May 2016 - Book Reviews

Unrelenting: The Real Story; In This Together; The Cowgirl Jumped Over The Moon

Unrelenting: the Real Story: Horses, Bright Lights, and My Pursuit of Excellence
Written by George H. Morris with Karen Robertson Terry
Reviewed by Kim F. Miller

The autobiography of living legend horseman George Morris delivers on its promise, stated in the preface: “This book is a candid portrayal of my life. Innocents and those faint of heart or closed of mind may wish to proceed no further.”

Arranged chronologically, by decade, starting with his privileged youth growing up in the ‘40s and ‘50s among the horsey, affluent social set in New Canaan, CT, the story continues up through the early part of this decade. This structure terrifically illustrates Morris’ immersion in and deep influence on the evolution of our sport.

At just 14, Morris won both the ASPCA Maclay and the ASHA Hunt Seat Medal finals in 1952, the youngest to have won both at the time. He was part of the silver medal winning team in the 1960 Olympics in Rome and went on to compete himself and coach and influence many of the United States’ most successful international riders. Throughout his life and career, he’s acted on his convictions that studying all types of horsemanship is essential to a good horseman’s education. He describes close, mutually beneficial relationships with dressage and eventing counterparts at all points of his career, along with less traditional extensions to Buck Brannaman’s natural horsemanship approach and even saddling up on a cutting horse when given the chance to experience that discipline.

He soaked up the horsemanship lessons and discipline of his first teacher Gordon Wright and early USET coach Bert deNemethy. He then added his own experience to an ever-evolving knowledge base and dedicated himself to instilling that in several generations of horsemen.

Along with his own jumping career, he ran Hunterdon, a waypoint for a parade of eventual medal winners and Olympians. Many of them contributed to this book with reflections and often-funny anecdotes that are interspersed at relevant points in the story.

Having reported on the sport for nearly 20 years, I thought I had a pretty good handle on George Morris, past and present. I have audited several of his clinics, observed his contributions as chef d’equipe and in conversations and interviews during critical junctures in the sport.

I’ve always thought highly of him and tuned in whenever he weighed in on anything, be it a rider, a training routine or a rule change. Reading the book let me know that I’d only grasped a small percent of his influence on our sport and of Morris as a person.

Reading Morris’ account of how the selection process for international teams has evolved over the last three decades was especially interesting. As he explains, under any method, the selectors committee is only going to make four riders happy, and displease many more contenders whose perceived potential to bring home a medal may have just been a hair’s breath less than that of the pairs’ selected. And rarely for black and white reasons, but for predictions of how track records would play out on Olympic and World Equestrian Games stages.

As the preface warns, Morris is candid to the point of shocking about his personal life. I had known and not cared that he is gay, but the book’s accounting of excessive drinking, drugs and partying were a surprise. I appreciate his no-holds-barred recounting but found it a jarring juxtaposition to his highly disciplined approach to teaching, riding and everything having to do with horsemanship.

Thinking of some of the brave pre-teens who ride in his clinics, I’m reluctant to recommend this book to that age group. As a parent, I’m not sure how to reconcile these unhealthy lifestyle choices with the great contributions this role model has made to horsemanship. I don’t live in a glass house myself, but I found myself wishing there was a sanitized version for that demographic!

Otherwise, I recommend the book highly to anyone with even a passing interest in the past, present and future of hunters, jumpers, equitation and international jumping. It’s a textbook on all that, except it’s fun thanks to colorful details, asides and anecdotes. Along with his horsemanship, Morris is smart, sassy, funny and, perhaps my greatest surprise – human!

The majority of contributors emphasized how helpful Morris had been to their career—identifying them as talented and hard working and often helping them whether or not they were clients. The revelation of Morris’ weakness for chocolate bars and Coca-Cola is a charming detail.

Plentiful pictures enhance this 400-page book. Morris is captured on his first horse, Shorty, in 1948, at the Ox Ridge Hunt Club up through the near present, teaching a George Morris Horsemastership Clinics staged by the USET.

Images of many of the riders he’s worked with throughout his life reflect the scope of his contributions. Celebrities including Imelda Marcos, Doris Duke, Tab Hunter and Paul Newman make appearances in the book, as do a collection of intriguing foreign friends picked up on Morris’ many world travels.

I was perhaps most struck by the longevity and diversity of the friendships Morris describes—through ups and downs in sport politics, business relationships and differences of opinion. Here’s hoping his friendship to our sport will continue for many years.

Reviewer Kim F. Miller is editor of California Riding Magazine.


In This Together
By Ann Romney
Reviewed by Kim F. Miller

I’m a little late reading and reviewing this great book, which was released last fall. But, figuring that I’m not the only person with a stack of “to get to” books on the nightstand, I encourage you to put this one on the pile or move it up if it’s already there.

As most know, Ann is the wife of Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor, manager of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and presidential candidate in 2008 and 2012. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998, she has been an ambassador for research on coping with and curing that and other neurological diseases ever since.

