The Oldest American Sport Horse

 
                                                                                              By Ruth Ring Harvie
 (First published February 1984 in "Dressage and Cross Training"  and adapted for this website) A current advertisement for an imported European sport horse stallion reads " Remount and harness horse, average height 15.2 to 16.2 hands, solid colors, known for action and strength, main use today for dressage, jumping and cross breeding." This description might have been used to promote the majority of Morgan horses bred from the middle of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century. For years, Morgans with exactly these characteristics were being exported for the upgrading of foreign stock, even to England, the acknowledged leader in blood-horse production.

 Volumes I and II of the Morgan Horse Register records horses known to have had excellent conformation and type synonymous with descriptions of the finest Swedish, German and Polish imports. Yet descendants of the early registered Morgans have a documented lineage traced with more certainly than many of the current imports, whose pedigrees were clouded by the loss of records and breeding stock in World War II. There is reason for those who demand a quality sport horse, and who prefer to buy American, to consider the Morgan.

 In the 1800's, LL Dorsey of Middletown, Kentucky, was breeding horses outstanding by today's Olympic standards, having size and quality known then and now as 'world class.' Many of these were registered as Morgans, yet carry he very best Thoroughbred blood as well. For years the blood-horse influence on the Morgan Breed has been minimized by its association, as has that of the Arabian stallion Zilcaadi, whose blood comes through the registered stallion Morgan Golddust. Many Morgans traced to the Thoroughbred Boston and, not surprisingly, many of the illustrations in the early Morgan registers show a powerful resemblance to the great English sire Diomed. Not only did many of his descendants win the Kentucky Derby, many of them raced under saddle and in harness across this entire continent, and were registered Morgans. Breeders in Kentucky and Tennessee are known to have refused over twenty thousand of dollars for Black Hawk grandchildren out of mares who were granddaughters of such notables as Sir Archy and Glencoe.

 In the late 1800's, it was not unusual to find a son of Black Hawk out of a Duroc daughter standing in California to mares who had crossed the continent on their own four feet. Most of the horses with this type of breeding stood sixteen or sixteen and half hands high, which was average for the Thoroughbreds of the day. Sixteen-two hand Morgans were even bred to Dixmont, Maine, out of Virginia-bred mares (TB) by Black Hawk and Morrill sires, where the sport horse tradition now continues with Hanoverian sires! In Michigan, the Morgan sire Green Mountain Black Hawk stood to daughters of Glencoe.

 No stranger to quality blood-horses, Richard Sellman of Texas chose the Morgan stallion Major Gordon, whose daughters formed the foundation band of this most influential family of mares. Sons of Meteor and The Admiral were used on these mares to produce horses for ranch use. These blood-lines breed true today with remarkable uniformity. Sellman's discriminating taste and uncompromising selectivity led to the purchase of Headlight Morgan, from the Morgan Horse Company of Carpenterville, Illinois, a famous stopping place of large quality, enduring horses on their way west. The old Brunk family of Morgans also preserves quality blood lines from the foundation mares of Frank Mc Gavock of Nashville, Tennessee. Present-day Morgan sport horse breeders prize the blood of Daniel Lambert and Jubilee King.

 Before the motorization of the Calvary, the United States government, through the War Department and the Department of Agriculture, entered into a horse-breeding endeavor to preserve this type of horse. Losses of both Thoroughbred and Morgan horses in the Civil War, the development of the railroad, and other sociological factors narrowed the genetic base for quality horses to a degree which alarmed these agencies. Thus the Morgan came to share, with the European breeds, the tradition of government sponsored Remount service.

 The horses researched and selected by Col. Battel of Middlebury, Vermont, and subsequently given for use to the USDA and the War Department Remount Program, were fine examples of the international-style sport horse. Line-bred descendants of General Gates, now considered the genetic base for current Morgan pedigrees, and of Troubadour of Willowmoor, when crossed with the early Remount service bloodlines, produce excellent horses to this day. The Remount stallions were rigorously tested, offspring were culled ruthlessly, and the highest standards of soundness and conformation were set for resultant offspring.

 Daniel Lambert, Madison Lambert, and Donlyn (later purchased for use at the Imperial Stud by the Emperor of Japan) were the original Army Horse Breeding Program stallions, followed by Bennington, Red Oak (a particularly prepotent sport horse sire), enlisted men remember holding beloved, trusting mounts while their superior officers and Veterinary officers administered lethal injections. Thus perished the largest and best of the male offspring from the Remount Programs, for this nation was at war, and there was no place for mounted units. The only Calvary in action was annihilated in the battle for Bataan.

 Although many lines to the aforementioned stallions have died out, several private breeders preserved a few of these families. In addition to Richard Sellman's Texas stock, Californians Roland G. Hill, William Randolph Hearst, and W.T. Carter bred outstanding horses of great quality. Crosses to Headlight Morgan, The Admiral, Red Oak, Querido, Sonfield, and Gay Mac are sought after by Morgan sport horse breeders today.

