Thursday, May 2, 2013

A 1988 Conversation with George Morris, Part II

Seamus Brady, part of a team.
[image: USET]
Always the coach.
Part II:

The Farrier's Role in a Team Environment
[Note: This interview was perhaps the end-note on my first go-around as a farrier serving the needs of trainers and their charges.  Course, like all forced didn't last long.  I began shoeing in 1972...found the existing business model absurd, the relationships harsh, any real purpose...the kind that fuels the heart -- missing.  Spent a couple of years on the track, became bored with shoeing in a rigid, superstitious environment -- one based on a constant and insatiable need for 'excuses' as to why horses didn't win their races.  So I moved to jumpers and their more abundant sidekicks -- hunters.  I had some advantages in that I also managed a Thoroughbred breeding horses were more to me than just the quick knees-down viewpoint.  I studied how the animal worked, how he did his job -- most importantly, my role in his job, not my role in mine.
In those days, most of our so-called 'sport' horses were TB's, many off the track.  Rejects that grew wings in new places.  Unlike Europe, America had no program to develop horses for a growing sport, so in the early 80's, many top trainers went shopping across the pond -- because 'we' had lost the ability to compete in world class equestrian competitions.  We had the riders, the teachers, but our horses lacked the scope for world class competition.  The story is thankfully a little different today. We have fixed the marriage in this critical partnership of horse and rider.
But to digress a moment.  When I began shoeing jumpers in the west, I felt something was wrong; lacking...too many injuries it seemed.  And horses that jumped with trepidation, not confidence.  In those days, we had few specialists -- farriers or veterinarians -- our information, the basics of our craft, trapped in the box of what was teachable in our archaic system of education.  What was conservative, all encompassing, generic and sadly, safe; the antithesis to what high performance demands of those willing to push the envelope.  The question that burned in my mind was why a horse with obvious talent at this job hit an invisible ceiling in his development; worse yet, getting hurt along the way?  So it seemed reasonable to me to pose that question to the best in the business -- that being George Morris' man, Seamus Brady.  After all, the Olympics were the standard of excellence in show jumping...sort of.  The reality is that an Olympic horse is really a talented, consistent grand prix horse in an Olympic year.  Like the rest of us, he works for a living in between.  So I got on the phone.  (E-mail was just an amusing concept back then.)
Other things within the industry were changing as well.  Farriers themselves were organizing; transitioning from ornery individuals to marginally recalcitrant and rambunctious groups.  Fear was diminishing, social interaction on the rise.  Oh, we still coveted our secrets...until we discovered that most of them weren't classified anyway.  But more importantly, horses and trainers were migrating around the country, through expanded show circuits, horse shopping...a general rise in the quality and level of training outside the Northeast.  And much of this new blood -- at least new to us -- came out of the East, more than a few from the halls of Hunterdon.   And too, contrary to public opinion, trainers are not snobs when it comes to horses and if a good one is found in Seattle, they will get on a plane.  It was a case of equine networking on a grand scale.  And in the west, the opening of Spruce Meadows in Calgary -- along with Ron and Margaret Southern's European approach to marketing the sport here -- brought the very best horses and riders from both Europe and the US.  So I took hard look at the best horses and how they were shod.  And while I never had the opportunity to meet Seamus personally, our conversations were...well, a little hard on what was left of my ego.  But then, that proved to be the ultimate contribution to the rest of my career.  And my horses appreciated the change...not to mention the trainers, even though they took a little more selling than the horses.
The end result was almost a standardization of shoeing in jumpers.  Sure, styles vary from person to person, country to country, but the thinking is far more consistent.  The farriers that work on these horses today have learned to focus on the horse's job and all that surrounds it.  Very much like Seamus Brady shoeing at the back of the barn, "across from the grand prix field," where the real magic of the business is found.  The knowledge that lies outside that constricting box we so often create.]        

(Returning to interview -- vet/farrier relations and more...)
ANDY:  So it never digresses into that old confrontation over who is right?

GEORGE:  Between the vet and the blacksmith?  Not really. They are both so confident, they are both such experts, that you know that they think alike.  If it comes down to a final decision, and if there is any discussion, then I make the decision.

ANDY:  How did such cooperation evolve?

