When George Morris speaks, people listen. Usually, they listen closely. The storied horseman is not shy about expressing his opinions, nor his intolerance for interruption.
So, it was no surprise when Morris retired as chef d’equipe of the US Show Jumping Team last year that a sizeable share of those opinions centred on the crumbling standards of North American show jumping. Specifically, on how we’re not keeping pace with the Europeans.
Given the British domination at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida this year, we’ve not caught up yet. Britain’s Ben Maher has won an unprecedented EIGHT Grand Prix events.
Let’s hear what Morris has to say on the long road ahead. Spoiler: there’s work to be done.
On European dominance…
Our problem in North America, we haven’t kept up with Europe in our standards.
First of all, which probably we couldn’t help, they have a great head start in sport horse breeding. We had great racehorse breeding. After the Second World War, we didn’t think sport riding was going to be a big industry.
If we had thought about it in both of our countries [Canada and the US], it would have been like the racehorses; we would have been ahead of the curve with sport horse breeding. I didn’t, we didn’t, they didn’t think of it. Hindsight is too late.
Now the Europeans are so far ahead. It is such a big industry [there]; it is so professional, so scientific. Yes, we will do our part in breeding, but I don’t see how we could ever catch up. So, that’s something that should be looked at.
On lowering standards…
Horse show standards have been let down. The professional horseman is interested in his own business, which is really too bad. Years ago, Bill Steinkraus, the greats of Canada, [Jim] Elder and [Tommy] Gayford, they were interested in the big picture. They were interested in the sport and the future.
Professionals today, unfortunately, are interested in their own life, their own pocketbook, their own customers. If something jeopardizes that, [they say] lower the fences; take out the liverpool; don’t have real hunter fences, they’re too difficult. They will opt for their own protection, rather than the sport.
So the professional who is supposed to run the sport—I believe in the professional first—is lowering their standards.
The trickle down effect…
Horse show managers, horse show judges, horse show course builders, those people are beholden to the professional. If the professional says, “I don’t like his courses, he’s too difficult,” that course designer is not hired again. If the professional says, “That horse show doesn’t let us school the day before, I’m not going there again,” [that show will struggle]. So the professional is responsible for the lowering of the standards of every other aspect of horse show management.
If that horse show isn’t up to snuff, the professional is supposed to speak up. Not the owner, not the amateur, the professional. If that judge isn’t good enough, the professional has to tell the judge or the show manager that that judge isn’t capable. I say the buck stops at the professional.
Carley Sparks covers show jumping and related ridiculousness at getmyfix.org.