There are no words for the experience of riding and auditing a George Morris clinic.
I’ll split recounting the three days into two blogs because I want to accurately depict the grueling days of riding and auditing, while mentioning some lessons learned, GHM training methods, and tips for any of you thinking of trying it for yourself.
So I’ll start at the beginning….
The clinic was hosted at LamBanks Equestrian at Sheridom Stables in Mounds, Okla. The facility was gorgeous with multiple small barns, beautiful facilities, indoor and outdoor arenas and plenty of space to hack around after a long day of riding.
The knowledge that at any moment you could bump into George puts a certain pep in your step and attention to detail that you might not otherwise have. Of course my horse can’t go hand graze without having his tail brushed out and hooves polished!
Each day started by setting up the course with George to his specifications. All riders participated because during this time he would explain his reasoning for certain decisions, lines, and striding. Our course on Day 1 consisted of the following:
It was fascinating to see the intentionality behind how George designed his courses. The exercises done on Day 1 and 2 supported the larger coursework seen on Day 3. After setting up the course, in my enthusiasm for auditing the first group, my husband and I were the first ones seated while everyone else was preparing in the barn.
Due to this, the host came up and asked my husband, Kevin, if he would be willing to be George’s official “leg up” for the duration of the three days. During which time my eyes kept getting larger and larger. Kevin had never given a leg up before! Imagine the horror if my husband was the one who dropped George Morris?! After practicing a couple times with Kevin, we settled in for a good first audit.
George began Day 1 with introductions and a quick tack check. Here are some things to consider with riding with George. He is a purist when it comes to the “aids”: leg, spur, stick, seat, and bit!
He prefers horses in snaffles, twisted wire snaffles, or pelhams. Anything else means your horse isn’t properly schooled to accept the aid of a bit. He changed out some bits for twisted or plain snaffles. He disliked waterfords because they are for horses who refuse to accept the bit and instead prefer to brace against it.
Day 1 consisted of a lot of flatwork: extended trot, collected trot, shoulder-in/-out, canter, extended canter, collected canter, and half turns. He likes to see a calm, forward, and straight horse. He likes an active, regulated rhythm and has a preference for horses a little more hot-blooded; like his beloved Thoroughbreds.
George likes a shorter rein for people to get their hands up to maintain contact from the inside leg to outside rein. He is a stickler for disciplining horses and constantly mentioned how people did not discipline their horses enough to the leg, spur, and stick. “This is not a petting zoo, people!” he would constantly admonish. He believes people are more prone to permissive versus discipline riding. A horse that is well disciplined accepts all the aids.
He commented a lot about people’s need to raise their hands. It establishes the contact, fixes problems such as the shaking of head or resistance to the bit, and prevents horses from breaking in the vertebrae. The poll should be the highest point of the horse and it is “BAD!” when the horse breaks in the second vertebrae for collection.
My first day riding with George was not my best. Capone wasn’t himself after a long day of travel and more irritable than usual. He was lethargic over fences and bucky when asked to move off the leg.
I was a bit too “soft and lazy” for George when he had to repeatedly ask me to correct my stirrup position. I had no discipline because I couldn’t maintain the correct stirrup position throughout the day and it would become my vice for the duration of the clinic. Speaking of vices…. I bet you’re wondering how the liverpool went?
Capone fooled me all the way up until the very last stride. I rode aggressively to it, due to our history with liverpools, and the entire way I thought he was actually going to give it to me—until he didn’t.
And off I flew! I immediately got back on and we were able to get over it and I had quite the bruise on my thigh and shoulder the next morning. But, we survived our first day!
And all in all, while I was overweight, I was fit for the clinic. Three diligent months of prep work and no-stirrup riding meant that I could keep up just fine. I even got a much coveted “perfect” on one of our outside lines. After all the preparation, hearing that word from George is literally everything. But it didn’t compare to the “excellent” Kevin got on his legger-upper skills. “That boy’s got promise!” George told us, and I couldn’t agree more.
“Riding is a simple sport, not easy. People like to complicate things.” George told us on Day 2 as we moved into the no-stirrup portion of the clinic.
George likes no-stirrup work, not to punish the rider, but to make them better. No stirrups help to develop a seat on a horse. He defined seat as the ability to stick to a horse no matter what it does. No stirrups improve feel, forces the horse to accept the aides of seat and leg, and strengthens leg. “We have to create a seat in a rider & then we have to maintain a seat on a rider,” through no stirrups. “It used to be that your first three years of riding was without stirrups, but modern riding doesn’t accommodate this anymore,” George said.
We did all of our flat work without stirrups. I’ll admit I was disappointed we didn’t do more no-stirrup work in the posting trot. I had prepared for so long! I was ready to go for hours…. but at least I was able to keep up. We jumped through some bounces without stirrups and reins before regaining our stirrups. By this time I had begun to notice a trend in George.
He is a perfectionist in ways you wouldn’t even expect. He was often telling us, “It’s just as easy to do something right, as it is to do it wrong.” Your expectations of perfection will change after riding with George. He has an attention to detail I admire.
When riders line up for him to speak to the group, he likes the horses to be in very straight lines (shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip). You place excess poles perfectly perpendicular and flush against a standard. If the line is a perfect four-stride then ask for a perfect three strides! There is a danger to complacency and getting comfortable with the easy distance and stride. Oh, how he loved to torment some of us with these exercises.
I had high hopes after being introduced to the liverpool on Day 1 that Capone would be more inclined to go over it on Day 2. I should have known better. I mean—after all, it was in a new location, so it’s practically a new jump! At least this time I didn’t fall off.
Stay tuned next Wednesday for my report on Day 3!
Tiffany Elmer, 30 and from Texas, balances her work as a teacher with riding her homebred horse, Capone. She’s been riding since she was 11—through high school, college, dating, marriage and her career—and has competed in the hunters, equitation, jumpers and a bit of eventing. Capone is her “forever” horse. “I bred for a paint eventer mare, and got a lovely chestnut hunter gelding!” she said. “We currently are working on cleaning up our 3’6” hunter rounds with an end goal of international derbies.” Tiffany’s current goal is a George H. Morris clinic in May.
“Capone’s favorite hobbies include asphyxiation—he likes to roll his tongue, put his head in the air, and suck on it. I always have to leave a sign up at shows or people will call me thinking he’s choking (weird, right?). And he also likes to torment the elderly gentleman in the gelding pasture,” Elmer said. Read all of Tiffany’s COTH blogs.