In 2017 and together with Kenilworth Press in the UK, TSB released the book SPORT HORSE SOUNDNESS AND PERFORMANCE by Dr. Cecilia Lönnell. George Morris was an enthusiastic supporter of the premise of Dr. Lönnell’s book, and so wrote a detailed foreword that makes many points that are of great value to all of those within the horse industry who are striving to do better by the horses we ride, train, and love. Here, in its entirety, is George’s foreword:
I’ve known Cecilia Lönnell for a long time, having shown extensively in Sweden and taught many, many clinics there over the years. I’m very fond of her and fond of that country. To be asked to participate in a book that also features such an illustrious young group of equestrian superstars is a great honor.
What Cecilia has done here is she’s gone back to the past and at the same time shown how knowledge from solid experience is supported by modern equine veterinary research. Nothing here is new, and that, with horses, is always better. I never in my life spent in equestrian sport pretended to reinvent the wheel. I was a copier. I copied Bert de Némethy. I copied Gordon Wright as a teacher. I copied Bill Steinkraus. To this day my whole day is spent trying to understand old, classic principles. Be it teaching, be it riding, be it training, be it care of the horse – that is all I try to do, every day of my life. Gordon Wright used to say, “Nothing is new, we just do it better and quicker than we used to.” And that’s what we get from the best horsemen – it isn’t new, it just might be better and quicker.
Here, Cecilia has encapsulated all the points it takes to produce a horse – be it a pleasure horse or an Olympic horse, it doesn’t matter. The points laid out on these pages are about what is best for the horse. Often in competitive riding, in all disciplines, we go off on tangents that are contrary to the best interests of the horse. Artificial devices, artificial footing – this is not what’s best for the horse.
When you talk about horses and you talk about horse sport as Cecilia is, your first consideration is the management of the horse. If you buy a Hickstead or an Azur and send him to a third-rate boarding house, in about two seconds, you’re going to have a third-rate horse. The most important thing is what the great old Virginia horsewoman and trainer of Conrad Homfeld and Joe Fargis Frances Rowe used to call “beautiful care”: how the barn is set up, the bedding of the stall, the feed programme, the vet, the equine dentist, the farrier, the quality of the grooming – it all should be beautiful care. Many of the riders quoted in this book are more hands-on in terms of stable management than I ever was, but our mission is the same: to give our horses beautiful care.
The greatest horsemen in the world – and I’m not necessarily talking about riding here – are the English. They always have been. Now I’m not saying the French, the Germans, the Swedes, the Dutch aren’t good horsemen – they’re all great and each is different – but I’ve traveled just about every country in the world and as far as the care and management of the horse, the greatest horsemen in the world are the English. That’s why all the continental riders get English grooms to take care of their horses – horse care is in their blood. Being an American from the Northeast part of the country, I grew up with an offshoot of English horsemanship, and the whole thing is based on natural: turning horses out, riding through the country. Carl Hester revolutionized dressage because he approached it from a technical, scientific point of view, but allowed his English horsemanship to take it to a different level. We all know he is, yes, a very talented rider, but what really “woke up” the dressage world is that he hacks his horses out, turns his horses out, shows that dressage horses should not be circus animals confined in stalls. He, and many other contributors to this book, assert that this should be the standard.
Bert de Némethy, who was a Hungarian trained in Germany, managed the US equestrian team beautifully during his tenure, and he always had us work our horses on different surfaces – something that Beezie Madden notes as key in this book and is also supported by scientists. We would base at Aachen and Bert would have us ride gymnastics on the turf fields (which are now some of the warm-up rings) but often we also rode in the old dressage ring where the footing was quite deep. I would cheat with my hot horses that were above the bit – I would get them on the bit by tiring them out in that deep sand. But we rode on the roads, we rode on the turf, we rode in sand. Today too many horses are always worked on the same artificial “perfect” footing, as some call it.
