BY SISSY WICKES
Michelle Morris is as well rounded a horsewoman as one can find on either coast of the United States. A native Californian, she grew up riding in the local California circuits and eventually worked with legendary west coast trainer, Karen Healey. Under Healey’s tutelage, Michelle had a very successful junior career in the hunter, jumper, and equitation rings. She was top four in the USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals West in both 2007 and 2008, Reserve Champion in the CPHA Junior Finals and the West Coast Equestrian Finals. Michelle competed in all the National Equitation Finals, placing sixth in the ASPCA Maclay Finals in Syracuse, New York.
With talent, discipline, and drive, Morris was an attractive recruit for NCAA Equestrian teams. Accepting an offer at the University of Georgia, she went on to be a valuable and successful member of the Bulldogs equestrian squad. During her time on the team, Georgia won two National Championship titles. Michelle also won an NCAA Individual National Championship for Equitation on the Flat and appeared in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd. She is a four time All American in both Equitation Over Fences and Equitation on the Flat. Michelle spent 2013 as a student coach for Georgia Equestrian, where she helped them to achieve the Reserve National Championship. The lessons learned during her tenure at UGA are invaluable to the young trainer, so much so that she offers collegiate consulting as one of the services at her business, The Clearing. Michelle explains the personal impact. “It was a great experience being on an NCAA team. I was trying to decide what I wanted to do professionally after college, and riding and coaching there helped me to determine that I wanted to stay in the industry.”
Morris credits collegiate riding as the source of many of her best habits as a trainer and business owner. She explains, “The team mindset carries over into my business today. I view my assistants, grooms, vet, and farrier as a team all working together for the best outcome for horses and riders.” In addition, her coaching experience at UGA included teaching and organizing travel for the squad. “I learned the details of traveling to shows and the level of planning and record keeping required. These skills are essential to running an effective business.”
NCAA Equestrian is a constantly changing landscape. Because it is still categorized by NCAA as an emerging sport, qualification and recruitment practices for equestrian teams may vary from year to year. Morris is well versed in the NCAA culture and offers consulting services to junior riders and their families who are facing the complicated process. “As an emerging sport, equestrian is constantly changing,” Michelle explains. “There is a lot of current information to stay on top of and I can do that.” Her passion for the college experience is evident as Michelle assists other young equestrians to avail themselves of the same opportunity.
Michelle Morris’ business is called The Clearing, the name of a well known east coast show stable owned by the Lloyds, a successful and prolific equestrian family. The Lloyd’s granddaughter was one of Michelle’s first clients when she returned to California as a young professional. “They offered me the name of their family stable, The Clearing, and gave me some hand painted vintage trunks with the name on them,” Morris remembers. “It was so kind of them and I was honored.”
The Clearing is located at the exceptional Hansen Dam Horse Park in Lake View Terrace, CA. Hansen Dam has been recently renovated and offers beautiful arenas and well maintained stables. Morris appreciates that each of the seven trainers located at Hansen Dam has a private arena for the exclusive use of their clients. “It has a very private feel,” she explains. Morris acknowledges the numerous horse shows at Hansen Dam as an accessible and inexpensive way for clients to compete without the cost of trailering and stall fees. With approximately 25 horses under supervision, The Clearing offers training and sales services for young and more seasoned horses in the hunter, jumper, and equitation rings. Morris teaches clients whose experience ranges from novice to advanced with an appreciation for all levels. “I love to teach and I give personalized attention to each of my clients. If they are riding at the 3’6″ national level or jumping their first jump, I want to make sure that they achieve their goals.”
The training program at The Clearing includes an emphasis on flat work. Michelle credits Karen Healey with “not only teaching me how to compete, but how to prepare horses. She gave me confidence in my skills and a great foundation.” Cavalettis and gymnastics are also important ingredients at The Clearing and Michelle makes sure she rides each client’s horse at least once a week whether for a jump school or a flat ride. “I keep the horses on track for their riders,” she continued. “I believe that form follows function and the use of correct aids produces better performance.” With high attention to detail and careful consideration of the needs of each horse and rider, Michelle Morris is an articulate and organized trainer. The Clearing advertises itself as “committed to excellence at all levels,” a goal that it is poised to keep.
Photo credits: Robert Sklenar, Captured Moments Photography, Kristin Lee Photography
About the Author: Sissy is a Princeton University graduate, a lifelong rider and trainer, a USEF R rated judge, a freelance journalist and an autism advocate. Her illustrious resume includes extensive show hunter and jumper experience. She lives with her family in Unionville, PA and Wellington, FL.
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