OK, so that headline might be a bit strong, but it’s really what the essence of Day 2 was about. Oh, and to clarify, the Pretty/Dumb comment was uttered when one of the riders was wiping George’s boots after George mounted to give a demonstration. George was saying that wiping one’s boots off/not riding with dirty boots is a sign of respect for the horse, and for the age-old art of equestrianism.
I’m using it in this way because that’s what George stressed on Day 2: Position is the foundation of correct riding. Position is not about sitting up there looking pretty, it’s what allows you to impart the correct aids and allows effective communication with the horse. Because here’s the thing; if you can’t give the correct aids on the flat, and you’re not getting the correct response from the horse, that’s one thing. It’s a completely different ball game when you’re try to navigate a 1.60 course.
A rider, according to George, needs to control 3 parts of the horse. Most people, he stated, fixate on the head and neck because that’s what’s in front of them. The rider’s legs control the hindquarters, and the shoulder by the rider’s hands and leg at the girth. The head and neck are influenced by the hands.
We could look at it this way: Correct position allows you to correctly apply your aids, which are your method of communicating with your horse. Faulty position = unclear communication and less chance you’ll get the desired result from the horse. Think back to a time when someone asked you to perform a task. Did you understand what they were asking of you and were you able to complete the task easily and efficiently? Or were you confused, and did you need to get more information before you could do what was asked of you?
The schooling exercises Morris asked the riders to perform on Day 2 -lateral work, work over cavaletti, trot fences, gymnastics and flying changes- were all designed to put the horses on the aids, as well as prepare them and their riders for the questions they were asked over fences later in the session. For example, were they able to come off a fence and then immediately make a flying change if necessary? If not, more schooling on inside leg to outside rein was necessary.
A rider should not think in silos, according to Morris. In other words, don’t think of flatwork/dressage, gymnastics, and jumping as separate entities. They are all interconnected, and they should be incorporated into training as such. The flatwork is what gets the horse and rider communicating, and sets the stage for how the rider asks the horse to use his body. Gymnastics, trot fences and cavaletti get the horse thinking about how to use his body, and forces the horse to think about where he needs to place his feet. Both of these elements set the stage for course work.
The next exercise was designed to bring this point home. The riders were asked to come through a combination consisting of four jumps: a vertical, two strides to a vertical, one stride to another vertical, and then three strides to an oxer. While the rider/horse combinations were able to complete the exercise, the level of success with which they did so was not up to George’s high standards. In a nutshell, George felt the riders’ positions were negatively affecting their horse’s ability to produce its best jumping effort. The purpose of the exercise was to let the horse “figure it out,” or to get them thinking about what they needed to do. From the rider’s standpoint, the rider needed to “set the horse up for success” and then get out of the way, sit there quietly and let the horse do its job. (Remember Beezie’s demonstration from Day 1? She touched on exactly this point.)
George then got on Carly William’s horse and proceeded to show the riders how it should be done. Despite the fact that the heavens opened up with a sudden rain shower, George popped the horse back and forth through the exercise with ease. He sat quietly in a forward seat, waiting for the horse to jump up to him, with a straight line from his elbow to the bit. There’s probably a bit more I could be saying about this, but quite frankly, my critical mind turned off as I watched this display. The man is in his seventies, gets on a new horse while it’s pissing down rain and jumps a decent sized combination with it, calm as you please and looking smooth as melted chocolate.
After the riders went through the combination several times, George asked them to come over a cutout wall on the short side at the top of the ring, come down to a triple bar over a liverpool set inside the long side quarter line, then asked them to make a quick right turn to go up a skinny gate set on the quarter line up the far long side. After they jumped the skinny they were to turn and go back and forth in a figure eight over it. (Can you see why the schooling of the flying change was so important?)
Finally the riders practiced “pace to the base” of the triple bar/liverpool off both leads to prepare them for riding the water later on in the week. As each of the riders went George commented on their positions, what they did correctly and what they needed to improve, and how their position affected the horse and its jump.
So, class, what can we take away from Day 2? Position, Position, Position. Function always follows form.
Follow the George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session live on the USEFNetwork.