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Alex Tyler-Morris: “We listen to each other – it is all about teamwork”

Wednesday, 25 October 2017
Interview

Photo (c) Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping.
Alex Tyler-Morris, Harrie Smolders and Don VHP. Photo (c) Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping.

Harrie Smolders has surely had the season of his life, winning the Longines Global Champions Tour title Champion of the Champions, earning the individual silver medal at the Longines FEI European Championships in Gothenburg and being on the Dutch team that won the Longines FEI Nations Cup Jumping Finals in Barcelona. World of Showjumping took a look behind the scenes to find out more about the team that makes it all go around – and one person in particular: Smolder’s show groom Alex Tyler-Morris.

The 34-year-old has worked with Harrie for nearly eight years. “Maybe it is only me and Harrie going to the shows, but it is the people at home that look after the horses more than I do,” he says modestly. “Because I am always gone, it is important to have those people at home and our team is really easy to work with,” he tells. “I do enjoy the traveling, but from time to time it does get a little bit much. As I am getting older, I don’t have the need to go every weekend – it is also nice to have a weekend at home. A normal week for me is to arrive home Monday morning from a show, take Monday off and leave again on Tuesday or Wednesday,” he continues.

“We have about six to seven horses that Harrie and I take for the bigger shows, but there are 42 boxes all together at home and we have three riders going to shows. So, there is enough work,” he explains. “We all do our thing, but when we need to help each other, we help – it is normal for us,” Alex tells about their team’s working philosophy.

Over the years, a special relationship has been built between Alex, Harrie and the Verlooy-family that they both work for. “To be honest with you, the relationship I have with them – I don’t think of either of them as my boss,” Alex explains. “It is not that I have ever felt that they would turn around to say, ’I am the boss, you do this’. They always listen and value mine and anybody else’s opinion in the stable. It is all very easy, we never feel intimidated, they are very easy going,” Alex says. “Harrie and I, we have our arguments from time to time, like any rider and groom,” he continues. “I think that is normal. But we work well together – it is very rare we have an argument. We listen to each other; it is not his opinion or my opinion only, it is a mix of both. If I think he is wrong, I’ll say it and he’ll do the same to me. It is teamwork.” 

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.
Alex Tyler-Morris with Emerald. Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.

Originally from England, Alex started to ride at a local pony club and grooming was only supposed to be a gap year for him. “When I was 16-years-old I started to ride horses, but when I turned 18 I gave up showing and started grooming. I was supposed to do that for one year before I went to university – but I never went. My parents weren’t so happy then, but they have accepted it now,” he smiles. “I have lived out of England for the last ten years,” he continues. “My then girlfriend used to work for Harrie and that is how I started to work for him. Actually, my first show was ’s-Hertogenbosch – I was thrown in at the deep end,” Alex smiles.

“Out of everything that has happened this year – for me, winning the Grand Prix in Chantilly and winning the league there, with Emerald not having a fence down the whole weekend, that was special,” Alex says about the highlights in the phenomenal year they have had. “And the silver medal in Gothenbourg, for sure. I have no idea how it all has happened, really,” he smiles. “I think for now it is going good, because both Don and Emerald are at the peak of their careers. They are in good form and it makes life very easy, when you have two horses like that,” he continues. “Now we just have to enjoy it while it lasts. I am competitive, but I have never been one of those people that show a lot of emotion when it goes well. But when it goes bad – then I do get angry. Harry wants to win, I want to win – we don’t go to the shows to train around - training can be done at home.”

“Don. He is a handful”, Alex starts to tell about the stunning chestnut stallion. “In the box he is actually quite nice, and sometimes he can be cute in a way – if he wants something from you. But when you take him out, you do need to be careful. He gets so fresh and excited, he is a proper stallion – he is not like Emerald that you can take out and he will never misbehave. With Don, if he decides to go a certain way, I don’t really have a lot to say – he is so strong.”

Even though it has been the two stallions dominating this season, there is a certain mare that has a special place in Alex’ heart: Regina. “She was always the favourite for me,” Alex says. “She has a lot of character, but in a good way. She is one of those horses, that when you first go into her box, you’re afraid, because she pulls her ears back. But she is never nasty. The first day I walked into her box, she squealed at me and turned her ass towards me, so we got to know each other… in one way,” Alex laughs. “But once you do get to know her, she is the sweetest horse. She is still doing good, she is actually at home with us and stays in her box every night and goes out in the field every day. I think there are three embryos taken from her this year, so next year we should have some foals from her.”  

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.
Alex and Don VHP at the prize giving of the European Championships. Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.

With all these fantastic horses and achievements, is there anything left to dream about? “I think one goal has to be the World Equestrian Games next year,” Alex says. “I would like to go to the Olympics again, and if we could win a medal there that would be great. I would also like to do the Top 10 Final, it has always been a dream for me,” he continues. “But there are always ups and downs. I enjoy seeing a horse we get on a 1.40 level improve and get better, that for me is part of the motivation.”

“For now, I am happy doing what I am doing,” Alex tells about his future plans. “The status for grooms has improved a lot over the last few years. We get a lot more respect and our opinions are valued. Sadly, often when there are cut backs at shows it still seems to be the grooms and horses that get to pay. I think the major part of how the groom feels at a show, is how good the show ground is for the horses,” he tells about the working conditions that can be challenging. “Coffee. Coffee helps a lot,” he adds laughing. “But, at the end of the day, if you love what you do and want to do it the long days are worth it.”

 


Text World of Showjumping by Nanna Nieminen // Pictures © Jenny Abrahamsson and Nanna Nieminen.

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