Over the previous four days, George H. Morris gave the 12 riders in the GHM Horsemastership Training Sessions plenty of tools. On the final day, they put those tools to work over a technical course.
Morris didn’t say much new in the final session; he simply reiterated the mantras he’d been repeating all week of connection, acceptance of the aids, and straightness. And as the course revealed the weak links in the riders’ mastery of these concepts, he corrected them.
Morris started both sessions by warming up one of the horses on the flat. For Group 1, he chose Jacob Pope’s horse, and for Group 2, Claudia Billups’. He talked his way through the warm-up on both horses, giving the crowd and the clinic riders insight into what he was doing. He aimed to get Pope’s horse more elevated in the poll, since the horse tended to overflex and curl. On Billups’ horse, he worked to stretch the horse’s topline down and out.
“Note the fixity of my back,” Morris said. “That gives me power in my aids.”
He rode both horses demandingly, but they finished the warm-up at a relaxed walk. Morris made it clear that allowing a horse to avoid the aids does not relax him. “A horse ridden to the aids is totally relaxed, with no drugs, no draw reins, and no gimmicks,” he said.
Morris handed the two horses back to their riders at the end of the flat warm-up wistfully. “I hate giving these horses back,” he said. “I grow quite fond of them.”
A Little Pace
There was just one oxer in the middle of the ring as a warm-up fence, and the group that wasn’t riding at the time set the jump to Morris’ demands as the riding group warmed up over it. Morris stated that he always starts his warm-up over a 2’6” square oxer, not a crossrail or a vertical. “It opens the horse up,” he said. “It’s the same as on the flat; you want to go forward and get scope. I believe strongly in getting the horse loose and stretching to get the scope. Your jumping warm-up should stay true to the basic principles of extension before collection.”
Each rider warmed up and then jumped the course, with Morris critiquing along the way. He emphasized riding forward through the turn, then settling the horse in front of the fence and allowing him to back off on his own. “Right from the first, I want to see a little pace. I don’t like this backwards, restrictive riding we see so much of these days,” he said.
He praised Meg O’Mara’s rounds. “This girl has a great attitude and a beautiful position,” he said. He did want her to find a deeper distance on a consistent basis. “You’re too in love with that long distance. That’s more of a hunter distance. For the jumpers, you can have that distance sometimes, but you have to learn to love the short one.”
Stick To Your Guns
With Dana Scott, he concentrated on her hands over the jump, having her lower her hands more instead of moving them up the neck. “You’re a thrower,” he said. When Scott’s horse got aggressive on course, he exhorted her to not leave a stride out. “You have to stick to your guns and add that stride,” he said.
Olivia Champ’s feisty little gelding showed a lot of spirit all week, and on course he was no different. Morris praised Champ’s handling of her little fireball, noting that she didn’t lower her hands and pull down when he raised his head. “She’s not afraid of the contact. He’s a bit of a hard-boiled guy, but he has to accept her hand.”
He also approved of her distance choices, which were to find the deep one. “She showed great judgment,” he said. “With this kind of aggressive horse, if there’s any question of going long or short, go short. With a hot horse like this, it helps keep them soft in their brain.”
Morris approved of Gabrielle Bausano’s adherence to his advice on how to deal with her hot horse earlier in the week. “I told her to lighten her body and she has and it’s working well,” he said.
With Catherine Tyree’s horse, he noted a marked left drift and worked with her to correct it by circling to the left over a vertical.
As on the flat, the focus during Pope’s round was to keep the horse in an uphill balance. Morris urged Pope to elevate his hands on the approach to the jump, then to lower his hands at the take-off, in an automatic release, to force the horse to develop his bascule independently.
After all the riders had jumped the course once, the fences were raised three holes to about 3’9”, and they jumped again. With each one, Morris had them finish with a very tight figure-eight exercise over a vertical or a looser figure eight over a vertical and an oxer. “This exercise relaxes horse and puts them on the aids,” he said.
In Group 2, the themes were the same. Morris told Frances Land to “practice pace to the base. Let him go forward, then wait to the base,” he said. Land struggled with finding the deep distance and Morris said “You hate that, don’t you? Do you like oysters? You have to acquire a taste for oysters and the deep distance.”
Kilian McGrath earned quite a bit of praise for putting this theory into action in her warm-up, and Morris encouraged Ana Forssell to do the same.
He encouraged each rider to use circles while schooling to help rebalance the horse. “On the circle, put the horse from the inside leg to the outside rein,” he advised them.
Billups earned accolades from Morris for her approaches to the fences. “Watch how she goes forward and then waits for the distance,” he said.
Stephen Foran’s extremely downhill horse had a few hard rubs at back rails on course. “With a very low horse, you have to sit deeper to keep their head up,” Morris said. “If you keep his head up, you’ll have more scope across the back rail.”
Abigail McArdle’s little horse was quite active with his head, flipping it. Morris repeated his mantra of keeping the hands high to encourage the horse to accept the contact. He also advised McArdle to be conscious of the track she rides on course, since her horse is small and overjumps. “I bet you have time faults with this horse,” he said. When McArdle nodded yes, he advised her to be diligent about riding a tighter track.
Over the five days, Morris gave the riders a thorough grounding in his system, making it clear that “dressage is the basis of jumping,” he said. Hopefully, these 12 rides go forward in their careers with his words echoing in their heads.
“It’s what happens after the Maclay that counts,” he told Pope, the 2012 APSCA Maclay Finals winner.
See stories and photos from all sessions of the George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session.