Anne Kursinski: It’s All About the Horse

1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Photo © Anne Gittins

BY ANN JAMIESON

“That’s all I ever wanted to do, ride, and be with horses,” states Anne Kursinski, one of the all-time leading riders in United States show jumping history. Getting her start as a mere four year old when she,  her mother, and her sister Lisa joined the Flintridge Riding Club in Pasadena, California, Anne began with the “beginner teacher” there, progressing to Jimmy Williams when she was 11. 

Although Anne is most famous for her incredible success with jumpers, she succeeded in every division with Jimmy, competing in the hunters and equitation (including placing in the top 10 at the Maclay Finals at Madison Square Garden and the Medal Finals at Harrisburg) as well as riding sale horses for him. “I enjoyed winning in the equitation; I enjoyed doing all of it.” But she particularly has a passion for “going fast and jumping the big jumps.”

Anne was already thinking Olympics as a child, when she would pour over photos of William Steinkraus, and Frank and Mary Chapot, while dreaming of following in their footsteps. But, coming from the West Coast (at a time when most international riders were based in the East) Anne didn’t know if she would ever have that opportunity.

She would. 

While still in high school Anne began her international career by competing  at Spruce Meadows, as part of the West Coast team. 

After moving to the East Coast, she began riding with George Morris. “George knew how to get people to the Olympics,” she explains. “There was a real strategy to it.” 

Along with a syndicate, she and her family purchased Livius, with the goal of qualifying for the Olympics. She accomplished that goal, attending as an alternate at Los Angeles. “I had dreamed about it and wanted it for so long, and I got there, and they won the gold medal. It was a great, great, experience, and just one of five I now have under my belt. Being there it was like ‘Wow, this is really happening; it’s amazing!’”

Her victories since then have been countless, including competing on five Olympic teams and earning two team silver medals: the first from the 1996 Olympics on home turf in Atlanta with Eros, and the second in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea, aboard Starman. With Starman, she also tied for fourth individually. 

1988 Olympics in South Korea. Photo © Tish Quirk

Being on the podium while receiving an Olympic medal with teammates Lisa Jacquin, Greg Best, and Joe Fargis in South Korea was “Very exciting!” Yet, while they were proud to be representing their country and bringing home a silver medal, there was a touch of disappointment that the German team had taken the gold.

In addition to the Olympic medals, Anne won individual and team gold medals in the 1983 Pan-American Games in Caracus, Venezuela.

She has won nearly every major equestrian competition there is to win. Yet her win with Starman at Aachen was one of her most memorable victories. “It’s the biggest, hardest, Grand Prix. To win it was incredible.” 

She also won the Grand Prix (Gran Premio Pulsar) in Monterrey, Mexico, aboard Eros, “the richest one in the world at the time, with a purse of $450,000.” Anne was the first woman to claim the title.

Other top wins include the American Invitational, the American Gold Cup, the Hampton Classic, and the Grand Prix of Rome (Anne was also the first woman to claim that prize). She remembers being young, and relatively inexperienced as she competed against the top riders in the world. “I was very young, and I was competing against all these famous riders.” 

In addition, Anne has ridden on 47 U.S. Nations’ Cups teams, and has competed in 10 World Cup Finals, as well as being a member of three U.S. World Equestrian Games Teams.

Anne has earned countless accolades including the titles AHSA Horsewoman of the Year in both 1988 and 1992 and Equestrian of the Year in 1995. In 1991, she won the Leading Lady Rider award at the FEI World Cup Finals in Gothenburg, and the U.S. Olympic Committee named her Female Equestrian Athlete of the Year while L’Annee Hippique ranked her as the number one American and number one female rider in the world. 

In 2011 Anne was voted America’s Favorite Show Jumping Equestrian. In 2017, she was inducted into the Show Jumping Hall of Fame.

Anne’s top coaches, Jimmy Williams, and later George Morris, ingrained not only riding, but life lessons, in her. “Hard work really does pay off. I wanted to be successful and win, but I had to be patient. 

“You keep growing. You keep asking questions. It’s hard work, and you have to put it in, and look for opportunity.” Following her dreams, she says, “really did work for me.”

Sharing her experience of falling off at her first World Cup Finals in Gothenburg, Sweden, Anne recalls, “I thought briefly, ‘I should quit.’”

She didn’t.  Instead, she chose to learn from the experience, and use it to help others learn. “You learn from both the good and the bad. There is no failure; only feedback.

