George Morris Horsemastership Training Session

George Morris Horsemastership Training Session

Day 2 of the George Morris Horsemastership Training Session brought additional flat work – a reiteration and building on Tuesday’s flat session – as well as a few caveletti and over-fence gymnastic exercises during which Morris emphasized the way in which the flat, caveletti and jumping work are so vitally integrated. The schooling progression demonstrated how the work accomplished on the flat and over caveletti inherently affects any subsequent work over fences.

Morris initially addressed riding posture and encouraged the young riders to avoid slipping into habits of poor posture while focusing on the training of the horses. This is especially true for taller riders, particularly men, whose longer torsos make them prone to slumping shoulders and a rolling of their hips forward leading to roaching in their backs. He reiterated Tuesday’s point regarding stirrup length for flat work vs. jumping and advised the riders to remain attentive to details according to their own individual system but to bear in mind that “the basics of classical riding don’t change”.

Much of the session emphasized the use of the rider’s leg and Morris began by demonstrating how turn- on-the-forehand is the “first lesson in leg”. He chose Liza Finsness and her horse, who Morris declared as being quite spoiled to the leg, to show the other participants how executing turns on the forehand teach the horse responsiveness to leg but also allow the rider to gain mobility and control of the horse’s haunches.

Lateral Suppling using Circles at Intervals

Lateral Suppling using Circles at Intervals

Morris furthered the emphasis on leg pressure, and particularly its usefulness in maintaining impulsion and mobility through the hind end, using an exercise called “Circles at Intervals” where the riders were asked to ride the rail, then circle periodically, focusing their efforts on turning the horse around their inside leg.

This exercise is particularly useful when a jump, or other “spooky” object may be utilized as the center of the circle in which case the riders were encouraged to “show” the horse this object by circling it all the while engaging the driving aid (leg) to maintain impulsion so that the horse builds confidence but also stays listening to the leg. This “lateral suppling” (turns of any kind) exercise also reiterated a point from the previous session regarding the importance of forward momentum as positive reinforcement.

Morris repeated his mantra regarding riding inside-leg-to-outside-rein and encouraged the riders to “give and take” with the inside rein as its purpose is to provide direction and flexion where the quiet steadiness of the outside rein serves to maintain pace, rhythm and balance. He noted that while the enforcement of leg acceptance is vital to the training process, the riders should remain soft and resistant in exact proportion to the horse – “When the horse is soft, you’re soft. When the horse resists, you resist in exact proportion”. To this end, he worked them through several of the suppling and balancing exercises he’d introduced in the previous session (shoulder fore, counter canter) with a particular emphasis on downward transitions since “every downward transition develops the half halt” and gets the horse really listening to the riders restraining aids. The half-halt would become a significant theme throughout the remainder of the session.

Caveletti offers a prime opportunity to "work with the rhythm factor"

Caveletti offers a prime opportunity to “work with the rhythm factor”

The riders were asked to negotiate some basic trot maneuvers over caveletti throughout which they were encouraged to maintain rhythm and straightness in their horses.

Caveletti offers a prime opportunity to “work with the rhythm factor” – the horse should “step” over the pole, not jump or rush – and Morris again reminded them to maintain lateral softness by returning to shoulder-fore techniques between cavelleti patterns, utilizing lots of turning and always remembering to give and take. “Caveletti” he insists “is very good for every horse”. He also noted how every lesson with a horse whether it’s halting, backing, going forward or sideways is teaching the horse about legs and that “there is too much emphasis today on seat, not legs” which has big consequences in flat riding and jumping.

Morris briefly addressed the leg yield, expressing his disagreement with the modern interpretation of the maneuver, a point about which he seemed particularly emphatic. He describes how the modern teaching suggests flexion to the outside, thus bend, which effectively causes the outside aids to become the inside aids where they correspond with the direction of the bend. A proper leg yield Morris insists, should not produce “bend” per se but rather a “mobilization of the haunches”. Leg yield then, is simply a manner in which to “control the haunches” where inside and outside aids, though, remain intact. It was with his “historical” interpretation that he instructed the riders through the maneuver.

