In November, things changed for Kelsey Horn of Corvallis, Oregon. That’s when THE George Morris called The Chronicle of the Horse to wax ecstatic over a photo of Kelsey that appeared in the October 24 & 31 issue of the magazine. “It’s a picture of perfect form,” he said. (You can read everything George Morris said about the image and Kelsey’s position in the original article HERE.)
Now, we all know George’s reputation for caustic remarks and criticism—there are reams of memes that feature his more memorable quotations—and many of us grew up reading his often scathing commentary in Practical Horseman’s “Jumping Clinic” column. But rare do we see him heap praise upon a rider (although there are a few he elevates to the realm of “great” in his 2016 autobiography UNRELENTING).
So what does it feel like to be the rarest of birds? The momentous event? To have, in a sense, won the riding lottery by perfecting a position that stopped George Morris in his tracks, miles away, via a photograph in a magazine?
As the publisher of George’s book UNRELENTING, we at TSB were dying to know what’s been going through Kelsey’s head since The Chronicle piece came out. We caught up with her through Inavale Farm in Philomath, Oregon, where she teaches, and learned a little more about her life, her horses, and her riding goals.
TSB: How does it feel to be singled out and praised by one of the leading judges of horsemanship and equitation in the world? I mean, it’s not every day George Morris tells someone she is doing something right!
KH: It feels amazing!!!!!!! I still can’t really believe it… I feel like a lucky winner. I am honored that George Morris even looked at my picture, let alone called COTH to compliment it.
The roots of perfection! Kelsey, four years old, on the Morgan Lady at Inavale Farm. Photo courtesy of Kelsey Horn.
TSB: So how did you get here? When did you start riding and what are a few significant moments that brought you to the level of riding you currently pursue today?
KH: I started riding when I was two years old out at Inavale Farm in Philomath, Oregon. I basically grew up out there with my older sister, Kailin, and a group of other horse-crazy girls. Inavale was a Morgan show barn and with our trainer, Caroline, we traveled all over to shows. Caroline and her family also took us camping and to the beach with our horses, so we did a lot of outside riding. I showed some, but as a young girl I enjoyed exploring outside with my horse more than riding in the arena.
I have an amazing Morgan mare, Inavale Fairy Tale, who took me up to Preliminary in eventing and is now used in the lesson program at Inavale. Being able to ride to that level as a teenager on a horse I felt would do anything for me gave me a lot of confidence as a young rider that I have been able to carry over to other horses I’ve owned and competed.
My two-star horse, Smoke Alarm, was a high school graduation present from my parents that they bought for $950. Smokey was an incredible jumper with no eventing experience when I got him but a whole lot of presence. He loved to buck and could get very strong and excitable, but we worked it out. My first show on him was a one-day at Inavale. On my way to the dressage warm-up he spooked and bucked me off with an amazing buck-turn-spin move that I later succumbed to numerous times. I hit the ground before I knew what happened! Smokey took off bucking and ran through a row of Christmas trees, all the way to the top hill of the property. My mom and sister were walking behind me, and when they caught up with me I was fuming mad and shouting in Smokey’s direction, “MY SADDLE!!!” After he was caught I got back on and rode the test out of sheer determination. We jumped clear and against all odds finished on our dressage score of 29 percent, winning the Novice division. Later this horse took me to two, CCI * with roads and track and steeplechase plus a CCI**. We would have kept going if it weren’t for a career-ending tendon injury in 2008. Smokey gave me the taste of the upper levels that inspired me to make it my goal to become a four-star rider.
Since then I’ve been blessed to be the head trainer at Inavale, as well as develop some brilliant young horses. I have extremely supportive clients, and I’ve been lucky to get the ride on Pinnacle Syndicate’s six-year-old Thoroughbred, Tomlong Ratatouille. I also have a partnership with Caroline Ajootian and Gayle Atkins, and together we own four-year-old, Swingtown (the horse from the picture George spotted). Thanks to my owners, both of those horses have given me multiple wins, particularly in the Young Event Horse series. Most recently Swingtown and I won the West Coast Four-Year-Old YEH Championships in Woodside, California. I also have a three other young horses that I own, all of which, plus Swingtown, were bred by Gayle Atkins.
