The Morgan Stock Horse
The world famous bay stallion began life as an ordinary, rather runty colt. Originally called “Little Bub”, the ‘bonus’ horse tagged along when his companion, Ebenezer, was accepted as payment for an outstanding debt.
New owner/schoolmaster Justin Morgan, his pupil Joel Goss, and the pair of 2-year-old colts, walked and ferried their way the 100+ miles back to Randolph, Vermont from Springfield, Massachusetts. The arduous journey took a month.
It was the end of the 1700s when Little Bub matured into a sought-after breeding stallion in Vermont; and it was the beginning of the first truly American-made breed: the Morgan.
Justin Morgan and “Figure” (Little Bub’s next name) tackled all manner of tasks, including dawn-to-dusk field work; dragging logs in the Green Mountain country; pulling contests; racing; and more. Figure became known as the Justin Morgan horse before the breed was officially declared as one and called Morgans.
But regardless his given name more than two centuries ago, the name he made through his adventures, feats and accomplishments endures within his multitude of hardy descendants. Justin Morgan’s ancestry is still debated, but this incredible, singularly prepotent stallion stamped his unique conformation, calm and agreeable disposition, longevity and versatility on his progeny.
That’s why a growing number of today’s ranchers use Morgans as stock horses. The Morgan Stock Horse Association (MSHA), for example, serves as a nationwide group of breeders who promote the horses and educate those previously unaware of the breed and its many virtues.
Lucky Star Morgans
One MSHA member is Barb Baker of Ridgeway, Colo. Although born in New York City and raised on Long Island, NY, she and husband Lyndon eventually rented a house and barn in Vermont. There they met Callie Willis, who boarded a young Morgan colt with the Bakers.
That 14hh, bay youngster, DKS Bonanza (by Wham Bam Command) so impressed Barb that she bought him five years later from Willis. By then, the Bakers had relocated to Colorado, where she kept Bonanza until his untimely death from colic.
But the first horse Baker acquired after her 1991 move to Colorado was D5 Ryan, then owned by longtime Morgan fancier Peg Peltz. The 10-year-old black stallion was being housed at a local stable before being gelded to join Baker for the next 12 years. She glowingly described him as a “safe and loving” riding and driving horse.
Baker is enamored of the Morgan breed for their head carriage, compact conformation, quickness, agility, versatility and willing personality.
A now-grown Texas cattle rancher kid who used to ride bareback broncs in rodeos, Lyndon Baker is likewise a contented convert to the Morgans that he rides on local cattle drives.
One noteworthy individual, Sun-West Diamond Tiara, came to the Bakers from vaquero trainer Jo Johnson of Sanger, Calif. “Tia” had been used as a Wilderness Guide Horse on packing trips. She’d never seen a cow before Lyndon rode the then 12-year-old Morgan on a drive four years ago.
Barb recalled her amazement at the mare’s stellar behavior. Never flinching at the unfamiliar sights and sounds, she kept up all day with experienced Quarter Horses as they pushed the cattle forward.
Tia has since produced two lovely foals, one sired by HSB On the Move, owned by Brenda Dewey of Clifton, Colo.
The Bakers plan to show their horses this summer in Idaho. Besides their MSHA membership for the past three years, they belong to the Ouray Rodeo Association and have ridden in parades, including the 2017 Ridgeway Labor Day Rodeo Parade. That event was the first of its kind for both Tia, ridden by Lyndon, and Barb atop another Morgan, Mountain Madrone.
Baker is especially excited about two current stars at her Lucky Star Morgans farm. HSB Rainbow Connection, known as “Ruby”, was bred by Brenda Dewey. The mare, who Baker purchased five years ago, was produced through AI from the frozen semen of the famous WHS Whistle Jacket, who’d been deceased for about 10 years when Ruby was conceived. Now age eight, she will be bred this year in hopes of a future champion.
An impressive Lucky Star Morgans riding prospect is a three-year-old Palomino gelding currently in training for Ranch Versatility with David Harris of Delta, Colo.
