George Morris’s hugely anticipated autobiography UNRELENTING The Real Story: Horses, Bright Lights, and My Pursuit of Excellence has been officially out for about a month and is a red-hot bestseller. Morris knew that the release of the book, within which he reveals the private side he’s long kept hidden, would stir the big ol’ pot that is the equestrian world. “For an intensely private person like me, it wasn’t an easy choice to publish such intimate details of my life,” he says. “If there are people that can’t handle the truth, well…”
In this recent interview, he shared a little about what he thinks his new book means for his legacy as the Godfather of American equestrianism.
Q: While you’ve written many articles and several books on horsemanship and equitation over the years, UNRELENTING is the first time you “get personal” and share the “Real George Morris” with the world. What did you find fun about the book-writing process this time around?
GHM: Well, what was fun was Karen Terry, my ghostwriter. She was really the perfect person to help me with the book because she looks like a party girl but then she has this other side where she is very organized—amazingly organized. And very capable. That’s a little how I go through life, too: I have these two different sides. So that was fun.
Q: You say you have “two different sides.” I’d be willing to bet most people in the horse industry only know of the “one side” of George Morris—your publicly traded persona that hinges on your well-known roles as demanding coach, unabashed critic, and absolute perfectionist. What do you really think of this notorious side of yourself?
GHM: You know, I never think of my “George Morris” horse-world person because on a daily basis I’m interested in riding and teaching, and day after day I do it all over the world—that’s what I’m into. I have to sort of look from afar at this persona that’s “happened” because that’s not really what I think about when I get up every morning in Texas or Belgium or riding horses in Wellington.
Q: What made you think it was time to tell the world about the “other side” of yourself?
GHM: I have had a very interesting life because I was the least likely to succeed. My personal identity when I was a young child was very, very complicated—I was very insecure and very much a mess. I was the least likely rider at Ox Ridge Hunt Club to succeed. I was very, very timid and stiff. I was not a natural. Then I was also dealing with the sexual identity situation. So you know, I was really a pathetic creature who went very far. And now that the book is finished, if there are people that can’t handle the truth, well…I feel I’m laying it out there maybe to help people. In fact, I’ve already told a couple of young guys who are just coming out to read my book because it will be good for them. It is a very difficult situation for people at that age. I look at it this way: If my story, which is an egotistical, self-interest story, is boring, that’s all right. There are some titillating tidbits in there that people will like, anyway. But it’s going to maybe help people who don’t have the best ability to ride; it’s going to help people who had a very difficult childhood emotionally; it’s going to maybe help people who have struggled with their sexual identity. I figure, like always in my teaching, I am trying to help people. Not that I want to help people…not that I get up every morning and I’m Mother Teresa…but it seems to be my destiny, because I was the least likely to succeed and did, to try to help other people. So that’s the way I look at talking about my other side in this book.
Q: But the “George Morris Mystique” has developed over time and people know you for your desire for perfection. Do you feel like admission of your imperfection and humanity will harm your influence?
GHM: No, no, no, no, no, no. Because my body of life’s work is set. Something could scandalize it, which wouldn’t ruin it. Or something could embellish it, which wouldn’t embellish it much. You know, I’m going to be 78 next week, and what’s done is done. That’s the way I look at this book. Maybe I wouldn’t have written this when I was 60, let alone 40 or 20.
Q: While your relationships have never been secret, UNRELENTING is the most public “coming out” you’ve ever had. Is it because you feel the world is finally ready to deal more frankly with homosexuality?
GHM: Oh yes, there’s no question this is my most public coming out. I think the world being more accepting probably colored it but I’d say that if I was going to write this book, I was going to be very honest. Whether I’m right or wrong—I’m a very honest person. My family name is Frank, and that’s suited my grandfather and suited my family and myself; we’re very frank people. And if I’m going to write this book, I’m going to be frank, and it’s not that nobody in the world knew that I was gay—everybody in the world knew that I was gay. Its’ not like it is a big shock to people. I think that some of the specifics to certain people will be a shock. And, you know, I could write a really x-rated book. I could shock them a lot more. WAY more. So I decided if I was going to do this book about my life, well…this is my life.
Q: UNRELENTING progresses systematically through every decade of your existence, reliving the equestrian high life and world of competitive riding through the years. You reconstruct so many details from so many different pivotal moments—what do you hope sharing a history you know very intimately will provide readers?
GHM: Well that’s the bulk of the interest to the public, if they are horse people. Bill Steinkraus is the only real living person who would have the same length of intimate connection with this level of the sport since the 1940s. You know all the ones before that are dead or almost dead, and I’ve been in the trenches since the forties. I’m in the trenches tomorrow. And in the trenches at the highest point of the sport—have been since I was ten. So from a historical perspective I will stand behind this book. From the personal side, if there are criticisms and dart-throwers—fine. If they say this is a boring, egotistical diary of George Morris—fine. But from a historical perspective, if nothing else, this is a great book.
Q: 2016 marks a year when you’ve altered your usual schedule of clinicing and are instead focusing on a few individual students, as well as coaching the Brazilian show jumping team. What inspired this change?
GHM: Since I retired as chef d’equipe, in fact my whole life, I’ve given just massive numbers of clinics every year. And I love clinics, and I’m excellent at clinics. But the last couple of years I did 43 or 44 and my instinct said, “Listen, you’ve just got to stop and go back to taking on a couple of private people, go to the horse shows, have horses in training for a consistent length of time.” And then I’ve got this Brazilian thing through the Olympics. No, I’m just taking a deep breath from clinics. I will always do clinics, whether I do 44 a year or whether I do 6 or whether I do 2. It’s just my instinct said to stop for a while and do something different because I was on the airplane every Thursday and coming back late every Sunday or Monday. And clinics make you teach a lot of people a little bit, and this way I’m teaching a few people a lot—so it’s different. It’s not that I don’t like clinics; it has nothing to do with that. Next year we might be having a conversation and maybe I’ll do the 44 clinics again. I don’t know.
Q: Do you see yourself receding from the front lines? Do you desire to find a quieter lifestyle in the years ahead?
GHM: Listen: I am interested in the horse world and chasing men. That’s all I’m interested in. That’s all I’ve ever been interested in.
UNRELENTING by George H. Morris with Karen Robertson Terry is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.
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