This was George Morris day at the International Omaha horse show. While that wasn’t the official title, George was certainly the main attraction, giving a lesson, presenting a clinic and doing some riding himself.
He started out teaching 14-year-old Henry Moberly, who won a 45-minute session with the former U.S. show jumping coach by writing an essay explaining why he wanted the instruction.
“I have found being a boy equestrian challenging in this part of the country. There are just not very many of us. In fact, friends have always made fun of me for riding, and they still do sometimes -- but it has never made me want to give up. I feel like if this sport is truly in your blood, no one can talk you out of loving it,” Henry had stated.
And he still loved it, even after getting George’s usual treatment, which means no shortcuts and telling it like it is. George started off ordering Henry to take off his horse’s martingale (he doesn’t like the way martingales can put a horse on the forehand), and then asking him to lengthen his stirrups two holes for flatwork.
Proper flatwork “is the basis of all jumping,” declared George, as he told Henry to raise his hands instead of holding them low.
“When a horse raises his head, don’t pull it down; push it down. Follow with the hands and close the fingers,” George advised, adding “Think leg first.”
He had Henry do trot/walk every six or eight strides in his warm-up. “I like to test the brakes and the gas,” George explained.
After that, there was shoulder fore/shoulder in (to get the horse’s hind leg under his body) and canter and counter-canter in the half-seat.
“I was a little intimidated, I have to admit, but it ended up being great,” said Henry, after George commented favorably on his ability.
In the afternoon, George followed much the same procedure while dispensing many words of wisdom when he worked with four advanced riders ranging in age from 14 to 18 during a ticketed performance in the main arena.
For these young women, part of the warm-up was doing a serpentine down the center of the ring in addition to the same exercises Henry had performed.
“Discipline is high hands,” George said starting on that favorite topic, while emphasizing the poll should always be the highest point, rather than being lowered in the “broken neck” look; a “false, low place” that goes with low hands.
He had riders jump a small course, which included a Liverpool and a one-stride vertical/oxer double. And then he had them do it several more times.
George praised the power of repetition (“if you’re thinking”) as he watched the riders improve by following his pointers. “The course will teach you to do it better,” he proclaimed.
When a horse wasn’t being cooperative, George swooped in with a favorite comment, “he’s very spoiled.” He said that more than once.
George was asked to choose one of the four riders to receive a $1,000 check from KindredBio, a veterinary biotech company. He selected Isabella Baxter, an 18-year-old from St. Louis who trains with Shannon Hicks and was aboard a 13-year-old Holsteiner named Cousteau.
George said his instinct told him to choose Isabella, calling her an excellent student.
Isabella, who has competed in all the equitation finals and is headed to Texas Christian University in August, said having George reinforce the mantra of “inside leg to outside rein” helped improve the horses’ performance during the clinic.
She has ridden with George before, saying, “I believe if you listen to him and do what he says, you’re going to get a lot out of the experience.”
Other words of wisdom from George:
- Don’t teach horses to cut corners.
- If you can’t control at the walk, you can’t control at the trot.
- Don’t pull; resist; wait until the horse accepts your hands.
- Maintain light contact, even on a loose rein.
- Jumping is 50 percent of it; rideability is the other 50 percent.
- After finishing a course, don’t just canter off. Put in training time with such exercises as a circle or a halt that lasts six seconds.
After the session, George gave a demonstration ride that you can see in this video.