Word of the Day at George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session: Adjustability

Olympian Beezie Madden instills the importance of gymnastics on Day 2 at the George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session.
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Olympian Beezie Madden instills the importance of gymnastics on Day 2 at the George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session.

Beezie Madden piggybacked on Anne Kursinski’s Day 1 focus on connection when she drilled the 12 riders in gymnasticizing their horses on Day 2 of the 2017 USEF George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session presented by USHJA

The morning began with Beezie making sure that Breitling LS, an 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood owned by Abigail Wexner, was ready for action when she put him in front of the leg and on the outside rein while making sure he didn’t drop his shoulder to the inside.


“If the shoulder is on the outside, it frees up his neck,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons to have the horse on the outside rein. The other is that the outside rein controls the pace and the line.”

The first day of the training session focused on flatwork. Tomorrow's session will be in a Nations Cup style format | Photo © Amy K. Dragoo

The first day of the training session focused on flatwork. Tomorrow's session will be in a Nations Cup style format | Photo © Amy K. Dragoo

Control in adjustability and in obedience were the name of the game for riders Caroline Dance, Cooper Dean, Coco Fath, Maddy Goetzmann, Emma Marlowe, Gracie Marlowe, Brian Moggre, Maya Nayyar, T.J. O’Mara, Halie Robinson, Taylor St. Jacques and Michael Williamson. The assistant stable managers, Hannah Bentz and Matthew Drohan, were on hand to help out. Beezie reminded them to make it a habit to ensure their horses are attentive whether walking them, cooling them out or when the riders are hanging out and talking to friends while mounted.

The arena featured several water jumps, oxers and verticals, but Beezie focused on using ground poles in a variety of ways to help the riders gain the necessary skills to improve their horses before graduating to the bigger jumps. The poles were set at 45’ apart and the horses and their riders had to master changes in a certain number of strides as well as changes in gaits between poles. They worked on pace, balance, rhythm and riding with feeling, the buzzword Anne focused on the previous day.

“They have to stay in your hands so you can control the balance and the stride,” Beezie reminded the riders about their horses.

Beezie works with Taylor St. Jacques on upper body position | Photo © Amy K. Dragoo

Beezie works with Taylor St. Jacques on upper body position | Photo © Amy K. Dragoo

She also worked with the riders on halting in a variety of places in the International Arena at the Adequan Global Dressage showgrounds in Wellington, Florida. “I like stopping straight in the corners because horses anticipate turns in a short arena like this,” she advised.

In one exercise, the riders were instructed to pilot their horses in small circles while pushing the haunches out into a bigger circle. As they turned the horses to the right, the riders looked to the right, opened the right rein and pushed with the right leg to give the feeling that the leg is bending the horse instead of the rein. Beezie told Coco, “Don’t pull the left rein, give with the left rein. The horse needs some release. If you kick, you have to give.”

Beezie wanted the riders to use their insidelegs when coming around a turn and not just their outside legs in order to make the horses more supple. She used transitions and changes in stride to test adjustability.

Again and again, the riders heard they should put their shoulders behind their hips while slowing their horses and the phrase was often repeated when Beezie had them ride over a series of poles and halt mid-pole, with the horse straddling it.

“Your seat needs to stay in the saddle for a downward transition,” she said. The exercise, meant to teach connection, the delicate control between the hand and the leg and patience was not easily mastered.

“Use your back for strength,” she said. “Do not use your hands. You have to get more independent with your balance. Stretch up with the back. Soft with the hands, soft with the hands, soft with the hands.”

When the horses resisted, Beezie reminded the riders that the horses weren’t always confused; sometimes they were trying to avoid the connection.

“You’ve got to be strong when they’re resisting and soft when they’re giving,” she said.

In another exercise, they were instructed to halt their horses straight after completing a jump or a line of jumps instead of turning to slow down. This was to increase the connection. When a horse would back up instead of halting, Beezie would have the rider leg up the horse and allow it to walk forward a step or two before halting again.

As the day progressed, riders tackled combinations and spent time working on the open water schooling jump and liverpools | Photo © Amy K. Dragoo

As the day progressed, riders tackled combinations and spent time working on the open water schooling jump and liverpools | Photo © Amy K. Dragoo

She reminded them that they were always training their horses. When a horse would hop or buck to avoid the halt, she would tell the rider to put weight in his or her heels. “You have to weight your heels without stiffing him by gripping with the legs,” she said. “There is a fine line. Sometimes you’ve got to push them through something but you also don’t want to get them so frustrated they can’t concentrate.”

As the training progressed, the riders tackled combinations of jumps and they spent some time working on the open water schooling jump and liverpools in anticipation of the next day’s course work. The riders were set to succeed when their sessions ended on a high note. As they left the arena, acclaimed course designer Conrad Homfeld began setting up the course for Saturday morning when three teams of four riders will compete in a Nations Cup format with Chefs d’ Equipe Lauren Hough, Anne Kursinski and Beezie Madden heading up the teams and Laura Kraut providing color commentary and feedback after each round.

Did you miss the first day of coverage of the George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session? Catch up by clicking here. Don’t miss Saturday’s recap of the final day, with words of wisdom from Laura Kraut.