Friday, January 4, 2019

THE MORGAN HORSE By Cheri Kay Clifton

I'm going to make the bold statement that I bet all the Sweethearts of the West are horse lovers.  Many of you may be horse owners, of whom I am truly envious!  Actually, it would be nice to know how many of our authors are equestrians.  Although I've never owned a horse, over my lifetime I've had the joy of riding many horses.

The two breeds of horses I've always admired are the Morgan (a genetic breed) and the Pinto (a color breed), both of which I chose for my two main characters, Laura and Grey Wolf, to ride in my first book, Trail To Destiny.

I found out the Morgan was one of the earliest horse breeds developed in the United States and after reading that the United States Equestrian Federation stated, "a Morgan is distinctive for its stamina and vigor, personality and eagerness, and has a reputation for intelligence, courage and a good disposition, I knew he was the perfect choice for my heroine, Laura, to ride on her journey west.  I named him Sonny after a beautiful horse I'd enjoyed riding on scenic trails in the Smokey Mountains.

All Morgans trace back to a single foundation sire, a stallion named Figure, who was born in West Springfield, Massachusetts in 1789.  At age three, he was given to a man named Justin Morgan as a debt payment.  As was the practice of the day, Figure became known by his owner's name, the Justin Morgan horse.  This colt was the founding sire of the Morgan breed.

After Justin Morgan's death, Figure moved on to other owners and spent a life working on farms, hauling freight, and as a parade mount at militia trainings.  He spent his life working and died in 1821 from an untreated kick received from another horse.  His three most famous sons - Sherman, Bulrush and Woodbury - carried on his legacy to future generations of Morgan horses.  They come in a variety of colors although they are most commonly bay, black and chestnut.

 These beautiful steeds were used as cavalry mounts by both sides in the American Civil War.  They were in much demand due to their endurance, weight carrying ability, strong short back, excellent feet and legs, and a calm and cheerful temperament with an abundance of natural style that appealed to the Cavalry officers.  

Many tributes to these hard-ridden heroes are displayed in paintings, as public statuary, as well as some rare mounted hides and heads staged in proud museums.  Famous Morgan, Rienzi (also known as Winchester) was ridden by General Philip Sheridan to rally his Union troops and was preserved and is at the Smithsonian museum.

General Philip Sheridan Memorial Civil War Bronze Statue 
Depicts Sheridan riding his horse, Rienzi
Washington, D.C.

Little Sorrel was a Morgan ridden by Confederate General Stonewall Jackson in his Civil War campaigns.  After Little Sorrel's death in 1886, his hide was mounted at the Virginia Military Institute Museum, where it's still a popular attraction. The taxidermist took the bones as partial payment and gave them to the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, something that never sat right with Southerners. The VMI Museum got the bones back , cremated and interred them in 1997, on the parade grounds, at the feet of a statue of General Jackson.  "It's the right thing to do," said the curator.

Today, Little Sorrel stands near the raincoat that Stonewall Jackson was wearing when he was mortally wounded. The coat is displayed so that visitors can see the bullet hole.

 General George Armstrong Custer rode several Morgans.  One of his favorites was a horse named Dandy.

"Sighting the Enemy," equestrian statue by Edward Clark Potter of
General George Custer at Gettysburg, located in Monroe, Michigan.
Since Custer was not killed in this battle, his horse is depicted with
all four feet on the ground.

While Morgan enthusiasts have stated that the horse Comanche, a survivor of the Custer regiment after the Battle of the Little Big Horn, was either a Morgan or a Mustang/Morgan mix, records of the U.S. Army and other early sources argue that claim, stating more likely he was of "Mustang lineage" with possibly "Spanish" blood.  Many also believed Custer rode Comanche, but in fact, Captain Myers Keogh owned and rode the bay horse into battle.

Although Comanche was touted as the sole horse to survive the famous battle, many horses survived and were taken by the Indians.  But the Indians had no use for a horse that couldn't dodge a bullet.  Two days after the Custer defeat, a burial party investigating the site found the severely wounded horse and transported him by steamer to Fort Lincoln, 950 miles away, where he spent the next year recuperating. Comanche remained with the 7th Cavalry, never again to be ridden and under orders excusing him from all duties. Most of the time he freely roamed the Post and flower gardens. Only at formal regimental functions was he led, draped in black , stirrups and boots reversed, at the head of the Regiment.

Comanche, aging but still in good health, continued to receive full honors as a symbol of the tragedy at Little Bighorn. Finally, on November 7, 1891, about 29 years old, Comanche died of colic.  The horse is currently on display in a humidity controlled glass case at the University of Kansas Museum of Natural History in Lawrence, Kansas.

Comanche taxidermy 

I hope you enjoyed reading about the Morgan Horse, including many of the breed's faithful steeds and in addition, the truth about the famous horse, Comanche.

I'll end with a horse quote by Chris LeDoux...

"Sit tall in the saddle, hold your head up high, keep your eyes fixed where the trail meets the sky and live like you ain't afraid to die, don't be scared, just enjoy the ride." 


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  1. Cheri, an interesting post. Our daughter had horses and I fed them when she was ill, but never personally owned one. They are beautiful animals. I like to ride but will leave saddling, cleaning the stall, picking the hooves, and currying the horse to others.

    1. They are such beautiful animals and such a pleasure to ride ... viewing scenic trails seems even more enjoyable on the back of a horse. But I do concur with your leaving the upkeep of the horses to others! LOL

  2. Excellent post and full of great information. Doris

    1. Thanks, Doris, I appreciate you taking the time to stop by.


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