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The Greenhorn Chronicles 23: Gail Greenough on International Show Jumping and Equestrianism













Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Publisher Founding: September 1, 2014

Web Domain: 

Location: Fort Langley, Township of Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Journal: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Journal Founding: August 2, 2012

Frequency: Three (3) Times Per Year

Review Status: Non-Peer-Reviewed

Access: Electronic/Digital & Open Access

Fees: None (Free)

Volume Numbering: 11

Issue Numbering: 1

Section: E

Theme Type: Idea

Theme Premise: “Outliers and Outsiders”

Theme Part: 26

Formal Sub-Theme: “The Greenhorn Chronicles”

Individual Publication Date: September 1, 2022

Issue Publication Date: January 1, 2023

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Interviewer(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Interviewee(s): Gail Greenough

Word Count: 3,318

Image Credit: Gail Greenough.

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN): 2369-6885

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citations, after the interview.*

*Interview conducted September 1, 2022.*


Gail Greenough is the CEO of Greenough Equestrian. She teaches and trains out of Creekside Equestrian near Calgary, Alberta. She was the youngest and first rider to finish with zero faults to win the gold medal at the 1986 World Show Jumping Championships, and the only woman and North American to do so. She joined the Canadian equestrian team in 1983. She won gold for the National Cup, the National Horse Show, the International Grand Prix, the National Grand Prix, and the DuMaurier Grand Prix. She earned a Bachelor of Arts Classics, Arts History, and Sociology, from the University of Alberta. Greenough has been honoured with the Sports Federation of Canada Achievement Award (1984), Edmonton Sports Report Association Amateur Athlete of the Year (1986), TSN Female Athlete of the Year (1986), Alberta Achievement Award (1987), and the Edmonton YWCA Tribute to Women Award (1988), and entrance into the Order of Canada (1990), the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame (1994), the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame (1998) and the Jump Canada Hall of Fame (2006). Greenough discusses: the first inklings of becoming an equestrian; an actual career; Canadian society at the time; the experience of seeing very, very high-level jumping; gold medals; the greatest supports; rapport with horses; human behaviour and patterns; the more difficult aspects of a horses personalities; the gold medals; the Bachelor of Arts in Classics, Arts History, and Sociology from U of A; the more impactful or significant personalities in the Canadian show jumping world since its inception; his trademark trait or personality facet; the system of building U25 riders into riders for Canada; the quality of the horse and the matching of the rider; barriers; regrets; balance; support structures; international women riders; the men; punching above our level; familial feel; most dominant international show jumping team; the style of riding for show jumping; principles; equipment and safety; aspects of safety have changed; the leading edge, the cutting edge, of the training, the equipment, the safety and care; identify a young rider with a lot of talent; training others; and feel proud three international trainees.

Keywords: Alberta, Canada, equestrianism, Gail Greenough, horse sense, Ian Millar, principles, show jumping, The Greenhorn Chronicles, U25.

The Greenhorn Chronicles 23: Gail Greenough on International Show Jumping and Equestrianism

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: We are here with Gail Greenough. She is a distinguished international show jumper in Canadian equestrian history. So, to start, what were the first inklings of becoming an equestrian or interaction with horses in particular?

Gail Greenough: As a little girl, I did not grow up in a horse related family. I had two older brothers that played hockey. My father played hockey. I came from a very sports-minded family. I was one of those girls who loved horses and would do anything to be around horses. So for as long as I remember, I was always in love with horses.

Jacobsen: Was there a particular moment when you realized this could become an actual career and was formally a sport that you could compete in?

Greenough: Not really one particular moment, it evolved from Pony Club on up. I always wanted to make it my life. That was my dream. When I started jumping, all I wanted to do was jump for the Canadian equestrian team. I was very driven at a young age for sure.

Jacobsen: Do you think there’s anything about Canadian society at the time, latter 20th-century, that was a fertile time to be an equestrian to get into show jumping, etc.?

