The Breeding – Principles of A. F. Phillips

Article by Betsy Curler

Printed in The Lippitt Club Newsletter Show issue Nov/Dec 2005 Reprinted with permission


As a young man, A. F. Phillips pursued an education in chemistry and civil engineering. He does not, however, appear to have followed a career in either of those fields, apparently preferring instead to pursue a “career” as a gentleman. Although we do not know the extent or all the details regarding his involvement with horses, a few of his activities have come to light.

Among his pursuits were pig sticking races and [big game] hunts in India and Afghanistan. His mount during these activities was an Arabian stallion that was highly regarded for his powers of endurance. Phillips also imported an Arabian stallion to the United States and some of his favorite poetry was of Mideastern origins. Whether or not he was influenced by Mideastern ideas or other facets of life, unlike many Americans of that era, he would stress the importance of the mares’ influence in a breeding program as was traditional in the Mideast.

Phillip {according to Telford} owned a Standard bred that was raced. His participation in such risky sports as pig sticking races would imply that he was a man thoroughly at home in the saddle. Fox hunting is a probable sport he participated in as it was a gentlemanly pursuit. It is not known whether or not he bred horses prior to 1900. He does appear to have been thoroughly familiar with and knowledgeable about horses. Indeed, Phillips considered himself to be an “Orthodox Horseman.”

While on a fishing trip in Maine circa 1900, Phillips searched for a pair of Morgans for driving purposes. To his dismay, he was unable to find any in Maine or even many people who had heard of what a Morgan horse was. He continued his search into New Hampshire and finally found his way to western Vermont. Phillips settled in Brandon, about twenty miles south of Middlebury, and maintained a stable of horse while residing there.

While searching for a driving pair of Morgans, Phillips conceived the idea of preserving the Morgan breed as there were so few to be found. He spent a considerable amount of time researching pedigrees and looking at individuals. His concept of what a Morgan horse was appears to have been set by those he saw as a young student in Concord, NH. Those horses were sired by the Bailey Horse.

After searching throughout Vermont, he proceeded to the northeastern part of the state. There he found what he was searching for: “the horses, in both male and female lines…of the purer Morgan type.” Phillips set himself the goal of preserving the purest strain of genuine Morgans and proceeded to spend an average of $10,000.00 per year to do so.

Edwin Hoffman became his primary resource to locate old Morgan breeders of long standing in the region. Phillips began an extensive, in depth study of Morgan horse history and bloodlines. From the time he spent interviewing various breeders and his study of “olden-time” Morgans, Phillips evolved the standards of type and blood that he would preserve. By 1912, he was considered to be an expert on the old-fashioned Morgan type and bloodlines.

In the beginning, Billy Root 9 was Phillips’ personal ideal standard to adhere to. Descendants of Billy Root long predominated and were much admired in the northeastern region of Vermont. Phillips felt that Hale’s Green Mountain Morgan 42 and Billy Root were equals in “exuberance of spirit,” but that Billy Root was the superior horse in “elegance of carriage and …poetry of mien and symmetry of form.” With the purchase of Croydon Prince, he later infused a strong element of Gifford Morgan blood.

Clayton “Kit” Hoffman confirmed the oral tradition that speaks of Phillips jingling gold coins in his pocket while negotiating to buy a horse he desired. He paid those that sold him a horse with gold coins. If he was unable to buy a mare, he would lease her for $25.00 per year and breed her to a stallion of his choice. He is know to have made these deals with the Orcutt and the Walter families.

The personal standards Phillips set were high. Not only did he breed by pedigree and bloodline, but the individual horses he chose were considered to be of quality and possessed other traditional Morgan traits. Phillips stated: “I cannot emphasize too distinctly the necessity of type in breeding to preserve the Morgan horse, together with pure blood, for without that, although an individual may have type, he cannot be proponent without pure Morgan blood. Size can always be obtained by feeding and selection.”

One of the traditional traits he obviously considered to be of importance was endurance. He noted: “The Morgan horse was not only a show horse, but a horse with great endurance as well as a useful horse for the majority of farmers.” In his writings, he frequently reiterates the exceptional endurance of various individuals, particularly mares. His mentions of exuberance and that the Morgan was a show horse [in the 19th century] are also indicative of a horse with eye-catching style and beauty.

Phillips chose mares that were inbred to great broodmares and his choice of stallions was governed by their inheritance of the blood of great mares. He felt that patience and adherence to high ideals would lead to the production of more great mares by inbreeding to the best individual in the pedigree of the broodmare. His standards led Henry Wardner to describe him as the “most fastidious of the breeders of Morgans.” In a note he wrote to Wardner in 1909, he stated: “There is only [one] way to keep the breed: Blood first, last and all the time. It is not only necessary to have blood but the best sort of an individual with it.”

It takes many years to begin to see the results of a horse breeding program. This is due to the “nature of the beast”; the length of time it takes a horse to mature and make his mark is much more extensive in comparison to that of other domesticated species. At the time of the lightening strike and Phillips’ death a few years later, Phillips’ breeding program had been evolving for about 25 years. By culling out the individuals that did not meet with his expectations, Phillips had retained and produced from them some exceptional individuals.

Some went on to produce more of the same, but others were diverted into the general Morgan population and others disappeared entirely due to the rapidly changing times. Two mares that he might have retained, but was not personally responsible for “losing” from his breeding program, were Agiatis and Artemisia. The blood of Agiatis did not carry on with any notoriety, but Artemisia made her mark at the U.S. Morgan Horse Farm. Another exceptional mare was Ne Komia and her descendants in the Lippitt Morgan breeding programs of today are extensive.