The Sunday after the first show with our new horse Charlie, several of my friends and I drove up to Westminster MD to see George Morris teach the final day of his 3-day fall clinic at Persimmon Tree Farm.
The farm is the home of Mike and Carolyn Krome, and K2 Show Stables. And as always, they were marvelous hosts.
Being Sunday, George had already tortured his students with an hour of no-stirrups work the day before. So this day was more relaxed, but still demanding. And for the first time, my daughter Rachael, was coming along.
I had warned her that a George Morris clinic was rather like ordering at a New York deli — when they yell “Next,” you had better be ready or it’s gonna get ugly. And she found that out firsthand!
Early in the first group, George was talking us through the concept that if a rider fixes their arms/shoulders/elbows, then their seat is forced to become pliable, and vice-versa.
To demonstrate this, he called on Rachael to “be the horse” in his demonstration. And she was chided for moving too slowly. What a way to meet George!
He congratulated each group of riders for coming back for the third day. Apparently some of the previous days’ participants had not come on Sunday. But George was only too happy to remind his class that this meant more individual attention for them, on top of the self-pride they should have for seeing the clinic through completely.
The clinic sounded to me like a series of pearls of riding wisdom, imparted by someone who had mastered them.
They all came from a riding experience we were viewing as the riders made their way through his exercises. But each was a mini-clinic in and of itself. So without belaboring any of them, here are the pearls I have assembled on my string of George Morris experiences from this clinic:
Fundamentals and horsemanship. Seek to master the fundamentals and be a good horseman. My ability as a clinician is limited to how good the horsemanship is at the barn where I’m teaching. If you master the fundamentals and are a good horseman, then you won’t need gimmicks. Don’t use gimmicks — they are a crutch for poor riding.
If you don’t have control of your legs, you can’t have control of your hands.
Stiffness is the archenemy of timing.
You can’t lie to a horse. Don’t say “jump,” then “don’t jump,” or you will produce a stopper. You have the click of the tongue, the stick, and the spur as tools to help you communicate with your horse. Give him clear and consistent instructions. Don’t contradict yourself to him.
When you use a halt as part of your training, wait a full SIX seconds so the horse learns to wait for you.
Oxer-oxer combinations teach the importance of impulsion — to both the horse and the rider.
Learn to jump off the short option stride.
Watch your boots so they don’t force your spurs to jab the horse in the side unintentionally. Many of the players in the equestrian world today are just “tack manufacturers,” who don’t really know anything about horses. For instance, the spur rest on the back of many boots is not properly placed, and it forces spurs into an upward pointing position, which is wrong, and jabbing a horse in the sides.
Remember to drop the rail on jumps. This is a safety issue. The jump should fall apart — intentionally — if a horse hits it. This allows the horse and rider to avoid injury. A jump that doesn’t disperse when hit is a potential safety hazard.
When you do a jump, it’s over, under, or through!
Once people have knowledge, they have power.
Sink into your crotch. Don’t sit on your bum.
When you sit back over a jump, you’re punishing your horse for doing exactly what you asked him to do.
There are three ways to jump — with your horse, ahead or him, or behind him. Never be ahead. It’s dangerous, and can only be done by the absolute best of riders. Being with your horse is ideal because it’s smoother. Being behind is alright if the horse is green because it makes him wait for you, but you have to catch up to his motion very quickly.
A cluck is a wonderful thing. Use it. Don’t overuse it. But use it.
Stop your horse in a straight line and back up a few steps. This is an effective way to soften the horse’s mouth.
Always scrape off the bottom of your boots before mounting to keep good stirrup contact.
At all costs, don’t hit your horse in the mouth or the back over a jump.
If a horse fights with your contact, mouth him. Do transitions. Don’t be harsh, but require that he listen to your hands, even and especially when applied delicately.
Impulsion first. Get your horse animated. Think forward. Be ahead of the curve.
Sit that saddle!