Greenough: It paralleled the growth of Spruce Meadows. Spruce Meadows was at its inception when I was 14-years-old, which is a time in an adolescent’s life where you choose directions. I was 14-year-olds at the first Spruce Meadows competition (13 or 14). I grew alongside with Spruce Meadows. As they grew, I grew. As a junior, I was able to compete in the international ing in Spruce Meadows and walk under the watchtower. They got international teams from Europe and England. I was able to watch the best riders in the world ride as a teenager.

That, probably, catapulted me. So, the parallel with Spruce Meadows growth would parallels my growth. I, probably, couldn’t have achieved what I achieved without Spruce Meadows.

Jacobsen: Recollecting back, when you had the experience riding and jumping with horses before seeing the world’s best, and then actually seeing them in practice, what was the experience of seeing very, very high-level jumping compared to what you had seen before?

Greenough: I was competing at lower levels. I was at the competitions at the same time, competing at a different level. I was able to absorb everything from the international riders and knew that that was what I wanted to do.

Jacobsen: For a lot of people who may not realize, you had a lot of success – gold medals and such – very early in life, in your 20s.

Greenough: Yes.

Jacobsen: It came rapidly, very tightly together.

Greenough: Yes.

Jacobsen: When did you realize, outside of the medals, that you were quite very good.

Greenough: I think as a junior jumper rider. I was fairly brave and fairly accurate. As we say in our sport, I had a pretty good eye for the distance to the jump. When I finished high school, I moved to California. I achieved a lot there. I learned how to go fast agains the clock with Butch Thomas. I went to college. Then I moved back to Edmonton to go to university and work with Mark Laskin.

My last year of university was my first team on the Canadian team. My horses were back East because that’s where everything was based. I was going to U of A. I really don’t know how I did that. I was on the planes a lot. It was the days before the internet. I would do Madison Square Gardens and the Royal Winter Fair with the team and try and get home and write final exams. That was complicated.

Jacobsen: What do you consider some of the greatest supports in getting that achieved?

Greenough: My family, my parents, my mother, my father, they were behind me 100%, as long as I went to school [Laughing]. For sure, my family and my brothers, my two older brothers, supported me and my dreams. I had really good coaches. I had John Weir, Mac Cone, Butch Thomas, Mark Laskin. First and foremost, I was matched with really good horses that brought me along in the sport. You are only really as good as what you sit on and only as good as the match between horse and rider. Not that I had easy horses, I didn’t. But definitely, I created really good rapport with the horses that I had.

Jacobsen: How do you develop that rapport with horses? How long does that generally take?

Greenough: It is a lot of time. It is a lot of time in the saddle and out of the saddle, and in the barn, knowing the personalities, establishing a relationship, a give-and-take. Every horse is different, just like human beings. Every relationship was different. You have to work together. It takes a lot of time. Some horses [Laughing], you click with quicker than others. Some relationships develop quicker than others. It is like human-to-human relationships or a human to any animal. You have to learn to listen to each other both ways.  

Jacobsen: What do you think are the main ways horses tune into human behaviour and patterns?

Greenough: I think if somebody is nervous around a horse; they pick up on that right away. So, as we say in our sport, you have horse sense. You just learn to read each other in the stall, mucking out the stall, doing waters, feeding, hand walking, a lot of work on the ground – groundwork. You establish your rapport.

Jacobsen: What do you consider some of the more difficult aspects of horses’ personalities to make that connection, where that horse is not easily making that connection with a horse or a rider?

Greenough: The horse would have a reason for it. It could be something from its past. If you take on a rescue dog, they have layers. Things you don’t know that have happened to them in the past. So, you have to develop a trust and a language between each other. You just do that through handling and working away, taking away, so you have a trust.  

Jacobsen: Of the gold medals that you have won in your history, what ones would you consider the most significant, personally?

