One of the first things you notice about Geoff Teall is his voice–it’s clear, distinctive, and he isn’t afraid to use it. It’s a voice that his students can hear across schooling areas and echoing in their heads. And it’s also a voice that speaks eloquently and unabashedly about some of the more controversial topics that face the sport.
“He’s one of the few people who actually say what he’s thinking, and I think that’s an amazing attribute. Sometimes people don’t love what they’re hearing, but he speaks the truth,” said fellow trainer and friend, Missy Clark. Teall is known for tackling sensitive issues head-on and for consistently making the welfare of the horses and sport he loves his primary focus.
“The sport needs more people like him. He’s willing to take a stand on things that matter to him, and that sets him apart,” said former student Louis Jacobs.
Teall doesn’t just discuss the issues–he takes initiative to solve them. He’s been a driving force behind the scenes of the sport, co-founding the American Hunter Jumper Foundation with Louise Serio, serving on the board of directors of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association and on many of their committees, and judging as an R-rated U.S. Equestrian Federation judge.
Calling attention to problems in the sport has “somewhat become a role for me, but I don’t look for it, and I don’t relish it. But at the same time, I don’t mind it,” Teall said. “I believe that not enough people are willing to say what they really believe publicly. I’m willing to do that, so it falls to me to do. Anything that I say publicly or take a stand on, I give a lot of thought. I’m very sure what my real feelings are, and once I reach a decision and feel strongly about it, I am happy to speak out about it. Anything that gets conversation going and perhaps initiates a change for the better is good. And if I have to take a little heat to make that happen, then I’m willing to do it.”
Teall grew up foxhunting in the Genesee Hunt country of upstate New York and didn’t start showing until he was 16. After his abbreviated junior show career–in which he rode with the likes of Gordon Wright and George Morris–he took a job with the Jacobs family in 1973, managing their foxhunters. Little did he know the path would lead him back to the top of the showing world.
The Jacobs family started including shows into their schedule, and Teall trained Louis to second place in the 1982 AHSA Medal Finals and to the first American Grandprix Association Rookie of the Year award in 1982. Jeremy Jacobs rode horses such as Hard To Be Humble and Tilly Do to hunter championships at major shows.
After 10 years with the Jacobs’, Teall went into a training business with Clark and Randy Roy, and later Kip Rosenthal. But in 1991, Teall decided to go it on his own, forming Montoga, his current business. That year, he trained Laura Bowden (now Steffee) to win the AHSA Medal Finals.
Now, Teall operates Montoga as a thriving training and sales business. He also stepped back into the show ring three years ago after an 18-year break. “I used to get so nervous,” Teall said about his decision to stop showing. “It was very unpleasant for everyone around me. I said, ‘I’ll stick to teaching,’ and I had some great people ride the horses for me, and I enjoyed training and preparing those horses for them.”
Now, however, he’s put those worries to rest. “When I started showing again, I really enjoyed it so much more than I thought I would. The balance is quite nice, because if I have a horse that I think should be winning every class and being super-competitive, and that means hiring someone who’s better than me to do it, then I’m delighted to do that. If I have a particular horse that I know I’m going to be the right person to show, then I’m equally delighted to do that. It’s not a question of ‘I have to have the best horses and win all the classes.’ It’s a question of what looks like a good thing to do,” he said.
Teall’s healthy, low-pressure outlook on showing exemplifies his attitude toward the sport in general. “I’m very lucky because there isn’t that preconceived notion of what I have to do. I basically teach people that come to me, and I teach them what I can. It doesn’t really matter to me what level they are, or what division they ride in,” he said.
Serio sees Teall’s personality as an important part of what’s made him so influential. “He’s an amazing decision-maker and a great horseman. He’s a fantastic teacher, and I think more people are afraid of him than should be, because he’s much softer than he first appears,” she said.
“I think that he has done amazing things for the sport because of his intelligence,” she added. “He’s so smart, and he puts things in such order. He breaks things down into steps and stages that work. He sees the end result and can work backwards to make that end result happen. He’s been instrumental in the sport in so much of the administrative part of it.”
Age: 50. “But I only feel it by Sunday afternoon,” Teall joked.
Hometown: Wellington, Fla.
Dogs: Ginger and Ali, two miniature Dachshunds.
Devotion: “I think he really cares about the horses,” said Louis Jacobs. “He’s one of the hardest working people I know. You’ll get to the horse show at dawn and think you’re there early, and he’s already been out working and at it for a while. He certainly understands the theory of horsemanship–I’m a little biased, since he taught me how to ride. His theories and fundamentals are based on the very classical approach to riding.”
Outlook: “I’m probably as excited about riding and teaching and showing now as I have ever been,” said Teall. “But I think that one of the really good things about our sport is that there is a certain advantage to being older and having knowledge and experience and wisdom to back up the enthusiasm. “I’m just now reaping the benefits of a very long time of doing this. I think that as you evolve in the sport, you find your own reasons for doing what you do, and you get more satisfaction from just knowing that your horses and students are learning and progressing. The pressure of winning one particular class, or being champion at one particular show feels a little less, and you can focus on what you’re doing, and how you’re doing it, and enjoy it. And I think I’m reaching that point.”
USEF R-rated judge: Judged at USEF Pony Finals, USEF Pony Medal Finals, National Horse Show (N.J.), Washington International Horse Show (D.C.)
Author: Geoff Teall On Riding Hunters, Jumpers And Equitation: Develop A Winning Style
Positions held: President and co-founder, American Hunter Jumper Foundation; Board of Directors, U.S. Hunter Jumper Association; chairman, USHJA judge’s committee; chairman, USHJA official’s education committee; Co-chairman, USHJA trainer’s committee; committee member, USHJA trainer’s certification committee.