We've been so busy in our app development that our monthly newsletter and book reviews have taken a back seat. But, to help us unwind, we made time for the one and only UNRELENTING The Real Story: Horses, Bright Lights, and My Pursuit of Excellence by George H. Morris and his ghostwriter Karen Robertson Terry; who is also a fellow equestrian of Bend, Oregon!
We were lucky enough to go to Ms. Terry's first book signing last year at The Absolute Horse, our local tack store. It was fascinating to hear her describe the book writing journey with GHM; a journey that took over two years for his autobiography to unfold. Trafalgar Square Books, the publisher, had a follow up interview with the legend himself regarding the release of his book and what it was like working with his ghostwriter.
The end result is GHM's raw and powerful story, one memory at a time. Who knew he was such a party animal or had so many incredible experiences with fascinating (famous!) people? But, a word of caution, as the book is prefaced with a warning message that states: 'This book is a candid portrayal of my life. Innocents and those faint of heart or closed of mind may wish to proceed no further!' We would also agree.
"If you can take my pressure cooker," George would always say, "the Olympics will seem like nothing."
As any true equestrian, GHM still gets excited when a perfectly orchestrated connection occurs between a horse and their rider. His book is filled with a who's who list of powerhouse people and equestrians, and just goes to show how profound an impact GHM has had on hunter equitation and show jumping, but also equestrian sport in general. Horse life during his youth and early career was a much different environment from today!
It was amazing to learn he was fearful when he first started riding and was not a natural horseman; he had to work at it and learn to get over those fears and insecurities. GHM also came to a point after his first Olympics where he needed to take a break from his horse showing success and switched to his other love, the arts (theater and acting) in New York! It was actually during this time expressing himself in the arts that would teach him a profound lesson:
"What [the arts] taught me is that people don't realize what they are truly capable of -- being pushed beyond their perceived limits is not only a way for them to grow, it's a way to succeed. Human nature tells us to play it safe, but pushing the boundaries has amazing results, whether on stage or in the show ring."
Zealously pushing limits in the pursuit of excellence is how most people describe him; whether they like him or not. He is one of the last legendary equestrians today, a mighty bridge between the old and the new. After that one break from the horse world, he never felt the need to go back to the arts, although he always cherished them, and rededicated his life to horses. To this day he is still thoroughly entrenched in the fabric of U.S. equestrian life with his finger on the pulse.
"While there are many of us who have writhed in the throes of one of his tantrums or withered in the face of a scathing remark, there is one who ultimately benefits from his perfectionism, attention to detail, and desire to get it right. And indeed, that is the horse."
GHM admittedly has an obsessive compulsive personality about the things he focuses on; drinking and partying, drilling horses, or even being healthy and working out when partying and drinking started to become detrimental to his health and riding abilities. Students freely hear his blunt opinion about being in peak physical condition in order to be as strong a rider as they can be. To GHM it's on the same level as poor posture in the saddle, bad hands on the reins, or not paying attention to your horse. Taking care of yourself is a sign of discipline and shows others that you respect yourself.
GHM's has been through the transition from old school to new school, with the Golden Years of show jumping being in the 70's and 80's. America was a dominant force back then thanks largely to Bert de Nemethy's strictly managed USET program, top care and long-term outlook. For GHM, today's show jumping trend started in the 90's and it isn't necessarily a good one. For most shows he thinks the arenas are the same, from the material used to the course designs, and the riders jumping are generally behind their horses. This isn't a good direction but also no one's fault, simply put "the bloom was off the rose." He believes the two key factors that are contributing to this negative trend are:
- America's Thoroughbred breeding programs are too racing focused with a distinct lack of attention from the sport-horse perspective. It has become impractical to weed through all of the Thoroughbreds as today too many of them are broken from racing and the ideal traits for the show ring has been bred out. Sport-horse breeders in Europe have capitalized with their more advanced programs, and US owners and professionals have steadily flocked to Europe to import their next athlete.
- The USET became distracted and disorganized as a team, no longer straightforward with a grueling show schedule. Horses and riders have to be razor sharp and no one could maintain sharpness without time set aside to rest, regroup, and ramp up for the show season.
Other factors are contributing too, like how American horse shows have become watered down for the casual hobby rider. This is because top riders are wrestling with their own personal businesses, trying to please owners with top placings and prize money and making a living. Across the board these professionals get wrapped up in their local scene and clients, and don't connect their business on that local level to our country's bigger goals in equestrian sport. Admittedly that's very difficult to do; punch out of the local scene into the national and even international level.
The amateur rider is our industry lifeblood, they deserve our whole-hearted support, but we also need to support and encourage upper level riders; there has to be a balance. There are now fewer big classes at local league and regional shows and our young riders are not getting the same opportunities for challenging jumper classes or Nations Cup format classes that young riders in Europe are. Ultimately, while the US shows are stagnant in Europe they're raising their game and getting better.
"As long as I'm able, I will continue to learn all I can and pass it on, for we are all perpetual students - of riding and life."
GHM doesn't believe the US will ever take from Europe the mantle of being the center of equestrian sport. That's OK. But our job is to give them one hell of a run for their money!
Live. Love. Horses.