Thereâ€™s something about competing on home soil that brings out the best in Brian Morton.
The 28-year-old Langley resident, who says he has been riding horses competitively since was â€œeight or nine years old,â€ began specializing in show jumping in his mid teens, and graduated to the Grand Prix level at 18.
â€œThereâ€™s so much to enjoy [about show jumping] but I love two things,â€ Morton said. â€œI played a lot of sports but nothing equals the thrill of competing in a jump off, where the win is so close you can taste it. And nothing comes close to that thrill of connecting with an animal, a living, breathing, partner. That connection is very special and thatâ€™s what I love about it.â€
Morton is forging a path of consistent success at the highest level the sport has to offer.
To wit â€“ his first place showing at the $55,500 CSI*2-W Purica Recovery EQ World Cup Qualifier which was at Thunderbird Show Park on June 1.
Riders from 10 nations took to the grass for the event, with just eight besting a tough course set by Peter Holmes.
It took 10 rounds and a lot of rails to get the first clear ride from Israelâ€™s Danielle Goldstein, but Morton, right behind her, cleared with the fastest first round time to guarantee a jump off. And when the class wrapped up 28 rounds later, Morton was still on top.
Aboard the 17-year-old Selle Francais gelding Spitfire, Morton won in a jump-off.
â€œI had the advantage of riding first on my young horse, so after that trip, I knew exactly what I had to do when I went back in on Spitfire,â€ Morton said, following the victory. â€œWhen I had a rail down in the Fridayâ€™s grand prix, I thought, okay Sundayâ€™s my day. Spitfire rose to occasion, as he always does, and was outstanding. The jump off course wasnâ€™t that long and in some ways that favoured me. Spitfire is 17 and I need to think about fatigue.â€
On Aug. 17, Morton will return to Thunderbird, a place where he has spent years honing his skills. He is among the international field looking to capture the $100,000 CSI***3-W Facet Advisors World Cup Qualifier.
He will be riding Spitfire and Atlantis, a nine-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding.
â€œMy goal is to win,â€ Morton said. â€œIf both horses are going well, I have a real shot at it. What I really want to know is, that on the day I rode my best and that my horses jumped well. If that happens, I will be satisfied with that. Of course I wonâ€™t be completely satisfied unless I can win. Donâ€™t get me wrong, Iâ€™d be happy be with second or third, but if you donâ€™t have that real drive to win when the competition gets as tough as itâ€™s going to be on Sunday [the 17th], then you wonâ€™t get there.â€
Morton works with horses and riders nearly every day. He and his business partner Mark Laskin, chef dâ€™equipe of the Canadian show jumping team, run Equimark Inc., a Langley-based horse training business.
â€œI love training horses and [coaching] riders, itâ€™s a big part of my life,â€ Morton said. â€œItâ€™s rewarding when you get to bring a horse along and see it progress over time, and with bringing riders along, too, and helping them meet their goals. Itâ€™s fulfilling and very enjoyable for me.â€
For Morton, thereâ€™s a symbiotic relationship between competitive show jumping, and training horses and coaching young riders.
â€œThe two support each other very well,â€ Morton said. â€œI become better at training and teaching because I completely relate to horses and riders on that level. That helps me break it down and understand it well, and ultimately it makes me a better rider. The two complement each other beautifully.â€
Like a dangling carrot, competing in the Olympics is a dream of Mortonâ€™s. Short-listed to the Canadian show jumping team, Morton realizes that making the Canadian Olympic team for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro will be a tough task, but he continues to push forward.
â€œI have a lot of ground to cover before I get there, but it [the Olympics] is something on my radar screen,â€ Morton said. â€œItâ€™s something Iâ€™m pushing for.â€
The seemingly ageless Ian Millar sets the bar high in a sport where your birth date is just a number.
Now 67, the Canadian show jumping team member broke a record when he took part in his 10th Olympic Games in London in 2012.
â€œIan Millar is a great role model and fantastic in a sport that rewards mature champion riders,â€ Morton said. â€œRiders typically reach their peak in their mid-30s. It takes a long time to put all building blocks of success in place. Thatâ€™s very unique to show jumping.â€
Elite competitions like the one this Sunday at Thunderbird helps Morton to become an even better rider. And competing in very familiar surroundings could give him an extra advantage.
â€œMy horse is very comfortable on that field and Iâ€™m very comfortable there, too. Itâ€™s wonderful, the fan support I get there, and I really appreciate that. In the end, it makes me a bit better.â€