George Morris demonstrates a softened, following hand for participants on Day Two on the USEF Network

The second morning of the George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Sessions started with the Maestro himself in the saddle, having commandeered a participant’s horse.

George started off with reminders to “close the hand” with a horse that is evading the contact and an admonition concerning the start of the trot portion of your warm up. He advised beginning in a posting trot for at least five minutes before sitting as the horse’s back is still cold.

Day Two built on the foundation of the previous day, with a lot of attention to the forward seat to free the horse’s back, the importance of contact, and many transitions to keep the horse “working and busy.”  As on Day One, Morris stressed the importance of the horse’s acceptance of the aids – hand, leg, and seat, as well as artificial aids like the whip and spur.  He used multiple transitions between and within the gaits to encourage the horse to accept the contact.  Morris reminded the riders of the purpose of the reins as he rode, “The inside rein is the flexion rein, and the outside rein is the steadying, half halt rein.”

The riders warmed up their horses and watched as George Morris put the horse through a series of figures and transitions, encouraging participants and auditors to supple their horses latitudinally through the use of lateral movements while suppling them longitudinally through the use of transitions between and with the gaits.  Morris’ borrowed mount showed the occasional disinclination to play along, prompting Morris to call him “spoiled” and unaccustomed to accepting the hands and legs.

He then encouraged the group to follow him over cavaletti, looking much like a mother duck followed by a group of ducklings.  Following this exercise they moved into the canter, where they were encouraged to “Pay attention to the give.  Half halt, give.  Flex a little, give.”

Occasionally a horse was heard to blow out a snort, which Morris may have  called his horse spoiled, but with no discernible evidence of frustration. Morris simply went about his business, counseling his students to employ tact when dealing with their horses. “Tact, tact!  Don’t get rough, but ask.” 

George addresses the audience.

And always was the admonition to “Give. Give when they yield.”   I found it extremely interesting that while Morris spoke of the horse needing to accept the aids, Morris himself was also very accepting of the horse’s occasional confusion when misinterpreting the aids, or his desire to evade the aids.  During one patch of resistance while teaching the horse a new set of aids for the flying change, Morris told the audience that “Resistance is natural when you teach a horse something” and calmly rode through the issue until it was resolved.

He reviewed with the group on the correct way to ask for a lead change.  “Don’t do the hunter thing and pull on the inside rein,” he admonished them before the riders set off individually on a figure eight pattern to practice changes.  The correct way to ask for the change when going from left lead to right, says Morris, is to make the horse straight, Then the left hand opens a little bit, the right hand presses against the neck to push the weight off the right shoulder.  The right leg, which is back, slides up to position itself at the girth, also pressing the horse off its right shoulder.  When you want the change you press with the new inside leg that is at the girth, with the outside leg now back and the horse on the new outside rein.   Many of the riders initially struggled with the new concept, as did their mount, but repetition soon made them more comfortable.  One horse caught on quickly, which prompted George to exclaim, “What a little genius!  Now pet him a little.”

Much easier to do things sloppy than correctly.  This country is the king of sloppy.”  This gem from George came as the participants were beginning cavaletti work prior to the gymnastic.  Poor Jacob Pope was castigated by Morris for not having his horse in front of the leg.  Pope, winner of the Maclay and the USET Talent Search was told by Morris that he had no sense of impulsion and failed to keep his mount in front of his legs.  “I’m not interested in that [Pope’s accolades].  I’m interested in the horse being in front of your legs.”  Morris then admonished the non-mounted riders when they failed to re-set a cavaletti that had been knocked a few inches out of place.  Sloppy is anything less than perfect in George’s eyes; the main pays religious attention to detail.

During the gymnastic phase Morris stressed the importance of the two point, the lynchpin of the American forward style of riding.  “Lean forward! You’re too erect and too deep…The two point is very slightly out of the saddle.  What’s important is the upper body. That releases the horse’s back by being forward.”  Also advocated was the automatic release, the soft. following hand that keeps contact with the horse’s mouth over the fence.  Morris praised riders when they used concepts learned during the sessions correctly, such as correct use of the half halt or pulley rein, or if they  correctly used the light seat.

The gymnastic phase on Day Two

George would instruct the riders to “sink” lightly into the saddle before the fence, not sit flat on their bottoms in a driving position, as the light seat encourages a better jump.  That resonated with me, as I tend to sit bolt upright and deeply, and have noticed during recent attempts to try the lighter seat that when I actually manage it my mare appreciates it and finds it easier to land on the correct lead.

As the riders progressed through the gymnastics Morris continually encouraged the riders not to forget the concepts learned earlier in the session’s flatwork – contact, correct half halts, inside leg to outside rein, and the need for absolute insistence on the horse’s acceptance of the aids.  Morris also spoke about the use of gymnastics exercises to teach a horse self initiative, as it creates a more careful horse.  He went on to say his purpose in setting the fences was to encourage the riders to follow and go with the horse, so that the horse has to set himself and learn for himself.

The mounted session with George ended with a foreshadowing of Sunday’s jumping test with a demonstration of how to use the whip. He demonstrated different options, then asked the riders to approach a small vertical set over a liverpool and use whatever level of aid they deemed appropriate for their horse.  Some riders used the quick off-on method to give the horse the idea of the whip, and some felt it necessary to use the stick behind the saddle. Regardless which method a rider chose, following the exercise each horse was “thinking forward” to the liverpool.

So there you have it.  Day Two in a nutshell.  I hope you enjoyed the recap!

Watch the George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Sessions live or on demand on the USEF Network from Jan 2-6 here –>


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