Kyle Charles Morton, who will be celebrating his 19th birthday in March, has been a familiar face on the Ontario eventing scene for the past 10 years. But this young man has worldly aspirations that are now being realized, thanks in part to a chance meeting with a German dressage coach by the name of Elly Schobel in Aiken, SC, in 2019. Following six weeks of training with Schobel, she was so impressed with Morton’s talent and work ethic that she offered to arrange for him to go to Germany and learn from some of the best.
We caught up with Kyle during a break in his busy six-day-a-week schedule at Sven Lux’s Stud Tasdorf in northern Germany to discuss the path that led him to following his dream in Europe, and the special horse that has carried him from Entry level to 2-star competitions.
When and where did you start riding, and who was your first coach?
I started riding at the age of eight at a local boarding barn in Cobourg, Ontario. My first ‘real’ coach was Canadian Olympian Michele Mueller. My parents purchased my first event horse from Michele when I was 10 years old, and I stayed with Michele for many years as a working student until she retired in 2018. I moved on to be coached by Canadian Olympian Ian Roberts, who took over my jumping training, and Grand Prix Australian coach Karin Davis took over my dressage education.
Tell us a bit about your first first horse.
My first event horse was Cooler Than Me, aka Roxie. I received her as a gift from my parents when I was 10 years old after I outgrew my very first small Welsh pony named Dixie.
Roxie is a 15.2h Morgan/Quarter Horse cross (or shall I call her a “Honie” – half pony, half horse!) born and bred in Kentucky. Originally she did fox hunting in the States and was brought up to Ontario to be sold to another young rider in Michele Mueller’s barn. But the fates brought her to me, and I’m so glad!
Roxie wasn’t meant to be an event horse as she wasn’t skilled at dressage (she paddles with her front legs). It took years of hard work in the dressage ring to overcome some basic challenges. But we bonded as a team, and she always gave her very best. She taught me to love this sport and with hard work, we could achieve great things. Over the years we competed in Ontario and across the southern USA states. She won many shows and took home many year-end awards.
She’s now 18 years old and I’ve had her all this time. She is leased out full time teaching another rider to move up the levels with confidence. She’s a huge part of me, and I’ll never give her up or sell her. She taught me perseverance, tolerance, commitment, toughness, discipline, assertiveness and most of all … patience.
Who is your current ride?
In 2017 my parents again were kind enough to purchase for me a new event horse as I had outgrown Roxie and needed a horse that could take me up the levels. With the help of Ontario rider Karl Slezak, we bought a horse he had imported from Ireland – a four-year-old grey ISH named Shannondale Gambit.
As I was already competing at the Training level and was jumping at Prelim level with Roxie, my parents wanted me to buy an experienced horse that could move me up from Prelim and onwards and teach me the ropes. But my heart was set on a young horse I could train myself. I fell in love with Gambit immediately!
What appealed to you about this particular horse?
The day I was sure Gambit would be “the one’’, Karl Slezak had met us out on a cross-country field in Ontario. On a cold November day, while it was snowing, I took this four-year-old out for the first time over the XC jumps so that I could try him before we purchased him. And this little grey ISH showed me how much potential he had and how big his heart really was. Gambit was young but showed so much potential. I was sold and we have been inseparable ever since. He’s my best friend and teammate.
Name some highlights from events you’ve attended.
I have competed with Gambit up to the Intermediate level nationally and 2* level internationally with hopes of reaching 3* level this year here in Europe. Covid did put a wrench in my training and competing over these past two seasons, so I’m so looking forward to finally getting back on track for the 2022 season ahead.
Some of the big highlights from shows in North America would be my first FEI 2* event in Virginia in 2019. Gambit and I drove 12 hours from Ontario to the US for this competition and had never experienced anything of such scale before. It was an amazing experience learning the jog-up, vet checks, and procedures of the week. Gambit and I finished in 6th place.
We also competed our first Intermediate level at Will O Wind Horse Trials in Ontario in 2021, where we finished in 3rd place.
Since arriving in Germany last August, I have not competed as there hasn’t been an opportunity to do so yet. Covid restrictions and such have also limited shows here in the EU.