Canter/counter-canter transitions through simple lead changes followed as a “direct result” of the leg yield exercise and the riders were encouraged to consider the straightness and balance tools utilized in leg yield to assist them in their canter transitions and particularly in maintaining rhythm and balance in counter-canter. Morris emphasized forehand elevation throughout each transition. He encouraged the riders to consider as they transition, “does he feel under your seat? Does he feel forward in the down transition? Does he feel up in his wither?” and reminded them that “every transition counts” toward the constant objective of leg acceptance.

As the riders paused to adjust their stirrup length to begin jumping, Morris briefly discussed the importance of correct “galloping position” (two point), noting that the riders position should remain always over the horses center of gravity thus never hindering the horse’s back. He explained that we should “never jump from a canter”, canter being a gait which is sat, “you jump at a gallop, even a slow one, because the concussion and gesture is too great on the horses back to do from a sitting position.”

Rider position should never hinder the horse's back.

Rider position should never hinder the horse’s back.

Morris worked the riders over a modest hogsback fence with a cross-rail where he reiterated maintaining a non-hindrance position with their “legs as anchors, weight in the heel” and to “let the horse jump in front” of them.

He encouraged them to utilize an automatic release as a means to give to the horse over the fence, then to pick the horse up after the fence utilizing a half-halt to maintain front end lightness and elevation. He stressed the importance of knowing how to use these techniques whether or not they’re actively utilized in daily practices. He encouraged each rider to “make a technique [their] own by practicing” but warned them against straying from the foundations of classic riding – “straight elbow to the mouth, heels down, good posture, eyes up and ahead working.” He discussed the importance of attention to detail driving the point home by advising the riders to consider the undisputable results of extremely detail oriented riders such as Rich Fellers, Beezie Madden and McLain Ward. “This country has it.” He says “It’s always had it. We need to stick to what we always did and do better.”

The next exercise was one in impulsion where Morris noted that the riders should be able to recognize the results of the extensive flatwork they’d done previously.  A short course utilizing Liverpool obstacles required the riders to use a “defensive position” in contrast to the aforementioned galloping position. Morris explained that while the, upright, deep seated defensive position should not be heavily utilized, it is necessary in some circumstances – as when faced with intimidating or spooky obstacles – where the rider may need to get strong and drive the horse from behind.

The riders were again encouraged to give to the horses over the fence, to soften and to follow them down with their hands. Because the exercise emphasized impulsion to fences that required significant effort from the horse, several riders were faced with the subsequent need to employ half-halts, or even the solid barrier of the rail, after landing in order to regain that vital elevation and balance in their front end. Morris also encouraged the riders to “invite” their horses to rub a fence as doing so encourages the horses to set themselves up for take-off and also to maintain self-carriage.

"Your job is not to lift the horse over the jump." Self carriage is key!

“Your job is not to lift the horse over the jump.” Self carriage is key!

This principle of self-carriage resonated through the final gymnastic exercise, a combination of three fences where the primary objective was to regulate striding and maintain absolute straightness through the line. Morris explained that this objective was the responsibility of the rider’s hands with the voice as a supportive tool.

He described the use of an opening rein to encourage straightness through the line – if the horse strays right, open the left rein. If the horse strays left, open the right rein. He reiterated the concept of self-carriage here insisting that the riders refrain from “protecting” the horse and lifting them over the jump. The rider’s job is to maintain straightness and to regulate stride where necessary but the horse should handle the rest on his own.  “My goal as a horseman my whole life” he says “is self-carriage.”

Returning to the initial discussion on posture, Morris highlighted a final point regarding the importance of weight distribution and particularly the manner in which a rider should remain suspended over the horses center of gravity, not by the grip in the knees, but by the force exerted downward all the way through the heel.

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Sarah