Color comments in Michigan Club’s newsleter

A number of us have now heard about the comments published in the recent issue of the Michigan Morgan Club’s newsletter or perhaps have had an opportunity to read the comments directly.   For those who have not, I will try to attach the page from the Club’s newsletter.
The comments have to do with color in the Morgan breed and virtually all of the remarks are from people in opposition to colors other than bay, black, brown and chestnut.
The comments made are pretty astonishing in the depth of misinformation regarding color genetics and breed ignorance on the part of the writers.  In fact, one author goes so far as to state that breeding for color is done by focusing on “mutant” or aberrant genes within our breed.   Another person states that the breed standard for decades has been “bay, black and chestnut” and that recent attempts to “add” color will take us further away from standard and in fact, believes that even palominos should not be granted registration.  A third writer states that breeders aiming for color are pursuing their own agenda and that only breeding for “traditional” Morgan colors should be taking place.

Comments like these leave educated readers not knowing where to laugh or cry or perhaps a little bit of both.   The issues at stake here have nothing to do with whether or not these people or any other person likes color in the Morgan breed beyond the typical colors of bay, black, brown and chestnut.   Color preference is individual, as is a preference for size, suitability, bloodlines, disposition and sex.   We have ample room within the Morgan breed to satisfy the desires of nearly every person in reference to coat color, a situation which we should be celebrating by the way, rather than denigrating.
Nor does the issue have to do with limiting the  courteous expression of personal opinion, which is every person’s right and a privilege none of us should take for granted.
Rather, the problems with the Michigan publication have to do with the way the question was posed, the complete lack of balance is discussing the subject and the truly astonishing degree of ignorance displayed by the writers.   The Morgan color standard has had one and only prohibition and that was the “high white” rule, repealed now for over a decade.   Our heritage is rich with the colors of gray, palomino, dun, buckskins, silver dapple, creme, perlino, splashed white, smoky black,  flaxen, pinto (excepting tobiano) and roan (now close to extinct with the exception of two non-breeding animals.)   There is no question of any of these coat colors being “mutant” (whatever definition is intended by that label) and there is no ability on the part of any breeder to “create” these colors.   Rather, a few incredibly dedicated and very well educated people have single-handedly assumed the task of nurturing and promoting these beautiful colors and in some cases, pulling them back from the very edge of extinction.  It is more than a shame that they were unable to bring their considerable talent to bear when the true roan and the loudly expressed pinto through Warpaint were still present in our bloodstock and could have been preserved.   The Morgan breed has never been a color breed, with the notable and highly unfortunate tenure of the “high white” rule.
People can and should breed and buy horses which fit their personal ideal and preferences.    They should not, however, be encouraged to disparage, denigrate and attack those breeding programs which fall outside of their view of “preferred”.   Barring all else, they most certainly should do their homework prior to displaying their utter lack of breed knowledge and color genetics in a widely distributed magazine.    That knowledge, by the way, should be common to all horsemen who even think about mating a mare and a stallion.  A matter as simple as understanding that “paint” is not a pinto color pattern but rather that the Paint horse registry is a breed registry for pinto horses of Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred breeding is or should be common knowledge for any informed horseman.   Despite this, one of the writers in the Michigan piece refers to “paints” appearing in our breed registry, a complete impossibility and an error which should be embarrassing to the writer and the publication.
Editors of journals and newsletters have an essential responsibility to put forward balanced, objective, thoughtful discussion pieces.  If they represent a larger organization such as the Morgan Association, I personally believe they should be held accountable for appealing to the “greater good” and doing all that they can to advance our betterment as a whole.   Michigan has a rich and highly valued heritage in the evolution of the Morgan horse and their members should be proud of the champions to have come out of their state for decades.   Nothing in this unfortunate publication from the Michigan Club is cause for pride, support, appreciation or acceptance.
It is more than time we educated ourselves as horsemen, took the responsibility for understanding our breed heritage and then reached out a hand in friendship to embrace all of our Morgan community, human and equine.
Susan Overstreet

8 Responses to Color comments in Michigan Club’s newsleter

  1. jns767 says:

    I am a member of the MJMHA (Michigan Justin Morgan horse Association) and received that same Newsletter. I too was disapointed at some of the unfortunate comments made. I hope that the members who received this issue didn’t take them seriously. It would also be nice if the Association printed an accurate article regarding color genetics.

  2. jns767 says:

    I also think that perhaps this letter should be sent to the MJMHA – it’s very well written :).

  3. Flmorgan says:

    I haven’t read the newsletter but we have to remember that with DNA if the DNA matches the sire and dam and they are Reg. Morgans then I think you have a Morgan regardless of color. Other breeds have had to deal with this color issue also.

