please take conformation-style pictures through your ownership. Horses can and do change A LOT as you go on and the pictures will help you see that. I wish I’d taken more — here is my horse Nick through the years: http://imgur.com/a/ighbO (She was weedy and thin when I started working with her. I didn’t own her until years later.)
Regular progression pictures are an excellent idea. Taken every 6 months or so, in the same spot, with the same stance is ideal.
Love the pictures. Many years ago my first horse was a 3 yr old Arab (not smart but cheap), and he looked like a grey mule for a few years, ugly color, puffy forelock, big ears, big teeth, seriously awkward. Finally at age 7 and into 8 he filled out, and went from ugly duckling to swan. You would not know he was the same horse from the first two years to his prime. Arabs are just very slow to mature, nothing to be done about it. We started Competitive Distance racing when he was 7 (only a few per year, nothing intense). Always a bit skittish, but got better with age. He ate my dad’s jeep (lucky he lived through that), played with our crow, followed me and loved me like a dog, always ran to greet me. You just don’t get more personality than with Arabs. But I don’t recommend them for “average” owners or beginners. I agree, they demand 110% from you too.
I’ve raised Morgans for thirty five years. I love them. Yes, I’ve had a few hot ones, but I have never felt unsafe on a single one. I find them to be extremely smooth to ride and this is important at my age. I once had a gelding, very show bred, that was extremely typy, big neck, chunky body and about fifteen hands. I sold him to a family that started jumping him and ended up eventing. With their children he placed first out of 44 horses in the dressage phase. You could drive him anywhere safely. I also leased him to children for 4-H. Once he was in a class at the fair when another horse had bucked off his rider and was streaking toward our rider. Our Morgan leaped to the side, the saddle slipped under him and the rider hung there. The horse never moved a muscle as the other horse ran circles around him. Our rider won the class after the judge helped her get out from underneath him. I have a quarter horse for reining right now, but am selling him. I like him, but I can’t “read” him.He seems really quiet and dead, then just kind of goes off bucking. I need to stick with Morgans
Thanks for sharing your Morgran experiences with us!
Oh how I love this article!!! There is nothing better than a non-Morgan owner tooting my breed’s horn and pointing out the rampid flaws of the prominent breeds.
I started riding Morgans at age 7. 19 years later, I’ve ridden QH, TB, draft crosses, Arabs, Fresians, Andelusians, Lusitanos, Pasos, TWH, etc., and I LOVE my Morgans the most. Not saying that other breeds dont have their good qualities and there are definitely gems of each breed or cross out there. But overall, you cant beat the personality, quality, longevity, heart, or versitality of the Morgan.
I have to diagree. Back when “Justin Morgan ,Had A Horse.” they were built much like the Halflibgers.Then they decided they needed to look like arabs. So in my Opinion tThey most certainly NOT stayed true. Just my opinion.
Having used and worked with both breeds, I do not find they that they are similar in either conformation, muscling or temperament. If you you are referring to having more body and not being as refined, then that perhaps might be true. But that is just my opinion and your experience may be different. Morgans are partially descended from Arabians and Byerley Turk horses and like Arabians, many Morgans have one less vertebrae which is why many morgans have a shorter back than some breeds. The old type morgans still exist and are bred on and true. But they are not nearly as plentiful, ’tis true. http://www.cornerstonemorganclub.com/ The refinement you see in modern morgans isn’t from Arabian blood but the infusion of old type saddlebred and hackneys. The book Names in Morgan Horse Pedigrees Hardcover – January 1, 2000 by the long respected Morgan breeder Mabel Owen is very educational about bloodlines and make up of the breed.
My understanding via paleontologists is that the ‘one less vertebrae’ is in fact not true, at least across the board. People will say one less thoracic vertebrae (meaning one less set of ribs), one less lumbar vertebrae, and I’ve even heard two less vertebrae (one of each thoracic and lumbar). Many, some, a few, ocassionally…there’s no hard data (at least that can find) that gives percentages of each occurance in the breed, but it’s certainly not ‘all’ Arabians. One can palpate their horse and count to find out in which of the four groups their Arabian resides.
HUH??? Haflingers are a draft (pony) breed. Morgans are a multi-purpose breed, never have looked like draft horses being quite a lot more upheaded. I’ve looked at thousands of photos and illustrations of Morgans over the past few years, showing horses from the early 1800s to now, and can’t remember a single one that looked at all like a Haflinger! Which is not to say they were never used for draft purposes, because they were, but that was (and is, to some degree) because they are multi-pupose — Back in the old days your Morgan was your plow horse, your buggy horse, and your go-anywhere riding horse. When the use of horses in harness declined in the early 20th century, yes, Morgan breeders crossed in lighter types (usually of breeds that had a lot of Morgan in them anyway, like Saddlebreds — but also some Arabs) to get a better riding horse… The breed needed that to survive.