Greenough: I’d have to say the World Championships. There have been other GPs that I have won that stick out in my mind. I won the Stuttgart Masters in Germany. A few double clears in Nation Cups, I am pretty proud of. I won the Halifax $100,000 2 years in a row on a horse called Simon Says. I have been in 4th, 5th, and 6th, in GPs with horses that jumped so well where those are more meaningful than the wins. You have accomplished something, but you didn’t get the red rosette for it.

But you really accomplished something in that round. That sticks out for me more than anything. Winning the Canadian championships on a horse called Lesandra in the early 2000s. I am pretty proud of that. I have been out of the top end of the sport for a while, built this young mare. She came along pretty quickly and won the Thunderbird Grand Prix two years in a row as a 7 or 8 year old, which is pretty unheard of. She was pretty phenomenal.

Jacobsen: Have you ever made use of the Bachelor of Arts in Classics, Arts History, and Sociology from U of A?

Greenough: [Laughing] Yeah, probably.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Greenough: I have an appreciation for it. In some social settings, it has come in handy for sure. You tend to be in those kind of settings among some pretty elite people in this sport. I’d say, “Yes, it has come in handy,” but school in general gives you a methodology of thought. My writing skills are better for it. My communication skills are better for it. I’d say that I have used my degrees well.

Jacobsen: Who would you consider some of the more impactful or significant personalities in the Canadian show jumping world since its inception?

Greenough: Ian Millar, our sport wouldn’t be where it is without Ian Millar. He has been the singlehandedly most impactful rider and developer of our sport in Canada, by far, by far.

Jacobsen: What would you consider his trademark trait or personality facet that makes him stand out?

Greenough: He never gives up until he solves the problem. He is a problem solver. He is so willing to pass on that knowledge to anybody who wants to listen. He is a great communicator. He is a great passer on of knowledge. He is, by far, a great rider and also as a coach. I ran a coaching business for a few years. This is well after I won the world championships. I wanted to learn that side of things to become a better coach. I worked alongside Ian at Millar Brooke (Farm) for a few years to learn the coaching side of things. He is amazing.

Jacobsen: How do you see the system of building U25 riders into riders for Canada compared to other nations in the Americas or the other continental regions as well?

Greenough: I think we’re catching up. I think it has not been as impactful as other countries. It is there. The system is in place. It is available to those who follow it. There is a ladder. There is a process. I think that is the most impactful thing, is that it is in place and available. Our numbers are smaller than other countries as far as riders. We don’t have the same number of riders. But we’ve always been a small, but might country equestrian-wise. We’ve won a lot of gold medals for a country that doesn’t have the same numbers of riders as, say, Germany or Ireland or even the U.S. For our small numbers, we do quite well. For shortages of good horses, we have many great riders in this country. It is just finding the good horses to match them. That’s the hard part.

Jacobsen: Outside of the quality of the horse and the matching of the rider, what would you consider barriers to entry or aspects where the industry could improve to make those chances even better, to leverage the small population of talent even further?

Greenough: It’s a dedication of quality of young riders earlier and the process of getting them going. Financially, it is inhibiting for sure. So, I think that’s always an issue. Money is always an issue. It is to find the good riders and seeing if you can get them going somehow, being creative in your ways of thinking. We are getting better at the breeding programs, a lot better. That is starting to show itself, slowly. It is starting to show itself in Canada.

Jacobsen: Are there any areas where there are barriers when you were going through the process of becoming an international rider that are, more or less, not necessarily entirely equitable, but more evened out?

Greenough: I was one of the few females riding on the international stage. It was definitely a European man’s sport at the international level. So, I was a bit breaking the glass ceiling for females to follow. “You can do it. We can do it. We can try.” I think that catapulted more females into the sport at the higher level.

Jacobsen: Do you have any regrets in any achievements that you did not attain in your history?

Greenough: I never competed in the Olympic Games. Either my horses were hurt or I was hurt, that’s a regret. I regret not having a family [Laughing], because I was focused on the next competition and the next year. I missed out on that phase of my life. Now, you see the girls doing both. It is hard. They do it. That impresses me. The top female athletes having families. It is very impressive.

