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The Mystery of the China Morgans


Judi Daly

Red Rockwood in China

Shortly after World War II, the Chinese government set about to improve the quality of their horses.  In 1947, a three-man mission from the Ministry of National Defense went to the United States to look for horses that would add some height and improve the appearance of their native horses without compromising their qualities.  Previous to the war, they imported grade Arabians and Australian Waler/Thoroughbred stallions.  Now, they wanted to see what the US had to offer.

The team consisted of Major-General Young Shou-shen, Dean of the Army Veterinary School, Major-General Tsui Pu-ching, Deputy Chief of the Horse Administration for the Defense Ministry and Lieutenant Colonel Chang Wan-yuin, Chief of Breeding, Horse Administration.  They were looking to cross our larger horses with their ponies to create a utility horse that would be able to work the rough roads of China.  At the time, almost all work in China was done with horse power.  They assumed that the people in the United States would want to get rid of their horses because they no longer needed them for practical purposes.  They were surprised to find many people unwilling to give them up and the prices were higher than they expected.

While they were in the US, they also looked at Morgans, Saddlebreds, Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds, Tennessee Walking Horses, Arabians, Palominos and Quarter Horses.  The delegation was particularly interested in the Morgan.  They felt that Morgan could add a hand of height to their native horses without losing the strength and endurance that their horses already possessed.  They were also chosen because they possessed fixed inheritable qualities, gentle dispositions and good conformation.

The Morgan Horse is the oldest horse breed in the United States.  All Morgans are a descendant of one very special stallion, named after his owner, Justin Morgan.  Justin Morgan was not only an incredible horse in his day, but he was able to pass his traits on to his progeny.

Morgans are relatively small, strong and hardy; yet at the same time, they are elegant.  As versatile as they are beautiful, they helped build the United States from its infancy until, as mechanization took over, they were no longer needed.  Known for wonderful temperaments and endurance, the stylish Morgans were ideal for driving and riding.  They were also the top horses in harness racing until the American Standardbred was developed—not without the help of Morgan blood.  As Americans moved westward, they took their Morgans with them.  There, Morgans made wonderful cow horses and influenced the Quarter Horse breed.  In fact, there is no American breed of horse that hasn’t been influenced, either directly or indirectly, by the Morgan.  It is no wonder that the Chinese were interested in them.

Not only were the Chinese here to purchase horses, but they took the opportunity to gather information that would help them in their horse-breeding program.  For over a year they traveled the US touring Massachusetts, Vermont, Washington DC, Kentucky, Tennessee, California, Colorado, Texas and Illinois.  Along the way, they purchased 27 Morgans, 23 Quarter Horses and 3 Thoroughbreds.  As a bonus, eight of the Morgan mares were already in foal to Morgan stallions.  Fortunately for Morgan enthusiasts in the United States, most, if not all of these lovely mares were already proven, and they left their progeny behind.  Some these mares are still seen listed in the pedigrees of modern day Morgans.

Most notable of the Chinese purchases was a 6-year-old Morgan stallion named Magellan.  A fine stallion, he had already sired 17 foals before he was sold to the Chinese.  His daughters Rena, Mayphil, Pennsey and Rosalee contributed greatly to the Morgan breed.  His most well-known son was Black Sambo, trained and shown by Sullivan Davis.  Mr. Davis was one of the earliest African American trainers in the Morgan show world.  Black Sambo also left behind a number of black progeny.  To this day, the blood of Magellan is influencing the Morgan breed in the United States.

But what happened to the Morgans in China?

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