Friday, Jun. 9, 2023

An Open Letter To High Performance Jumper Riders

Our columnist, the chef d’equipe of the U.S. show jumping team, takes a moment to address the country’s show jumpers about the upcoming challenges.

I like to write memos and directives. It is hard to see and talk to each and every one of you often. We are all spread out, although I think I know a good percent of you—more than you realize.

What we must not do, at this point, is rest on our laurels. The next quadrennium is most challenging and very, very important.

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Our columnist, the chef d’equipe of the U.S. show jumping team, takes a moment to address the country’s show jumpers about the upcoming challenges.

I like to write memos and directives. It is hard to see and talk to each and every one of you often. We are all spread out, although I think I know a good percent of you—more than you realize.

What we must not do, at this point, is rest on our laurels. The next quadrennium is most challenging and very, very important.

The FEI World Cup Finals is what is next. As we all know, it is not so easy to go from large, outdoor winter venues back into indoor rings. The Europeans have the advantage of “bouncing off the walls” for seven months at the top indoor horse shows against each other. However, it is doable, and Rich Fellers and Peter Wylde (2008) as well as McLain Ward (2007) proved that point.

Now that they have (apparently) upped the ante, the top level Nations Cup series (Super League) will become more competitive than ever. The Europeans will send their “A” riders to all of these eight shows. We must also field our very strongest horse/rider combinations. I’m anticipating three top-level Nations Cup tours with a minimum of 12 and a maximum of 15 riders.

The 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky is now less than two years away. Being in our own country there will be a lot of pressure to do well. The two summers of top level Nations Cup experience, along with Spruce Meadows (Alta.), Florida and California should provide an excellent preparation.

We will have trials again for the WEG and for the Olympic Games but not for the Pan American Games. People, places and times have not been discussed yet with the various committees, so it is premature to speculate at this early time. I’m sure by the spring of 2009 the WEG trials will be decided upon. Last time worked so well; let’s not “fix” something that’s not broken.

The High Performance Committee is already in discussion as to the needs and wants of Developing Riders and Young Riders. This is a two-way street, and we have to get feedback from all levels of riders as to what they’ll support when it comes time to play. Developing and Young Rider tours are also difficult and competitive in Europe. We must put forward competitive groups and people for the future of our sport.

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The first talent of any rider is his or her ability to attract and keep owners. As a rule, they buy the horses and pay the bills. Owners need not exclusively call the shots, but it is their right to be happy and to be included. The owners, in a sense, are our heroes!

Study, Read And Exercise

Horses, horses, horses. Equestrian sport is a different sport than any other in that there are two athletes working as one. This partnership during competition is just as good as its weakest link.

We, like every other country, desperately need top international Nations Cup, grand prix horses. We’ve got to breed them, produce them, buy them and, what’s most important, keep them. Yes, we have the riders, but this is the horse-depth we must be building, and quickly.

Stable management—grooming, shoeing, veterinary care, turn out, conditioning, fitness—is not a static thing. A sharp horseman addresses all of these management issues on a daily basis and is constantly making improvements. Management is where it’s at, you’ll notice most of the people and horses consistently at the top have a great system. It takes me a split second to look at a horse to know the quality of management of that stable.

What we call “flatwork” in our hunter/jumper world is really dressage. And it should be treated as such. I am talking about the absolutely correct way to walk, trot, canter and gallop a horse. There are a handful of jumper riders in the world who ride dressage superbly. Correctly ridden over time, a horse will have much less need for the veterinarian. Nor will the horse need so much of these exotic bits that we see today.

I recommend strongly that every jumping rider get together weekly or monthly with a good dressage person. My students and I always worked closely with Jessica Ransehousen, Gunnar Andersen, Gunnar Ostergaard, Jack Le Goff, Bert de Nemethy, Robert Dover, Christine Traurig, and others.

Pick up Jane Savoie’s Cross Train Your Horse, book one and book two. She has tailored these two books to all disciplines. You must really take the time to read them, study them, understand and practice. I’ve found these books to be enormously helpful to my own riding and teaching over the past weeks.

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Speaking of cross-training, it’s good for us riders as well. Especially as we get older. Unless someone is riding properly (not hacking) four or more horses a day, he or she must do some other exercise. I personally know that all five of our Olympic show jumping riders—Beezie Madden, McLain Ward, Will Simpson, Laura Kraut, Anne Kursinski—keep themselves extremely fit by cross-training.

Think Professionally

Discretionary choices, wild cards and subjectivity all play an important part in putting our best teams forward for international competition. Many, many factors go into subjectivity including the ones I’ve mentioned. At the top of my list would be the ability to win something at an international level.

I love winners. Attitude plays an important part. One must be a team player, get along with a group and champion the American cause. Being a good, all-around “professionally minded” horse person is a must. Someone who has simply been programmed all his or her life and can only “pilot” a horse never can stand up to the rigors of international life.

Good older horses, beautifully cared for and not over jumped, can go a long time, into their late teens. Talented young horses, not pushed early in their careers, can last much longer at the other end. As we all know, all facets of horsemanship are art and science.

I’ll be most interested in watching the form of our older horses the first part of 2009 as well as our younger ones coming along. I also like to watch riders coming along and putting pressure on our older ones. If we can only do what we’ve been doing, but doing it better, I’ll be happy!

Good luck to all of you and Happy New Year. I wish the best for you and for the United States of America. 

George H. Morris


George H. Morris, a former Olympian and top international rider, is one of most revered trainers in the world. He is currently chef d’equipe for the U.S. show jumping team, which won the team gold and individual bronze medals at the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong. He has helped a long list of successful riders, trainers and horses compete at the highest levels. He began contributing to Between Rounds in 1989.

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