Almost three years ago, rider, writer, and “by day” pharmaceutical professional Karen Robertson Terry sent a handwritten thank you note to equestrian publisher Trafalgar Square Books of North Pomfret, Vermont, following a discussion of a manuscript she had submitted. The manuscript did not end up being published, but what ensued was an almost unbelievable progression from aspiring but unknown to ghostwriting the autobiography of the most powerful man in the equestrian world.
“After a few conversations about my book idea, the editors at Trafalgar started hinting at a different project,” says Karen. “They wouldn’t tell me what the project was at first . . . only that it might require some time spent in Wellington, Florida.”
Karen, in her thirties and career-minded, immediately figured she probably didn’t have the time to commit to something that would keep her away from her home in Bend, or office outside of Boston, for any considerable period. Her full-time day job was a demanding role on drug development teams, and she had a husband, dog, and her own horses requesting her presence—at least on occasion.
“I told a work friend of mine (who also rides) about the mystery book project,” Karen remembers. “She joked, ‘Wouldn’t it be nuts if they want you to write a book with George Morris or something?’ And we both laughed at the ridiculous prospect. “I was absolutely unprepared for the offer made to me that night.”
Karen’s background was key to the careful matchmaking at hand when she was tapped to team up with George H. Morris—the “Godfather” of the American equestrian story—and help him pen his autobiography. Her intimate familiarity with not just the “horse world” in broad terms but the specific disciplines in which George has excelled and to which he has devoted his life enabled her to interview him in a knowledgeable and effective way, while grasping points of interest and teasing out particulars of value.
For those unfamiliar with George’s (in)famous Practical Horseman column, it features a troika of photos supplied by willing (if not abuse-seeking) riders, showing them and their mounts over obstacles. George judges each image, providing precise commentary as to why an individual has neared perfection, attained a passable if not flawed seat, or failed entirely to meet the barest minimum of acceptability. It makes for addictive reading, as is evidenced by both the column’s longevity and the near-constant online stream of mass-approved “George-isms,” including such curious and no-doubt mortifying affronts as, “You sit like a soup sandwich.” A number of these have even been merchandised for charitable purposes in the form of a talking “action figure” (from Breyer® and The Chronicle of the Horse), which utters choice George parlance like, “Darlings, I have no time for wrong.”
Certainly, George Morris has gained notoriety for his high standards and expectation of perfection. Of course it is this very behavior—which heckles and frightens and shocks and instigates reaction—that is partly responsible for his incredible record of turning out winning riders throughout his 60-year career as a teacher and coach. Not only has George competed for and won numerous medals for the United States in international competition, he has had a hand in training many if not most of the top equestrians in the sport of show jumping today.
Until now, George Morris has seemed content to allow his publicly traded persona to reign, keeping his private life behind closed doors. But having completed his tenure as the Chef d’Equipe of the US Show Jumping Team in 2013 and with an Olympic year approaching in 2016, it suddenly seemed time to tell his own story—no holds barred. The result is UNRELENTING, which is not only a glimpse inside the mind of the enigmatic leader, but also a fascinating retrospective of the international equestrian scene, tracing the trajectory of horse sport in the United States (and beyond its borders) from the 1940s through the present day.
“For me personally, working on the book was a very challenging balancing act,” Karen acknowledges. “My day job was really demanding, and I found myself working a couple of hours in the evenings and doing anywhere from a little to a lot on weekends. I had to set minor, manageable goals throughout the process so I wouldn’t get too overwhelmed. My competitive riding had to be put on hold, as well as plans for ‘time off,’ since my vacation days went toward trips to work with George.”
“As the story unfolded in front of me, it was amazing how much I could relate to George’s personal journey,” Karen says. “I think others are going to have that same realization when they read it.”
“Very few people in the world could have written UNRELENTING like Karen has done,” says George. “Her writing mimics my own voice as much as anyone’s writing could. This book simply wouldn’t have been possible without her. She has done a magnificent job.”
UNRELENTING is published by Trafalgar Square Books of North Pomfret, Vermont (www.HorseAndRiderBooks.com).