I am so fortunate to have such amazing people surrounding me, as well as lovely horses to ride. They are all a huge part of how I got to where I am now.
Kelsey at 18 going Prelim on her Morgan mare Inavale Fairy Tale in 2005. Photo courtesy of Kelsey Horn.
TSB: Well, George had kind words for your horse Swingtown, too. He said she jumps “like a good hunter.” Can you tell us a little more about this horse, how you brought her along to win the Young Event Horse Championship, and what kind of goals you have in mind for both of you?
KH: Swingtown almost was a hunter…she was owned by Gayle who hired me to get her under saddle and put 90 days on her. At the end of that time period I rode her in a schooling show and she won. She was scheduled to go up to Portland and be sold as a hunter, but Gayle and Caroline put their heads together and poof! That’s how the Swingtown Partners were formed.
Swingtown is a very special mare with a lot of natural talent. She believes she is a rock star…no question in her mind. I make sure not to drill her too much, so we hack out in the fields a lot, gallop on the beach, and on sunny afternoons, she is out in the pasture. She lives a good life.
My goal for her is to compete in the YEH Five-Year-Old series and aim for the FEI World Young Horse Championships at Le Lion D’Angers in France for the seven-year-old two-star championships in 2019. It’s a big goal, but how cool would it be if it happened! After that Rolex, and then we’ll see….
Kelsey on Swingtown at the Inavale Derby in 2015. Photo courtesy of Kelsey Horn.
TSB: Were you ever a student of the “George Morris style”?
KH: Yes, I am a big fan of his style. When I got the chance to audit George’s clinic last year, I thought it was very entertaining and educational. I learned a lot and hung on to his every word. I took notes on my phone to make sure I could remember! I was impressed by the detail and amount of time he spent teaching the flatwork. As an eventer, I feel that flatwork is extremely important to success in jumping. I also love that George is a stickler for classical riding. I’m a fan of traditional riding and want to learn more from George Morris.
TSB: What do you like most about eventing?
KH: Like most eventers, my favorite phase is cross-country, but I love eventing for more then just that. It’s an incredible sport that requires a horse with many talents. The variety keeps it interesting. But I do have to say that the thrill of cross-country jumping never ever gets old.
TSB: What do you like most about having horses in your life?
KH: I love that horses teach us so many life lessons. Some so simple as how to fall and get back up. I love the challenges they bring and their routine-oriented minds. I like routine as well, and they keep me grounded to that. Plus they smell good, they’re beautiful, and they have cute fuzzy noses!
Kelsey coaching student Kaylee Leonard. Photo by Travis Leonard.
TSB: You’re an instructor, as well as a rider, competitor, and trainer. What is it you like best about teaching? What challenges you the most? What’s one thing you tell all your students?
KH: Teaching is a wonderful way to learn and I love being able to share what I love with others. What a wonderful feeling it is to help a student struggle through a challenge and earn success. The biggest challenge I have is caring too much! I want all of my students to be happy. Teaching suits me because I am passionate about riding and training horses, plus I’m a rather bossy person. So shouting orders suits me 😉
When my students are heading into the ring or out of the start box I always tell them one last thing, “Leg on and stretch up!” It is basic, but when it really comes down to it, you can’t go wrong if you put your legs on and stretch up for balance. If they can remember it, they’ll get to the finish.
Future perfect positions to the left and to the right! Kelsey with her students in 2015.
TSB: Now that you’ve had him publicly name your “perfect” position, would you ride in a George Morris clinic?
KH: Yes! I plan to ride in a clinic with him as soon as I have a horse that is ready. I wanted to this year, but it didn’t work out, so I’ll shoot for next year. I will try really hard to keep the perfect position over every fence, but just in case I slip up, I plan to wear waterproof mascara…
TSB: Before you go, what is your favorite “Georgism”?
KH: I found a lot that made me laugh out loud, but this one is my favorite, “Good attitude is most important, good talent is second.”
I like this quote because it keeps you humble. Plus, a huge part of one individual’s success comes from a positive attitude.
We wish Kelsey at Pinnacle Equine Training @PinnacleEquineTraining and her team at Inavale Farm @inavalefarm a wonderful, rewarding 2017 and beyond.
George Morris’s bestselling autobiography UNRELENTING is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.
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