Morgan Horses in Vermont

The Morgan horses were pretty much the stars of the show at the first Vermont state fair in 1853.

Upon the track in front of the grandstand a race between two trotting horses was in progress, which the people were encouraging by waving hats and even coats, and in the enclosure one could see various horses being led about, each surrounded by his interested critics; in fact, were it not for the words printed underneath the engraving, “Vermont State Fair, September 13, 14, 15, 1853,” it might be a depicted scene of a racetrack a half century later, with a horse race taking place, rather than an engraving of a state fair with its hundreds of exhibits.

Whether the Morgan horse is indebted to Vermont for his care or Vermont to the horse for his reflected glory is the interesting question. While at times the state has been faithless for a period of years in the craze for speed bringing in breeding lines of other horses to mingle with Morgan blood, still her heart has been true to the little horse and his progeny, and she has invariably gone back after these lapses to the careful breeding of the Morgan horse families. For the state, the Morgan horse has done much, dividing the honors with the Merino sheep of being the finest product. From these two industries Vermont has reaped a magnificent return, and it is by justice that Vermonters have built in their hearts monuments which are reproduced in each succeeding generation and are as enduring as the granite of their hills.

At the state fair of 1910 just over the exhibition of the Morgan horses was, as in 1853, the feature of the fair.

The sheep were there and won enthusiastic admiration, but a fine horse wins more than admiration always; he compels a bit of reverence with instinctive love. The day appointed for the governor‘s day dawned bright and brought thousands of loyal Vermonters to the fair, and brought back to memory the same day of the fair a half century ago, when secretary Seward was speaking on the grounds on behalf of the call for the union cause.

His audience would have been more respectable in point of numbers had he not been obliged to divide his honors that day, at least, with the great horse Ethan Allen, who is holding his court on another part of the grounds.

The sympathy of Vermonters was with the union, but the horse held her heart. The sons, perhaps, and their sons, of these same Vermonters who admired Ethan Allen then were at the state fair this past month and cheered lastly when the voice through the megaphone announced that the governor of the state would then review the state cadets. Their drill was inspiring, for the young manhood of the state never showed to a better advantage than as they passed the thousands of spectators and their governor standing to receive their respectful salute.

Following the parade the voice through the megaphone announced the Grand Cavalcade of the premium stock. Glorious, indeed, were the prize bulls and cattle, oxen, coach and draft horses, and constant applause greeted these splendid blue ribbon winners as they were lead slowly by the grandstand, but when the last tears were over, as the 25 yoke of oxen majestically swept by, the voice through the megaphone announced with an impressive dignity, “The people of the state of Vermont will now review the Morgan horses,” a hush of expectancy came over the spirit of the grandstand, and even the hucksters stopped their hoarse cries, joining the general silence; one felt it to be a moment in state history.

The people assembled were interested heart and soul, and the voices seemed as out of place as they would in the midst of a symphony concert. As the horses were led by, some one hundred and fifty of them, the voice through the megaphone would announce the name and often his family breeding.

When the last satiny coat had passed in review the tension gave way and men were shaking their hands, congratulations were everywhere and one heard nothing but well known Morgan names above the general chatter.

Listening to all the anecdotes would have taken hours. Every farmer present seemed to feel personal pride in an old stage coach horse who, at thirty-five years of age, still gaily walked in the parade; his years of hard service had kept him in fine condition, and you were proudly informed that he had outlived eight horses in his partnership duty.

If you lingered with your informant you were reminded of an old mare in the parade who, at 28 foaled her last colt which trotted by her side, her years of work not interfering with her occasionally winning a local horse race nor her maternal duties.

Perhaps as good a story as any was told by a farmer of Sheffield; it seems that in the early seventies, when wood was being drawn for the use of wood-burning locomotives, thousands of cords were hauled from the side of Wheelock Mountain to Greensboro Bend Station in the St. Johnsbury and Lake Champlain railroad.
Hundreds of teams of horses were engaged in the work and there was great competition as to which pair should haul the heaviest load. A pair of Morgan horses won by hauling over five tons in one load, while they themselves only weighed together seventeen hundred pounds. The names and breeding of these horses with the names of their owner and driver are still on record in Sheffield.

