Friday Flashback – June 26, 2015 – What is a Lippitt Morgan and Why Would Anyone Want to Breed Them?


Happy Friday! To go along with the recent data about the critically endangered status of the Lippitt Morgan, we thought we’d share this 1984 article written by Jim Alexander:





“What in the World is a Lippitt Morgan and Why Would Anyone Want to Breed Them?”
by Jim Alexander

The Lippitt Morgan is many different things to many people involved in breeding Morgans today. To some, it is an anachronistic, coarse little creature, which serves only to confuse current versions of what correct type is and what acceptable pedigrees are. To others, mainly those caught up in the positive hype put forth by the Lippitt Club, it is indeed the only means of survival for the “real Morgan.” Probably to the vast majority of Morgan breeders, however, the Lippitt Morgan is simply a member of four or five Morgan families still prevalent today in the Morgan breed. What I am hoping to do here is to explain very briefly what it is that I understand a Lippitt Morgan to be and why I have become so devoted to their perpetuation.

By the Lippitt Club’s definition, today’s Lippitt Morgan is a Morgan which traces back on all lines of its pedigree to one of what are called the “Foundation Stock.” The foundation stock is made up of twenty-five old blooded Morgans (8 stallions and 17 mares), each of which carries a very high percentage of the blood of Ethan Allen 2nd 406. For this reason, he is often referred to as the “cornerstone” of all Lippitt breeding. Ethan Allen 2nd was considered to be one of the very best sources of type and Justin Morgan blood, both during his life and indeed up to the present time. What makes today’s Lippitt unique among Morgans is the concentration of this blood to the practical exclusion of most all other lines. By breeding this way over several generations, one can begin to see both the good news and the bad news of Lippitts. The good news is that by breeding so closely within the foundation stock to this Ethan Allen 2nd line, all of today’s Lippitts are very high in their percentage of Justin Morgan blood. This has to mean also that they are, relatively speaking, very inbred. The bad news is that this inbreeding is not all good news. It can make the breeding of Lippitts – within the Lippitt line exclusively – difficult compared to breeding within one of the other, less intensely bred, Morgan families. The intense inbreeding of the Lippitt has been used to great advantage by several Morgan breeders in the past by outcrossing to other families. This type of crossing has often resulted in the production of some pretty amazing animals. The famous (several Lippitt breeders might say “infamous”) crossing of the Government stallion Mansfield on some of Robert Lippitt Knight’s best mares years ago is just one case in point. Some of today’s best show winners (check their pedigrees) are several more examples of an almost “hybrid vigor” at work. This effect is mainly possible due to the very high percentage breeding and very high coefficients of inbreeding carried by most “Lippitts.”

When one talks about breeding in the Morgan breed, we are constantly reminded that most terms used are comparative. This is certainly the case when discussing Lippitts, and should be taken for granted when words like “pure” are used. Obviously there are no pure-blooded Morgans, in the strictest sense of the word, for this cannot be. However, on the face of it, the Lippitt Morgan is a relatively pure-blooded Morgan. Of course not all of the lines, even in these Lippitts, are what a fanatical purist could call “clean.” Some of the foundation stock members, themselves, have relatively low percentages of Justin Morgan blood when you compare them with the other members of this group. Sir Ethan Allen and his good son, Sealect, no doubt caused a certain amount of consternation when the members of the foundation stock were being decided upon. However, their close relationship to Ethan Allen 2nd was obviously one of the deciding factors in the decision to include them as members of this exclusive group There is no doubt in my own mind that this decision, while slightly lowering the percentage of some of today’s Lippitts, has resulted in making the difficult task of breeding quality within this line a little easier than it otherwise might have been.

There can be no doubt that today’s Lippitt Morgan then is a relatively clean-blooded animal and that its percentage of Justin Morgan blood is extremely high. Beyond that, it is hard to describe in general, physically, what a typical Lippitt is. Marilyn Childs once said while announcing at one of the Lippitt shows, “Lippitts come in all shapes and sizes.” And as with Morgans of any other family, they most certainly do. Lippitts can be both large and small and definitely good or bad. Some of the larger ones tend to lose type, while a few of the smaller ones can be very muscular, to the point of almost being tied up. Very few Lippitt breeders have been able to “crack” the open market with a product that can be competitive with today’s predominantly “showring Morgans.” Dana Wingate Kelley, Chester Trefct, the late Margaret Rice, and Harriet Hilts are some of the very few long time breeders of the so-called “pure Lippitt Morgan” that have successfully bred Morgans that could compete anywhere, while carrying such a high percentage of Justin Morgan’s blood. That is to say they have been able to breed extremely high percentage Morgans that genuinely qualify as utility pleasure horses (a former goal of most Morgan breeders), while at the same time producing an animal that can be competitive against Morgans bred for a specific purpose (i.e. the show ring). Some of these exceptional animals are considered by some breeders to be the very ultimate in a Morgan Horse. Why they are not considered so by more Morgan breeders remains a mystery to me.

