As we approached the moonlit barn at 5:45 a.m., we could hear our horses, Executive and Hamlet, nickering in anticipation of the morning hay. Like the horses, we were also a little anxious joining 10 other riders to begin the 2016 George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session in Wellington, Florida.
Unlike previous years in which George taught, this year we received instruction from three Olympians: legendary dressage rider Christine Traurig and acclaimed show jumpers Beezie Madden and Laura Kraut. During the clinic, we also learned about stable management from expert Colleen Reed, veterinary care from U.S. team veterinarian Tim Ober and course design from show-jumping icon Conrad Homfeld. Despite George’s physical absence, his essence was clearly present, thanks to the clinicians’ exacting attention to detail.
Heading to the barn that first morning, our familiarity with our horses was comforting. Despite our nerves that stemmed from a desire to impress the clinicians for whom we have so much respect—we were eager to develop a deeper understanding of our mounts, and hone our skills in all aspects of equestrianism.
When we entered the aisle that had been neatly raked to George’s standards, we shared quiet moments with our horses before diving into the bustling morning routine. After emptying, scrubbing and refilling water buckets, giving hay and grain, mucking, grooming and hand-walking, we were ready to saddle up and tread the buzzing showgrounds to the quiet yet intense atmosphere of the clinic ring.
During the mounted sessions, each clinician made seemingly minor but significant adjustments. Christine emphasized that flatwork should be executed with an emphasis on the Pyramid of Training to develop a horse’s mental and physical potential. According to the Pyramid of Training, you must begin by establishing rhythm and then progressively develop your horse’s relaxation, connection, impulsion, straightness and collection. She stressed that “impulsion has collection and collection has impulsion.”
The next day, Beezie built on that flatwork session, fostering the concepts of impulsion and straightness, especially in transitions, and introducing the idea of jumping a horse so that the highest point in his or her arc is over the middle of the fence. She demonstrated how to achieve this by varying the striding between a line of three low jumps and with a short gymnastic. In the line of three jumps of similar distances, we alternated a combination of three, four and five strides.
On the final day, we put the lessons together as Laura led us through a mock two-round Nations Cup. She gave us insight into the physical and mental aspects of competing in such a competition. She urged us to note the way two rounds affected our horses’ energy levels, suggested ways of coping with nerves and stressed the importance of rallying after a weak first round.
As a wave of exhaustion passed over us while stripping stalls on the final day, we reflected on the clinic’s principal lesson: exceptional horsemanship goes beyond riding skills and it encompasses all aspects of the sport and the horse. This was apparent in the connections we drew between each clinician’s individual message. For example, Christine discussed developing a horse’s topline muscles to improve jumping technique while Dr. Ober reiterated this when he explained those muscles’ significance to overall soundness. The clinic was a valuable reminder that the minute but critical details such as the time at which we dumped the grain to the gleam of our horses’ coats to the crispness of our transitions are a huge factor of any top rider’s success.
We are so thankful to the clinicians’ and sponsors’ dedication to developing young riders and providing this opportunity, including the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association, Practical Horseman, Equestrian Sport Production, Ariat, Toklat, Adequan, the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation, Lee Carter and Lauren Carlisle. We hope that their support of the clinic will continue to provide an opportunity for young riders in years to come.
This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Practical Horseman.