Day 3 of the George Morris Horsemastership Training Session focused on further foundation flatwork and gymnastic jumping exercises.
Morris began the session by addressing the “Holy Grail” of the German system of riding; a scale of 6 imperative principles – Rhythm, looseness, contact, impulsion, straightness and collection, in that order. Though Morris stated that he prefers to consider the first 5 of these relatively interchangeable, they all lead to a single destination of collection. Though proper collection cannot be obtained without those 5 essential ingredients, “every exercise is aimed at collection.”
The riders warmed up with more leg to hand exercises and lateral movements to encourage leg acceptance through which Morris reminded them to maintain contact but to “always think forward”, particularly through transitions. He encouraged them never to underestimate the walk, that it should always be meaningful and maintain impulsion. In order to establish bend, rhythm, suppleness and to reinforce that the horse is listening, the riders worked over caveletti which employed tight turns and required frequent changes of direction, diagonal and bend.
Morris also had them perform a spiral exercise at the walk and canter, beginning with a large circle and gradually decreasing the circle effectively spiraling inward. This exercise required the riders to utilize the leg-to-hand techniques previously discussed to maintain a consistent haunches-in so that the haunch remained on an inside track to the shoulder.
It was evident the way the spiral exercise encouraged lightness in the front end which directly translated to the flying lead change exercise that would follow. Morris repeated his leg- to-hand mantra (“Every exercise is leg to hand!”) insisting that the horse should remain uphill and light in the front end thorough every change. Straightness was also a key factor in this exercise. When the driving aids and supporting rein is properly employed to encourage an uphill frame, straightness and impulsion, the horse should change his lead in front and back at exactly the same time. He implored the riders to think in terms of quality and correctness. It is “not enough to simply DO the exercise. It should be done correctly.
Morris rode Michael Hughes’ horse through a basic gymnastic exercise to demonstrate his principle of light and unobtrusive riding. He reiterated the relevance of weight distribution and displacement down into the stirrup and deep through the heel while emphasizing the importance of maintaining a light galloping seat. He explained that there are only 2 things a body should do when approaching and riding a jump: yield with the hands and close with the legs. The seat and upper body should do nothing but allow the horse to work underneath.
The riders were asked to negotiate several “short courses of gymnastic nature” to emphasize precision and adjustability, particularly on bending lines of negotiable distances. The earlier spiral and lead change exercises would come into play here as they were required to shorten, lengthen, add and remove strides and negotiate tight roll-back type turns which demanded significant lightness and mobility. Morris noted that he always liked to start a horse on the short stride – adding strides to a negotiable line – as the necessity to employ half-halts to encourage roundness and listening generally proved more productive for the horse’s learning. He also made the significant point that adding or subtracting strides should not indicate a change of speed or pace but rather a conscious adjustment to the physical course of the line itself. (Ie. Adding a stride means riding a wider track from jump A to jump B whereas subtracting a stride means the shorter inside track from jump A to jump B should be employed.)
Morris consistently prompted the riders to carry their hands above the withers, half-halt, half-halt, HALF-HALT back and up, pressing deep into their heels in order to brace against the hand for maximum effect. He noted that the horse, in proper self-carriage, should be working for us. They should listen to the half-halt and answer the leg with impulsion and roundness. He reminded the riders to give and take and reiterated the importance of releasing the second the horse yields. He encouraged them again to give to the horse as soon as they’ve seen their distance, to soften with the hand toward the mouth and allow the horse to handle themselves. “As the riding gets better” he said “the horses jumping will get better.”
An unfortunate crash and “involuntary dismount” by one of the riders became a significant teaching moment for Morris. He had been encouraging this particular rider to refrain from “protecting” and “carrying” his horse to and over the jumps but to instead, soften and allow the horse to carry himself. Morris explained how a horse who becomes accustomed to being “packaged” and held together by his rider may then find it disconcerting when asked to negotiate an obstacle on his own and effectively carry himself to and over it. He suspected that this is likely what caused the horse in this case, to omit a stride before the jump resulting in the subsequent crash. He encouraged the riders and audience alike to always look for the reason behind a fall and to use it as a learning tool.
Morris addressed the audience in regard to the fall as the riders were dismissed. He noted that jumping was invented for courage and though subsequent generations have been seeking to make it “safer” it will always be a sport to showcase that audacity. Spills and bucks and rears and crashes will always be a part of it but “the first criteria of equestrian sport” Morris says “is bold”. “Don’t take the guts out of the sport” and “don’t get on a horse unless you know you’re going to fall off!”
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