George Morris clinic | Day 4 – Group 2

January 8th

The sun was out in full effect this morning as the audience settled in for Day 4 of the 2010 George Morris Horsemastership clinic at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. No frozen hands or toes this morning!

Doing rider exercises with one hand on the reins

Group 2 (riding first today) came into the ring stirrup-less for the days session, which was focusing on the rider’s position and seat. George had the riders put their reins into their outside hand, along with their crop. The inside arm was kept free to perform a variety of exercises, such as reaching to touch their inside and outside toe, forward to the poll and then back to the dock of the horse. While the rider worked on their balance in this exercise, George noted the key to any collected pace is proper impulsion and enough activity from behind. He had the riders change rein on a 20 meter (or so) circle, reminding them to use their outside rein to balance the horse through the shoulder. To keep the horses round during the exercise, riders had to use their leg and close the outside hand to steady the contact.

When asking for the halt, he reminded them to stretch upwards, keep the leg on and don’t allow the horse to “fall” to a stop. While the horse is standing, they must be still, no fidgeting or moving off before the rider asks. Unless the riders were practicing a lateral movement, they had to keep their horses tracking on a straight line, especially since most horses have a tendency to swing their hindquarters in one direction or another.

George had the riders change direction multiple times across the diagonal, practicing lengthening strides (versus an extended trot, which he explain could be performed later one the horses were truly warmed up). He reminded several of the riders to use the half-halt and raise the hand if necessary to correct horses that were traveling heavy on the forehand; or to close the fingers of the hand if the horses tried to come above the bit. George recommended using shoulders-in both directions to help build the musculature that will enable straightness. Bringing the group back to the walk, he then asked them to perform small circles at the walk, spiraling inwards (almost until they were performing haunches-in). In order to keep the momentum on the circle and avoid any stiffness, he barked at them to use their legs and keep the impulsion through the walk. It was important to go forward immediately once out of the spiral, in order to give the horse the ability to release the power that had been collected on the circle.

He told the audience he had been discouraged by the canter departs earlier in the week, where riders allowed their horses to fall flat during the transitions. He made the group ride multiple canter-to-walk transitions, and reminded them to use the leg and hand evenly to keep the horse straight. Once the riders had established their horses at the canter, George had them repeat the spiral on the circle, getting smaller and smaller until they were close to a canter pirouette. The average amount of circles before completing the spiral was approximately 6 circles. The next exercise was to perform a flying change on the diagonal, in which George expected a smooth, clean change.

Theodore working on suppleness

In typical “George” fashion, he was very vocal about his dislike of the flying changes he often sees performed, where the horse kicks out, tosses its head and is late to change behind. He stressed that horses need to be able to do this exercise correctly and accept the seat during the change, as it is absolutely essential for the properly schooled horse. Several of the horses did have a few moments of irritation while performing the flying change (the riders did it several times in each direction), however most had very fluid transitions.

The next exercise had a slight twist to it. George had the riders practice their shortening and lengthening at the canter, except instead of shortening on the short side and lengthening on the long side, he had them lengthen stride approximately 30 feet out from each corner approaching the short side. The riders shortened on the long sides and lengthened on the short sides! He reminded the group that without contact and impulsion, they would not be able to complete this exercise correctly. Chase had to be reminded to soften his hand and arm to create a more sympathetic contact, which resulted in a much improved lengthening of stride on the short sides.

Walk on the long rein

Finally George asked the riders to come back to walk, and loosen the contact so the horse could stretch long and low. He addressed the audience, stressing that impulsion is “the mother of equitation” and whether hunters or jumpers, all horses need to be able to carry themselves and not rely on the rider’s hands. George compared the horse’s back to bridge; a structure that has a variety of systems in place to create the successful end result. It can’t sag in the middle, the horse’s back must similarly be “up” and engaged in order to travel correctly. Allowing the horse to travel incorrectly it means the horse is not active, and will result in back and joint problems due to concussive force on the front end.

After the brief break for the horses, he instructed the riders to pick up their reins on a 20-30 meter circle. On the circle, riders had to keep their inside leg at the girth and outside leg behind the girth, using the outside rein to balance and the inside rein was half-halting to keep the horse round and flexed at the poll. The contact on the inside rein should be like a “flutter”, by opening and closing the hand, versus some riders who have a habit of see-sawing the reins (which he despises). While on the circle, the riders picked up the trot and had to do an “S” shape to change direction. George reminded the riders to ride with their inside leg to outside rein, instead of trying to steer the horse with the hand. It was through this exercise he wanted them to determine if their horses were truly carrying themselves and not relying on the riders. The riders kept the contact on the outside rein, but had to stretch the inside rein forward for 3 strides to see if the horse fell on the forehand or continued on without rider assistance.

Zazou's contact allows her horse to relax

Once all riders were able to complete the exercise, they had to do a flying change through the circle on an “S” shaped track. Coming back to trot, George instructed them to allow their horses to stretch out while keeping the forwardness and impulsion, calling it “the decent of the neck”. Once the horses had stretched out, he then asked them to perform the upwards transition to canter, changing direction and flying changes without letting the horses drop onto the forehand. He clarified that a free walk is when the hand is on the buckle, versus a long rein which still has a steady contact.

After pausing briefly to lament the use of buckled tack (calling it convenient but dangerous over regular stitched leatherwork), he asked the riders to come back to walk and pat their horses.

George giving instructions from the driver's seat

Turning to the audience, he reminded everyone that a horse should never be put away wet or breathing heavy, as that is detrimental to a horse’s health and is a sign of poor horsemanship. George insisted that the sport is not about ribbons, money or being a “celebrity”, but the HORSE. The horse is why people should be riding, not the perks that come with competition. He also noted that compromise and patience are the great virtues of riding, and the hallmark of a great rider is knowing when NOT to act, or try to drill the horse on something it is not understanding. A true rider knows when to call it a day, in the best interests of the horse.

It was time again for a break, and none too soon with all the information that George had drilled into both his riders and us the audience. Shortly it would be time for Group 1’s grueling no-stirrup session!

Group 2 :: Photos

(Not many photos of this group today)

The entire session was without stirrups
Schooling with impulsion and bend