Sunday’s session of the George H Morris Horsemastership Training Sessions was the culmination of 5 days of intensive riding and learning for the 12 young clinic participants. Day 5 was the day they were able to take everything they had learned in the four days prior and tie it all together over a technical course of jumps.
As before, Morris chose a horse at the beginning of each session in order to demonstrate his techniques. He did not introduce much new material on this final day, rather he simply reiterated the mantras and principles of the previous four days and guided the riders through the practical application of his teachings for each of their horses.
Each session began with flatwork where he reminded the riders that “dressage is the basis of jumping” and reiterated the importance of lateral work for suppling and encouraging the horse to always respect the rider’s aids. The flat warmup was followed by individual work over a moderate oxer rather than the cavelettis or “speed bump” verticals of the previous sessions. Though he noted that it is a rare practice in the hunter-jumper world, Morris prefers to warm horses up over an oxer because it follows the same principle of warming up on the flat where the intention is to allow the horse to open up and go forward from the get go. He noted that “it is the basic principle of extention before collection”. He chastised the trend of “backward, restrictive riding” he has noticed in the modern hunter-jumper arena and emphasized that the horse must be allowed to extend before they should be asked to collect.
As each horse worked over the warm up oxer, Morris reminded the riders to “carry their hands”, keep contact and maintain straightness in the horse’s neck. He emphasized his earlier inside-leg-to-outside-rein mantra as he had each student circle and work over the jump in a figure 8 pattern encouraging them to use the outside rein to steady the horse on the approach then open their inside rein to “lead” the horse away from the fence and into the next turn or circle. During this exercise Morris also encouraged the riders to adjust the horse’s stride to the fence but emphasized the importance of letting the horse operate on their own distances so that the horse will literally work for themselves rather than relying on the rider to “help” them over the fences. He frequently asked the riders to look for the shorter distance but as they do so, to allow the horse to go enthusiastically forward to the base of the fence whereby they must rock back on their hocks and use themselves to get up and cleanly over without added assistance from the rider. He advised the riders to let the horse go forward but then to sit back and “wait” for the distance encouraging them to “go forward first, then measure.” He also reminded them not to be habitual in their equitation style over-release but to, instead, utilize the low automatic release that will allow the horse to stretch and maintain their bascule over the fence.
These principles were carried over to the course work and emphasized as each rider rode the course and Morris critiqued their distance and pace choices. Following each course, Morris asked them to ride a figure 8 over a single vertical or a vertical to an oxer and guided them through tighter and tighter turns as they jumped the fences often from an angle. He noted that this exercise “relaxes horses and puts them on the aids.” He also frequently encouraged the riders to circle using the inside leg to outside hand in order to simply rebalance their horses as necessary.
Throughout the session Morris encouraged the riders to pay attention to many of the top names in show jumping and to study the way each of them rides in competition and to make note of the subtle techniques that each uses to get their horses cleanly and quickly through a jumper course.
With one rider especially, Morris emphasized “lightness” in riding and noted that the 3 point galloping position is almost more of a “squat” than an actual “sit” in the saddle. This position maintains the rider’s weight in the heels but, most importantly, allows for the rider to remain properly balanced and above the horse’s center in order to simply allow the horse to jump up underneath and completely use themselves over the fence.
He also noted that the rider should always stay loose and give in order to let the horse go forward and feel their own distance. He discussed how this concept essentially prevents the rider from interfering with the horse’s natural athleticism and ability. “We are putting the horse in the position of self-carriage and self-sufficiency” which he says is truly the basis of his philosophy.
As the riders were cooling out, Morris warned them and the rest of the audience against over-jumping their horses and “exploiting their talent”. Regardless of discipline he insisted that “the better they are, the less you do. Don’t squeeze the lemon.”
In a final, humble note Morris advised the participants and auditors alike that the purpose of clinics are not to completely reform a rider’s paradigm but to supplement and enhance it.
It is only pertinent to take away the principles and new habits that would become practical application in daily training for each individual horse and rider (and their trainer). On that same note he emphasized the importance of maintaining the proper attitude for learning. He noted how often Rich Fellers attends clinics and praised Mr. Fellers’ attitude and ever-present humility toward constantly continuing his own education regardless of his skill and competition successes.
The George Morris Approach to Riding
Thus draws to a close another horsemastership training session with the undisputed master himself. Hopefully the 12 young clinic participants will move on to brilliant careers of their own with the tools gained over the last 5 days stored firmly in their toolkits. I for one, always feel a little more confident about my own riding future after spending a few hours with Mr. Morris’s infinite wisdom. Thanks again to USEF for allowing us all the opportunity to share in this priceless experience every year!
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