Book Review: Unrelenting -- The Real Story: Horses, Bright Lights, and My Pursuit of Excellence

George H. Morris collaborates with writer Karen Robertson Terry in a tell-all autobiography spiced with anecdotes by major figures in the horse world.
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George H. Morris collaborates with writer Karen Robertson Terry in a tell-all autobiography spiced with anecdotes by major figures in the horse world.

While many readers will marvel at the tell-all nature of this autobiography, in which Morris reveals the very personal side of his life, I think I’m most impressed by his stamina. At 78, he’s still coaching and still globe-hopping, but he found time to generate 400+ pages (plus index) that read like a Who’s Who of American horse sports.

Unrelenting_cover

My hat’s off to his co-writer, Karen Robertson Terry, for keeping up with him, for gaining his complete confidence, for staying true to his inimitable voice, and—most of all—for gathering quotes from some of the finest equestrians of the past 70+ years.

I entered the New York horse scene as a rider, trainer and coach in the late 60s, by which time Morris was already a budding legend in the area. At 14 years old, he had won both the Medal and Maclay in 1952, and went on to distinguish himself in the 1959 Pan Am Games (team gold medal) and the 1960 Olympics and World Championships in show jumping.

In the 60s Morris was already much in demand as a coach, but still shared the limelight with Long Island locals such as Ronnie Mutch and Victor Hugo-Vidal and icons such as Bill Steinkraus, Mary and Frank Chapot, and Gordon Wright.

There were many outstanding young riders in the area and the show scene on Long Island and in neighboring New Jersey and upstate New York was intensely competitive. I often watched Morris schooling riders and marveled at their devotion to him, even though he could be scathing in his criticism. Then, as now, his students knew Morris produced winners.

Of all the horse people with “star quality” in that era, Morris has been the most enduring. He has been an integral part of the lives of countless top hunters and show jumpers and a constant presence on the international equestrian scene. And he’s still going, with his Energizer Bunny fervor unabated, and his eyes and tongue as sharp as ever.

Morris has written many good how-tos since his Hunter Seat Equitation in 1971, which became a “Horseman’s Bible” for generations of English riders. But this is the first time he has opened up about his private life—his foray into theater, his relationships and the partying lifestyle that could have been his undoing. Morris’ surprising candor shows us, at long last, all that has gone into the making of the man who is the most recognizable figure in the equestrian world.

Woven into Morris’ recollections are vignettes from other horsemen that are entertaining and revealing. As a result, the book is not only Morris’ life story so far, but an informal history of modern American horse sports.

For mature horse people, the stories and wonderful collection of old photos will be a trip down memory lane. Young adults will encounter names of horses and horse people they don't recognize, but the priceless history and wisdom contained in these pages make it a must-read.

Published by Trafalgar Square Books of Pomfret, VT, (800-423-4525, www.horseandriderbooks.com), Unrelenting, the Real Story: Horses, Bright Lights, and My Pursuit of Excellence, by George H. Morris with Karen Robertson Terry, is a 560-page hardback with 255 color and black-and-white photos. It's available at the Equine Network's equinenetworkstore.com.

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