This excerpt from Unrelenting by George H. Morris was reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com).
In this excerpt from Unrelenting by George Morris, he shares his reasons for retiring as Chef d’Equipe of the US Show Jumping Team, and his feelings about the state of the sport.
Ready to return to a role that showcased the work closest to my heart—riding, teaching, and training—I retired as Chef d’Equipe. Even though I would’ve preferred to end on a more positive note with some Olympic medals in London, I still feel I had a good run! My identity is not tied to the verisimilitude of show jumping results, but rather is represented by my life’s work and my efforts in helping all riders, not only the championship teams. What we had with Bert de Némethy with the USET and the early Gladstone years was a different era. The great advantages of having everyone coordinated, stabled, and training together in a cavalry atmosphere is so appealing to me, even while I personally had my ups and downs when I rode with Bert myself as a young man. Rules, discipline, regimentation, and consistent long-term planning were simply how I was brought up with horses. While we have certainly gained some advantages and improvements on the old system, I do think something has been lost with all the change in our sport.
Across the board in this country, professionals are very wrapped up in their local scene and are too specialized. Most professionals today don’t have the vision to connect their business on a local level to our country’s bigger goals in the sport. More professionals these days try to make the little bit of profit that is possible to make in their business and I realize how difficult it is to punch out of the local scene and take clients up to a national and international level.
After Hong Kong, I had hoped our success was going to inject the country with ambition and work ethic. As the years ticked by, I started to become disillusioned with what the country could bring to the party. Half of the big horse owners here choose to own horses for riders outside of the United States, and frankly, I can understand the attraction. Those riders hustle and they will ride anything; they earn their owner’s support with their ambition!
There is a void in this country waiting to be filled with ambitious riders. The United States should have the ability to field three medal-quality teams for every big championship. We will continue to have great moments; after all, we have a great system and foundation of horsemanship in this nation. Wonderful teachers grew up, as I did, with quality American horsemanship and those teachers will produce some fabulous riders who will have an opportunity to form special partnerships with truly great horses. As Americans, I know we’re already on the path to have moments of brilliance. However, if we continue as we are now, we’ll always be part of the crowd. To achieve a streak of dominance again won’t be easy now that nations with vast riches have entered the arena. With some of the unlimited budgets we now see, those owners can practically buy their medals! For the more prudent American investors, buying a horse has to make sense: they can’t take the risk and pay $10 million for a horse.
We had a short window of absolute domination with the US Show Jumping Team but it’s not easy to keep up with Europe, with their wealth of historic sport-horse breeding and incredibly wonderful horse shows. After all, they invented the sport! To match or exceed their results, we as a country must have a perfect recipe of investment and hard work and talent. It’s heartbreaking for me to see how much the standards have fallen in our sport in recent years. I see it in how riders are turned out, how they jump their horses, how they use gimmicks to make shortcuts. We all must take responsibility to raise these standards because it’s only perseverance and attention to those details, every day, that will result in another era of dominance for our show jumping team. It is absolutely possible to achieve—after all, we have done it before—and we gave the Europeans a kick in the pants in the eighties when they were forced to raise their game! I wholly believe that even with the changes in our sport since then, we are capable of being that dominant again. It won’t be done by thinking about it or talking about it. Enough horsemen and women in our industry must strain to reach that level and devote themselves with a renewed fervor for it to come to fruition.
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