George Morris gives instructions, flanked by Christy Distefano (behind him) and Jacqueline Lubrano. | ? Sandra Oliynyk January 10, 2010 -- The thing I'll remember most about the final day of the George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session in Wellington, Fla., unfortunately, is how cold it was. The winds gusted so much the palm trees flapped around frenetically, and the temperatures hovered in the low 30s. It's been three hours since I got inside and my fingers are still tingling as they thaw out from taking notes and photos. (I know those of you in below-freezing temperatures have no sympathy, but when you come to Florida, you think of jaunting around in short sleeves, NOT huddling in winter coats and under layers of horse coolers!)
But all of the training session's participants, organizers, spectators and George were troopers. The two lessons over a course of fences, postponed from their original Saturday date because of torrential downpours, were brief, but the chef d'?quipe of the 2008 Olympic gold-medal showing jumping team still offered great riding insights.
As the riders warmed up their horses amid 20-miles-per-hour winds, George told them to gallop and get up in a galloping position with their seats out of the saddles. "People, when you work like this in cold weather, get up off your horses' backs," he said. "This is very good for you and your horse. It loosens the rider, it loosens the horse."
Shortly after, George lowered one side of a vertical and instructed the riders to establish a forward pace, maintain a soft arm and, once they saw their distances, "do nothing." ... "Don't jump for your horse. ... Jumping your horse is NOT ducking and NOT leaning up his neck. Let the horse jump."
Victoria Birdsall jumps Frank Madden Next, he lowered one side of an oxer, which was in line with the vertical, and had the riders jump a figure-eight pattern, starting with the vertical off the left lead. After the vertical, they rode a tidy half circle to the left and galloped across the diagonal to the oxer. Then they rode a half circle to the right and a long approach back to the vertical.
As Victoria Birdsall rode a warm-up circle on Frank Madden's Sagitario, George told her to set the forward pace and get up in her galloping position. "Once she sees her distance, she maintains her outside rein to make sure her horse is listening to her outside rein and not falling in," George explained to the audience. To Victoria he added, "Be consistent with your pace and position. This keeps your horse in self-balance. There's no necessity to sit up and sit back."
George praised Zazou Hoffman, riding Missy Clark's Timo, for having a soft arm. "That's very important, just like heels down." Then he continued with instructions: "Ride your horse right to the base of the fence. Let him take you to the fence."
George instructs Chase Boggio to make sure his seat doesn He told Chase Boggio, riding his 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood Perfekt, to focus on keeping his arms soft, which would help him not jump ahead. "Most people who jump ahead of their horses are doing the work of the hands with their upper bodies. Don't jump up your horse's neck. Let the horse take care of your upper body. Do nothing, nothing, NOTHING with your seat."
The riders then started working on a course, with George telling them to add strides in two bending lines the first time through so their horses didn't get too flat and running.
As they jumped, George gave specific instructions:
- For a tight left turn to an unusual ramped jump made of stacked cavalletti, he told Theodore Boris, who was riding Jimmy Torano's 8-year-old gelding Camiro: "When jumping the cavalletti, go deep into the turn. That's one place on course where you don't want to rush. Then get over to the triple. That is the place you do want to rush a little. Then collect before the triple."
- As Victoria galloped to a water jump, after which was very tight five strides to a gate, George said, "Once your horse gets over the tape, get him back immediately."
Reed Kessler rides her 9-year-old Selle Fran?ais, Mika, over a tricky jump made of stacked cavalletti. | ? Sandra Oliynyk He had Reed Kessler repeat the first line when it looked as if her horse, the 9-year-old Selle Fran?ais Mika, was taking her too much to the fences. "You're riding her like a stopper. Once you see the distance, let her jump. Don't push her. Do nothing."
After the riders finished the course over a large vertical, George had them turn left, jump a red gate, then turn right and jump the last vertical again, making a figure-eight pattern. Over these fences they worked on using the pulley rein they learned on Thursday.
"After the vertical, set your right hand and turn with your left hand to the left," he said. "After the gate, set your left hand and turn with your right hand."
When Theo's horse balked going away from the in-gate and bulged to the right past the red gate, George barked at him to use his right leg to left rein. "If they get tired of working and they start things like that, you have to compensate with ATTITUDE. If they get tough, you get TOUGHER!"
To turn right after the gate, Theodore Boris, riding Jimmy Torano After the riders finished going over the figure-eight pattern five or six times, George instructed them to trot back to the barn to get their horses out of the wind and cold. When the last student trotted out of the ring, George walked up to the spectators, who started to applaud him. He waved his hand. "No applause," he said, then added, "Applaud yourselves. I appreciate you die-hards. You have a sense of humor."
With that, we all bundled up and headed for shelter, not sorry that we'd seen a master at work.
Read Postcard 1 on gymnastics and Postcard 2 on developing feeling without stirrups.
Sandra Oliynyk is the editor of Practical Horseman magazine.
Click here to read about rider Zazou Hoffman's experiences at the training session.
Check out some more photos from the training session on Practical Horseman'sFacebook page.
Read more about the 2010 George Morris Horsemastership Training Session in the March and April 2010 issues of Practical Horseman.
The 2010 George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session is supported by Purina Mills, Practical Horseman, ASPCA, Equestrian Sports Products, Equus Foundation, Syracuse Invitational Sporthorse Tournament, U.S. Equestrian Federation, USET Foundation and the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association.