Justin Morgan Had a Horse

Brief Description: Young boy gets to help schoolmaster raise founding sire of Morgan breed.

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Date Range: 1795-1817

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Original Publication: 1945

Suitable for Grades: 3-7th

Target Audience: Middle Grade

Librarian's Review

This is a story about a boy and the horse that becomes the founding sire of one of America’s oldest breeds. When young Joel Goss joins his school music teacher, Justin Morgan, for a summertime hundred-mile journey, he never imagines he will return with a colt!  The purpose of the journey is for Master Morgan to collect on an old debt, but he is given two young horses in lieu of payment.  The trek home includes the two colts and Joel instantly falls in love with the unusually small but good-tempered “Little Bub.”  No one, not even an expert horse trader, has any idea how strong, fast, and versatile this runty colt will grow up to be. Joel, about ten years old, learned his horse sense by observing the failures of his ill-tempered father, and sees promise in the underestimated Little Bub.

Joel is allowed to gentle and train Little Bub after completing his day’s work as an innkeeper’s apprentice and his night school.   He relishes the precious time he gets to spend with the horse, which comes to an all too quick end when a local farmer wants to rent the horse to help him clear his land of trees. Joel vows to save enough money to hopefully one day buy the horse. As the years pass the horse, known throughout Vermont as Justin Morgan’s horse, gains quite a reputation for his calm demeanor, his willingness to work, his superior pulling strength, and even his speed. But Joel loses any opportunity to buy the horse, and it disappears from his life for a time.

The author makes a great effort at incorporating some historical scenes into the story line. When Joel frets over the fate of Little Bub as the War of 1812 breaks out, he joins the Vermont militia and ends up at the Battle of Lake Champlain (also known as the Battle of Plattsburgh). There is no evidence that the real Joel Goss fought in this battle, but the battle scenes are well depicted.  Also, a fun bit of historical trivia: the Justin Morgan horse really did provide President James Monroe with a mount at a local parade. This parade episode provides a sweet ending to the story of the aging horse’s adventurous life.

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