State of Our Sport - George Morris Outlook

The State Of Our Sport

George Morris, in a candid recorded conversation with Bernie Traurig on 12/24/10, shares his feelings on “The State of Our Sport.”



Well my concern is that we’re going to paint ourselves into a corner of being a third world country. We’re outsourcing everything such as little third world countries have to do because they don’t have an internal structure. We totally overlooked after the war the future of sport horse breeding with the exception of Frank Chapot, oh there are a number of people-- Cappy Smith, Joan Irvine Smith, Denny Emerson - there were people that saw the future in that, but our horses are tennis rackets and the Europeans, for I don’t know how many centuries, have been ahead of the curve in breeding them for the sport of the equestrian. We’re great racehorse breeders, but we’ve painted ourselves into a corner of being totally beholden to them for sport horses.

Even our traditional American Hunter which was developed to chase across our country, which was open country, and needed the thoroughbred horse...even that has been forgotten. So we’ve outsourced our tennis racket, our horse to Europe, but also to Argentina, Brazil, Ireland. So that weakens us. We invented this type of riding - jumping. We invented how to teach it, since the war we showed people how to teach it and specify it and make it detailed and help amateurs and help juniors. We showed the world how to do that and now all of a sudden the tables have turned. I always look at myself first...if the competition is beating me, I’m not doing as well as they are doing. When you, Bernie Traurig, beat me on a hunter, I wasn’t doing as well as you were doing. When Rodney Jenkins was beating me on a hunter, to the best of my ability, I learned to ride hunters better so I could at least try to be competitive with you two - I looked to myself first. 

That’s what we have to do in this country, we have to say “Are we working hard enough?” No we’re not. Are we shooting to the top of the tree, be it a lowly teacher or an Olympic teacher? No we’re not. So, as a result, many of these Europeans that work very hard, as you know - Hank Noren, the Beerbaums, Marcus Fuchs are hard workers, very hard workers - they are outworking us, I am being very honest. They also have the advantage of the competitive arena, which we’ve also lost - our indoor circuit used to be the envy of the world, it was the best of the best of the best.

Hans Winkler always came and always said our indoor circuit was the best in the world. Now Florida, and Thermal to some degree, Florida mainly, is taking up the slack for that. But after that, it is a very average standard of care - horse shows in America. So we’ve outsourced that. People that want to do anything at all, flee, I don’t say go, I say flee to Calgary because of the excellence of horse shows there and they flee to Europe. So we’ve outsourced, in a way, our competitions. As a result, the competitions, which used to be, not only our indoor circuit, but because of that high level of competition, carried us forward through the rest of the year. We had Bert’s nucleus, with you, we had Rodney, we had, as I said, Bert’s nucleus of people - that brought up the whole standard. So we’re outsourcing the competition as well as the horse shows. So when you start outsourcing the horse, outsourcing the stabling of the horse, boarding of the horse now in Europe, outsourcing of the teaching of the people, outsourcing the horse shows because they’re not good enough here, outsourcing the level of competition because people want to go where it’s better, you are becoming a third world country.

Some country’s have to be that because they have no history, or tradition, or success, or the depth that we’ve always had. We’ve had this tradition for well over a hundred years of equestrian excellence. After the war and probably before the war, you talked to the Germans, you talked to Great Britain, you talked to the Italians, the French, and the Americans - and the Americans all during those decades where second to none, second to none in the World Cups in the 80’s, second to none with Bert’s group in Europe - second to none, not second or third but right at the top. They emulated everything, they would take pictures of our tack room, they would take pictures of horses being hand-walked, beautiful presentation of our tack, of our turn-out - they were in awe of us, that ain’t no more.

So I think we have to look inwards before saying “oh, isn’t it too bad this one got that customer, isn’t it too bad that owner is backing that Irish, or Argentinean, or German, or Dutch rider?” Yes you could point the finger, but I say we start with us if that is possible. If that is possible.


