2013 George Morris Horsemastership Training Session Day 3: Gymnastics & Water

Riders braved the water jump, learned about birdies and threads and got practical experience in removing loose shoes.

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January 4, 2013?George Morris often says that he’s forgotten more than most of us know about riding. He’s probably right, so it’s no wonder that an all-star lineup of top trainers, riders, owners and Olympians have been gathering to watch George teach this week: Katie and Henri Prudent, Melanie Smith Taylor, Debbie Stephens, Karen Healey, Tori Colvin and Dr. Betsee Parker to name a few. It is a reminder of what a fantastic learning opportunity this annual clinic is, and spectators are finally catching on. There have been at least a hundred audience members each day?more than have attended in the past. It’s good to see.

Today’s riding sessions echoed the lessons from the past two days with George reinforcing the importance of the horse accepting the contact and the riders keeping their hands elevated to elevate the poll and let the horses come round. The exercises George set up, from cavalletti to bending lines of jumps, set up the horses to be suppled both laterally and longitudinally through changes of bend and long and short striding between fences.

You can watch the video on demand at www.usefnetwork.com in order to see the various exercises, but here are a couple of important points George made during the sessions:

  • There isn’t just one correct way to ask a horse to do something.
  • Running martingales must not bee too tight. The running martingale is a safety device for the rider and should not be adjusted so short that it puts pressure on the bars of the horse’s mouth. The rings should come up nearly to the withers when held perpendicular to the ground.
  • Ask the horse to go forward out of the corner when jumping a line or combination, even if the striding is short. Going forward allows you to shorten as necessary.
  • If something is difficult it’s good. If it’s easy it won’t teach you much.
  • When the going gets tough, the rider needs to get tough but not abusive or rough. (Or, When adversity strikes, stay cool, calm and determined with no emotion.)
  • It’s not always comfortable. If it is, something is wrong.
  • Riders must carry their hands, particularly on low-headed horses to elevate the poll and get him round. Carrying your hands also affects your position.
  • If you horse poops while you are jumping, you need to go forward.
  • You’re always schooling or unschooling a horse.
  • If you want a certain striding between fences, you need to do it in the air, not in the last stride.
  • When teaching a horse to jump water, get in a defensive position, keep the contact and attack. Be ready to go to the stick if needed. Get your horse in front of your leg, but do not run.
  • If in doubt, override to water.
  • Doing canter-walk and walk-canter transitions with a set number of strides (e.g., every eight strides)? gives discipline to the canter.
  • Think of a half-halt as picking up a heavy rock with both hands.
  • Don’t always walk your horse and immediately drop the reins. He’ll learn to use it against you. Instead, kee the contact for a few strides and then let it out if you want to give your horse a break.
  • Avoid drilling. Don’t get obsessive about something. That’s how you break a horse physically and mentally.
  • LET the horse learn. Trust that he’ll learn and sort it out.
  • If a horse drifts to or between fences he avoids having to collect or shorten.
  • Start simple and get progressively more complex.
  • Weight in the rider’s heel helps hold the stirrup in place.
  • The distance to a fence doesn’t matter as much as what you do with it.

Birdies & Threads: Deep Straightening
After lunch, the riders had another session with Dr. Deb Bennett, this one on “deep straightening.” This was more of a metaphysical discussion than practical, and Dr. Deb was up front that some have thought her philosophy?based on the teachings of classical equitation and legendary “horse whisperers” such as Bill Dorrance and Buck Brannaman?was considered to be “out there,” but she thought it was important to discuss. She began by explaining that metaphors are a teaching tool that helps students see things that are real but invisible. The metaphors in this case were the birdie and the thread.

The birdie is the leading edge of your horse’s attention–his desires. It is also the deepest feeling. The “Law of Birdie” is that if the horse’s body and his “birdie” (what he desires) are separated, the horse will exhibit signs of distress and dangerous behaviors. A horse can only be 100 percent OK on the inside when he has his birdie with him. He is then centered within himself. When the rider’s birdie and the horse’s birdie are flying together, there is harmony. Resistance is turmoil/disharmony. In other words, the more you try to muscle the horse, the more guilty you are of tearing your horse from his birdie. You are not the boss at any time: You are the teacher, the master, but you don’t have more power than he does.

Dr. Deb went on to explain that birdie-body separation puts your horse in fear that they are going to die. If you are responsible for that separation, your horse thinks YOU are trying to kill him. And animals are hardwired to try to survive.

This is where the thread comes in. The thread is a stream of energy that can be shaped, pulled or projected. For example, you take your horse out of the barn, tack him up and walk him down the road for a ride. He gets only so far before you hear his breathing and he begins to balk. His birdie is back in the stall, which is where he would prefer to be. The thread is the distance between where your horse’s birdie is located and where he balked. You have two options: get the birdie to come to you or go back to the birdie. To work through this balkyness, you envision a fall line where your horse has become “not OK,” circle your horse and face the direction you want to go and ask your horse to stand. Do not let him look back to the barn–or to his birdie. If he looks around, refocus his attention. Once his birdie has been called up, his feet will come loose and he will move forward toward the goal. A smack with a whip will force the birdie up, but Dr. Deb prefers to have the rider deflect the issue instead.

The same principle works when you’re in an arena and your horse decides there are ghosts in an area of the ring. Ride parallel to the “fall line,” the farthest point in which he’s comfortable and circle in both directions to allow your horse to see into the “ghost area” of the ring with each eye. Cross the fall line a little and then leave. Go in farther and then leave. Allowing your horse to cross back across your fall line after venturing into the scary part of the arena is his reward. Challenge him but don’t make him think that it will go on forever.

While this concept is a bit difficult to process, the bottom line is that you want to get your relationship with your horse to where he would rather be with you than anyone else. If you’d like to learn more about this, visit Dr. Deb Bennett’s website at www.equinestudies.org.

No Hoof, No Horse
Finally, the riders met with farrier Dean Pearson who taught the riders a little bit about the anatomy of the hoof capsule, what is normal and what needs further investigation. On the practical front, he taught the riders how to remove a loose shoe if necessary. Claudia Billups was the only rider who was brave enough to volunteer herself and her horse Armageddon to try this. She donned farrier chaps and learned how to support her horse’s front foot between her knees to free up her hands to use tools. She started with the rasp to release the clinches where the nails come out of the wall. Trying to remove a shoe or nails without releasing the clinches will cause damage to the horse’s hoof wall. She then used a crease nail puller to remove each nail individually. The crease nail puller is also gentle, not putting torque on the hoof capsule as pressure is applied. If she was unable to remove a nail with the crease nail puller, a pull off would be used to put tension on the hoof capsule to loosen nails.

If the shoe was pulled off cleanly, it’s possible for the rider to nail it back to the hoof using the existing nail tracks. Your farrier can show you how to properly do this in a pinch if you need to get the shoe back on but cannot get your farrier there immediately. A basic essential farrier tool kit includes a rasp, pull-offs, crease nail pullers and a hammer.

Tune in at www.usefnetwork.com tomorrow beginning around 8 a.m. for flatwork without stirrups. After lunch, Dr. Deb will give her final presentation, True Collection: Loin Coiling and Raising the Base of the Neck.

The 2013 George Morris Horsemastership Training Session is presented by the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association and Adequan and supported by Practical Horseman magazine, SmartPak and Equestrian Sport Productions.

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Hone the Half-Halt
Stirrup Control for Greater Stability
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Phillip Dutton’s Serpentine Exercise