 Equally important are descendants of old Brunk breeding from Illinois, Joseph C. Brunk brought back stock from Tennessee to Illinois, rich in the blood of Black Hawk, Allen King, Allen Franklin, Penrod, Jubilee King, Juban, and Red Vermont are equally desirable blood lines. The Brunk breeding also returned to the breed blood of Indian Chief, through the great mare Lady de Jarnette, his daughter. Indian Chief was a bright bay, with a stripe and a left hind stocking. He stood sixteen hands high and was a famous Kentucky sire. Sellman and Brunk bloodlines alike share the influence of this sire, through the stallion Jubilee de Jarnette.

 More recently, crosses with Upwey Benn Don and the mare Upwey Benn Quietude in the pedigree have contributed to the quality sport horses. Thoroughbred blood comes in again through the mare Quietude.

 Until the 1960's, the Morgan maintained its image as a using or working horse, on ranches, competing in long distance and endurance rides, performing in some of the earliest combined training events, and in dressage and carriage driving. The versatile Morgan was an all-round pleasure horse, giving years of service, with soundness and longevity - its stock and trade.

 Typical of the Remount heritage is the mare Lady Linsley. She was bred by Lester Biesecker of Topeka, Kansas, and brought east by Muriel Gordon of Middleburgh, New York. She has taken owner Nancy Splaine Guyotte through the A Level in Pony Club, through years of eventing, and is still producing offspring of exceptional soundness and talent. Her daughter is typical of the oldest American sport horse Sired by a Thoroughbred, Kate Linsley [in 1984 was] AHSA Area I Champion in Combined Training. [The previous] season she was in fourth place, nationally. Her purebred and partbred siblings are consistently good performers.

 Mona Sansoucy and Lee Fergusson have ridden Morgans to advanced standings in dressage. A fifteen-three hand Morgan mare called Mariah was Open Jumper Champion, and the sixteen hand Sparrow's Dandy Date is well-known in open jumping. Winning performances have been given at Ram Tap and Pebble Beach Horse Trails and Events by offspring of Kings River Morgan and Gold Dollar. Rancher Creek Carter, Cammando K.R., Prince Dollar, and Redwood Morgan all campaigned in eventing in California under such aliases as Hypodermic and High Potential. It is no wonder that people do not realize they [were] Morgans.

 With the emphasis within the breed association on show ring activities, and styles mostly dictated by the American Saddlebred tradition, recognition from the Morgan establishment has not been forthcoming. Only in Combined Driving have Morgans been recognized as a breed to be noticed. . . .

 Any serious student of Morgan horses should carefully read the book Morgan Horses by Peggy Jet Pittenger, published by A.S. Barnes. Her research into the history of the breed is impeccable, and of the greatest help to those interested in purchase or breeding.

 For sport horse use, we tend to seek out within-breed out crosses which seem to revive genetic vigor, producing more size and substance. Effort is also made to avoid high inbreeding coefficients to certain stallions where short - or 'pony' - gaited characteristics prevail. Excellence in balance and coordination are more pronounced in some families than others, and a certain amount of selectivity is prudent. Before they become extinct, bloodlines back to the famous Bennington-Artemisia cross are desirable in order to keep the genetic base as wide as possible. Careful breeding can produce individuals of show quality, type, disposition, and generally predictable size (ranging from 15.2 - 17 hands high).

 Remount types differ somewhat from the horses bred for halter and show ring classes today. Often Remount bred Morgans grow unevenly and mature more slowly, generally growing into themselves as late as eight years of age. Since longevity is one of their most endearing characteristics, particularly for dressage enthusiasts who have such an investment in schooling, one reaps benefits on the other end of the scale.

 As it is with the Lippizaner, wisdom in going slowly and not expecting too much until seven or eight is a good practice. Excellent bone and soundness of limb are the rule, and inheritable unsoundnesses are almost unheard of. I would consider these horses to be 'warmer-bloods,' for they have all the energy and sensitivity of the Thoroughbred, with an almost indescribable 'cow-sense,' which may come from the years of selectivity for ranch work. In any case, there is an almost sheep-dog kind of companionship which develops between these horses and their riders, as their willingness to please and their untiring efforts become more appreciated. Generally, very easy keepers, it is usual for a Morgan in hard work to need only good hay and four quarts of concentrated ration.   . . .