To some degree, you are correct that the present-day Morgan is different from the descriptions in the old Agricultural bulletins. But then, look at the portrait of Ethan Allen 2nd, or the old photo of Gifford Morgan, and you see a high quality horse that would fit just fine in a present day Morgan class. Gifford might be at the Lippitt Country Show, and Ethan Allen at the Grand National, but they were and are unmistakably Morgan. It really is truly remarkable that an obscure horse of mixed ancestry was able to have such dominant genetics that 250 years later you can still pick a Morgan out of a field of horses. By all accounts those tightwad Yankees consistently sold the best Morgans off those Northeast farms to be shipped far away and crossed with trotters, pacers, quarter-milers, indian ponies, you name it. Good god, there shouldn’t even be a breed left! Instead, we have enough Morgans with enough variety that it has given every little bloodline fan club and in-breeder plenty of grist for their never-ending feuds!
The Morgan horse is sadly not the horse it was 40 years ago. The Park Horse classes and the money /prestige connected with “having a horse with high knee and hock action” caused man Morgan breeders to sneak in American Saddle horse into the Morgan breed. What’s in the Morgan Horse magazine looks like an American Saddle horse. There is a great deal of anger among breeders and owners about this on both sides of the issue. So, yes, the old style of Morgan does fit your blog but ,no, that’s not the bulk of Morgans out there, and the old lines are vanishing because they are not ” in vogue”. To see such a wonderful breed vanishing to fit “what moves hot and flashy” in the show ring is disappointing at the minimum. However many dog breeds and horse breeds are ruined to fit the winning show ring look.
Robbin, we are out here, quietly biding our time, waiting for the opportunity for a comeback. We are small in number, and don’t do the massive advertising, and some of us have breeding on the backburner until the economy improves. I do believe there will come a time when all Morgan breeders are screaming for the “old” blood. When I see the pedigrees of the “park” Morgan Horses, I see more and more line/in-breeding, it can’t go on forever. Eventually, it will become fashionable to put the Morgan back in the Morgans, until then we hang on, and hope they realize sooner rather than later.
Texoma: Even though I raise morgans with some of that saddlebred blood way back in there, I agree with you that at some point the Morgan breed will have to go and bring in Lippitt or Lambert or some old working Western blood to clean up what the brother/sister/father/daughter in-breeding will eventually create. I can only say that it is a compliment to the essential solidity of the morgan genetics that we have not had a major incident of genetic disaster like dwarfism or sterility or some other disease.
I hope that you breeders out there keep quietly breeding for the best you can. The show bloodlines are going to need you eventually.
Robin, I agree the present day Morgan as seen in TMH is not the horse that existed 40 years ago. However, if you look at the pictures of the old Morgans in the magazine back in the 60s, you will see a lot of thick necks, mutton withers and low headsets. There were some exceptionally fine horses like Sealect of Windcrest, Ben Don, Orcland Leader, Whippoorwill Duke and Lippitt Ashmore, but there were a lot of not-so-greats as well. The average Morgan has been changed by the breeding choices made in the last 50 years. What is ironic is that if you go back to the 1870s and 80s, the same outcry was made that the “trotting craze” was ruining the Morgan horse. The breed survived the “trotting craze” and in fact the Foundation Morgan advocates overlook the fact that prior to the 1920s, their “clean-bred” horses had a great deal of infusion of outside blood, as trotting and pacing mares were brought to Morgan stallions. I contend that the Morgan breed will survive the present “show” breeding, particularly because the saddlebred and hackney blood cannot be brought in any more due to blood typing. The breed will revert to the norm. They will still be unmistakably Morgan-maybe with a bit more refinement in the neck and bend in the poll, and a bit more height at the withers, but still Morgan without a doubt. Of greater concern to me is the shrinking of the gene pool through A.I., ova transfer and quite probably in the future, cloning of a popular performance or breeding horse. I think long term those three factors have the potential to cause deadly recessive genes to become widespread in the breed.
Would you be willing to have a look at a few pictures of a morgan for me? I like the analysis you did on Duke. I feel generally this horse is good in confirmation but it would be helpful to hear the technical terminology from you.
You can send the pictures to the blog e-mail addy and I’ll be happy to give some general impressions. Anything more in depth than that and I charge for the service. firstname.lastname@example.org
Pingback: Hooves | Neversummer and Nocturne
I agree that they have been bastardized with the introduction of the Saddlebreds in the 1940s. I have a Lippitt Morgan mare and I was told she was gaited when I went to see her. Sadly, she isn’t, but I can understand why the previous owner thought so. She’s only 13.3 hands but can out trot a 16 hand TB. She literally throws her front legs forward so she doesn’t have much of that up and down motion associated with the normal trot. You can easily sit it, and she can do it for hours. We did a 35 mile endurance ride this past fall and she came in second place. Pretty darn impressive considering that she was 18 yrs old at the time and had never done an endurance race of any distance before. I just ride her a lot so she was in condition for it. Only horse that beat us was, naturally, an Arabian.
Nice to see this is still being read and commented upon.