[dropcap]G[/dropcap]eorge H Morris is a household name among equestrians all over the world. George is known for his influential contribution to the hunter, equitation and showjumping disciplines, and alongside having a massively successful career himself, he has also been Chef d’Equipe for the United States Equestrian Federation showjumping team, as well as the Brazilian showjumping team at the Rio Olympic Games.
Now 78 years old, George is still riding and very involved in the equestrian sport. He teaches clinics all over the world to help develop young and upcoming riders. George’s biography, Unrelenting, was released earlier this year and offers great insight into his life and career.
“I’ve had a long history in South Africa, starting with Charlotte and David Stubbs. I first went there in the very late ‘60s, and I’ve been there a few times since then,” said George.
HQ is very fortunate to have interviewed George Morris this month, and we share what he said with our readers.
At what age did you start competing at Grand Prix level?
We never heard of ‘Grand Prix’ when I first started competing in America. We had an Open jumper division, and the Grand Prix that happened on Sunday was called a stake – a thousand-dollar stake. I started in the Open jumper division in 1955, which then morphed into a Grand Prix in the ‘60s. When I went to Europe in the later ‘50s, then of course I rode the Grands Prix in Dublin, Aachen and all those shows.
Did you ever get nervous for big events, and if so how did you overcome those nerves?
No, I never got nervous for big events – I get nervous for every event! I get nervous when I teach, when I show a pre-green hunter under saddle, I get nervous in an equitation class, or a jumper class. So when I get to the Olympics, I’m used to it. I’m always nervous – I always have been. My teacher taught me that some people get stage fright. For some people it works against them, and they freeze up. It always worked for me. Outside the ring I suffered a great deal, but when I’d trot in the ring, that nervousness would really always help me to be a better competitor than a rider. I would ride better in the ring than I would outside the ring. That’s each person’s emotional make-up. Beezie [Elizabeth Madden] didn’t have that. Tori [Victoria] Colvin doesn’t have that. They don’t have nerves. I overcame it simply by doing what I feared and hated the most, which was competition pressure. I never overcame it actually – my biography has lots to do with that.
What is your daily routine and how do you maintain your level of fitness as you get older?
I always go to the gym. Usually I get up at 5:30 or 6am, and that’s how I start my day. I love to ride – that’s why I’m in the sport. Teaching is a secondary passion. Chef d’Equiping is a lesser passion. I love riding. So I usually ride two to three horses a day. Sometimes one, sometimes even six – but that would be a lot. When you ride a horse, you ride the horse thoroughly for 45 or 50 minutes. You ride them correctly, and you ride them deeply. So between the gym and my riding, which I love, I also don’t eat much as I get older, I eat less.
How have you kept up to date with the equestrian sport, which has changed so dramatically over the years?
I’ve kept up with the equestrian sport because luckily I’ve been riding, teaching, training and Chef d’Equiping forever, so I’ve never been out of it. I’ve adapted with the times, and I think I have had – like lots of other people – an impact on the motion of the sport.
Do you feel that you have been influential in the change to modern showjumping?
I do think I’ve been influential in modern showjumping and I relate to it because there were no ‘gap years’ in my career – I’ve been in it my whole life and at the top level of the sport. There was no period of time when I was out of it, or at a lower level where I could have gotten out of the rhythm. I have evolved with the sport very easily.
Are there any standout differences for you between classical showjumping and modern showjumping?
Lots is better, but lots is also not better. I love the technology today and I love the carefulness of the fences today; however, I haven’t looked at the book this year, but the FEI used to have the pariff [@06:20] in the very beginning of the jumping section to protect variety of obstacles at all costs. That they have not done. I would say Europe is worse than America in having very little variety in all rails. That is really a pity, because that takes out so much of the training of the horse and rider to be bold. They don’t want variety because it causes problems and it exposes the riders’ and the horses’ weaknesses. The professional rider gets on the course builder and management to get rid of variety. Even in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Hickstead and all those shows had massive natural fences – real hedges, real Liverpools and real walls. That’s something that I really am sad about. I must say that Rio had quite a variety of fences, but often you’ll go to shows all over the world and it’s just rails, rails, rails. We have quite a nice variety in fences here in Wellington, but they’ve all watered down. They’ve taken out the little ‘banket’ – it wasn’t even a bank, it was a ‘banket’. In Dublin and Hickstead they’ve taken out all kinds of fences that require any guts, and might be risky for the horse and rider. So that is something that’s gone against classical showjumping.
Text: Charlotte Bastiaanse, Ryan Sander
The full interview appears in the December issue of HQ > Shop now