It is a concern of mine that the shoes of the Lippitt breeders mentioned above are way too big to fill. If enough breeders do not come along in sufficient numbers to keep the line going, we will suffer first a reduction of quality, and then it should be fairly obvious what happens next…knowledgeable breeders avoid getting into the line, which causes even fewer quality Lippitts to be produced, and pretty soon you have a situation where the only people breeding this line really don’t know what they are doing, and the Lippitt Morgan as we know it will cease to be anything but a memory. There are a few what I call key breeders that have done an admirable job of keeping the line going as some of the larger breeders bring their programs to conclusion, or to a slower pace. The Randolph, Vermont “crowd” – including Lester Welch, Pete Drury, and Clara Hendin – would have to be part of this group. Also, the Gerald Ashbys of Auburn, New York, the Lyle Hortons of Hartland, Vermont, Ed Walling of Sandgate, Vermont, and Marshall Winkler of Rockport, Massachusetts have been instrumental in keeping interest in the line alive, both with and without the help of the Lippitt Club. A great many of the Lippitt breeders and admirers that have come to make up the present membership of the Lippitt Club are there as a result of the efforts of some of the above mentioned breeders. The Lippitt Club, itself, has been effective at attracting people to this particular line of breeding. Unfortunately, a lot of the folks attracted to this old blood, myself included, are apt to be long on enthusiasm and knowledge of pedigrees but a little short on cash, to be perfectly succinct. In other words, it begins to appear like the survival of the Lippitt line is gradually becoming the responsibility of several relatively small breeders, who are scattered all around the country here and there, and who don’t really have a lot to do with. it is a big question in my own mind if we are going to be able to achieve enough breeding successes within the line while under this handicap. It is the question of the very difficult challenge facing all of us small breeders that provides a tremendous source of motivation for me, and for some of the others I’m sure.

It does not take a whole lot to get into Lippitt breeding, but there are a couple of requisites worth mentioning. The first might be a hard head, and another might be a thick skin, for Lippitt Morgan breeders are surely going against the flow. I already qualify on the first requisite, and I’m working on the latter. Successfully breeding Morgans, within this line, is to me, one of the very few hard challenges in breeding today. If in one’s time as a small Morgan breeder, one is able to produce a few really good Lippitts, and not only that but is able to actually observe how this affects the future of the most aristocratic of Morgan lines, then how could any breeder, large or small, want for more? The situation, however, is critical in my view, and without the help of many more breeders from around the country, the future of this family, as we know it today, is in some doubt. It’s important to point out that the future of this line not only depends upon the total number of Lippitts produced, obviously, but more importantly, on the number of quality individuals produced that can in turn produce as good or better than themselves. It is an observation of mine in breeding Morgans that two excellent individuals often do not produce as good as themselves. In studying the Lippitt line, I am beginning to suspect that this is even more of a problem in the Lippitt family than in some of the other families. Patience and understanding, while important requisites for any breeder, might be especially important for one wanting to breed within this line.

There are several other reasons why I am interested in this “old blood,” and some of them are personal. As a matter of fact, I was born and raised in the “Northeast Kingdom” of Vermont, where some of the finest old-blooded Morgans originally came from. While this is certainly no big deal, I am apt to brag about it, as it does make me a little unique, even among my fellow “natives.” Anyhow, the fact that some of my own ancestors from that part of Vermont owned and worked Morgans that are ancestors of a colt that I own today is not only not lost on me, but I make a big thing out of it at any opportunity. Some of these ancestors of my colt came from the farm of the “Old Vermont-line” Morgan breeder, Frank Orcutt, in West Burke, Vermont. The Orcutt place was located not far from my great-grandfather’s shingle mill. In addition to running that shingle mill, my great-grandfather was also a teamster (he had two 4-horse teams that hauled lumber around the Lyndonville-Burke area), and in later years, a rural mail carrier. He no doubt appreciated the stamina and good Morgan blood in some of his horses.

I hope then that one can see that there are several reasons why anyone could get interested in breeding this old blood, certainly none of which have anything to do with making money. However, it will be up to the individual Morgan breeder to try and look beyond all the hype, both positive and negative, when trying to decide on a particular line of Morgan breeding. There is a natural tendency to try and concentrate on only the good points or the best aspects of what it is we are doing, to overlook some of the disadvantages and difficulties involved. Make no mistake about it, breeding Lippitts with plenty of quality and type will not be easy. Anyone who says otherwise is looking down an even narrower hole than I am.

For those willing to attempt it, I take my hat off to you. For those that are successful at it, you are part of a very select group and your contribution could, no doubt, be felt for generations and years to come.

In writing this little piece, I have obviously been brief, but hopefully, straightforward. It is not now, nor has it ever been, my intention to discredit the other fine lines of Morgan breeding or any of the judicious breeders associated with them. It should be a goal for all of us to be able to express our fascination for a certain breed or family within a breed without fear of upsetting anybody else’s “apple cart.” I genuinely hope that is what I have done.

(Reprinted in the 1991 LCN, Vol XVIII, No 3 from the Jan/Feb 1984 Yankee Pedlar. Photo of Ethan Allen 2nd.)