It’s really no secret that this equitation junkie is a fan of no stirrup work despite its occasionally torturous properties so I was pretty excited to watch Saturday’s session of the George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session broadcast of the USEF Network which was all about flat work sans stirrups!
In each group Morris chose one rider’s horse in order to literally, practice what he preaches and demonstrate the techniques and maneuvers he has asked of the session riders all week. It was abundantly clear that even at the age of 74, Morris’ savvy in the saddle could put most, if not all, of us to shame! The session reinforced his earlier insistence that the 3 contact points the horse must accept are the seat, leg and hands and the horse must always be respectful of the riders aids.
Working without stirrups forces the rider into a deeper seat and thereby encourages the horse to accept the seat aid. He also emphasized the importance of a pliable arm and generous elbow with no stirrup work as it is common for riders to allow their arms to become fixed and stiff whereby they often pull the horses head down with the reins. He noted that the arms should always work in a “telescopic gesture”, following the horses head, pushing it down and accompanying that gesture.
As he’d done throughout the week, Morris emphasized the importance of basic suppling maneuvers, lateral work and above all, impulsion. In an earlier session, he had said that his best definition of impulsion is when the horse is thinking forward, not just physically doing it. The horse should always be thinking forward, looking and responding to light contact and rider cues. To achieve this end, Morris was insistent upon the constant contact and use of the rider’s inside leg to create roundness and drive from the inside hind leg then the added use of the outside rein to regulate impulsion and encourage straightness of the neck and forequarters. “Opposition reads balance.” Morris says.
He also joked that he is “obsessed with the hindquarters” but insisted that “everything in riding should be back to front”. He drilled the riders on several transitions and lateral maneuvers including shoulder fore, haunches in, leg yield and half pass as well as numerous stride lengthenings, shortenings and half halts, all the while emphasizing that impulsion must be maintained throughout each and every maneuver. Morris emphasized how important depth and fixity of the seat is to flatwork schooling and insisted that this can only be perfected through work without stirrups.
Morris also worked the riders in counter canter for quite a while stating that the counter canter helps to both balance and collect the horse. He consistently reminded them to “carry their hands” and not let them drop too low, in order to establish lift in the front end and encourage the horse to step beneath themselves. This is especially important with horses that tend to carry themselves more downhill. Both horses Morris chose to ride were built downhill so he was able to demonstrate how to establish a proper uphill balance and noted that “without stirrups you get a much better feel for the horses balance.”
He worked them through lead changes emphasizing the importance of maintaining contact, straightness and impulsion all the way through the change. Throughout the session Morris repeated the “leg, hand” mantra, particularly when one of the horses would get a little defiant toward the riders cues demonstrating this defiance by hollowing their frame or dropping behind the rider’s leg.
He noted that in those instances, many riders tend to drop their hands in response to the horse hollowing and raising its head. Rather than punishing the horse for their defiance, Morris insisted that carrying their hands above the wither and driving the horse forward from the inside leg to round them and regain the proper impulsion is a for more suitable solution. He later noted that aggression is rarely useful in discipline and enforcement. When working with horses, above all else, stay calm “Calm is first, next is forward, then straight.”
Something that especially resonated with me was Morris’ emphasis on transitions and the importance of performing them consistently and repeatedly. He noted that transitions are not simply forward and backward but any change a rider makes whether it’s a lead change, a lateral maneuver, a simple lengthening or a full halt, and changes are (or should be) being made every few seconds. He said to think of each gait as an individual rhythm and that a transition therefore, is not from trot to canter or canter to walk but a transition from one rhythm to another.
A final parting note from the session, in true George Morris fashion, went something like this “Ok I’m getting bored with you people. You can disappear.”
I’m fairly certain that if everyone could ride, train and teach like the unparalleled Mr. Morris, this world would be a much better place so you tell em George and we’ll keep hanging on every word!
Thank you USEF Network!!!! Watch the sessions on demand –> here.
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