Charting Jumping’s Future
Whenever the legendary George Morris talks about jumping, people are sure to listen. And when they are especially impressed by what he has to say, they can be moved to applaud as well. That’s what happened during “Jumping into the Future,” a panel discussion that brought together a diverse collection of top names in the sport in late March during the final week of the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida.
The session was organized and hosted by international steward and judge Cesar Hirsch, who kicked off the proceedings by saying, “I believe that sport changes lives. Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is a success.”
From there the discussion, moderated by horse-show announcers Steven Wilde and Peter Doubleday, turned to the topics of course design and judging. Leopoldo Palacios, a course designer from Venezuela, suggested that those in his field add more questions and allow more time. Fellow course designer Guilherme Jorge from Brazil agreed. “Carefulness is not the only question,” he said, adding that variety is key when it comes to jumps. “We want the best horseand-rider combination to win—the one that is fast, careful, scopey and brazen.”
Then Morris weighed in. “Today there are three ways to ride jumpers: with carefulness, with speed, and high and wide,” he said. “What bothers me as a teacher is it is so one-dimensional. Now you can’t teach bold—you also call it ‘ courage’ and you call it ‘guts.’ You can’t really teach that today. There’s no bold. At every show, they are all the same fences and all the same courses. That’s sad. I have to be honest—it’s boring. The Olympic Games had variety. I’ve always liked variety because I think it makes better horses and makes better riders, and I’m interested in teaching better riders. I am still a teacher and I am not given permission to teach people to solve different problems.” His comments were met with applause. Next up was the topic of promotion. American competitor Lucy Davis suggested that it’s time to make jumping more entertaining and interesting. She suggested more backstories about riders and their horses to appeal to a broader audience and build connection. The sole millennial panelist, she also stressed the power of using social media to heighten interest.
The evening closed with the panel—which included riders McLain Ward (USA), Max Amaya (Argentina) and Ian Millar (Canada) along with Juliet Reid, former president of the Washington International Horse Show—taking questions from the audience. One focused on whether a 12-year-old from the middle class in the United States has a chance to make it to the top of the sport.
“Almost all of the Top 25 in our sport came from a middle-class background,” Ward responded. “There are more people competing than ever before. That has to reflect that there’s a great base that wants to move up the levels of the sport. I absolutely think there is an opportunity.”
It was also Ward who offered perhaps the most impactful sentiment of the evening: “The only way our sport can go forward is if our horses’ interests come first.”—
From left: Cesar Hirsch, Steven Wilde, Max Amaya, Leopoldo Palacios, George Morris, Lucy Davis, McLain Ward, Juliet Reid, Ian Millar, Guilherme Jorge and Peter Doubleday