Jacobsen: How do you think they achieve that balance between international show jumping fame and the intensity of the work there, as well as the balance with the family life? How do you think they’re achieving that?

Greenough: Major team behind them.

Jacobsen: Do you think other riders who would want that same balance, who did not have support structures – people, resources, etc. – in place, that they could attain them?

Greenough: You make a decision. If your decision is to ride at the top level, then you find a way to make it work. It is difficult for any female like a top female business executive would have the same issues as a top athlete. You look at Serena Williams. She is stepping down to spend more time with her family. It’s pretty hard to do both perfect. Females are strong, but, boy oh boy, it is hard to do both perfect. I think if you have achieved in the international sport as a female and then decide to have children. I think it is easier to let the international side go. If you have achieve many other goals, it is easier to let that part of your life go and attain that better balance.

Jacobsen: Of the international women riders you know, do you think most would like that balance?

Greenough: Yes, I think it’s natural.

Jacobsen: What about the men?

Greenough: Oh, who knows? [Laughing]

Jacobsen: [Laughing]

Greenough: A man’s life is easy. But, typically, what happens in this sport, you marry within the sport and have children within the sport, and the kids grow up in the sport. We all become one big family. I’m auntie Gail to many, many kids. Because we spend so much time together on the road. We all get to know each other pretty well. It is a nice group.

Jacobsen: Based on a prior response, do you think that’s even more exaggerated for Canadian show jumpers? So, per capita, we are punching above our level, but it is tighter because it is smaller.

Greenough: I think we punch above our numbers, yes.

Jacobsen: Do you think there is this faux familial feel more than other countries?

Greenough: No, I think it is the same. You are fighting for your country and fighting together. We have a large contingent of Irish people in Canada. They’re a pretty tight group.

Jacobsen: Which country, in the 2010s, even in the 2020s now, has been the, certainly, most dominant international show jumping team?

Greenough: I think Ireland has come along gangbusters in the last 20 years. At the worlds, it was Sweden. It was in Denmark. The Swedes, oh my God, on fire! They are on fire.

Jacobsen: When it comes to the earliest riders, I think it was in Mexico, three guys, e.g., Thomas Gayford, etc. Do you think that the style of riding for show jumping, in terms of training thought and approach to the sport has changed to the present, or are the principles much the same?

Greenough: It has evolved, tremendously. They were incredible. That team was incredible, the Mexico team. The style of riding has changed dramatically. The courses have changed. The horses have changed. It’s not even apples and oranges. It is apples and peanuts. It is totally changed. It is much more technical in every way. Even since my win at the world championships, the sport has evolved. If you don’t evolve… I coach and source horses. If you don’t evolve with the sport, you should pick something else to do; it has changed that much. Like any sport, it is continually evolving. You could ask the same thing about hockey in 1964 and hockey now. It is different. The athletes are different. The equipment is different, much faster game. It is a much faster game in the equestrian world too.

Jacobsen: What principles do you think would be the most significantly changed since that time in ’64?

Greenough: It is much more developed as a sport. So, principles, those guys had the same principles as us. They were determined and driven, as we are now. So, the principles have remained the same. The technicalities have changed.

Jacobsen: In terms of equipment and safety, those have changed too?

Greenough: Oh, night and day.

Jacobsen: What aspects of safety have changed?

Greenough: Safety cups for back rails and oxers. If the comes down on the back rail, they don’t fall down, the rail falls down. That’s a safety aspect. Different bridals have been developed, different mouth pieces, different boots, saddles, saddle pads. The care of the horses is extraordinary. We have acupuncturists, and chiropractors, and massage therapists. We have different care for their legs and different machines that we use, and ultrasound. Diagnostics has changed. We can tell right away if something is up with the ultrasounds, the X-rays, radiographs. The attention to detail is extraordinary. The horses get better care than we do: the feed, the hay, all of it.

