Day 2 of the George H. Morris Gladstone Program got off to a quick start with everyone fully caffeinated and ready to learn. George started the morning by discussing the topic of flexion, both longitudinal and lateral.
Using one of the horses in the clinic, he showed us longitudinal flexion from the poll by adding pressure on the bit. Basically, think of the horse softening at the poll so his chin comes closer to his chest. Lateral flexion, he demonstrated, working the bit on one side, is getting the horse to bend to the right or the left. Taking the concept a step further, think of longitudinal flexion as the horse softening through his back and stepping under from the hind end into the hand, and lateral flexion as the bend of the horse’s entire body, through its rib cage, from head to tail.
Today’s jumper courses are so technical they demand the utmost rideability from our mounts, and so we must make them adjustable from front to back and on the bend as well. Thus, every exercise in Day 2’s sessions focused on flexion.
The riders warmed the horses up with walk-trot-walk transitions to begin to establish longitudinal flexion and get the horses coming through from behind, with George reminding the riders to use the inside driving leg aid into the outside hand. They added successive 1/2 turns to establish the latitudinal flexion, with the riders concentrating on bringing the shoulders around by bringing both hands to the inside, so the inside rein shows the horse the direction and the outside rein acts as a neck rein to almost push the shoulders over.
“You have to be constantly changing, making transitions. Don’t forget to keep the leg on and hands up so the horse stops under and uphill!” The constant transitions in and between the gates flex the horse from back to front, or longitudinally, making the horse more supple and rideable. The horses were asked to come under even more with shoulder in and haunches in, and then they moved from working laterally to lengthening and shortening the trot to test the ability to go forwards and then compress the horse.
Once the basic flexion was established, the group moved on to cavaletti work. The group went over ground poles, then moved on to cavaletti. After loosening up the horses with the cavaletti they did some canter work – circles @ intervals, then canter half passes to counter canter to a flying change. Everything was a systematic progression. Meg’s horse was fussy with the contact and swapped leads, and George hopped on to demonstrate how to push the horse from behind into the bit and how to ask for a straight flying change using only the legs.
The riders then progressed to a grid initially consisting of 3 cavaletti roughly set 4’6″ apart and another set about 9′ from the third cavaletti. The group went through that basic exercise, then George made the fourth cavaletti a vertical. After they went through that a couple of times he added an oxer, then another vertical, then a final oxer. The riders were then asked to finish by cantering a circle in a light seat and asking for the walk transition. You understand where this is going, right? The grid asks the horse to lengthen and compress its body in order to accomplish the task. (You should have seen the lightbulb that went on over my head when that became clear to me!) George cautioned all the riders to maintain contact in the air by using their automatic release, as this release is the only way to make immediate adjustments.
After the grid, the riders were asked to take the horses through a gate, a vertical and a triple bar set on an S curve, designed to test their turning ability. Depending on the track, the lines rode in a direct 5 or a bending 6. Morris asked the riders to canter in over the gate, circle, take the vertical, circle, then take the triple bar. After the triple bar he had them roll back to take the vertical the other way and ride 6 strides to the gate, then roll back around and ride the gate to the vertical direct in 5, and the vertical to the triple bar in 6. After the triple bar, they had to roll back on the vertical again, ride direct to the gate in 5, then roll back and ride the gate to the vertical in 5, then bend the track to the triple bar in 6. The line, Morris explained, makes horses laterally and longitudinally soft.
Following the GPS exercise (my name, not Morris’), the riders practiced a wall to a liverpool in preparation for the course they will ultimately have to jump. Morris made the riders practice using the stick behind the saddle just before take off to reinforces the idea of “forward” in the horses’ minds. The audience was treated to a little excitement during the second group as Katie’s horse was clearly aquaphobic and had no intention of going over the water. Morris asked Michael Desiderio to help out, as Mike used to ride for Morris and often schooled younger horses for him. After some feats of athleticism from the horse and some pretty fancy riding on Mike’s part, the gelding went over the liverpool.
And so ended the second morning session of the Gladstone Program. I hope you enjoyed reading this recap, and I’m looking forward to bringing you more from the program in the coming days.
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