As most horse people know, Ann is an active dressage rider and owner. She is a part owner of Jan Ebeling’s 2012 Olympic mount Rafalca (who may have just had her first baby by the time you read this!) and his current star, Rassolini, and horses that she campaigns herself when time allows. What a lucky few, like Amy and Jan Ebeling, know is that Ann is a straight-shooter and very down to earth. I witnessed that when Ann attended Dressage Extension’s fall fashion show to sign copies of In This Together and mingle in a relaxed way with the crowd.

What readers of this book will find out is that she is also tough as nails. She details her odyssey from super-competent mom of five boys to debilitated and often deeply discouraged MS patient. She explains the disease’s impact in illuminating ways, especially the need to monitor her energy output carefully even when she looks and seems fine to the outside world. Her openness in sharing the realities of living with MS enables me to be a better educated, more helpful supporter to friends and strangers struggling with similar conditions.

Ann and Dressage Extension’s Jill Waterman during a book signing in Moorpark in the fall.

Ann explored many “unconventional” therapies, but notes that riding was not something she considered a treatment at the outset. “I didn’t do it because of my MS,” she writes. “I wanted to do it in spite of my MS.” Surprising to none of us, riding and spending time with horses were and are excellent physical, mental and spiritual therapy indeed.

Parallels between riding and life lessons were abundant through her trek from being exhausted after a single circuit of the arena to competing at Grand Prix. She first rode at that level in 2006 and recently did so during the Dressage Affaire in March.

Here’s one example of those riding/life lessons:

“While Jan (Ebeling) taught skills, he emphasized the mental aspect of riding, pointing out that your mind controls your movements. The fact that his lessons were also applicable to my disease did not escape me. ‘Negative thinking is a pattern you can fall into,’ he would often remind me, ‘especially when something dramatic happens. If you’re focusing on something bad that happened, your thinking can spiral out of control.’”

Salt Lake City dressage trainer Margo Gogan took Ann on as a student, but, at Ann’s insistence, cut her no slack. The frustrating moments she shares are familiar to riders with perfectly healthy bodies. “My brain would tell my muscles what to do, and my muscles would not respond. It was very difficult for me, for example, to learn how to keep my right leg down. I’d lost control of the nerves in that leg, and if I didn’t focus my attention on it, it would just creep up. Margo was always screaming at me, ‘Get your right heel down! Get your right heel down.’ She knew it was hard for me, so she helped me by reminding me often and loudly. Out of frustration, sometimes I’d shout at it, too. I had to discover strategies to compensate for such problems. For example, I cheated by having my stirrups a little shorter than normal.”

The Romneys tackled Mitt’s two presidential campaigns as a family affair. Ann’s detailing of both is especially interesting in this crazy election year and it clarifies the extreme sacrifices candidates and their families make in subjecting themselves to the process.

Ann tells her story in a straight-forward manner that is easy to read, relatable, compelling and, above all, inspiring and encouraging for all.

To learn more about multiple sclerosis and other neurological diseases, visit the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital at www.annromneycenter.org. 

Reviewer Kim F. Miller is editor of California Riding Magazine.


The Cowgirl Jumped Over The Moon
Written by Linda Ballou
Reviewed by Jacqui Broderick

Romance. Adventure. Horses - what more could anyone want in a book?

Gemcie McCauley seems to have everything. She is a rider at the top of her game, making an unbeatable team with Marshal, a handsome Irish-bred stallion, until an horrific accident changes everything.

Fighting back from a dreadful injury she finds she has lost not only her nerve, but also her horse and husband to her arch rival, Domanique La Fevre.

Reeling from the cruel blows, Gemcie returns to her mother’s home where she tries to pick up the threads of some kind of life and recover from her mental and physical injuries. Unable to settle to any kind of life, Gemcie heads back to her roots and the mountains where she was conceived. Struck by the beauty of the wilderness and longing, for once in her life, to be totally alone she feels drawn to life on the trail and persuades her hosts to let her ride the John Muir trail.

When a black bear attacks and injures her horse she is rescued by Brady, a loner who lives in the mountains, working for the Bureau of Land Management. On a journey of discovery about herself Gemcie finds herself falling in love with this tough, yet gentle man.

Brady though is not without his own problems and after he is forced to kill the bear that attacked Gemcie, he abruptly ends their relationship, sending Gemcie back to civilization.

I was as devastated as Gemcie – their relationship seems to be so perfect.

During her time in the mountains Gemcie has learned a lot about herself and is determined to get her beloved horse back. Domenique has never got on with Marshal and, after badly injuring him in a competition, it looks as if his career is over.

Gemcie and a team of supporters nurse the horse back to health then begin the impossible and fight to get her riding confidence back in order to be able to pay huge vet and livery bills. She has to ride – and win – in order to be able to keep him.

This is a well-written book, Ballou brings her characters and backgrounds to life in often tear-jerking detail. Gemcie is likeable, readers will both empathize and sympathize with the situations she finds herself in. Ballou uses her text well, describing both the worlds of the wilderness and horse shows with convincing detail.

Readers cannot help but love this book. I was gripped from the first to the last page when Ballou brought all of the strings of her remarkable story to a hugely satisfying conclusion. 

Reviewer Jacqui Broderick is an Irish horsewoman and owner of a self-publishing book company, www.lavendarandwhite.co.uk. Her blog, www.jacquibroderick.com details her life with horses.