US jumping trainer George Morris says riders need to constantly be learning, and that the sport in the country ” got cocky, fat and happy”.
“The United States forgot to be serious,” Morris stated. “That’s why we have big owners going to Europe for riders. Why would you want to have a kindergartener ride your horse when you could have a graduate? We got cocky, fat and happy. The US has become content with business and money, losing the competitiveness of the sport.”
Speaking during the third day of the George H. Morris Gladstone Program at USET Foundation Headquarters, where he put 10 riders through rigorous tests and challenges both on the flat and over fences, Morris also challenged rider to focus on details.
On the flat, riders practiced classical dressage, drastically furthering the suppleness of their horses with serpentine, shoulders in and out, haunches in and out, and flying lead changes on a straight line. The previous day’s lessons on forward positioning continued into the third day’s teachings, and although the forward position is no longer “in style” as Morris commented, he preaches a forward seat for the welfare of the horse and contact of the rider in the saddle.
“People are too busy these days to study,” Morris said while shaking his head. “They go to horse show after horse show. Everything we learned at Gladstone so many years ago is extinct. Everybody should read and learn everything that they can. I was fortunate enough to start and stay at the top of the sport. I am 76 years old, and I had one great teacher after another throughout my career, but I supplemented my knowledge on the horse with knowledge in the books.”
Morris focused on working with the riders to use the aids of classical dressage, counter cantering and completing flying lead changes by using the inside leg and the outside rein. He executed the exercise aboard Sloane Coles’ horse, balancing and straightening the horse and demonstrating a perfect flying change down each parallel of the ring as Brittni Raflowitz, Jacob Pope, Maggie McAlary, and Scott Lico followed suit.
Morris asked each of the riders what they have observed, Pope said: “I have really learned about the emphasis of the outside aids. They are a big part of what George has been saying. When we were doing the flying lead changes, so many of us wanted to pull on the inside rein to get the change, which is what we were taught, but when you use the outside aids it keeps them straight and you get a true lead change. I also think it is interesting that you get the horse straight by bending.”
After working Coles’ horse in the first group, Morris got down to the details. Correcting the positions of Coles’ foot in the stirrup iron, commenting on the importance of maintaining a 90-degree angle next to the girth with one quarter of the foot in the iron while keeping the outside branch slightly ahead of the inside. Once the riders had shortened their stirrups and checked their girths for jumping, he had them begin with a lesson on impulsion.
Morris continued to challenge the groups with variations of fences, including a birch cross rail, an imposing double combination, and the liverpool. Each part of the exercise forced the riders to adjust their strides in an attempt to collect and lengthen while continuing their knowledge of the small details to assist with impulsion. When they were confirmed, the water obstacle was introduced.
“This is all about educating the horse, using different fences and using self initiative to make the horse carry us,” Morris said. “You must think of the future, assisting the horse and training to prevent. You spend the first half of the horse’s life training them to jump the water, and the second half of their life trying not to touch it.”
Using repetition the riders completed each of the exercises until Morris would smile and announce, “A horse can’t jump better than that. They just can’t jump better. Horses need to jump for a reason, when they have learned, stop jumping. Do not over jump. ”
When the horses were ready, Morris added the triple bar to the progression, focusing on the double combination where the riders had to collect and stay straight.
In the afternoon the riders put their horses away, working on basic stable management with Barn Manager Janus Marquis. After a lunch break the 10 riders met with Lee and Erica McKeever to discuss planning for success before preparing for a unique movie night where the groups would watch the 1960 Rome Olympics with Morris commentating, including his own riding in the competition arena.
Pope commented, “This program has been a great learning experience, it is great to make connections, and I am so honored to be here. Obviously, George Morris is the main reason that this clinic is such a big deal, but the fact that this program is at the USET Foundation Headquarters in Gladstone is extremely special. There is so much history, and it is pretty impressive to be here and bring you back to your roots.”