After management of the horse, the next most important consideration is selection of a horse for his rider and for his “job.” And this is just as applicable to a school horse as it is to Big Star. The school horse is just as valuable as Big Star. Actually, everyone knows there’s nothing as valuable as a top school horse! Selecting the right horse for a particular rider and a particular job depends on a mix of experience and instinct – some people, even laymen who maybe aren’t so experienced, they have an eye for a horse, whether the best fit for an amateur hunter rider, a top dressage rider, a four-star eventer, whatever. The great thing about this book is that Cecilia has included this kind of information, and it is dispensed by individuals who are current, they are champions, people know them. They’re not people like myself, out of the dark ages. Their advice is all very relevant, and they are all saying the same thing.
Next you get to my pet peeve: the way people ride their horses. The United States historically has always been very weak in dressage. It is an afterthought. In the early days we had Thoroughbred horses that were so courageous and so special that we fudged dressage. Now we’ve finally caught up, and England has caught up, but “fudging dressage” is still haunting the world, because I go all over the world and people are faking it everywhere. Faking it and tying horses down is crippling horses. There was a great about-face five or six years ago because of Rollkur. Overflexing horses is very damaging to the horse, and luckily, it has taken a swing for the better. However, it is not good enough, especially in the jumpers – event horses and dressage horses have to more or less stay to the correct line because they are judged, but jumpers, they just strap them down, tie them down, put this on them, that on them, and away they go. The sport community – jumpers, eventers, dressage riders, and I mean in every country – must address how we work the horse, that whatever the discipline, it should be according to classical principles. The dressage work for sport horses has been a weak link, probably throughout history. And it still is a weak link. And I will speak up about it. It’s not rocket science. There are books hundreds of years old that tell you how to work a horse!
In addition to not fudging dressage, great riders don’t overjump. The two cripplers of a horse are footing and jumping. Knowing this, all the great riders don’t overjump. We work a horse every day for condition, for discipline, for rideability. A friend of mine, Peder Fredricson (a Swede), he works the horse beautifully, so I will pick him out. He works a horse without auxiliary reins, he’s had a vast background in correct dressage, and I watched him at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where his quality of work was rewarded as he won individual silver. I am closely aligned to Beezie Madden – I know she’s not an overjumper. Laura Kraut is definitely not an overjumper. John Whitaker, my idol of all the people I’ve ever seen, since I started riding – he’s my idol of idols – he hacks out, he walks on roads, he doesn’t overjump his horses. I was a driller when I was young. I drilled horses and was a culprit of overjumping. That’s how I know that overjumping is the kiss of the death. At best a horse gets stale, at worst he gets sore or lame.
These three important points – management, selection, and how we ride – are the topics Cecilia has pulled together in this book under the auspices of the superstars and scientists of today, giving old information credibility. And in some ways it’s all old news…but it’s forgotten news. Lots of young people today, they’re so competition-oriented, they forgot the whole point. Horse show horse show horse show. Ranking ranking ranking. I wouldn’t still be doing this sport the way I still do it, teaching and riding, if that was all it was. That is very, very limited. These “desperate housewives” and “weekend warriors,” as I call them, have not yet been influenced to understand the point. And that is the point of this book. When I was under the tutelage of Bert de Némethy, we were a very classy group of young guys – we could afford to live well. But we learned from him and our other trainers in those days, the point was the daily work, the dressage, the beautiful care. The horse show was just an occasional test that showed us where we were in relation to the other people; then we went home and took care of our horses, schooled our horses. But a lot of people at horse shows today, all over the world – it’s not just one country – they’ve lost the plot of what this is about. It’s not just about rankings, points, and selection for championships – that’s the icing on the cake.
Cecilia has done a great service to the sport: What she has gathered here is so correct, all going back to the past, but couched in modern perspective. People say about me, “Oh, he’s old fashioned. The sport has passed him.” Well, the greatest compliment I can get as a horseman is that I’m old-fashioned. The sport has not passed me; there’s nothing different about working a horse the classical way, about caring for him as suits his nature. The future is the past.
–George H. Morris
SPORT HORSE SOUNDNESS AND PERFORMANCE is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.
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And if you are interested in more from George Morris, UNRELENTING, his bestselling autobiography, is also available.
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