As I entered the arena, the ginormous crowd of spectators hushed, and Mr. Morris barked over the megaphone for me to come closer—but not too close—to his golf cart.
The first order of business was inspecting my tack, and I nervously played back in my mind all the polishing and scrubbing, praying that I hadn't missed a single inch. I looked down at my boots and was shocked. How could I have not noticed getting a large splatter of mud up my left boot? And where the heck was my belt? I ALWAYS wear a belt.
Right at this moment Mr. Morris had noticed both of these cardinal sins and shook his head in disgust as he made his way back to the golf cart. He then started shouting toward me, explaining how he wanted me to perform the first jumping exercise. But I couldn't understand what he was saying. I desperately tried to follow along but could only make out a couple of words like “brain dead” and “moron.”
I started to panic. It was my turn to begin, and everyone was waiting on me but I didn't know where to go. The arena started to spin and as I began to black out, all I could hear was muttering from the crowd and cackling over a megaphone...
I woke up at least half an hour before my alarm, covered in sweat from the nightmare. I immediately got up and got dressed, latching my belt up one notch tighter than usual. I inspected my boots, and they were still polished to a brilliant shine like they were the night before. I began to compose myself. I had a lesson with arguably the best jumping coach in the world today, and I was going to be OK.
The curious thing about George H. Morris is the reputation that precedes him. No other coach in the world that I can think of has an entire generation of riders as familiar with his idiosyncrasies and quotes as George does. He is as famous for the string of incredible riders he has produced as he is infamous for his particular-ness in his lessons.
All the riders attending George’s clinic at Boyd and Silva Martin's beautiful Cochranville, Pa., farm, Windurra, had to meet at 8 a.m. to help George set up his course for the day. I noticed the very simple yet very precise construction of the lines and turns and was eager to find out what he had planned for us and our horses.
I rode Chrissy Allison's Mellow Johnny (or Tex), who is a 6-year-old training-level event horse that I have for sale. The other four horses in my group were all younger/greener horses, which made for an interesting mix considering we had a range of rider experience levels also.
We began the lesson with some simple flatwork in the “half school.” George had us focusing on straightness and keeping the horses “under and up”— a term which I found useful in tackling Tex's tendency to be lazy and heavy.
He reiterated the importance of using leg and seat to ride the horses forward into a steady hand. We were instructed to use transitions to make our horses softer and rode some simple lateral work to ensure an inside leg to outside rein connection.
Once we began the jumping exercises, I began to notice the very simple approach that George has to training horses. Much of his teachings are similar to what you find in many of the classic training manuals. He emphasized the importance of using our legs more than our seat when jumping, and that perfect position was crucial in allowing a horse to develop its jumping technique.
The lines themselves were pretty simple, with the main line consisting of four jumps spaced three, one and two strides apart.
What I found more interesting was the difficulty of the inside turns he expected of us at the ends of the line. I noticed a change in some of the horses in the group, that some of them began to jump a little straighter and softer, anticipating the tight turns and adjusting their balance accordingly.
We finished the two-hour lesson with a discussion about the difference in a “seat-centric” versus “leg-centric” approach to riding. I found this very interesting and was pleased when George spoke about the difficulties we face as eventers, in that we have three very different seats that we have to become proficient in. I know that many of the rails I have had in competition are due to my bringing a little too much cross-country to the show jump ring, and it definitely gave me a new way of thinking about how to separate up the way I ride each phase as well as making them all compiement one another.
After a great lesson, I returned later in the evening to hear George and David O'Connor address the clinic riders as well as eventing supporters from our Unionville community. Personally, I found this to be a source of some great inspiration, especially when George spoke about what he thinks makes a good rider. The first and most important ingredient in making a top rider according to George H. Morris is ambition. Next is emotion, recognizing what kind of emotional rider you are and controlling it. Then management of both your training regime and business (he made mention that somebody has to foot the bill in our sport, and that it has always been that way). Then selection of horses, and last on the list, the most insignificant of the five, was talent.
I think that he definitely inspired many of the younger riders in attendance, and I am hopeful of his continual involvement with the U.S. eventing community.
Reflecting on my lesson, I did not find George H. Morris to be a cranky, scary trainer ready to pounce on even the smallest mistake at any given moment. Rather, I received great, simple advice on how to more correctly train my horse from a man who has seen more than eight decades of horse sport, both good and bad, and I thoroughly enjoyed the student experience with this classic horseman.
Want to see more from the George Morris clinic? Check out this great photo gallery...