Morgan Horse Ranch
The Morgan Horse Ranch was established at Point Reyes National Seashore as a breeding and training program to provide horses for the National Park Service. The ranch was dedicated in 1970 with the help of the Northern California Morgan Horse Association. A select breeding program was set up with stud services provided by private owners. At its height, the ranch maintained a herd of approximately 35-40 horses, and bred 73 horses over the life of the breeding program. As foals were born, mature animals trained at the ranch were transferred to other parks. For many years classes were also held at the ranch to train park rangers in horsemanship.
Currently, there is no need for a centralized breeding program because individual parks maintain their own stables. In July 1999, the last filly was born at the ranch. They named her Los Reyes Liberty Rose, Rose for short. Today (July 2016), there are only four horses at the ranch. They are used primarily for trail patrol by park rangers and volunteers. Biologists also occasionally use the horses when they do a census for the tule elk. The horses allow the biologists to get close enough to the elk without scaring them. The horses are also used to count harbor seals out on Tomales Point.
The Morgan Horse Ranch is open to the public seven days a week and there are usually horse ranch staff and/or volunteers present from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm, Wednesdays through Saturdays, and from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, Sundays through Tuesdays. Interpretive exhibits in the ranch buildings and outside provide information about the history of the Morgan horse, the ranch, and how the horses were trained.
The Morgan Horse Ranch is located on a small hill to the southwest of the Bear Valley Visitor Center. To visit, walk up the maintenance road located at the southeastern end of the Bear Valley Trailhead parking lot.
In 1795, Vermont choirmaster Justin Morgan was given a horse as payment for his musical services. Figure, as Justin named him, was a reddish-brown-colored bay stallion. He was short in stature, not much bigger than a pony. Morgan leased Figure to a local farmer as a workhorse to clear a woodlot. Much to the farmer's surprise, there was no log too large for Figure to pull. What he lacked in size, he more than compensated for in strength. Figure outpulled and outran all the other horses in the area. He was also known for his calm and steady temperament. After Figure died in 1821, his offspring who resembled him in size, form, character, and temperament became known as the Morgan horse breed. Morgan horses bear the distinction of being the only American breed of horse descending from a single parent of foundation sire.
Figure's descendants spread widely through the United States from their New England roots. As roads improved in the 1800s, there was an increasing demand for speedy, light harness horses such as the Morgan horse. Morgan horses played an important role during the American Civil war. They were bred and trained for use by the cavalry. The calm temperament of the horses makes them ideal to work in crowded and noisy situations. The National Park Service often uses Morgan horses for trail maintenance and patrol in rugged backcountry settings as well as urban patrols in cities such are New York and San Francisco.
"Past and Present: The Point Reyes Morgan Horse Ranch," by Brenda L. Tippin, The Morgan Horse Magazine, April/May 2016. (3,546 KB PDF)