Three Life Lessons I Learned from George Morris

Natasha Sprengers-Levine is a USDF Bronze and Silver Medalist based in Winchester, Virginia, who competes her KWPN-NA mare at Third Level and dabbles in lower level eventing to stay humble. She audited George Morris’s clinic at Beverly Equestrian last week and kindly submitted a report.

George Morris teaching at Beverly Equestrian. Photo by Natasha Sprengers-Levine.

The viewing area at the gorgeous Beverly Equestrian was packed last Friday morning with auditors whose notepads and pens sat poised to learn invaluable lessons from jumping and equitation master George H. Morris. The lessons learned sitting ringside listening to George, the living legend, are translatable across disciplines and beyond the walls of any arena.

Read on for three life lessons (and perhaps a few more …) from a day spent with George H. Morris.

1. Riding is simple, but not easy.

“It’s a simple sport, but it’s not easy.” The sport, George said, is about your legs and your hands, and your horses’ reaction to the leg and the hand. Riders of all disciplines and levels can appreciate that this is easier said than done.

“Position precedes contact. A correct position puts us in the right place as riders to have  contact through the leg, hand, and seat. Ask the horse to accept you, and don’t fudge the contact.” George emphasized that horses really must accept the rider and the contact, and that this acceptance is taught by the rider. If the seat, leg, hand position is wrong, a riders’ contact cannot be correct, nor accepted by the horse.

“You have to be watch others, you have to be observant, but mostly you have to think. You have to figure it out.” George presented riders with various exercises on the flat and over fences that challenged them to think about how best to achieve the desired effect. Shoulder-in positioning at the trot encouraged riders to practice straightness from the leg first. There was an exercise in which riders did canter departs from the walk every 10-12 strides to ensure the horse respected the leg and the hand aids. These principles translated to the over-fences work as riders were asked to adjust the number of strides between fences to prove the responsiveness of their mounts.

2. Practice precision.

“The purpose of a dressage horse, a hunter horse, a jumper horse, an equitation horse is not competition. Horse training is not horse show, horse show, horse show. All horses have to be schooled. There must be a point to it, and that point should not be the judge’s opinion.”

“The nature of the sport across the hunters, jumpers, eventers and equitation today is precision. If you don’t practice precision, you’re out.”

“The six-stride exercise teaches discipline and precision. Precision of track and how a line of travel influences distance to a fence is an important principle.” After the warm-up on the flat and through a bounce, George had the riders all work through an exercise wherein he had four fences placed at one end of the arena. Riders were told to jump two of the jumps on the circle, then add another if it went well, to work up to four jumps with six-strides between each fence, first tracking right, and then changing direction by cantering over a single pole placed in the center of the four fences.

3. Good riding is good horse training.

“We want a flexible, adjustable horse.” The ultimate goals of any discipline are to get the horse to go forward, back, turn left, and turn right in response to the aid the rider is supplying.

“Don’t be passive. Be active. Don’t practice a helpless, hopeless attitude.” If a mistake happens, just keep riding. Riders need to participate in guiding the horse and urging him to go from one place to the next. If you are in a jumping exercise, recover your rhythm and keep jumping.

“Effective riding is beautiful. Form plus function will get you success in the saddle.” All riders have certain tools available to them to get them to a jump, these include leg, a cluck, spurs, and a stick. Riders need also to employ a bit of an aggressive attitude to get results.

“Know your schooling exercises. It’s not enough to just hack around, you have to educate your horses to make them rideable. That’s exercises like transitions and lateral movements.” George encouraged the riders in their warmups at all levels (3’6”, 3’0, 2’9”) to ride transitions within the gaits, to open and close the horses’ strides as well as to change directions and keep the horses thinking.

Some other little lessons:

  • Always make sure you can still make your horse go forward and straight. Lateral work in collection is important to create a more rideable, adjustable, flexible horse, but it cannot be at the expense of a horse that is forward and in front of the leg.
  • “Practice that your horse is straight. Keep the shoulders in front of the hindquarter.”
  • “Don’t baby yourselves. If you’re confident and so is the horse, try to raise the bar a bit.”
  • Don’t be sloppy, ever. I know for sure I will be carrying a small towel with me from here on out so I can place it on my right thigh to cross my left leg over it while wearing my polished tall boots. Nobody likes a smudged pair of breeches!

Riders and auditors were able to sign up for this fantastic experience through Event Clinics. You can find your next opportunity at www.eventclinics.com.

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