 Whippoorwill Morgans of Old Lyme, Connecticut, are crossing the best of the old Brunk-bred mares with the stallion Blackwood Correl from Nebraska. A large, compact black horse, Correl's offspring are known for their scopy way of going and tremendous impulsion. [In 2000 Whippoorwill Ebony (aka, 1 Black Tie) owned by Catherine Echternach, was a USDF All-Breed Winner having been awarded a 62.063% at Grand Prix level, Freestyle].  Margaret Gardiner of Kennebec Morgan horse Farm in South Woolwich, Maine, has been breeding Morgan sport horses for years. Her foundation mare was Helen May, purchased form the Roland Hill ranch in California. At Heron Cove, in Brunswick, Maine, we have bred Morgans for our own use in Pony Club, Dressage and Combined Training. Two of our youngsters will mature at 16.2 hands, one at 16.0, and one at 17 hands high. Conformation and soundness were our most important breeding goals, but the size and marvelous temperaments were an added bonus.

 Enthusiasts are convinced that Morgans have the floating trot of the Takehner, disposition as kind as the Hanoverian, presence and style equal to the Swedish Warmblood, the charm, durability, and easy keeping qualities of the Connemara and New Forest, along with the unsurpassed tractability and the desire to please man as profound as the dedication of the Arabian War mare to its master. Best of all, the roots of the Morgan Sport Horse lie deep in the history of this nation.
 
 

2002 Up Date to Harvie's Article . . .
Since Harvie's writing nearly two decades ago, many more Morgan breeders and competitors have joined the increasingly bourgeoning long list of successful Sport and Pleasure Morgan enthusiasts.

Robert and Joyce Quigley of Fox Brush Morgans, Florida. Have enjoyed honors in Combined Driving Events (CDEs), Endurance, Jumping and lower level dressage with their stallions 16 hand Funquest Erick and Funquest Sharpwing. Funquest Erik is approved for breeding with the American Warmblood Society.

Dick Nelson's success as a sport Morgan breeder has been evident for several decades many of these successful Morgans bare Nelson's "Primavera" prefix. Such notable Morgans as: reining Champion, Primavera Valdez, owned by Bob and Carol Simpson, California; Dressage and Cross-Country competitor Primavera Victorio along with countless others bred by Nelson (who is now residing in California) have gone on to successful competition in a variety of European as well as western sports.

DJJJ Ebony Gold owned by Deborah Griffith of Griffon d' Morgans, Maryland, has campaigned her 16 hand black stallion competing along side European imported Stallions having ranked 3rd in his 100 day stallion testing in jumping and receiving a notably high rideability score as well. Ebony and Debra have been honored as Sport Horse and Breeder of the year several times by the American Morgan Horse Association.

Dragonfire Morgans, California, have been extremely successful both in breed and open competition with their stallions Dragonfire Kirn (16 hands) and Cedar City Penbrook (15.3 hands). The get of these stallions are moving up the ranks in both show jumping and dressage nationally. Currently, both Dragonfire Ladyhawke and Zinfandel are among the 2000 USDF All-Breeds Winners.

Dr Lowell Hughes MD, Caduceus Morgans, Iowa, has been breeding Big, Black, Sport Morgans who are successfully moving up the ranks in Dressage. One of a number of such products of his program is Caduceus Herod, owned, trained, and shown by Barbara Putnam, Iowa. Together the pair have earned USDF all breed awards every year from 1993 to 2000, to date they are MDA/USDF Prix St. Georges Level champions, in the Adult Amateur division - all along competing almost entirely open in USDF/AHSA recognized shows.

Dressage Training Facility, Full Circle's, FEI trainer Chrissa Frith-Hoffman is campaigning Dancity Savoir Faire "Savvy" along with four other Morgans through the dressage levels and schooling Piaffe. Frith-Hoffman finds Morgans to be promising as the demands for smaller warmbloods are now increasing abroad, making it as she states, " . . . easier for a good moving, good sized Morgans to be a dressage option in America . . .".   Frigth-Hoffmann now rides with Pan American games Silver Medalist, Dr. Cesar Parra of Columbia, who trains in Maryland and Florida and rides in Germany.

For many years now, The Greentree Ranch, Colorado, has made a long successful tradition of breeding for Sport, family and show Morgans which has now culminated in their present generation of powerfully bred Sport Morgans. Most currently, Greentree Ever Reddi, Greentree Courtney and Austin Niagra are 2000 USDF All-Breed Champions also receiving MDA awards of Excellence..

Last but not least, undoubtedly considered by many as the modern day grand-daddy of Dressage Morgans, Big Bend Doc Davis, now deceased was a USDF Grande Prix Champion Morgan stallion before retiring to the breeding shed.
 
 This post script high lights just a few of the Morgan trainers, breeders and competitors who are finding Morgans exceeding expectations as world class sport horses. Notwithstanding CDE, Jumping, and other equine sports, close examination of the current USDF Winner's list alone shows that nearly 20 years later Ruth Ring Harvie's sport Morgan breeding strategy is "breeding true" today as the majority of the Morgans now winning in upper level USDF dressage are out of her recommended within-breed Morgan crosses. We are also happy to say here at Bossert Ranch that we are breeding these same Sport Morgan lines!

For more research and information on Sport Morgans, please see our links page.

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