The Morgan Horse breed was developed by the US government in an attempt to create the perfect cavalry mount for the US military. They needed a horse that would be strong enough to carry soldiers and all their gear, have great endurance, would keep its head in chaotic situations, would be small enough to mount from the ground, and easy to train. Morgans were used heavily on both sides of the battle during the Civil War.
This past fall I went to New England for a wedding, and was able to make a stop in Middlebury, Vermont to tour the US Morgan Horse Farm. My pony Clay is half Morgan, and I am kind of a history nerd, so it was thrilling to walk the aisles, peeking into the box stalls, and studying the beautiful old oil paintings of the foundation stallions that lined the walls. Every horse there was distinctly Morgan, with those trademark large, dark eyes heavily curtained by lashes, and all with the same curious, calm yet lively expression. I was trying not to drool on myself, but it was no use trying to hide the truth: I was in full-blown horse-nerd heaven.
I stopped for a long time at a painting of Figure, the stallion considered to be the father of the breed. What an incredible horse. He was bred by a man named Justin Morgan, who owned him in his first years, but Figure changed hands many times in his life. Figure was born in MA in 1789 and stood at about 14 hh. Throughout his life he was used for everything from breeding, to clearing land, farming, sweepstakes racing, parades (he was ridden by President James Monroe in a parade, in fact!), teaching soldiers to ride, and hauling freight. He was finally retired and put out to pasture a couple years before he died, at age 32, from an injury caused by a kick from another horse. He is burred in Tunbridge, VT.
The US Morgan Horse Farm was established in 1907 by the US government, and it is grandiose...Colonial architecture, solid marble foundation and three stories connected by an interior ramp system for the horses. Downstairs is a gigantic indoor riding arena and rows of "youngster" stalls that open up into small outdoor paddocks, filled with rambunctious, gangly weanlings who eagerly crowded around as soon as they saw me coming. It was cool and dark down there, thanks to the barn being built into the side of a picturesque, grassy hill. I almost asked one of the grooms if I could move in.
Horses helped shape this country in many, many ways and Morgans in particular are a big part of our history, from carrying soldiers into battle to logging and farming, to providing daily transportation before the invention of the automobile...It's no wonder the Morgan is the official state animal of Vermont....which just goes to show I'm living in the wrong state (the Badger?? Really, Wisconsin??)