Which coaches and riders have you worked with in Germany?
When I first came to Germany in 2019 (at age 16), I was given the chance to intern and train under Sven Lux, a 4* eventing rider here in Germany. Dressage coach Elly Schobel, who lives in Aiken, was the one who offered me this incredible opportunity. I love to travel, and I knew that good fortune like this doesn’t come around every day for everyone to take advantage of. I wanted the chance to go to where the best riders trained and be able to be a part of it.
In 2019 I attended the European Championships at Luhmühlen and had the honour of being able to walk the cross-country course with Micheal Jung himself, observing his strategy and mindset going into this extremely technical course. This past year I went to the Bundeschampionat with Sven, where I was able to see the full swing of the German competition. Spending a week grooming and preparing horses for Sven at a very complex and difficult competition; one where even some of the best 5* eventers in the world were unable to complete the cross-country. Meeting all of the amazing people and being immersed in such an equestrian-rich environment is an experience that I will never forget.
I have also worked with Rebecca Gerken, a 4* eventer, and with Tom Tarver, a New Zealand Olympic show jumper.
How has the pandemic affected your plans?
I spent eight weeks in Germany in the summer of 2019, and planned to go back from March-August 2020 for six months. I did in fact I did make it to the country on March 4th, but due to COVID-19 (which just started to break out around the world), I was forced to come home to Canada just nine days after arriving for peace of mind of my mom and for safety reasons.
It was a very sad time indeed. Having to leave Germany, missing the adventures that lay ahead of me for those six months was heartbreaking, truly devastating. Upon arriving home I had to spend two weeks isolated away from my family in a trailer (RV) outside my house. Then I came out of my isolation to a world turned upside down from Covid 19. I couldn’t visit my family (beyond my parents), my friends, and the stables were all closed. My horses, Gambit and Roxie, were locked down for three months with all the horses at the barn, unable to be accessed until all barns were allowed to reopen again. So what was to be horse-rich six months of training, riding and competing in Germany became months without horses … period.
The show season slowly tried to regain a sense of familiarity with a few competitions starting up again in Ontario. We hadn’t trained as we normally would have, so it took time to get up to speed. I spent the next year planning a new adventure back to Germany, one double the length of time and commitment to my equestrian dreams. This time I would spend one whole year in Europe developing both myself and my horse.
I made arrangements with Sven Lux to hire me on again, this time for a year’s placement (Aug 2021- Aug 2022). Then my plan is to finish my higher education and attend university in the fall of 2022 [Kyle has been accepted to a three-year course at the University of Leicester in England].
Gambit arrived in October of 2021 after the season had ended for the most part in Europe, so we have been training and getting ready for the upcoming season ahead. We plan to start with indoor show jumping competitions soon, and hope to move up to the 3 star level in eventing.
What is it like training and showing in Europe?
Training and competing in Germany/ Europe is such a different experience. In Europe, and especially in Germany, you compete against those who live and breathe horses. Competing here is competing on a level so advanced that it would boggle the minds of most people. Here the level of talent, passion, and skill is unmatched. You get to become a part of this passion yourself if you are offered a placement to work and ride here.
Apart from these benefits of training, there is also the benefit of connections ‒ meeting the most incredible people from riders to owners and trainers alike. At an international competition here, you compete alongside not only the best Germany has to offer, but the best of what Europe has to offer. The number of competitors in a class can reach well over 100 and you are competing against Olympians, 5* riders, professionals of the highest standards. And when you ride among the best, you become the best.
What are your short-term plans?
The most exciting news that I have to announce is that effective in March 2022 I will be moving from the north of Germany (Tasdorf) to the south with Sven and will be joining the team of Michael Jung, 5* event rider, and all-around eventing legend.
I will be joining his team as a working student. Michael will become my coach, my trainer, and my new boss for the next six months. I will be immersed in the deepest of equestrian knowledge a rider like me could ever ask for. It’s a dream come true!
My goal after university is to one day to be able to represent my country at the Olympics in eventing. This would be a huge achievement and the greatest honour an athlete could wish for ‒ to create a life that is horse-centred and be able to expand outwards, welcoming people into my passion as well and sharing my knowledge with others.