Not only from Vermont, but from every source in which he is known comes a tribute to the Morgan horse, and so well does he stand that when a man owns a particularly good horse he is apt to sanguinely conclude the horse must have “some Morgan in him.”

Between the so-called Morgan and the genuine article, however, there is a long step. The step between the honest hope and dishonest claim. People are also prone to present the name Morgan to any horse that portrays the type; while all of this is a general tribute to the admirable characteristics of the Morgan, it is like all flatteries, unfortunate for donor and the recipient, for while a horse may be a good one and show the Morgan type even, it is decidedly unfair to the purely bred Morgan to have a horse who resembles him in many ways, even labeled a Morgan horse, for the Morgan virtues have been proven to be transmitted by inheritance only, and a “just as good” virtue is always counterfeit. To assume a virtue if you have it not makes for better deportment in men and women, but fails when we assume a quality for an animal.

Much has been said about the Morgan Horse farm at Middlebury, for this farm is maintained by the government for the purpose of restoring this breed, and is an important arm of the Agricultural Department. The Bureau of Animal Industry has been severely criticized by the true Morgan horse lovers, because they have so few well bred Morgans, and the pedigrees of these few show wide avenues of different blood. Even the stallion who heads the stud has so small a percentage of Morgan blood that the genuine Morgan horseman would not breed to him.

This horse is an individual of merit, but to expect from him with his pedigree anything but mongrel breeding is impossible. Why this should be so when there are a few purely bred Morgans to be obtained, as evinced by the state fair of 1910, here’s a question put to the department and is answered by the statement that while it is true some purely bred Morgans are to be found, the owners prize them so highly that they are out of the reach of the purse of uncle Sam.

This is poor economy. The taxpayer can better afford to pay for the support of a small stud farm of the best obtainable specimens of inbred Morgans than to maintain an experimental farm where we find again the sanguine hope to eventually produce a “just as good” horse, but which can never be anything but a counterfeit.

Every finely bred Morgan stallion or mare should be bought and owned either by the government or state of Vermont. There are not many all told and the entire number would not cost Uncle Sam what Italy or Germany have paid for breeding purposes for a single horse. Every American should know that we have a national horse, one who combines more sterling qualities than any other breed. Vermont might well make it an issue of her own. Her rugged hills and her climate have produced the horse, and at this late day she can still restore the breed if she refuses to experiment in breeding.

Some few men of means and horse lovers have kept their Morgan breeding carefully free from outside crossing for the past 30 years, breeding for their individual pleasure and also some of the wise men from out of the west, quick to grasp the best, whether it be in methods of agriculture or in livestock have today some splendid specimens.

Some of this stock will show 15.1 hands which would indicate that the care and more comfortable quarters than the earlier horses knew have added a full hand to the hard worked little Morgan of the half century ago.

America can challenge the world to produce his equal as a utility horse, and if Justin Morgan was an Arabian horse descendant, as we must believe he was, his Oriental characteristics have blended so well with the blood it came in contact with that a composite horse was the result, which developed, under the stern discipline of those early Vermont farmers, a character and quality not before or since surpassed.

Good, clean limbed, deep chested, fleet horseflesh that is long lived and healthy is what the man needs who keeps one horse for his family; what the farmer needs for his all-around work, paying his own board and a surplus added for his owner, working hard six days and on Sunday sedately taking the family for an afternoon drive and when once a year he is carefully brushed up and rested a little he adds to the gaiety of nations by winning the purse at the crowning event of the year, the horse race at the county fair; what the gentleman whip needs for his team, horses willing and anxious for the 30 mile spin at a brisk trot; what the man on the speedways of the world needs, roadsters of quality and endurance as well as speed, and all these characteristics are the heritage by birth of the Morgan horse.

The feeling evinced by the people of Vermont present at the state fair this year, in reviewing their Morgan horses, should be contagious and not bound by state lines. Americans one and all should be proud of the Morgan horse, and claim all glory for him as our national horse.