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November 24, 2010

Vermonters in King George’s Court

Last week, two trainers and one junior rider from our area had the opportunity to ride in a George Morris clinic, held at The Buffalo Therapeutic Riding Center, Nov. 12-14.

Barn mates pooled resources and gifted the clinic to our trainer Tara Valade as her Christmas present. Fox Horn Stables, our friendly neighbors down the road in Charlotte, caught wind of what we were doing and decided to do the same for their trainer Ashley Conway. Junior rider Piper Oren’s parents decided to send her as well. Just like that, three lifelong dreams were about to be realized.

While I was not in attendance, Tara, Ashley and Piper’s parents have shared their experiences so that we can all have a look inside King George’s Court. John Oren’s pictures and quotes tell the story better than I can.

The group left the rolling green mountains of Vermont and eight hours later arrived in the city streets of Buffalo, N.Y.; two young trainers, one teenager, along with parents, family and assorted supporters in tow. They arrived late Thursday night and settled their horses in for the night.

Our three riders arrived the next morning excited and ready to see the facility in the daylight. What awaited them was an indoor arena that left them in awe. Large, very large and airy. Were they really inside? A white, expansive space, large enough to be sectioned off to include a warm-up area and jumping section. An old airplane hanger? Something close to amazement and perhaps envy touched the Vermonters. Oh, what we could do with an indoor like this! There is nothing comparable in the state.

Registration papers were signed, packets handed out, name tags adorned. Our trainers were delighted to be served breakfast. The staff at The Buffalo Therapeutic Riding Center rivaled their counterparts at the Four Seasons and the Ritz Carlton in caring for our Vermonters. They were warmly welcomed, every detail planned in advanced, questions answered, well fed, snacks and drinks readily available.

8 a.m. Niceties aside. Time to set the course. It is “suggested” that riders assist. Our gang was ready, learning the George Morris approved method of course design. George speaks, people run. Our trainers took notes, hoping to achieve the same results at home.

Jump pins to the outside. Bottom cups filled first. Poles placed in the cups when they have been assigned and not before. George laid down some basic ground rules the hard way. For instance, when he speaks, no one else does.

Tough, But Fair

For the next three days, our riders gave George 110 percent, and he gave it all right back to them.

We’ve all read about George’s legendary toughness, his penchant for quirky commentary, (“Your ‘Whoa’ sounds like Lady Gaga!”) his legendary resume. But what I was reminded of, hearing about the clinic, was his demand for discipline. Come to the ring prepared—your horse, tack and person neat and clean. Give your best each and every ride. Respect your horse and trainer.

I hate to sound like an old-school parent, but young people need this lesson. It will help them in so many other aspects of their lives!

Tara reiterated this with her thoughts on the experience. “George doesn’t mind if you make mistakes, he minds if you are not trying. If he gives you an exercise, you follow his directions to the letter. He gives truthful critiques. He pushes people to make them better.” She noted that every horse and rider showed improvement by the end of the weekend.

“He was not mean. He was tough, but fair. If you made the exact same mistake twice, watch out. He demands discipline,” she added.

Tara was impressed with George’s stamina. He rode many horses and continued to give instruction over the microphone without ever sounding out of breath, something she’d like to be able to do herself.

A Parent’s Perspective

According to Piper Oren’s mother, her daughter had never before experienced that breed of instructor that utilizes toughness and brutal honesty. For the first two days, Piper emerged unscathed. She even received a few coveted “Very goods,” “Good” and a “She’s got it!” from George—high praise, well-earned.

On the final day, Piper got five in the six-stride line (twice!). George bellowed, “The lights are on, but nobody's home!” Piper later admitted to doing algebra problems in her head to keep the tears at bay.

Mrs. Oren said of the entire experience, “Personally, as a parent, I was very impressed. It is rare in life when you get to witness true mastery—George Morris is indeed a master of the sport. He's tough, but honest. Three groups, eight riders in each, and he remembered each person’s name and how they had improved each day.”

On the long ride home, Piper thanked her parents for the opportunity to participate in the clinic. Mom responded, “That, alone, was probably worth the price of admission.”

The dates for next year’s George Morris clinic at The Buffalo Therapeutic Riding Center are November 11-13, 2011.

Elizabeth Howell grew up riding on the hunter/jumper circuit in Massachusetts. Now she is a horse show mom. She holds a day job at The Emily Post Institute and slings horse manure on the weekends. Her website is www.sheridesIpay.com.