Cover Image

Featured Pro: John Michael Durr


Featured Pro: John Michael Durr

Nov. 21,2023

Chances are, if you’re ridden a cross country course in the past few years, you’ve ridden a John Michael “JM” Durr course. JM is an international event rider, show jumper, clinician, and an FEI cross country designer. He has years of experience at the highest levels of several disciplines, a value system that prioritizes the horse, and a straightforward communication style.

Blue Rodeo

JM and Blue Rodeo. PC Al Green Photo

Durr Eventing & Show Jumping is in Tryon, North Carolina where he specializes in training, development, and sales of sport horses for all disciplines. “Whatever horse walks in here will go into the discipline it will do best in, that’s the secret sauce of Durr Eventing & Show Jumping,” JM said. “If the horse will be happiest as a hunter, we make it a hunter. We have a horse first approach in their lifestyle and discipline.”

Sarah Lawrence recently joined Durr Eventing & Show Jumping as his assistant, moving to North Carolina from the Pacific Northwest, and she has the skills, ability, and values that help make it possible for JM to accomplish so much.

In addition to his full equestrian schedule, JM is writing a book about communications for the real world and serving as a corporate and professional trainer. He’s translating the communications lessons learned in equestrian sports for business professionals and helping them achieve the same results that his horses and riders have.

Cooley Ironic

JM and Cooley Ironic. PC: Liz Crawley Photography

Immersed in the Horse World

JM grew up in a non-equestrian California family. He mentions that it’s the classic story of a kid becoming obsessed with horses after riding ponies at the fair. Despite his parents’ best efforts to get him involved in other activities, he persisted and was soon taking riding lessons.

“I got lucky and grew up in the Oakridge Stables European pony school program with Yves Sauvignon,” he said. “I was one of the last students to go through their dynasty. We counted recently, and there are 42 professionals currently in the industry that went through their program.”

The time at Oakridge shaped JM as a horseman and introduced him to course design. Oakridge hosted an annual horse show, and Yves arrived at the barn each morning at 6 AM to work on the course before starting lessons at 8 AM. JM and his friends tried to beat Yves to the barn, and helped with the course. “Every day, he taught me the love of the game,” JM says of his 12 years riding at Oakridge.

Opportunity knocked, and JM left high school to be a working student for Dayna Lynd-Pugh of Flying Tail Farms, where he remained for three years. Dayna taught him that details and education matter, that it didn’t matter how much you love the sport if you can’t back the love up with knowledge.

The emphasis on education had JM reflecting on his own path; he was considering leaving horses to attend fire school. JM mentioned this to Lilo Fore, who saw his potential and said, “I need a brave and stupid young man that I can teach to ride well.” Fire school was set aside, and JM started the last two Warmbloods that Lilo bred.

Global Absolute

JM and Global Absolute. PC: Gwen Ott

“Lilo taught me everything. I was a stupid boy and she taught me to train with empathy for the horses and the people and never compromise on what you’re doing. She taught me how you get from point A to B without losing people or horses.”

JM also worked with David Murdoch, who taught him about the business, and how to make it profitable, along with maturing the lessons learned with his other three mentors. He adds that David taught him how to make it work in the big picture.


Putting the Horses First

The early years and mentors in JM’s career always emphasized putting the horses first, and this is the priority at Durr Eventing & Show Jumping and has been since the beginning.

“My Young Rider horse [North America Young Rider Championships 2004 and 2005], Imagine That, was an angry Percheron cross, but she would have died for me, she was a partner and a teammate. I care a hell of a lot more about who they are than what they can do. I look for a horse that wants to be part of the party, that will show their strengths and lets you help with their weakness. I would rather develop one with a good personality than a punk, and I am a believer in process.”

There are many other memorable horses spanning his 20 years competing at the highest levels of eventing. Esprit De La Danse is a 2004 bay Canadian Sport Horse mare. Ruth Bley owned her, and she was JM’s mount at his first Kentucky, a quality horse that wanted to be there. Ruth Bley also owned Danito, a 2009 chestnut Hanoverian gelding that qualified at the 5*level with Tamra Smith. JM also rode Danito and said he was truly a special horse. Finally, High Tower expanded JM’s knowledge, and changed many aspects of how he rides and trains.

“I don’t care about scoreboards and rankings. The most rewarding parts are watching a horse get it right, be sold to a home they love, or giving a clinic with knowledge and facts and watching it work for the rider in a way that it clicks.”

Cai Caprice

JM and Cai Caprice. PC: Luann McElduff

Design Strategy

“I got started with course design by accident, like most good things, little bits push you there,” JM said. Of course, there were his early years of watching Yves, and helping with the Oakridge course. But eventing also had some challenging years in the early 2000’s with fatalities and safety issues, and JM got to the point where he was either going to help try and make it as safe as possible or be a bystander. A friend was hosting a clinic on course design and had an opening, so signed JM up for it. He’s currently finishing up his FEI level certification.

There is an art and a science to course design. “It’s a part you can’t quantify, we’ve all ridden courses that were written funny, but if you get it right, you can see the horse leaving more confident than when they started. If you make the horse love it, you know you got it right.”

Design strategy is also part of training horses and riders, something JM realized early on. There is a gap in the quality of information delivery in equestrian sports, the best deliver information in a way people can understand, but not all trainers and coaches do this.

“I realized through teaching clinics that everyone shows up in my ring wanting to be a better horseman, and everyone does the same exercise. But through asking questions in the beginning of the lesson, I find out the secondary reason they are there – fulfillment, achievement, or knowledge, among others. Then, I explain why they need to do something from this perspective. If people [as coaches and trainers] are aware enough and they ask questions, they understand more.”

Understanding a rider’s motivation and tailoring his teaching style and delivery system to this allows JM to communicate in a straightforward manner that helps riders gain knowledge and understanding. The delivery system helps it click for many – and he’s using these same techniques to teach communications in the corporate and professional systems. Closing the information delivery gap and improving our delivery system also helps accelerate progress in any arena.


PC: Liz Crawley Photography

JM is continuing as an event rider, show jumper, clinician, and an FEI cross country designer while writing his book, speaking professionally, and offering corporate training. “The future is not much different; it just looks more organized. I love what I get to do every day.”

To learn more about Durr Eventing & Show Jumping click here!