While many people have likely heard of the Morgan horse breed — one of the earliest breeds developed in the United States — far fewer know about the much loved horse who started the lineage, Figure.
Figure was a small bay stallion, who stood just 14 hands high. But despite his smallish size, he was strong, fast and had a stylish way of moving. At 3 years old, he was given to Justin Morgan, a music teacher and composer, as payment for a debt Morgan was owed.
While under Morgan's care, Figure gained fame for his abilities as a workhorse and his speed as a racehorse. Figure famously beat two New York race horses in a 1796 sweepstakes race, and he became known as the Justin Morgan horse.
According to the American Morgan Horse Association, "[Figure's] ability to out-walk, out-trot, outrun, and out-pull other horses were legendary. His stud services were offered throughout the Connecticut River Valley and various Vermont locations over his lifetime. However, his most valuable asset was the ability to pass on his distinguishing characteristics, not only to his offspring, but through several generations."
The features and talents that made Figure stand out could still be readily spotted in his grandfoals.
He continued to sire foals even as he was traded from owner to owner in his later years, and he was used for everything from logging to racing to being a parade mount. In 1819, he was sold to his final owner, Levi Bean. He was put out to pasture and in 1821 and then died after being injured by a kick from another horse.
The legendary sire of a new breed of horse is at the center of author Marguerite Henry's "Justin Morgan Had a Horse" as well as a 1972 film by Walt Disney Studios with the same name.