If we’re not going to outsource horses, what do you think we’ve got here, in your words, at our disposal in America?


Well, I think the people that are really interested in a future, unless they want to keep going the easy way, the sexy way, which in fact, I kind of started the whole thing with Vivaldi, with Olympus, that horse I brought over with Calypso mainly. I think I was one of the first. You did it with English horses. We were some of the first people that started this importation, little did we know it would take over the world like it has. And horsemen like Bert deNemethy, like Otto Hukeroth, like I’m sure Captain Littauer, I’m sure, like Gabor Folteyi, these are foreign people - I heard them with my own ears over and over again, “You have the best horses in the world here.”

Now those horses, despite that they’re maybe breeding them differently, smaller (the racehorses), they’re still out there.  It’s just much more complicated, much more difficult, much more expensive to produce them. So we, again a tsunami, we all do the same thing, we go to Europe, we shop. It’s much easier we see lots of horses jump on a daily basis. Of course it’s much easier, but I think we have to protect our future. I’m not saying give that up, though I would love to see some people look to investigate the racehorse reject again, look to investigate the thoroughbred again. Not giving up the European breeding, that will never happen, nor maybe should it, but I think that’s the first thing we should do. I think most of our professionals are so busy, they have 50, 80, 100 horses in a show in every possible division. I’ve done it myself, you’ve done it yourself - it is to get through the day. But I was a different generation, you were a different generation, that never seduced me from making an effort with say a Joan Scharffenberger, a Lisa Tarnopol, a George Lindemann, those people that I took to Europe myself, that I had ambition for the USET myself. Not outsourcing them to European trainers. I think the teachers are so overwhelmed in this country with the factory system that they hardly have the energy to think higher. A couple of them do, a couple of them make a very good effort at it, but not many really do. 

Also, it has become, you know, instead of state by state, people would go from Ronnie, to me, to you, to Victor, to Rodney, to Jimmy Williams. You know, it was an internal pennant picking of the trainer of the month. Now the world is so close. Now it has become who you like in France, maybe you’d like to ride in Switzerland, maybe Germany is at the top - you’d like to ride there with that system, or Holland, or Ireland... It is just such a little world today that is very comparable to, when we grew up, our states. It is just as easy to move to a professional in another country, or for an owner to have a rider in another country, instead of Harry Gill going from Buddy Brown to Rodney to maybe Todd Minikus to whoever, whoever, whoever... It is just as easy for him now to go to somebody in Ireland, go to somebody in Holland, go to somebody in Columbia or Venezuela. It is just as easy, where years ago it wasn’t doable, it was too far away, too awkward, it wasn’t doable.


Give me your top three suggestions to help this whole situation in general - your top three.


Well, I think we have to start looking inward because we’re just being so passive with outsourcing, outsourcing. The first one, which is the most difficult in a way, would be internal horse supply. Even if people had a couple of mares or went to these places where they take thoroughbreds off the track. If enough people did enough of that you’re talking about a lot of horses. Start looking inward to our vast reservoir and resource of horse flesh here that they’re giving away or sending to “the killers” because there’s just a glut in the market. There are horses out there, there are horses, horses, horses. That would be the first way.

The can’t legislate horsemanship - there are great horsemen, there are good horsemen, there are fair horsemen, there are bad horsemen, there are horrible horsemen, you can’t legislate that. When you think of the operation run by Cappy Smith and Bobby Burke and Dave Kelly, the excellence, I’m not saying the riding technology maybe wasn’t as modern as some of ours, but you think of the way those horses were cared for and turned out...the horsemanship that went into them. I think the depth of good horsemanship is better with a lot of Europeans than it is with us which is staggering, because we taught the world from our English heritage how to groom a horse, how to stable a horse, how to bandage, how to be meticulous. 

