I had two major reasons for trekking up north for the 15th annual Mane Event: the shopping and George Morris. I’ll do a recap of how much damage I did to my wallet once the dust clears and all the transactions have settled into my bank account. In the mean time, buckle in for some CLINIC NOTES.
NOTES AND TAKEAWAYS
STIRRUP LEATHER LENGTH: The correct stirrup length for jumping should hit the rider’s ankle bone. From there, drop down two little holes for flat work. I need to lengthen my stirrup leathers for flat work and then bring them up for jumping. It’ll give me more leg to use during our flat!
A MORE FORWARD SEAT: In the posting trot and the canter the upper body should be inclined forward. If you have to lean to get into the two point, you weren’t forward enough to begin with.
“I am passionate for jumping. I am passionate for a forward seat.”
“Posting the trot is the same thing as jumping the horse.”
LIFTING THE HANDS UP: Raglan’s neck should be at a 45 degree angle—his poll should be the highest point. When he gets antsy, I should close my fingers and follow his head up with my hands. Dropping my hands will pull my body down and make me weaker. Raglan can’t get higher than my hands, which means he can’t escape the contact. The hind legs and the back are where it count, not the head.
“Resist the horse’s mouth in exact proportion to the resistance of the horse’s mouth.”
“Contact is definite. Straight, definite, supple.”
USING THE INSIDE LEG: I need to be using my inside leg more. Like a hundred times more. The inside leg keeps the horse straight. The inside leg puts the horse on the bit. The inside leg and outside rein stop the horse. WHATEVER YOU DO, INSIDE LEG. Raglan needs to be submissive to the leg!
“We don’t pull the head down, we push the head down. Leg to a steadying hand.”
“Once the horse is submissive to the leg, he’s submissive to the rider.”
RIDING WITH A CROP: All horses should be ridden with a spur and a stick. The horse responds to the leg in association with a spur or a stick. Impulsion (the “mother of equitation”) requires that the horse be thinking forward. If they aren’t, use your spur or stick. DO NOT KICK. Kicking brings your heels up.
“I don’t care what the horse does, you keep those heels down.”
PRACTICE “JUMPING DRESSAGE”:
Shoulder in! GM’s favorite maneuver. It’s a suppling exercise that rates and disciplines the horse. The hind end should be the focus. Counter canter! The counter canter collects the canter. GM spends 40% of his time in the counter canter. Simple changes! The correct way to school simple changes is to walk them. Flying changes! The new inside leg should initiate the change. No inside rein, just new inside leg to new outside rein. If the horse tosses you out of the saddle, he’s behind the leg and too light in the croup.
“You activate the horse, then hold him. We don’t carry the horse, the horse carries us.”
“Every transition. Make a habit. Ensure the horse stays in front of your leg.”
INTRODUCING NEW FENCES: Every new fence that GM introduced to the clinic started with the top rail down. He introduced each fences individually before he put them together into a course.
STAYING OUT OF THE SADDLE: You must stay up and out of your saddle while you’re jumping. You can sink down slightly through turns, but you should never sit. 25% of the time you need to be out of the saddle in posting trot or your galloping seat in order to train your heels to stay down.
“You have to get up out of the saddle to have an educated leg.”
BEING AGGRESSIVE TO THE FENCE: I can’t sit back on Raglan and hope he doesn’t jump. I have to stay forward and go with him. My attitude should be aggressive. He needs to be educated, if the rider hesitates he isn’t learning. When I feel any hesitation, I need to use my voice, spur, or stick.
“If you hesitate, the horse hesitates. If you’re aggressive, the horse will be aggressive. Don’t be too protective, defensive. Come to it.”
THE RELEASE: Don’t lift your hands as your horse takes off, just rest them softly on his neck.
KEEP RIDING AFTER THE FENCE: Don’t sit down after the jump, stay out of the saddle! When you finish a line, incorporate your flat work into jumping. You should always aim to be constructive at the end of your line of jumps. You can circle, halt at the fence, etc.
“Jumping is a tangent to riding.”
LETTING THE HORSE LEARN: All systems are based on doing exercises. First you explain the theory, then you do a demo, and then you allow the exercise to do the work. Don’t over ride the horse. Give him the space to make mistakes so that he can learn to stop making them.
“We set the horse up nice, but the horse teaches himself.”
