“Basic dressage and classical riding, of which we can’t ever learn enough, is a positive from every perspective of the horse,” said George Morris on the first day of his 2015 George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session in Wellington, Fla.
“It leads to physical improvement, mental improvement and emotional improvement, and you have obedience. No matter if you go to a cross-rail, an oxer, a combination, or water—the horse is ready to listen. And this isn’t new! This is a very ancient method of training with horses. The horse has to be well ridden, not with all these tricks and gimmicks.”
It’s no secret that George Morris is a fan of the classic style of riding, where simple and effective aids foster a supple and respectful relationship between horse and rider. Twelve of the top young riders in the country were selected to participate in the annual clinic, and Morris focused on flatwork exercises with each of them on Day 1.
Morris stressed the importance of clear communication and convincing aids, which allow the horse to use its haunches to propel forward.
“Concentration is a real cornerstone on the flat as well as in jumping,” said Morris, something that guest exhibitor Olympian show jumper Beezie Madden would later stress, as well.
The First Aid And The Two Tracks
“The inside leg is your first aid. Your inside leg is impulsion; it keeps you straight,” said Morris at the beginning of the sessions. “The second aid after that is your outside rein. The inside leg opens to your outside rein, and you’re training your horse to be aware of your aids. Around corners, be tactful with your aids as you get the horse to bend with his hindquarter—not just dropping his shoulder to the inside.”
After having his students walk for about 10 minutes, he took a moment to explain the exercises that came next.
“There are two types of exercises on the flat: lateral exercises and longitudinal exercises,” he said. “What we call lateral work creates suppleness. It’s circles; it’s half circles; it’s changes in direction—left, right, left, right. We also have longitudinal schooling, which includes mostly transitions—forward, backward, backward, forward. You always combine these. You don’t school lateral, lateral, lateral or vice versa.”
Morris called his method of combining both types of exercises “schooling on two tracks.”
Impulsion And Control
The riders started out by working on transitions on both a straight line and on 20-meter circles—blending the two categories of exercise.
Morris explained that the key to transitioning is to keep the impulsion behind every movement. He repeated his formula for the downward transition to his students as they moved from the canter to the walk.
“Transitions are very important because they’re a ‘concert of aids.’ ” said Morris. “Sit, sink into the saddle, walk, stretch his spine, don’t pull, keep your horse in front of your inside leg and keep contact with your outside hand. Sink, stretch, leg, hand.
“Impulsion is a horse’s range. It has nothing to do with speed. Is the horse carrying you forward? Does the horse have energetic paces at all gaits?” he asked.
After a short break, the riders began to school the counter-canter and half-pass, leg yield, shoulder-in and haunches-in at all three gaits. Morris also hopped on a student’s horse briefly in each session to demonstrate his teachings.
“I teach leg yielding differently than every other teacher you’ve had; I teach it old-fashioned,” said Morris. “Leg yielding is the first lesson of lightening and utilizing the hindquarter. We exercise patience, patience, patience. It’s called ‘equestrian tact.’ We still ask, we still persevere, and we sit the saddle until the horse both understands and complies with what we’re asking of him.
“Shoulders-in also puts the weight behind the sensitive shoulder of the horse and puts it on the hindquarters,” he continued. “It’s a very basic mobilizing exercise. You fix the haunch and mobilize the shoulder. With the haunches-in, you fix the shoulder and mobilize the haunches.”
After both sessions were wrapped up for the day, the students and audience were treated to a demonstration of flatwork by 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games show jumping team and individual bronze medalist Beezie Madden. She rode Winston, an 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion (Heartbreaker—Rinda), owned by Trelawny Farm, LLC.
Warm Up Simply – “It’s much simpler for a horse to yield to the aids on the same side, so when I put a little left [inside] leg and put a little bend on the left rein, I expect [Winston] to yield to that. I don’t want him to overbend his neck; what concerns me more is that he yields to my left leg and doesn’t bite the left rein. You see already he’s starting to try to use his back a little more. I don’t have a loop in my outside rein, but I give a little with the outside rein so that he can turn his head.”
Give And Take – “From that, I can start to do more lateral movements; shoulder-ins are the next progression, really. Lateral movements aren’t slow movements, they’re collected movements. I want collection but I need a little animation. When he gives me a little relaxation, I try to follow him. I try to feel the moment when he is about to give in, and I say, ‘yes, that’s right,’ by relaxing my arms. It’s take and give. When I give I get a little more relaxation from him.”
Concentrate – “He’s got to be ready to react to my leg so that I can just touch him with my leg. I could make him go if I stick my spur in, but the biggest thing with flatwork is that our game is a game of concentration; the horse has to be able to concentrate. Every horse can jump the fences, or you’d be an idiot to enter him in the class he’s in, but what it really comes down to is the horse that can concentrate on the course the best.”
Communicate –“You have to develop a relationship with your horse where you can tell him, ‘that was good,’ to where he knows what he’s doing is right. That’s one of the biggest differences between good riders and great riders. Great riders have a way of being able to communicate with the horse when it’s good and communicate when it’s bad. If he’s getting so much input from the rider that it’s hard for him to concentrate on the fence, that’s a disadvantage. If you can do it with very little input, then they have better concentration in the fence. That’s the whole reason for making your flatwork excellent.”
List Of Riders
- Geoffrey Hesslink (Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals-East [N.J.] champion)
- Sydney Hutchins (Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals-West [Calif.] champion)
- Wilton Porter (North American Young Rider Championships (Ky.) individual show jumping champion)
- Spencer Smith (wild card selection)
- Hannah Von Heidegger (wild card selection)
- Sophie Simpson (wild card selection)
- Bowers Cone (wild card selection)
- Jennifer Gates (wild card selection)
- Lucas Porter (North American Junior Championships [Ky.] individual show jumping champion)
- Carly Williams (USHJA Emerging Athlete Program winner)
- Cody Wooten (USHJA Emerging Athlete Program finalist)
- Mitch Endicott (wild card selection)