I saw you in those tapes on those airplanes with those ponies - there wasn’t a hair out of place, not a hair out of place. I think there we’ve let ourselves down. I would say the general horsemanship across the country, each individual is responsible. That has to be improved. Just as you are very proud of all of your operations, not that it was perfect, but I will always be very proud of Hunterdon, not that it was always very perfect, but it was immaculate...the horses, to the best of my ability, were turned out beautifully, they were cared for beautifully...the lesson work was very, very serious. I don’t see enough of that today. People will be irritated that I say that. So i think our general horsemanship has to be better.

Also, which you are making a valiant effort, teachers today, they’re not curious for the future, for the betterment of themselves. They’re not reading, they’re not.....I hope there doing your program. But they’re not like...we were so, I would say, desperately curious. You were, Victor was, Ronnie was, I was, Anne Kursinski was, Kathy Kusner was - we were desperately curious. If Nelson Pessoa had a pearl, we wanted it. If Winkler had a pearl, we wanted it. If David Broom...we were not complacent. I feel a lot of people today are very self-satisfied where they are at. And, quite honestly, the reflection of this in the mirror is our level in Eventing, in Show Jumping (Dressage is different because that’s a much newer endeavor for this country - we’ve done very well in Dressage considering that fifty, sixty years ago nobody had ever heard of it), but in the jumping events, in the fast equestrian sports - Racing, Eventing, Show Jumping, Show know, we should be better, we should be better. We have been better, we have the tradition, the knowledge, the history. Your double clear at Dortmund, Anne Kursinski winning the Grand Prix of Aachen, Beezie Madden in the Grand Prix of Aachen, McLain Ward on a daily basis...I don’t ever see it better than that. I’ve seen every horse show, every rider in the world - I don’t ever see it better than that. I see Rodrigo and I see Eric and I see some that I love, love, love to watch...I think Meredith can combine beautifully 50/50 the American way she got at one with the horse and keeping her horse up in front of her, and the German method and she’s combined that beautifully.

There ain’t a system done well that beats ours. I’m sorry, I have been to every country, you have been to every country, I’ve taught in most countries, you go to little horse shows in those other countries, they’re horrible. There isn’t a system done well that I’ve ever seen better. I think the professionals are letting themselves down by being complacent, by being in a rut, by being status quo. I always thought if you didn’t get better, you got never sort of stayed horizontal, you went vertically up or vertically down. I think that’s reflected in this quite big struggle to do anything to stay on top in the Super League and the Eventing world. We should be easily over there one, two, three like we used to be - one, two, three. We shouldn’t be all excited when we do Rotterdam, or all excited when we’re second in the Super League. We should easily be over there...and I’ll admit it’s partly my fault, because I think it’s a whole standard top to bottom, bottom to top that has to be better.


Speaking of bottom to top, do you have any suggestions for the incredible costs of the sport that are involved on a daily basis. You know, from A to Z the sport costs a fortune.



Horse show management used to do it from an altruistic....the Ox Ridge Club, the Fairfield Club, the Piping Rock Club, the Bloomfield Hills Open Hunt was almost an altruistic undertaking to put on a horse show. It meant there was no business foundation, and then, unfortunately, this country missed it’s motivation. I think that is something that is becoming increasingly difficult, it always was...your family was able to afford it to some degree, mine to some degree, Kathy Kusner couldn’t afford it - she hustled her butt off and got sponsorship from Sue Randolph & Patrick Butler, she worked at that. Yes, I think world wide, not just this country, world wide that is a problem that is only going to’s not even for the very rich, but the mega rich. I don’t think horse show management, they are so interested in the business perspective of profit , foreseeing that some divisions or some way people could afford to produce young horses. I don’t see any increase in that.

But answers to all of these things, as you said, you know it’s a little chink here, a little chink there, a little attack here, a little hope there. But quick fixes to all of these things I don’t see - I don’t see quick fixes. I think it would have to be a lot of people, for example, if we have a task force, for instance, if we have the NARG (North American Riders Group), which is a very active and aggressive organization. We have to have bulk, we have to have a bulk of people with altruistic vision to even make little chinks in the armor towards fixing it.


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