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The Masters Wizardry

By Amanda Ross
 
George Morris comes with a reputation. If you intend on signing up for one of his clinics, I suggest you do your homework, or suffer the consequences! For years I have been toying with the urge to participate, but the vast expense put me off, so I filed it under the ‘to do’ list for another year. This year however, something dawned on me… the guy is 75yrs old, might drop of his perch at any stage, & I’d absolutely kick myself if I missed out on the GM experience! So I signed up… and in the weeks leading up to the lessons, I must admit to being quite terrified! George’s worldwide reputation as a blunt & unforgiving trainer precedes him, to the effect that I’d looked up George Morris quotes, practiced changing my stirrup length with my foot in the iron, chosen appropriate outfits (not too bright/too much bling!) & mentally prepared to be torn to shreds & repeat ‘yes George, no George, sorry George’! Mr Morris has a teaching system, expects 110% military attention from riders & spectators alike, & still rides even the trickiest horses during the lessons, displaying a classically balanced & symmetrical seat, brilliantly tactful contact & a no-BS attitude!  
 
There are certain rules you quickly learn to adhere to… don’t be late, be immaculately clean, don’t wear bling, hair in a bun, well dressed but not over dressed, nothing but knife-edge stirrup irons (he hated my thick black eventer ones!), buckles not clips on tack, simple tack, listen & shutup, wait until he’s finished explaining before you move, remember you’re course, don’t keep repeating the same mistake (he’ll call you a retard!), switch all phones onto silent, no talking from the crowd (or moving for that matter…especially wriggling kids!) & it helps to have a very good understanding of how to ride well on the flat!
 
All this may sound a little over the top & pretentious to some, but to be perfectly honest, it’s a good system. George clearly states ‘I’m not here to become your friend. I couldn’t care less whether you like me. I’m here for the horse. I’m here to make you a better rider for the horse. So it’s a waste of time for me to tell you how wonderful you are, when there’s so much to learn. You’ll get more from being told what to do better in the short time I have with you.’ Touché Princess’s! In saying this, each day George did mellow as he got to know us, & I hear he has mellowed dramatically from the early days. 
 
Each day began with rule number 1 – flat length stirrups. The irons sit level with your ankle bone, & this is how you warm up, otherwise you sit too hard on the horses back & cant use your seat. Transitions…lots of transitions! Trot, a few walk steps, back to trot. Shoulder fore on the longside to control the horses hind quarters & engage his inside hind. Quarters in on the shortside to engage the other hind, & create a light response to the leg aid. Canter-walk a few steps-canter, collected canter. Raise the hands & hold the corners of the mouth, don’t lower them & hold the bars of the mouth, & if the horse raises its head, raise your hands to meet his mouth. Lateral work in canter, counter canter. This progressed to three diminishing circles, serpentines, then flying changes. The horse must respond to the leg. The hand can have an opening rein, a direct rein (straight back to your hip), an indirect rein (hand towards the withers), & neck rein (hand higher & against the neck pushing out). Stirrups were off & all of this was repeated!
 
George Morris Clinic - Amanda Ross
Stirrups off and demonstrate a good, stable seat!
 
When we had satisfied Mr Morris that we were not going to fall off, irons were back on, & it was time to work through a small grid. Two-point upper body position, with a following & giving rein. If your two-point wasn’t secure, all hell was going to break loose! Don’t smack on the horses back from sitting up too fast, don’t duck early or too far forward. This progressed to poles on circles/figure 8’s with flying changes, then fences with roll-back turns. George promptly asked ‘You’re an eventer aren’t you?!’ because my take off distance was waaaaay tooooo longggggg… so I smartly shortened Forest for fear of not only death, but the humility of being considered stupid! 
 
Rhythm…looseness…contact…impulsion…straightness…collection… repeat the German training scale mantra until it melts into your REM sleep! There was so much flatwork being infused into every stride, turn, pole, fence… it was fantastic!!! Like the master told us, ‘I’m not here to teach you how to jump, I’m here to teach you how to ride a horse’. The jumps are a minor part of the whole story, but creating the vehicle on which to travel to & over the jumps is the key to success. 
 
Some fences require a forward travelling two-point seat approach, whilst others need a three-point/behind approach. Once a horse is well schooled, approaching in two-point creates a very smooth soft jump, as it interferes less with the horses natural motion. And to be good in two-point, the horse must be well schooled. Again, see: flat work.
 
George Morris Clinic - Amanda Ross3
the right schooling on the flat creates that smooth jump
 
To be honest, I could write about this for ages! I have been very, very fortunate to have been educated from a very young age by some key jumping coaches – Sally Francis, Michelle Strapp, Harley Brown, & now Jamie & Sue Coman. Sally taught us equitation, & I won the junior equitation classes at Melbourne Royal back when they were a big deal. So this type of riding to me is, well, normal riding. One spectator said ‘the kids need to see this old-school style’… I disagree, it’s not old school, its how to ride a horse properly!! I feel that a lot of current riders are a) too lazy to do the hard yards, b) uneducated/unappreciative of flatwork, & c) coaches don’t research back to where our riding masters were coming from, or look for self-improvement. So, if its not broken, don’t fix it! Instead of trying to invent the wheel/new horse/trendy new technique, just read some of GM’s wizardry, & you’ll find the answers there in plain English!
 
I wish we had an equitation following here in Australia… I think that’s my calling in life!! Oh to have a few vacations to the US every year to be snapped into line by George! I’m already saving for next year on two horses… $$$!!!
 
George Morris Clinic - Amanda Ross2
even at 72 years old, George was willing to get on the horses
 
Thanks to Adam Wootten for organising such a great clinic!
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