Layers of clothes, wool coolers and hot tea were all ready to fight off the Northwest chill as horse and riding enthusiasts gathered to watch a George Morris clinic at Rich and Shelley Fellers' stable in Wilsonville, Ore. The first group of the day started right on time, with horses walking in the arena perfectly groomed.
There was tension in the air, and nerves were on edge as the day began. Then, the master walked in, looking as dapper as ever (and, by the way, not wearing zipper boots). He looked very businesslike and ready to go to work. Riders were asked to come into a semi-circle to have the tack checked on each horse. After a few adjustments, they were off to work.
In the cool, damp weather, the horses were very fresh and showed off with a few bucks and kicks. All of this soon disappeared with a few minutes of working trot. As the horses and rider warmed up, they were being sized up as to their quality and ability. At this point, I felt more comfortable on the sidelines than I would be on a fresh horse in front of George Morris.
Looking around at the crowd, I saw a large group of people there to support the riders. There were parents, other riding instructors, grooms and, the most important, the people who write the checks. All of us were trying to stay warm with layers of clothes and blankets. This was not a fashion show.
It was also cold for the instructor standing in the arena. There was only one thing to do to keep warm and that was to get on one of the horses. Now, the fun began. To watch George Morris at his age is inspiring to all riders, but especially for us older riders. Great position and a dead quiet lower leg. It made me feel like I needed to get home and get to work on my riding. Riding without stirrups on horses you don’t know and jumping good-sized fences with the rest of the class was very impressive. The knowledge from years of competing and teaching really came out at this point.
The flat work and jumping instruction was blunt and to the point for the most part. It definitely had a military feel to it. At times the instruction was a little hard to follow but right on the mark. Knowing how far to push both horse and rider takes years and years of experience. It’s an art when it is done well. This art, along with occasional touches of humor, made the clinic fun to watch.
The level of skill in the riding was very impressive. The counter-canter and all the transitions helped to engage the rear end and added to the balance and control of the horse. You could see the rider becoming smoother and jumping better. The eye of the instructor for detail made the classes so valuable; all of the details added to the big picture.
One surprise of the day was the amount of compliments I heard. Statements like “a very good fence,” “the best transition of the day,” “I love that horse,” were all part of the instruction. Was I hearing things or had George Morris mellowed with age? Whatever the case, the instruction seemed to be helpful for both horse and rider.
I had a wonderful day watching the classes and being with horse people at the George Morris clinic. His years and years of experience teaching and showing put him on the top of the horse world. A statement like, “I am just beginning to learn,” shows the dedication of a lifetime. Sitting in my car with the heater on high, I thought, “What I have seen today is not just another clinic, but a transfer of knowledge of horses and riding from one generation to the next.” What could be better than that? And, by the way, nobody cried!