One can never say that George H. Morris doesn’t lead by example. In each of the two groups working on the flat with no stirrups on Day 4 of the GHM Horsemastership Training Sessions, Morris himself put in a solid 20 minutes of no-stirrups work on one of the horses.
At age 74, Morris showed the 12 Training Sessions participants and the audience that he’s still got it. With each horse with which he worked—Catherine Tyree’s and Ana Forssell’s—he demonstrated all the tenets he’s been drilling into the riders all week. In 20 minutes each, he got both horses visually more balanced, uphill, and supple.
The no-stirrups sessions on Jan. 5 enabled Morris to focus on the basic principles he’s been repeating in each lesson. He’s been insistent that the horses accept the aids, and “no-stirrups work forces the horse to accept the seat,” he said. “Some of these horses are so spoiled to the aids. If the horse gets upset with the leg aids, it tells you he’s not ridden with the legs consistently. Use your legs! If the horse resists the right leg, use the right leg. If the horse resists the left rein, use the left rein.”
Most of the horses were noticeably more accepting of their rider’s aids, softer and more balanced in their work. In each group, as they have all week, the riders started with some basic lateral work, alternating shoulder-in and haunches-in at the walk and trot with lengthening the stride.
First, Last, Always
One oft-repeated mantra was “everything in riding should be back to front,” said Morris. He emphasized over and over that roundness comes from the inside hind leg and the leg aids, not from the hands. “Absolutely don’t saw the mouth. If the horse is stiff on one rein, give and take on that rein, but don’t saw both reins back and forth,” Morris said. “How to put a horse correctly on the bit is leg to bit, not by pulling. First, last and always, think of the inside leg. Don’t ever think of the inside rein without using the inside leg first.”
Interestingly, after the riders had warmed up at the trot, Morris had them walk for a bit, then canter. They then worked on walk-canter transitions. “I don’t do too many trot-canter transitions with hunter/jumper horses,” Morris said. “I hardly ever do the canter-trot downward transition. If I’m on course and I ask the horse to come back in front of a fence, I don’t want him to break to the trot. So I don’t practice that transition much.”
In addition, Morris incorporates counter-canter into his flatwork session before schooling flying changes. “I don’t start with the flying changes ever. The horse has to listen to my aids and be balanced in the counter-canter first,” he said. Morris had the riders spend quite a bit of time in counter-canter, telling them that the exercise helps balance the horse and collect the stride. Morris also had the riders practice shortening the canter stride and then lengthening it. He particularly praised Stephen Foran’s execution of the exercise.
Establishing an uphill balance in the horse was a key theme for Morris, and both horses he chose to ride as demonstration horses were built downhill. “Without stirrups, you get a much better feel for the horse’s balance,” he said. “I am constantly aware of bringing the horse under and up. I’m constantly elevating the poll and engaging the hind leg.”
He also concentrated on the establishment of a consistent contact with the horse’s mouth, and the horse’s acceptance of that contact. “Quality contact is straight, supple and definite. You have to teach the horse to take the bit,” he said. “The outside hand is the steadying hand and the inside hand is the suppling hand.”
Catherine Tyree’s horse, a stallion, looked quite tense when Morris first started with him, but by the end of Morris’ ride, he was relaxed and loose. Morris even cantered on a long rein and executed flying changes on the long rein. “See, they come from the leg, not the hand,” Morris said.
When Morris gave the horse back to Tyree, he giggled and said, “This horse I’ll keep! I don’t want to give this horse back to you.”
Throughout the week, Morris has expressed his displeasure at how flying changes are done in the hunter and jumper disciplines, criticizing that they’re not straight or forward. On both horses he rode, he established a fluid, forward, straight flying change that would have scored well in the dressage ring.
In the second group, Claudia Billups was the stand-out to Morris. He consistently praised her development of a round, rhythmic horse. “Oh, Claudia, you made my day,” he said. “I thought you might be the sleeper of the group.”
Morris’ quotable quotes of the day…
• “You heard I was an ogre; I am an ogre.”
• “The most interesting thing about the give and take of the aids is the give. Good riders give when the horse gives; great riders give just before the horse gives.”
• “Don’t be afraid to use your legs. Don’t be afraid to use your hands and your seat. Don’t have rigor mortis.”
• “Feel the hindquarters dance!”
• “Without impulsion, you can do nothing with the horse.”
• “Temper is never right because temper is always too strong.”
The final day of the GHM Horsemastership Training Sessions is a day of jumping coursework.
You can watch replays of previous sessions and follow all the action on live feed at www.usefnetwork.com.
See stories and photos from all sessions of the George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session.