Spectators attending the California’s Del Mar National Horse Show for Saturday night’s Evening of Musical Freestyles were treated to Leslie Morse and her up-and-coming 9-year-old, King’s Excalibur, riding to the theme from the “Pirates of the Caribbean”—a freestyle that the Oldenburg gelding’s late sire, Kingston, might as well have claimed as his own. “It was only fitting that we’d use Kingston’s music in his first CDI,” says Morse. “I was so proud of him. I didn’t ask for too much, but he stayed consistent, he stayed bold, and he stayed rideable.” He paused briefly when he caught sight of his image on the big screen, as if to say, “Is that me?” but quickly got back to business.
The California native is glad to be home after 11 months training and competing on the East Coast. Her first stop was Linda Zang’s Idlewilde Farm in Maryland. “It was a tremendous opportunity to train with a five-star judge,” says Morse. “Not only is Linda’s eye remarkable, she can put that experience right into the training.”
In addition to King’s Excalibur, Morse brought along his full sister, 11-year-old King’s Ruby, as well as 9-year-old Tip Top’s Sterling and Tip Top’s Kiki, who were sired by Morse’s other great stallion, Tip Top 962.
“Ruby is a mother of two, and she’s just getting ready for the Grand Prix,” says Morse. “And Kiki’s just turning 7. Her damsire is Kingston—she’s the best of both worlds.”
Breeding her own horses has reinvigorated Morse’s love for the sport, which flourished after she began riding with the Tarzana Pony Club as a 7-year-old. “I’ve learned so much about training and about a horse’s weaknesses and strengths. I spent years growing them at home. Now it’s time to make the move to showing them. Just getting on a plane is a big thing. They can’t travel the world and be superstars if they haven’t done that.”
After nearly five months in Maryland, Morse headed to Florida, where she and Tip Top won the World Dressage Masters Grand Prix Special in 2010.
“Florida is quite a scene,” smiles Morse. “Everything revolves around the horses; it’s a mecca.”
To succeed in Florida, Morse said, you have to go with a plan, and be prepared to work hard. At first she concentrated on training and watching, riding with U.S. dressage technical advisor/chef d’equipe Robert Dover at the USEF Dressage Observation and Strategic Planning Session in January. A month later, she and King’s Excalibur entered their first Grand Prix together.
While she was in Florida, news about California Dreaming Productions’ inaugural circuit began to circulate. “Everybody in Florida was talking about it,” she says. “It’s a fabulous idea. That’s one of California’s strengths—all of us riders stay united.” Though she’s just getting back to the Grand Prix arena, Morse says she’s still hungry. “My dream is to have one horse in the World Cup and one horse in the Pan Ams. We need depth in the U.S.—not just depth of our riders, but riders with numerous horses.”