  4. socalmorgans says:

    Well I hate to be the voice of distention, but I do think that there have been a lot of attributes bred into the Morgan over the years from other breeds that have distorted or mutated the classic or standard type. Being a vet I have studied in depth gene mutations among the breeds and it does seem that there is a rogue gene causing color variations in the morgan breed. Point Blank. Do we know where it coming from, no not exactly. Do we have an idea and do we think that it could be harmful to the breed, maybe. Do we think that the cross breeding that was so prevalent in the 80′s is to blame? Yes. The cross breeding with Saddlebreds especially has been the main contributor to the Homozygous gene becoming common in Morgans. I think that our friends in Michigan are more exposed to this type of scientific information because of the great work that Michigan State University and their availability to the information.

  5. nightmusicfarms says:


    I would be interested to know where you completed your studies and what type of specialty you may have in your practice. Are you a practicing, licensed vet at this time and if so, is your practice equine and in Southern CA?

    Your statements are fairly extraordinary and you have an interesting means of expressing yourself. Please explain your comments in depth and provide any verification you may have which would support them.

    Thank you.

  6. mimimorgan says:

    “a rogue gene causing color variations in the Morgan breed”

    There are MANY genes which affect color. They are inheirited in a standard manner across all breeds, though not all color genes are present in the various breeds. Morgans have quite a few diferent color genes, both dilutions and patterns of white, as well as modifiers like Agouti, which is the gene that modifies black into bay or brown (depending on which type(s) of Agouti is present).

    “there is a rogue gene causing color variations in the morgan breed.”

    No, there is no such thing. There are different genes that affect color. Where these come from in the Morgan is well documented. If you visit you will see listed on each page about color sources for the color in our breed. They go back further than that, even, as per descriptions in the early registry volumes.

    “Do we think that the cross breeding that was so prevalent in the 80’s is to blame? Yes. ”

    No. A most emphatic NO. See above site for in depth explanations of exactly where each color came from in modern times. See the registry volumes for earlier documantation. In the past, colorfuls were selected against because they showed dirt, they were difficult to match in teams, and because some saw the colorfuls as resulting from outcrosses or “western breeding”, which was looked down upon by many breeders in the east. I had thought that these myths were long since debunked with the advancements in DNA and color genetics knowledge, and am sad to see such is not entirely the case.

    “The cross breeding with Saddlebreds especially has been the main contributor to the Homozygous gene becoming common in Morgans.”

    ‘The homozygous gene’- homozygous for WHAT? A horse can be homozygous for any attribute, but color is the easiest one to see- and can be tested for. And a horse can be homozygous for ANY COLOR. That goes for black, bay and chestnut as well as most of the more colorful modifications thereof.

    As for MSU having some sort of insight into color genetics beyond that known by the rest of us- I am not aware of any color research currently being done at at MSU. That is the domain of UC Davis, who has been responsible for the majority of recent color discoveries, either on their own or in conjunction with European researchers.

    If you don’t like color, that’s fine- don’t own any (the wonderful thing about the Morgan is it has something for everyone- many disciplines, many colors). But educate yourself as to where the color really came from- which is legitimate, legal sources- rather than perpetuating old, tired and ill-informed myths.

    I wish that folks who responded in the MI club newsletter’s article would have had the courage to SIGN their letters instead of hiding behind a pseudonym. I would wish the same for respondents to this thread. I will do so here for mine.

    Laura Behning
    Brookridge Morgans

  7. nightmusicfarms says:

    I was hoping Laura would chime in, as she widely regarded as one of the leading authorities of color in the breed. It is really a treat to be able to have access to her knowledge and she has been a tremendous resource for anyone interested in color genetics and specifically in Morgans.

    I agree fully with her wish that people would sign their posts and acknowledge their writings.

    Susan Overstreet
    Nightmusic Morgans

  8. Upson Downs Morgans says:


    I think in your “genetic research” you may have unearthed something that no other geneticist has to date has…..a “rogue color gene” loose in our breed.

    Perhaps you should submit your findings to color guru and author Phillip Spoonenberg or publish your data in the vet/med journals?
    I’m interested in hearing more about your “research” on this gene….or was this your “opinion”?

    The colors you speak of in the Morgan genetic pool have existed since Justin Morgan bred the multitude of outside mares bring into the original genetic pool the color variances that the outside mares offered. There may be more “double dilutions” of those colors now by combining the single diltions but the roots of the varied colors are back in the origin of the breed. By combining certain patterns of “white” you *may also get a catalystic or additive effect, however the pattern was there to be build upon.

    No secret gene there…..


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