I think George made the comment used in the blog’s title on the first day of the 2015 Training Session. If memory serves, he was speaking about the tendency in today’s horse world to go to ‘gags and gimmicks and short cuts’ when really the only way to achieve long term soundness and success is patience, tact, and repetition along with application of classical principle.
Drip, drip, drip. Think about it. Over time, water dripping over rock can create canyons. In one day, nothing much. The word ‘repetition’ is stuck in my head as the overarching theme of the 2015 George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session because every day George has touched on the same topics.
Position. We weren’t 10 minutes into the first session when George began discussing the importance of the correct position. First thing on Day 2 there was a review on position and how crucial it is to the application of the correct aids. What did we start with on Day 3? George on Saskia, Jennifer Gates’ chestnut mare, discussing position. How it gives you contact with the horse through your two seat bones, two legs, and two hands. How the correct position of the hands, carried and as part of a straight line from elbow to the bit, allowed him to firmly, but tactfully resist with a quick nip when the mare rooted.
Constant correction of a positional fault, and repeating the correction as often as necessary until the desired habit is formed, is something George is an adamant proponent of. Day 3 found him getting at Carly because her stirrup irons were still not at a right angle to the girth. Cody was reminded to lighten his seat and carry his hands. Several riders were told to stop ducking at the fences and to keep their upper bodies quiet.
The correct way to school a horse. How did George have the riders begin each session? With lateral and longitudinal work. Exercises to supple the horse and engage the hind end, exercises to open and contract the stride. Each day the riders have ridden shoulder-in, shoulder-out, haunches-in, haunches out, turn on the forehand – all designed to gymnasticize the horse and put him on the rider’s aids. There were no AH-HAH exercises. Just the same planned and purposeful lateral and longitudinal work we’d seen over the course of the three days and from Beezie Madden. Riders were told to know their horse’s weaknesses and strengths, and to incorporate the appropriate exercises to develop strengths and improve weaknesses.
Classic principles. Inside leg to outside hand, patience, tact, repetition (but not drilling), respect for the horse, giving/taking, leg to hand, forward/straight, impulsion, and resist in direct proportion to the resistance of the horse.
After warming up and some gymnastic work the riders were introduced to a very bizarre fence. It was set on the diagonal, and was some sort of oxer-ish thing over a liverpool with a wall in the middle of the liverpool. Honestly, I have no idea what to call it, but it was designed to get the riders and their horses ready for the water they’d soon be facing. George anticipated that some horses might be a little reluctant to jump it, so he told the riders to be prepared to do what they needed to do to get their horse over it, whether that was a stick applied behind the girth, a spur, or a cluck.
Sure enough, a few horses displayed reluctance. Carly Williams got to some funky distances with her big-striding gelding, and was advised to make a quick decision regarding what pace she wanted and commit to it earlier on in the process. Jennifer Gates’ Saskia opted not to jump, and George gave her what I call the ‘Elmo Speech,’ telling her refusals were not an option and she was to go “over, under, or through the fence. “There is not a bad distance,” George told the riders. “There is a difficult distance.” When one rider made a a big move with her body, George reminded her, “Wait for the horse. The horse does the jumping. We accompany the horse.”
After mastering the funky liverpool the riders moved on to a small course. They jumped the funky fence, to a blue wall set on the far short side, down the long side to the water (which didn’t faze the horses a bit after having prepped over the bizarre liverpool), to a tight left rollback to a skinny gate, which they jumped several times on a figure eight.
When Lucas kept lifting his hands to assist his mare at the jumps, he was told to stop it in no uncertain terms. It made her hollow, he said, and she also needed to figure out the jump for herself. That kind of action was okay if used judiciously while competing, he continued, but was absolutely out of bounds when training.
When Cody, a rider used to competing as a hunter, kept finding the gap, George told him not to be so dependent on his favorite distance. “Don’t be frightened of the deep distance,” he told Cody. “That’s your option!”
The figure eight, George advised, was a great prep for competition, as it taught a rider to put the horse’s shoulders where they wanted them, as well as how o make tighter and tighter turns.
The jumping portion ended with a trip through the outside combination they’d jumped previously. The objective was to test their ability to maintain a light seat, and a still upper body. George highlighted Mitch’s effort as a great example for the riders to follow, saying he had a correct understanding of when to allow the horse’s motion to lift him out of the saddle, and an ability to remain in a light forward seat when in between jumping efforts.
The session finished with a discussion of the aspects of a champion. The first aspect is desire, or ambition. You have to want it with every fiber of your being. The second aspect is emotion, how you learn to channel and control it. Thirdly is the management of the horse. “Horses are precious. Each horse’s care and management needs to be done with as much quality as possible.” Next on the list was an eye for a good horse. You either had it or you didn’t. The last element was talent. There are people who are born with it, and there are people who aren’t. Implicit in this discussion was George’s challenge to the riders: Did they have these qualities? Did they have what it takes to be a champion in this sport?