Warming up

George Morris 2010 Horsemastership clinic

January 7th

It was a chilly morning as George Morris started Day 3 of the 2010 Horsemastership clinic. There was a smattering of about 20-25 people first thing in the morning, but eventually grew to close to 70-80 by the early afternoon! Group 1 started out the day, which consisted of :

• Jacqueline Lubrano

• Jessica Springsteen

• Christy Distefano

• Matthew Metell

• Jennifer Waxman

The riders started off by doing a few simple walk-trot and trot-halt transitions in both directions. George discussed the mechanics and importance of the pulley rein, which consisted of setting the inside hand and use the outside hand to pull and release. He explained a pulley rein is most useful while on course and is a great jumping aid, as it balances and sets the horse back if he is pulling or heavy on the forehand.

Warming up
Warming up

All riders were then asked to pull up to a halt using the pulley rein, then canter off. He then told the riders to canter in their jumping position, as he felt too many riders rely on sitting in the saddle which can put undue stress on a horse’s back. George then had the riders test their brakes by having them hand gallop and use the pulley rein to halt, and then repeat in the other direction. He noted that the Canadian equestrian Ian Millar still frequently and correctly applies the pulley rein when he rides. He noted it was important to school horses with the intent that the horses learn to balance themselves and to develop their own eye to a fence without rider interference.

He emphasized that riders had to learn to be softer with their arms and hands, and learn to follow the horses mouth instead of grabbing at the face or having a stiff position. He reminded Christy to soften her arm, which resulted in a more relaxed horse.

Once the warm-up was complete, there was a cavaletti exercise ready to go. Group 2 stood in the ring, on call to set fences or replace rails as needed. The grid had six cavaletti in total, all on the lowest setting. (See the picture below for the gymnastics’ set up.) All riders lined up, doing the exercise one at a time. The riders had to canter over the first three cavaletti, and then come back to trot before going over the last three. Once all the riders had successfully completed that exercise, they had to do it again but after the final three, turn around (at trot), come back over the three and then canter over the two and then one.

The gymnastic exercise with cavaletti

George noted that use of cavaletti were beneficial for horses at any stage of their training or discipline, as it teaches the lessons to the horse without the impact of jumping a fence.

The mike begin to a get a little staticky due to low batteries, and George commented that it needed some attention. When Connie Sawyer (the clinic’s organizer) came to bring them, George urged “C’mon girl, run” and everybody had a good chuckle, including Connie. That is the kind of dry, cantankerous humor we enjoyed throughout the day.

After the cavaletti exercise was complete, he then moved the group over to a moderately-sized bank, which he decided to call “the bankette” because it was smaller than what some of the riders would have ridden over before. There was a 3’ vertical, followed with a 4 stride bending line to the jump up the bank (which had a pole about 6” off the ground at the top), three forward strides to a 3’ red gate, then 2 forward strides to another pole (same height as on the other side of the bank) off the bank. (See pictures below.)

The "bankette"

Jennifer’s horse seemed to struggle a bit at first due to his forwardness, trying to get to the bank in 3-and-a-half strides, which caused him to lurch over the pole and land almost on his knees once on top of the bank (not anticipating there would be ground beneath his feet that high up!). She was able to sit tight and they completed the exercise without any other problems. Each rider completed the exercise successfully in both directions, and nobody had any problems at the red gate that stood alone in the middle of the bank. Christy had to re-do the exercise several times, as her horse also had a tendency to rush. While doing the exercise in the reverse direction (leaving the vertical on the ground until the end of the gymnastic), her horse was putting in three long strides instead of four. George stressed that allowing your horse to do that creates sloppy habits and knocked fences. She was able to complete the exercise several more times without a problem.

The "bankette" in its entirety

George also noted that some of the horses seemed to resist the contact by tossing their heads or being fussy to the fences when asked to hold back. He said the best way to combat this is to keep the contact, but keep your arm relaxed and supple even if your horse is fighting it.

The next exercise was a (never-ending!) series of fences that incorporated tight turns, liverpools and multiple changes of direction. (See picture below.) Since the course could be jumped from either direction (provided each rider do a change of direction at the verticals that made up the first and last fences), George told the riders to keep jumping until he told them to stop and was satisfied with their efforts. Some riders did the course over three times in a row, while George called out instructions on turning and pace. He noted that especially in a technical exercise like this one, it was important to keep the hand soft. Once you have succeeded, you will know because the horse will not only soften physically but mentally as well, and you will be able to see it in his expression.

The twisty course

The horses completed the exercise with the poles offset (one end of the rail was in the cup, and the other was on the ground) to get them comfortable but prepared for the twists and turns of the course. Afterwards, the fences were put up to approximately 3’3” – 3’6”.

Riding the twisting course

Only one of the riders had a stop (at a liverpool in the opposite direction) and George dismissed it as a minor issue, citing it was more of a “mix-up” rather than a mistake. The horse simply needed a bit more presentation to the fence, and the horse had no other problems. Each rider did the exercise beautifully, being reminded to keep the pace and soften in the arm and hand. During the longer stretches in between certain jumps, George noted to simply let your horse gallop under you, instead of letting him get strung out or too collected and short behind. He said Rodrigo Pessoa was one of the best examples of this, and it was his “feel” of the horse which largely attributes to his success as a horseman. George had lots of praise for Matthew’s horse. He felt the horse was very intelligent, as he had a large, soft eye and excellent natural pace. Matthew used a longer-shanked Pelham on his horse, which seemed to work nicely as Matthew was able to keep the soft contact as George instructed.

George schooling Matthew's horse over the water

The final exercise was a water jump, and could not stress enough the three most crucial components to completing this exercise well:

1. Sufficient (forward) pace

2. Distance (once you see it, stick to it!)

3. Ride the tape (know the limits)

The riders had to jump the water, which had a small 1’ vertical near the base, then a 3’ vertical just behind and above (simulating a small oxer) before clearing the pole on the ground near the landing, which acted as the “tape” on both sides of the obstacle. He encouraged the riders to use a forward pace, which would ensure the horse had the impulsion to stretch out in the air and keep clear of the tape. George repeatedly said that water obstacles are very easy jumps, it’s riders that make them hard! He decided to get on Matthew’s horse to show him how to properly extend himself over the jump. As he had instructed the other riders, George jumped the water several times, alternating between turning left and right to re-approach. Once he was satisfied with the horse’s efforts, Matthew remounted his horse and did the exercise again, with the horse stretching out and having no problems clearing the jump.

“Water is a simple jump!” George said. “You can’t knock it down!”

The "simple" water jump

Finally, he pulled all the riders back into a group. He asked them what they got most out of the session, and when Matthew began (pointing his crop to illustrate his point), George promptly cut him off and reminded him that while mounted, good horsemanship means pointing with your hand and not your training device. The riders said what they learned in their session was about riding precisely both in style and while on the track (such as riding accurately to clear the twisty course).

By the end of the session, the sun finally was out in full force, and it was time for a welcomed break before Group 2!

Group 1 :: Photos

(View the rest of the photos from Group 1 here)

Learning from the master
Jumping up the bankette
Jennifer jumping the offset poles
Cantering before repeating the course