On the final day of the George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session, the 12 young riders were put to the test over a Nations Cup-style format. Grouped into three teams of four and headed by Chefs d’ Equipe Anne Kursinski, Beezie Madden and Kent Farrington, the riders rode the same course over two rounds. Headlining the day’s mock competition, McLain Ward walked the course with the riders and offered commentary and instruction. But midway through the first round, it became clear that many of the riders were struggling with fence number seven—the water jump. Runouts, stops and even falls plagued the riders.
“Kids will treat like the water like any other fence, and it’s not.” McLain acknowledged. “It’s a natural fence, you have to be more defensive.” At the end of the Nations Cup, McLain worked with five of the riders who didn’t make it beyond the water in either round.
McLain moved the liverpool that the riders had all successfully jumped on course to the left side of the water and added a wing on the right to help prevent runouts. The width of the water was shortened, the vertical rails were made into a cross rail and the ferns on the side were positioned into a v-shaped chute.
The riders were instructed to jump a single vertical to get them thinking forward and then come around to the liverpool on a long approach, much like in the Nations Cup course. Once they had successfully jumped the vertical followed by the liverpool two to three times, McLain had them move on to jumping the vertical to the water.
“This is how I would school the water with a horse that’s a little nervous about it,” said McLain. “I give a very mild presentation of the water with the liverpool so that the horse can’t get in trouble and gains confidence.” Once the horse is comfortable, he would pilot the horse to the water instead. “The horse goes right over the water before they realize it wasn’t the liverpool,” he explained.
When a few of the riders leaned forward and released one stride from the takeoff, McLain stressed the importance of staying in a defensive position. “Sit down and stay behind the motion,” he called. He also encouraged riders to used their stick and to tap the horse behind their leg as they were in the air over the liverpool to build confidence in the animal.
McLain also stressed that horses should never run out to the left or right, and the rider should be stronger to keep him straight to the fence. "When they run out the side, you’re opening a door,” he said. “If I’m a riding a horse or Beezie is riding a horse that stops at the water, I guarantee you that horse is not going to run by one way or the other. He might stop at it but he’s not running by the side.”
The five riders that were unable to make it over the water earlier all jumped it on the first attempt in McLain’s exercise. “You have to understand how to get your horse over water, you have to understand what we just practiced,” McLain explained to the group. Finally, his closing remarks were words of encouragement. “You have to walk away from this experience knowing you were all able to conquer this water—it didn’t beat you,” he said matter-of-factly.