“It’s a great journey, all the people and experiences, the life lessons, winning, losing…and horses are such amazing animals, they give so much and try so hard. There is something magical about it, that connection we have with them.”

Anne & Eros. Photo courtesy of Anne Kursinski

While Starman was Anne’s most famous horse, it was Eros who was her favorite. He was in George Morris’ stable, a scrawny little five-year-old, ewe-necked Thoroughbred who failed to impress many great riders who came to have a look at him. But when Anne looked, she saw something special in him. “It was just meant to be,” she says. “He just flew over the fences and I knew he was very special. I brought him up as a baby all the way to the Olympics. We had a wonderful lifetime and career together. He just died last year at 33. I’ve had a lot of great horses, but he was one in a million.”

Anne has always preferred the Thoroughbred type, and is currently working with a Thoroughbred cross, a three-day event horse that she got from Jane Sleeper. “He’s fun, he’s game, he’s light. I’m really having a lot of fun with him.”

Anne’s connection to her horses has never been solely around competition. She loves getting to know them, their temperaments and personalities, and helping them be the best they can be, getting the most out of them. She’s enjoyed turning dressage horses into hunters, and watching them blossom in their new roles.

Teaching is a huge part of her life, as well. “I do love to teach, to share my experiences, what I believe in, to attend all these competitions from local to international. I love to see my students grow; I love sharing and helping them learn to be better horsemen, getting inside the horse, not just riding. I love giving back to the sport, but also giving back to the horses. When I give a clinic, I say ‘I’m really doing this for the horses, giving them a voice.’”

Anne advises riders making their way through the ranks to “enjoy the journey on the way up, and don’t beat yourself up. Don’t just think about the goal, but enjoy the process.”

Walking the course with her students. Photo courtesy of Anne Kursinski

To set themselves up for success, Annes stresses the importance of assembling a great team: the coach, the best vets and farriers, top-notch grooms, a personal trainer, a sports psychologist. Anne remembers going to the gym in the 1980’s before it became popular for riders. A question she has asked herself throughout her life prompted the time spent at the gym. “I keep asking myself, how can I be better for my horses? What can I do to be better?

“It’s all about the horse’s happiness. I’m sharing a love of the horse, of all that they teach us, all that they put up with, a love of the sport.”

Outside of the barn, Anne now enjoys traveling. As a child, her mother would drag her kicking and screaming to places like Venice, or the Berlin Wall. Anne preferred to just stay put in the barn. Now she appreciates her mother’s efforts to let her see the world, and takes advantage of the travel that is part of her lifestyle.

Along with competing and winning with her horse UK, Anne has been very involved in the development and promotion of the sport.  She is a USHJA clinician, member of the USHJA and USET Executive Committees and USEF Board of Directors. Anne is the Chef d’Equipe for the U.S. Show Jumping Development program and was a selector for the 2014 WEG bronze medal winning U.S. team in Normandy, France, and the 2016 Rio Olympics’ Silver Medal winning U.S. team. 

Photo courtesy of Anne Kursinski

Anne counts herself “very fortunate to have a great career with wonderful horses and owners.”

In July, the latest edition of her successful book, Anne Kursinski’s Riding and Jumping Clinic, will be released, and in 2015, she launched an online instructional site, Riding and Jumping Mentor. Here members benefit from her vast knowledge via instructional videos and articles.

Through her magnificent and extremely horse friendly Market Street facility in Frenchtown, New Jersey, Anne has worked with many top hunter/jumper/equitation riders such as Hunter Holloway, Victoria Birdsall, and Karen Polle, as well as eventers Matt Brown and Will Coleman Jr. Ship ins for both students and professionals are welcome and she is available to work with riders at horse shows. As well as her regular clients and students, Anne enjoys teaching clinics all over the country.

Anne admonishes all horse people to “Always be thankful: to have a horse in your life, to the owners, to the grooms, to horses who save you when you make a mistake. We are very fortunate to have this lifestyle and wonderful horses in our lives.”


About the Author: Ann Jamieson wanted to be a horse show judge since she was a child, and has now held her USEF “”r”” judge’s cards for over 30 years. She writes about both horses, and travel, (and particularly loves combining the two). Ann is the author of the “”For the Love of the Horse”” series, four volumes of amazing true stories about horses, and the proud mom of her Secretariat grandson, Fred Astaire (Tucker).
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