George Morris clinic | Day 4 – Group 1

January 8th

Spectators were beginning to peel off layers as the temperature rose, well on its way to the high of 76˚ for the day. As Group 1 entered the arena, George reminded riders to take off any unwanted layers before he started, and jumped right into the session; all riders without stirrups.

Lengthening at the canter

Ideally, no stirrup work should be done on the longe line, however similar results can be achieved with specific flatwork exercises. George urged the riders to work on keeping their position slightly forward versus tipping too far back, which puts undue stress on the horse. The horse must accept the pressure from the riders pelvic bones and both hands, and be able to respond to simple voice commands such as “whoa” and an encouraging cluck.

As the young riders performed their no-stirrup work, reins in one hand like the earlier group and toe-touching, George cautioned the audience that when it comes to training equipment on a horse, less is more. He felt that too many accessories had more to do with fads than actual horse training. He asked the riders to perform a head roll, in which they had to keep their backs straight and roll their heads from the side, back, side and front. He had them repeat this several times while at a working trot. George also had the riders lean back, and then lean forward which was to improve the seat’s flexibility. He then instructed the riders to pass their crop from hand to hand, as well as holding it straight upwards in their hand.

Jennifer practicing leaning back during no-stirrup work

The group then performed a working trot around the ring, as George shouted out corrections of hand and flexion. The theory was that horses were similar to accordions, and the rider needs to be able to compress (shorten) and extend (lengthen) the stride to get the best results. The riders worked on shoulder-in and canter-trot-canter transitions. He explained that while inside leg at the girth and outside leg behind the girth is the accepted method to transition to canter, as rider become more advanced they will be using inside leg to outside rein.

Once sufficiently warmed up, he asked them to perform flying changes across the diagonal. He suggested that Jacqueline use a half-halt after the change, to keep her horse balanced and avoid becoming flat in the canter. He repeated the self-carriage test from Group 2’s session, asking the riders to push their hands forward for 2-3 strides to determine if the horse was truly carrying himself. The riders worked on lengthening and shortening the stride, while keeping forward impulsion and correct flexion. While compressing the canter, the riders had to package the horse from back to front without allowing the horse’s haunches to drift off the track.

Jacqueline keeping a nice rhythm

It was finally time to give the horses a brief rest, and George asked all riders to come to a walk on a long rein. While at the walk, the horse is still expected to march actively forward, maintaining his straightness, keeping the hindquarters engaged and no fussing with his head or yanking the reins away from the contact. If that happens, you must reprimand the horse with a quick “attack” (as George calls it) of the leg and spur, as well as close your hand. While walk on the long rein is considered a recess for the horse, it is not like the free walk where the riders hand is touching the buckle on the reins. The outside rein acts a barrier or “watchdog” to prevent the horse from allowing the shoulder to fall to the outside.

Finding an opportunity for some corrections, George decided to get on Jessica’s horse and demonstrate some of the exercises. The horse was displeased with its new rider, as upon George taking the contact and attempting to move him off the leg, it curled into resistant ball and looked as if it were about to go backwards or up. George simply kept his leg on, giving little “attacks” and allowing the horse to move forward with his hands, until finally the horse relented and uncurled himself. George felt the horse needed to accept the contact better, and used half-halts, transitions, and left/right/left/right half circles to encourage bending and suppleness. It is from the riders leg that will get the horse to travel uphill and in balance. He worked on small canter circles, until the horse was very close to performing a canter pirouette. As he practiced flying changes across the diagonal, he eventually had the horse swapping leads every two strides, also known as two tempi changes. It was wonderful to watch. He also used a variation of the neck rein while on a small circle, which was bringing the outside hand towards the inside of the horse’s withers, which is an exaggerated way of encouraging the horse to keep his shoulder on the circle instead of falling outwards.

George demonstrating proper impulsion and steady contact

He brought the horse back to walk and gave him lots of pats and a long rein. He told the audience that while he enjoys coaching, riding is still his first passion. He continued to demonstrate that by deciding to also get on Christy’s horse, and did an impressive rein back on a circle at the walk. That exercise makes the horse shift his weight to the hindquarters, which compresses the horse’s energy. While backing up, George noted to not allow the horse to stiffen up through the back and keep the horse ahead of the leg. Once moving forward, he did some shoulders-in and lateral work, including a half-pass to the left, then right; and then finally combining them into a zig-zag movement across the arena. He practiced counter-canter for the horse’s balance, and said it is essential to use the half-halt to your advantage if the horse gets quick before a flying change. If you find your horse getting quick, use a short half-halt then release, half-halt then release (and repeat as necessary). He also noted that if a horse gets nervous or tense, such as waiting by the in-gate at a show, to use a figure-8 shape on a circle to distract and relax the horse.

George brought Christy’s horse back to her and dismounted. He reminded everybody that every horse is completely different from one another, no two are the same. A good rider must always be adjustable in their methods and techniques to what best suits the horse and improves his training. Horses learn by repetition, not by force.

Before the session ended for the day, George dryly remarked that most riders are duds when it comes to natural feel and ability, however if you stay sharp and absorb every tidbit of information along the way you will be able to improve. We all laughed (although he was quite serious!) and clapped. Only one more session to go tomorrow!

Group 1 :: Photos

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

George riding without strirrups
George using the outside rein to keep the shoulder aligned
Sitting trot with both reins in one hand