Conversations With Equestrians: Morley Abey

By Jackie McFarland

As a Canadian who spent most of his summer working with clients in Canada, we wanted to get an ‘Up North’ Report from a good source.

EqSol: Where are you from in Canada?
MA: I am from Edmonton, the capital of Alberta, just three hours north of Calgary.

EqSol: How many years have you been competing at Spruce Meadows?
MA: My family competed at the first show 33 years ago (1976). I competed in the Rocky Mountain Hunter Ring on Junior Hunters when I was 8 years old. The last time I competed there was in 1996, the year I met Joie (Morley’s wife).

A bit of Spruce Meadows History…
Formerly a cattle feed lot, the Southern family transformed a field into one of the best equestrian facilities in the world. Construction started in 1973 and the first tournament was in 1976. The horse shows attract over 450,000 spectators each year, with 65,000 recorded in attendance on Sunday of the 2008 Masters Tournament. Having strong commitment from a large number of corporate sponsors, the prize money exceeds six million annually.

EqSol: You’ve been to a lot of facilities all over the world – is Spruce one of the best?
MA: Most definitely Spruce is one of the best. They take such good care of the place and make it special for exhibitors.

EqSol: What makes it special and what are your recommendations to spectators and/or exhibitors?
MA: There are so many reasons why Spruce is special but one that comes to mind for me is that they only use the International Ring three times per year, and for the big classes only. So when you say you’ve ridden in the International Ring at Spruce Meadows it means something.

Whether you compete in other arenas or go just to watch great competition, everyone should see Spruce Meadows. It’s a fabulous facility. Horses and riders can do amazing things when a crowd of 20,000 or more is cheering them on. Not to be missed!

And when you go up to Spruce, don’t miss out on the Egg Burger or Grasshopper Beer, both a must!

EqSol: One fond memory of this past summer?
MA: I would have to say the weather. Spruce’s Achilles heel is the weather – it can be miserable. But this year it was dreamy, likely the best year ever. Maybe a sign of years to come…

EqSol: Tell us about Blue Valley Farms.
MA: It’s a very special place. The Smith’s built a destination for local riders to come and train, and they really made it top notch. It is more than a facility – it is the nicest barn I have ever been to. Alex, their daughter, was the catalyst for me returning to Canada. Joie and I opened JG-MA SJ, Inc. – Canada and Chris Starr, a former employee, did a nice job of developing a customer base.

Honestly, although we did well, it was too hard to run another business. The staffing issues, the time away from our California operation as well as time apart from Joie was too much. So now I only work with Alex and we were lucky enough to find Darrin Dlin to move his business and lease the stall the Smiths aren’t using. That means I can focus on training Tara when I’m there and not on having to run a business.

We do plan to have our first Blue Valley Farms horse show next summer at the end of July. We’re going to only have 150 horses, offer special incentives to California riders and more – I’ll give you the details when I have them.

EqSol: How has Sunshine (Morley’s French bulldog) changed your life?
MA: She is a great companion and travels with me everywhere. I’ve had people approach me at shows asking about Sunshine and don’t even know who they are.

When I was in Portugal for the developing riders tour, someone asked me where Sunshine was – she has a huge international fan base! As for her agent, we’re talking to Justin Timberlake’s people.

  Thank you Morley for your time and expertise on Spruce.

Conversations With Equestrians: Joie Gatlin

Joie Gatlin just returned from spending over a month in Europe competing at some of the most prestigious horse shows in the world. We were able to spend a little while talking about her travels and experiences this summer. Her excitement and passion for the time spent in Europe is definitely worth sharing.

Tammy Chipko: What made you decide to do this tour?
Joie Gatlin: I planned it at the beginning of the year, thinking the trip would be a great experience for my horses as well as for me. I knew it would raise the bar, so to speak, for me. When you are there you are warming up with and competing against the best in the world, it certainly raises your expectations of your own riding ability. The caliber of riders that I was able to watch, and listen to, also made for an incredible experience – John Whitaker, Ludger Beerbaum to name just two I rode around with.

TC: How did your tour start?
JG: We left from Calgary and flew to Luxembourg. We then stayed at a farm in Belgium for a few days where I could ride prior to driving to Italy. The first competition was a CSI 5* in San Patrignano, Italy, ranked the biggest and most difficult of all the competitions in Europe.

TC: How were you accepted there?
JG: Everyone was incredibly friendly. The camaraderie was amazing! All the riders are competing against one another and they 100% are there to win but they still will help each other out as much as possible. I felt welcomed and respected.

TC: How did you do in Italy?
JG: I was the first to go clear and the crowd was fantastic. The stands were packed and everyone was so excited. I will never forget that moment. I ended up 9th overall. It was such a thrill to be standing in the winners circle with Christian Ahlmann, Markus Ehning, Markus Beerbaum and Meredith Michaels Beerbaum. I was so proud of Suncal’s King and so happy with our results.

TC: How did the tour continue?
JG: The second horse show was in Switzerland at a place called Ascona. Like many of the European shows, Ascona had beautiful rings, VIP tents, barns, etc. The Grand Prix was really tough competition with over 50 of the best ready to win. History repeated itself – I was the first clear round, and the crowd – you wouldn’t believe it! They were incredible. It was so exciting. I ended up 9th again and was elated.

We had a week off at this point and took the opportunity to do some sightseeing which was breathtaking. We also looked at some nice sale horses in different areas.

We then went to Jon Tops Week I Horse Show called “Valkenswaard,” another great show with again some of the top riders in the world there to compete. My young horse Twindoline was 2nd and 3rd in the young horse classes, very exciting. The Europeans really put a lot of effort into the young horse classes and strongly believe in this pattern of development. It was great to finish so well. And just as exciting was my 12th place finish in the Grand Prix. This is a beautiful show that anyone who has an interest in competing in Europe should attend.

TC: Congratulations on your success! Would you recommend that others (including Juniors or Amateurs) compete in Europe?
JG: Absolutely, it is a great opportunity. When you get a chance to watch, ride and compete with the best in the world it can only make you better. Your expectations are higher, your goals are higher, and your standards are higher. If you have the opportunity to take a horse and show at a few nice shows it can only improve your riding. Europe has so many beautiful places to see and wonderful people to meet. I would absolutely recommend it to any serious show jumper.

TC: Well, you must have a lot of catching up to do at home?
JG: I am very fortunate to have my husband Morley Abey as a partner. He really took care of everything this summer so I could have this opportunity. Not only did we have great tours in both Spruce Meadows and Europe, but Morley kept everyone at home happy and showing here. Thank you, Morley!