Jacobsen: What would you consider some of the leading edge, the cutting edge, of the training, the equipment, the safety and care, of horses and riders?

Greenough: One thing that sticks out to me after what I just said is the training, getting the horses more rideable – broke, using a lot of rail work. I use a lot of rail work in my training instead of jumping a bunch of jumps. I do a lot of flat work over rails, establishing the connection with the horse that way, making them come forward and back, having them come off the leg, but not over jumps – just training over a flat, a rail, or different gymnastics.

Jacobsen: How do you identify a young rider with a lot of talent, a lot of horse sense?

Greenough: Somebody who is pretty relaxed in the saddle. Somebody who is coachable. Somebody who has a good comfort level around horses and confidence, dedication, determination, thinking in the long term and not the short term.

Jacobsen: Of those, what can you train? What can you not? What can you reinforce? What can you not?

Greenough: Certainly, it is easier to work with riders with more natural ability. It is a hard sport. If somebody doesn’t have the innate talent, it is difficult, like any sport, like hockey players. If they can’t skate well [Laughing], it is going to be tough going. Individuals, human beings are driven to, hopefully, to the sports that they excel in. I don’t coach at the lower levels. I coach pretty much elite athletes. They are fine if I am not there. If I cannot make it to a competition, they are more than capable. It is more of a collaboration. I work with them in specific training at home to get horse and rider ready for competition to do what I do now. I don’t really deal with the grassroots at all.

Jacobsen: Of those riders you have trained, which ones do you feel proud of, say?

Greenough: When I did train juniors, riders evolving, I’d have to say Amy and Jonathan Millar, Ben Asselin. Those would be the three. I’ve been under the saddle for quite a few years. I’m pretty proud of my coaching in general. I’m more excited than the riders are when they are successful. I take it pretty seriously. I’m pretty proud. I’ve coached the Olympic Games, young riders with the kids. I’m pretty proud of all that. Everything things of the World Championships. I’ve evolved with the sport since then. I also am on the High Performance Committee for the equestrian team. I’ve been doing that for many, many years. I’m pretty proud of what I have been able to contribute to that within equestrian Canada.

Jacobsen:  Gail, thank you very much for the opportunity and your time.

Greenough: Yes, thanks! Thanks for the interview.






American Medical Association (AMA 11th Edition): Jacobsen S. The Greenhorn Chronicles 23: Gail Greenough on International Show Jumping and Equestrianism. September 2022; 11(1).

American Psychological Association (APA 7th Edition): Jacobsen, S. (2022, September 1). The Greenhorn Chronicles 23: Gail Greenough on International Show Jumping and Equestrianism. In-Sight Publishing. 11(1).

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. D. The Greenhorn Chronicles 23: Gail Greenough on International Show Jumping and Equestrianism. In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, Fort Langley, v. 11, n. 1, 2022.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (17th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2022. “The Greenhorn Chronicles 23: Gail Greenough on International Show Jumping and Equestrianism.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 11, no. 1 (Winter).

Chicago/Turabian, Notes & Bibliography (17th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott The Greenhorn Chronicles 23: Gail Greenough on International Show Jumping and Equestrianism.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 11, no. 1 (September 2022).

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. (2022) ‘The Greenhorn Chronicles 23: Gail Greenough on International Show Jumping and EquestrianismIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, 11(1). <>.

Harvard (Australian): Jacobsen, S 2022, ‘The Greenhorn Chronicles 23: Gail Greenough on International Show Jumping and EquestrianismIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 11, no. 1, <>.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 9th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. “The Greenhorn Chronicles 23: Gail Greenough on International Show Jumping and Equestrianism.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vo. 11, no. 1, 2022,

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. The Greenhorn Chronicles 23: Gail Greenough on International Show Jumping and Equestrianism [Internet]. 2022 Sep; 11(1). Available from:


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