George Morris Day 3: Mix It Up

Jan 1, 2015 - 10:02 PM

“Practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect,” said George Morris on Day 3 of the 2015 George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session. “But you have to be interested in perfect practice; you have to have the mentality for it. That’s called ambition, people.”

With two days of lessons in the basic fundamentals of effective riding under their belts, the clinic participants began the New Year Jan. 1, by focusing on training the details of their riding.

Morris suggested that the riders become aware of their horses’ individual strengths and weaknesses, as well as their own, and apply the fundamental concepts they’ve already learned in order to work as partners with their mount. He also encouraged them to ‘mix it up’ when schooling to prepare themselves and their horses for any task, fence, or distance that might arise on course.

Early in the first session, Morris demonstrated this idea of breaking free of routine by riding Wilton Porter’s Delinquent out of the ring and into the road at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, cantering down the street as the rest of the group followed behind.

“It gets the horse paying attention,” said Morris. “It gets them going forward energetically. It gets them going supplely and straight.”

Once back in the ring and on his feet, Morris had his students trot over a gymnastic exercise with two cavalettis to a small bounce, focusing on keeping a quick, even tempo through the line.

“The tempo is the quickness of the rhythm; the rhythm is the regularity of the gait,” said Morris. “These are different things, people. Feel the rhythm and keep the tempo quick and forward.”

Set The Pace And Stay The Course

Next came an oddly constructed liverpool oxer on the diagonal. Morris explained that the jump was a bit of an optical illusion meant to get the horses ready for the upcoming water jump later in the lesson.

“Just do what is necessary for your particular horse at this fence to get him ready to jump the water,” said Morris. “This is a fence where I would cluck or take to my stick if need be. Take to the stick now, not after you get into trouble at the water.”

Some of the riders, including Carly Williams (Apollo’s Mission) and Jennifer Gates (Saskia), had a rough start over the tricky fence. Williams found a few awkward distances and became a bit indecisive about how to adjust the large gelding’s strides on the approach. Morris advised her to set the pace early on, compel the gelding forward and stay the course.

“Set your pace and find your distance. Make a quick decision and stick with that decision; don’t change your mind on the approach,” Morris instructed.

Jennifer Gates ran into a similar problem when she piloted Saskia to a refusal close to the base of the fence. When she turned the mare away from the fence to try again, Morris conveyed an important lesson—in true George Morris fashion.

“Don’t even think of pulling out!” he said. “It’s over, under, or through. Get back up there again, put that spur on her and go forward. Over, under, through.

“There’s no bad distance; there’s a difficult distance,” he continued. “I don’t care what distance you get. Watch riders like Beezie [Madden] and McLain [Ward]; they don’t pull out, they ride whatever distance they get. They ride.”

Reset And Adapt

Each pair jumped the liverpool multiple times, then added more jumps to the exercise. They started with the liverpool on the diagonal, turned right to a large wall, then galloped to the low and wide water fence, and finished by jumping a skinny gate in a figure-8 on the short side.

Navigating the liverpool proved to be very effective preparation for the looky water jump, and the riders ran into few problems piloting their horses over the fence, so Morris found himself giving more instruction on the figure-8 exercise than on the water jump.

Cody Wooten quickly found a long distance to the gate that proved easy for his mare Adessa, and Morris suggested that he not get too comfortable with one distance, but instead switch it up when schooling distances in order to create a more dynamic horse-and-rider pair.

“You like that distance too much,” said Morris after Wooten and Adessa made a few trips around the loop. “If you see that distance, add a stride sometimes. Wait for that short stride. You’re capable of it. Don’t ever get into the pattern of long, long, long or short, short, short—mix it up. If you have two or three short distances, reset. If you have two or three long ones, tighten up.”

As Hannah Von Heidegger jumped Faustino around the figure-8, Morris was pleased that the young rider was able to adjust her riding technique and hand position to fit with Morris’ classic model, even if it might not be the way she was initially taught to ride.

“When I have a horse for this girl to ride she rides it my way; when she rides for another trainer she rides their way. She’s adaptable; she’s flexible,” said Morris. “You have to be that when you ride for different people on different horses. This week you ride my way. I don’t care about what you do next week.”

Continued Lessons

The final exercise of the day was the familiar four-fence combination on the outside line, and Morris was impressed with how the students utilized his advice about keeping a light seat in between jumps. Morris used Mitch Endicott’s position aboard Excellent as an example of suppleness and control of the upper body.

“You see that [Endicott] exemplifies the up and down: when to get up and when to get down,” Morris commented. “But as he gets down he doesn’t push the horse’s back by leaning backward, he stays a little forward with his body and deepens his seat so that he accompanies the horse over the jump. Beautiful.

“This helps the horse go much faster,” he continued. “If you watch Kent Farrington, he’s not always in the saddle; he’s out, in, in, out. He moves with the horse.”

And though Lucas Porter again fell into his habit of trying to help his mare Georgia over the combination on his first trip down the line by lifting her poll over the jumps, he showed further improvement after Morris reiterated his initial advice from Day 2.

“You’re very overprotective and as a consequence your horse gets very hollow, very flat and upside down,” said Morris. “That’s an emergency measure to be used only in competition. We don’t use it much in competition, but it’s good to know how to nick them over it when neccessary.

“You have to let the horse use her head and her neck and her back,” he continued. “Just keep the horse straight with your hands—don’t push and don’t pull; give a little.”

Don’t miss future online coverage from Day 4, the notorious “no-stirrups” day! Check in to coth.com for updates and more sage advice from George Morris.

Follow along with all of the Chronicle’s reports from the George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Sessions.

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