GEORGE:  Well you see, Danny Marks...and I have used Delaware Equine Center since 1960, before they were Delaware Equine Center.  We all go back so far, and all think so much alike, and respect each other's territory that there are no problems.  I don't have problems like you are talking about.

ANDY:  What about clients in your barn?

GEORGE:  If their horse is at Hunterdon, then they are all under my jurisdiction.  They don't use different vets and different blacksmiths because once that happens it's a ZOO.  It's a rule when they come in.  If they don't like that system, then they don't come in.

ANDY:  If a client's horse develops a problem that involves the vet and blacksmith, how far are they [the client] involved?

GEORGE:  Not much.  Some of them talk to the vet, normally.  Naturally, some of them don't.  Some talk to the blacksmith.  Some clients are horsemen to a certain extent, and some are not.  For the most part, they let us handle the horses.

ANDY:  Does a client ever try to do a number on anyone?

GEORGE:  Once in a while.  They might not understand something and will say something to me or the blacksmith.  But that is human nature.

ANDY:  What about horses that develop unforeseen problems.  Naturally the trainer is well informed about the situation, but what about the client?

GEORGE:  Brady or Danny would never stir up a client about a horse.  When the horse is vetted, he is vetted so thoroughly that it is all black and white to Brady when he gets the horse.  That's what you don't understand.  What the Delaware Center and Danny Marks find out in vetting the horse, when that is sent to Brady, they concur.  They are all in agreement from the first day.

ANDY:  Is the whole process more thorough or a case of keeping it in-house, so to speak?

GEORGE:  It's more thorough, more intimate, more meticulous;  you see we don't have the situation where a horse comes into the barn that is vetted by a strange vet, or another blacksmith taking over the horse.  We are a team, and it has been that way for over 25 years.

ANDY:  A lot of people are of the opinion that Brady is pretty pricey.  Some farriers even knock him for that.

GEORGE:  I agree with you.  But there are a lot of people that think that I am pretty pricey.  But I agree with you.  I think Seamus is pretty pricey.

ANDY:  But a good investment, particularly for the clients.  Does it bother them? 

GEORGE:  No, because it is just a drop in the bucket compared to what they are buying [into]:  competing for that prize money, paying for these horses.  I mean it's not a drop in the bucket, but it is in the sense of when you talk about actual numbers of dollars that are attached to that horse's foot, then it is very important.  It's worth the price.  If I had someone constructing jumps and was too pricey, I would get them constructed by someone that was less costly, but that is not critical to the horse.  But what you are talking about with the blacksmith is critical.  You know that better than I do.  That is the A of ABC.

ANDY:  Do you think he could ever price his way out the door?

GEORGE:  He might.  But I might too.

ANDY:  Does he travel with your horses?

GEORGE:  He is always in Florida for the winter circuit and he is around a great deal in Europe.  In fact, when we take a tour, he comes over for periods of time; two, three, or four days.  If I am over there all summer, then he comes once a month.

ANDY:  What if he is not around?

GEORGE:  There are other people who have worked with him or other good blacksmiths, but I hate to change blacksmiths.

ANDY:  But if you get into some kind of difficult situation?

GEORGE:  Then you find the best person and get it done.  I am not a blacksmith.  I haven't taken the time to find out from Seamus how to be a blacksmith because my priorities are teaching and riding, and I'm in demand 365 days a year, so I would have to give some of that up.  Maybe I will do that someday, and learn what he has learned.

ANDY:  Any nightmares because he may be unavailable?

GEORGE:  Well, I can always think of potential nightmares.  I have some horses that are so fragile and so valuable, and if I was in Europe and I saw that there was a potential for a nightmare, then I would fly him over.

ANDY:  Do those demands ever affect him [Seamus] negatively?

GEORGE:  He works non-stop, seven days a week.  You invest a lot when you have a quality standard.  I see the same things.  When you are dedicated there really isn't any free time.

ANDY:  For both of you, does the cost ever exceed the worth?

GEORGE:  Yes, for me.  But you don't live for long, and when I think about all the options, they don't sound any better.

ANDY:  Thanks for your time, George.

Hard to believe that was 25 years ago.  Many things have changed since this interview, both in show jumping and the world of farriery -- particularly in the materials and technology now available.  Yet even so, it is as George points out, a matter of study, hard work and standards.  These are the intangibles of any competitive game and they are always what separates the best from...well, whatever follows.   



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