Back in 1961, Larry Orton bought a two-year-old Morgan stallion, Tawny Lynn. The colt was an own son of the great Morgan stud OCR and out of Lisa Lynn. A classy chestnut from Michigan, Tawny Lynn is described on the Ortons’ website as a “one-of-a-kind stallion” that began what is now into the third generation of Ortons raising all-around Morgans.
The beautiful stallion was ridden English in Park classes and cross-trained for driving. He was shown just twice, once in South Dakota where he placed as Reserve Grand Champion Stallion. The other event was the Minnesota State Fair. Tawny Lynn lived to be 34.
Larry Orton died in the late 1980s. Son Paul, his wife Sue, plus children Sam, Jessie and Haley relocated to Colorado from their native Mason City, Iowa in 2000. (Sue said the kids eagerly jumped on-board the move after learning there are fewer tornadoes in the Centennial state than in Iowa!) The entire family is fully devoted to their ranch and its diverse endeavors.
In Tawny Lynn’s honor, the equine branch of their Hereford-based cow-calf operation morphed from Orton to Ortawn Morgans. Located in Oak Creek, Colo., (near Steamboat Springs), Ortawn Morgans must cover vast amounts of country while caring for the cattle. Routine tasks include delivering heavy salt and mineral sacks up into the mountains and pulling the feed sled in the winter. Ortawn Morgans take it all in stride.
“Morgans are an over-all low maintenance breed, easy keepers” proclaimed Paul. “And they have good, hard feet.” That’s a necessity in the uneven, rugged terrain.
Their very good Morgan stallion, Triple S Sparberry, died in 2014. The Ortons had bought the son of Triple S Dark Eagle as a three-month-old weanling.
“I couldn’t afford his daddy, so I got him!” admitted Paul, adding, “He was a good one. I was very happy with him. He was real cowy and sired about 15-20 good stock horses.”
Orton starts his young horses carrying weight before getting on them by loading loose salt in pack bags strapped onto the youngsters’ backs.
“When 150-pounds of salt bags bang against those trees (up on the mountain), they sure learn a lot,” he noted.
He uses the feed sled to train his Morgans to drive. First he teaches them to accept the harness and then ponies them behind the large, horse-drawn implement.
“They have to stop with a sled up in front of them!”
Once he hooked up a Morgan newbie beside a trained Percheron whose driving mate had died, noting that “it looked funny but it worked”.
Orton currently uses a tractor for some feeding while looking for a driving partner for his Belgian mare.
While they sell a few horses each year, the Ortons raise Morgans (and recently a few Morgan/Percheron crosses) for their own ranch use. Even broodmares, who all alternate years working and raising babies, perform ranch duties on the sprawling Orton property, which includes a BLM lease up on a mountainside.
Said Sue, “Cattle are like the head of our operation; Morgans are its heart.”
Of course, all work and no play is inadvisable so the Ortons, as do the Bakers, take occasional breaks including for the 2012 and 2013 Steamboat Springs 4th of July Parades. Their Percherons pulled the 2012 prize-winning float, painted like an actual steamboat, with Orton family members and others mounted on Morgans victoriously riding behind it.
Versatile Justin Morgan Lives On
Acclaimed author Marguerite Henry’s famous book “Justin Morgan Had A Horse”, is about the equine founder of the Morgan breed. It includes a stirring account of when President James Monroe attended a parade in Vermont during the War of 1812.
Following the playing of a new song, “The Star Spangled Banner”, he mounted a horse held in readiness for him. All went well until a bee flew into the horse’s ear. The previously well-mannered animal unsuccessfully tried everything to dislodge it; the President barely made a graceful dismount.
He looked up and down the columns of mounted soldiers, all offering their horses to him to continue in the parade. Just when he thought he’d need to conclude the inspection afoot, he spotted Figure’s intelligent face in the crowd. He motioned to the horse’s owner/rider, Joel Goss, to bring him over.
Not only did the Justin Morgan horse behave, he entertained the crowd with such gestures as stretching out for Monroe to easily mount and bowing his head during the President’s impromptu, patriotic speech. As then, today’s Morgans do what’s asked of them without drama… and they do it with style.
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