Gov. Jim Douglas has proclaimed September to be "Morgan Horse Month" in Vermont, celebrating the famous breed that is Vermont's State Animal.
"I am glad to proclaim this month in honor of this magnificent animal on the centennial anniversary of the founding of the American Morgan Horse Association," Governor Douglas said. "It's fitting to honor our State Animal days before the historic recreation of the 1796 race between the breed's founding stallion and two New York horses."
Figure, the founding stallion of the Morgan breed, was born in southern New England in 1789 and was later owned by Justin Morgan, a teacher, composer, businessman, and horseman who lived in Vermont.
Figure's compact, muscular body and stylish gait became widely admired, and his reputation for strength, speed, endurance, and the ability to produce sons and daughters bearing his likeness spread throughout New England. His stud services were offered throughout the region and over his 32-year lifespan he became known as "the Justin Morgan Horse."
In 1796 he apparently became the property of Jonathan Shepard. That same year Figure was raced against two New York horses, which he defeated handily. The stretch of road where the race took place has forever been known as the Morgan Mile. And on Sept. 12, trotting races were held to commemorate the event.
"In addition to the 'Morgan Mile' races, the Association and the National Museum of the Morgan Horse will be hosting several parties to celebrate the centennial, including receptions at the Morgan Grand National and World Championship Horse Show and at the National Museum of the Morgan Horse," said Julie Broadway, Executive Director of the American Morgan Horse Association. "We hope everyone will join the staff and Board of Directors on Friday, Nov. 6 in Shelburne for this wonderful occasion," Broadway added.
In 1909, 57 Morgan horse enthusiasts joined together to officially establish the American Morgan Horse Club, which became the American Morgan Horse Association Inc. in 1941. AMHA is a non-profit group headquartered in Shelburne, which is also host to the National Museum of the Morgan Horse.
In 1961, the Vermont Legislature designated the Morgan horse the official state animal.
According to Broadway, there are roughly 50 farms raising Morgan horses in Vermont, including the historic UVM Morgan Horse Farm in Weybridge. There are about 3,300 Morgans in Vermont and a national population of about 95,000.