“Invite him to hit the fences.”
Shoulder in on the track. Perform a reverse turn, then go into haunches in.
Circle. Shrink the circle while doing shoulder in, then expand the circle while doing haunches in.
Shoulder in down the long side, haunches in down the short side, extend on the diagonal.
At the trot or canter, perform a half turn, then hold the bend and half pass back to the track.
Counter canter on the track. Flying lead change. Walk a simple change back to the counter canter.
Canter. Turn down the diagonal. Perform as many flying changes as possible.
Five stride line. Approach on a bend. Short distance for one jump and a good distance for the other.
Five stride line. Fit six strides between the jumps. Then fit seven. Teach the short spot and collection.
Set one fence in the middle of the arena. Jump the fence on a slice. Figure 8.
HORSES AND RIDERS
I learned a lot from George Morris. But I also learned from the horses and riders that were participating in the clinic! There were a few pairs in particular that had a big influence on me.
One of the riders was on a cute little thoroughbred that was clearly very green. Her horse refused the very first jump multiple times and GM had her dismount so that his right hand man could school the horse for her. He told her she need to “work on her guts”. It was inspiring to watch how much confidence the horse gained with a more aggressive rider on board. It was also really impressive to watch her come back the next day and ride more assertively. It made me think a lot about my relationship with Raglan.
“Confident experience through education. She saw it was possible and how to do it, and that gave her confidence.”
Another rider in the advanced group was on a green horse that had big issues with the liverpool, but she schooled the snot out of it. Very aggressive, very on top of it—absolutely no hesitation or fear at all. Watching her gave me a great example of the type of rider that I want to be.
There was also a grey gelding that I was very impressed by. He was very smart, to the point where he thought ahead of the rider and auto-swapped his leads so smoothly I barely even saw it. He was all business, very focused and well schooled. I want to get Raglan to that point, too.
POST CLINIC Q&A SESSION
The clinic wasn’t entirely devoid of drama, of course. One of the riders in the advanced group was dismissed on the second day when George Morris told him he needed to ride with a crop in hand and he wasted George’s time by arguing. He didn’t come back the next day. During the post clinic Q&A, George made it a point to talk about the mindset that he looks for in a student. George Morris expects his students to keep their opinions to themselves and to persevere even if they don’t necessarily agree with him.
“Keep your mouth shut, your ears open, and do exactly what you’re told. If you don’t have confidence in your teacher, find another one. If you don’t agree, try the best you can at the time. At home you can take what you like.”
George went on to talk about his ability to maintain his integrity in a business that is becoming more indulgent towards opinionated amateur riders. George recognizes that he was lucky enough to make a name for himself before society turned more “spoiled, self-indulgent”.
“People always want excellence. I don’t bend. I don’t compromise. I stick to my beliefs.”
He’s passionate about the horses and believes that equestrians should constantly be learning. Education, in his opinion, is the most important thing we can provide to youth riders.
“People think they study the art, but they don’t study it. You have to work at your craft all across the board.”
I was also surprised to learn that George was a timid rider as a child, to the point where he spent six months taking lead line lessons. Years of practicing his confidence (and a small stint in theater that boosted his self-esteem) gave him the steel of spine he has today. There have been times in his career where he had injuries that made him think he would never be able to ride again, but every time he got back on and kept going.
George Morris was everything I expected him to be—and more. I came away from each of his sessions with a very full brain and a better understanding of what Raglan and I need to be working on.
“The circle is the foundation of riding. The inside leg is the foundation of riding. The shoulder in is the foundation of riding. Those three things.”
George Morris was just as serious as the stories make him out to be. He sent riders back out to clean their boots, demanded distracting audience members move out of his line of sight, and was both critical of the riders and sparse with his praise. If the audience clapped, he chided them for being too enthusiastic. He wasn’t there to stroke egos, he was looking for excellence.
And he was funny! He teased riders for their bright red irons and “spoiled” horses. He told the jump crew that they “lacked impulsion” when they were slow to adjust the fences. One girl had a “case of the slows” and another one rode like a “constipated cat”. When a rider didn’t use her crop quick enough, he said she “sat there like a soup sandwich”. But despite his harsh criticisms, the riders were laughing along with us.
Every day I left the clinic feeling inspired—and imaging what it would be like to reach a level where Raglan and I could ride with George Morris, too.