George Morris Day 5: It's All About Homework

Jan 3, 2015 - 7:26 PM

At the conclusion of the 2015 George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session, held in Wellington, Fla., Dec. 30 – Jan. 3, George Morris encouraged his students to make use of his instruction and information as they pleased, but expected them to incorporate at least a portion of the resonating lessons into their training at home.

“This whole week is about homework, people,” said Morris. “I want you to leave here and apply what you’ve learned; otherwise, why bother? Take what you learned here and what works best for you and build your own program with your horses. Read books, ride horses, always learn.”

The clinic participants had a chance to put their newfound knowledge to the test and soak up last bits of instruction from Morris on Day 5 as they jumped around a course designed by Steve Stephens. 

At the start of each session, Morris mounted a students’ horse and demonstrated how he would warm that horse up for a jumper class. Not surprisingly, his warm-up routine looked very familiar; he’d been drilling the same lateral and longitudinal exercises since Day 1.

“Unfortunately, you can never escape dressage,” said Morris. “It’s horse training; it’s riding the horse. When warming up for jumping keep the horse on the forehand and in front of you and uphill—not like a wheelbarrow. Lift the head with your leg and with your hands.”

Aim To Train

The jumping course featured a few intentionally challenging distances, a rollback turn, a combination with a triple bar to a vertical to a liverpool oxer, a water jump and more.

Morris made it clear early on that, although they were riding a course, this was not a show; it was an exercise aimed at training both horse and rider. He explained that it’s important to have patience and teach the horse correctly—even if that means the course doesn’t go quite as planned in training.

When Von Heidegger piloted Faustino over the first fence from a shallow distance, Morris had her halt the gelding, back a few strides and circle back to train the correct distance. He then had her repeat the exercise many more times at different fences when Faustino became too strong.

“The distance was insufficient because she didn’t let him come out of the turn,” Morris said after Von Heidegger’s first attempt. “You have to let him turn; you see the distance better. Just relax in that turn and give.

“Stop him and back him,” he continued. “Park him. Sit quietly and straight. Now you walk forward higher and lighter. You see how important it is that the horse listens to your hands?

“I prefer what you did by stopping him straight after that line and not pulling him out and turning him to stop,” Morris added. “It’s very important with that horse, and any horse, to give with your hand and get off the horse’s mouth after the fence so he can use head and shoulders.”

Morris continued to instruct several other riders to halt and rein-back on the landing as well, picking at details like leg position and landing on the correct lead. So Morris was pleased with Wilton Porter’s decision to halt and back his mount Delinquent without needing a prompt.

“What he just did is called good horse training,” said Morris. “ He wants that horse lighter in his hand so he stopped in a straight line and backed up.”

When It Gets Tough, Get Tougher

Although Mitch Endicott had great jumping sessions on Days 2 and 3, he ran into disappointment when his mount Excellent refused the majority of the jumps on course more than once.

The problems began with a stop at the second jump, a vertical on a line from the first fence. After awkwardly clearing the vertical the second time around, Excellent proceeded to refuse the water jump multiple times, crash through a wall and refuse the first element of the final in-and-out several times.

Morris instructed Endicott to be persistent, stay steady in his contact, close his leg and make definite decisions when it came to distances.

“Of course you would have a problem,” Morris said as Endicott circled and rode to the final in-and-out repeatedly. “You’re riding her to an indecisive long distance and she doesn’t know what to do. You have to teach her the shorter distance. You have to be able to have a short distance as an option.”

Excellent got the taste for stopping after first few fences and took advantage of the situation by making it a habit of refusing jumps throughout the course. Endicott persevered through the series of mishaps, but Morris became frustrated when the young rider grew weary with the many stops instead of getting more aggressive in his riding.

“Give yourself a good shot at the distance, keep her straight and under your leg, kick, kick, kick!” Morris instructed. “Don’t go faster; you have enough horse there. Just ride her so that her impulsion brings her over the jump.

“People, when it gets tough, you’ve got to get tougher,” he added. “You’ve got to correct that, you can’t go along with that. You’ve got to step up to the plate. You do something to get the bit back and get her respecting you again. Do something.”

It’s A Process

Though Endicott’s weren’t the only mistakes of the day, the riders’ performance overall on the final day reflected the progress they’ve made in the never-ending process of learning to ride effectively.

A big lesson Morris stressed was to keep the horse’s topline high and soft using a light seat and a series of half-halts between fences. He was impressed by his students’ ability to absorb and emulate his ideas, and praised Porter, Sydney Hutchins and Jennifer Gates, among others, for improving on and quieting their seat, as well as teaching their horses to respect their leg with an effective half-halt.

 “It’s important with these very sensitive horses not to ride with a very conflicting, heavy seat,” instructed Morris. “[These riders] get out of the saddle in 2-point contact as they approach the fence and very softly sink into the saddle into what we call 3-point contact. They don’t throw their bodies over the jump. Help the horse as little as possible over the jump, people; horses know how to jump—let them. This is effective riding.

“Don’t let yourself get distracted by the pressure you put on yourself or your mother, your uncle, your grandmother who expect things of you,” he advised. “Concentrate over and over again on how you’re riding that day. Every turn, every line. Just focus on riding. All my life, I felt that pressure because I’m a perfectionist and I was never very confident, so I understand. Don’t get discouraged.”

 

Read all of the Chronicle’s reports from the George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Sessions here.

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