2013 George H Morris Horsemastership Training Session

January 7, 2013

Lexington, KY - Presented by the United States Hunter Jumper Association and Adequan, the seventh annual George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session invited twelve of the sport’s best young talents to the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, FL for five days of intensive instruction with the legendary George Morris.

Participants earned their place in this one-of-a-kind training session by achieving top honors at some of the sport’s most prestigious events, such as Stephen Foran of Lake Forest, IL who won the 2012 USHJA Emerging Athletes Program National Training Session presented by Dover Saddlery, Ana Forssell of Petaluma, CA the 2012 runner up in the USHJA EAP National Training Session and Jacob Pope of Columbia, MD, who went from winning the 2011 USHJA EAP National to capture the 2012 ASPCA Maclay Finals. Riders were divided into two groups in order to afford them more personal attention from Morris during each session.

Day one found the riders concentrating on flatwork to gain a better understanding of the importance of active connection to their mounts. Morris, who believes in the hands-on approach both in learning and teaching, borrowed a mount to personally display the techniques. Morris didn’t hesitate to make riders aware of their misconnects, “your horse is dead to the leg” –”raise the hands, raise the hands” and “put your stirrup where I put your stirrup” were heard repeated throughout the session. Morris also emphasized subtle ways to keep a solid connection even when the horse is relaxed, “Don’t see-saw the bit. Keep your hands very steady and just close your fingers if you want your horse to stop shaking his head.”

Perhaps one of the best teaching moments came when Morris’ borrowed mount had an issue with accepting the connection and began to buck and rear. Morris used the situation as a means to teach the importance of forward impulsion, explaining the horse’s reward and discipline are in being able to go forward. Morris said, “Be tactful but persistent. Tact but tough.”
The first day closed with a demonstration of proper flatwork by former Morris student Anne Kursinski, a five time Olympic veteran and devout believer in the American System of Forward Riding. “You can do everything from a half-point position if you have a strong base of support.” Kursinski said.

Day two began with trotting and cantering to prepare for Morris’ extreme gymnastic jumping lessons. “The holy grail of my philosophy, which I always taught you, is self-carriage. The horse is happier this way.” Morris declared.

Two-time attendee of the Horsemasterhip Training Sessions, 2012 ASPCA Maclay Finals and former USHJA EAP victor Jacob Pope of Columbia, MD said of Morris’ teachings, “Mr. Morris broke us from some of our incorrect habits that we’ve acquired and replaced them with correct dressage aids. I really enjoyed him stressing to us the fact that we need to go with the horse and not against or forcing him to do anything. He wanted us in a forward seat with a following arm, especially over jumps. I thought it made the horse go better and it most importantly made the horses enjoy what they were doing since we were trying to be one with the horse and be empathetic to the horse.”

Following the exhausting gymnastic exercises, riders returned their horses to the barn and attended seminars with Dr. Deb Bennett and Dr. Tim Ober on how to personally care for each horse’s needs – no grooms or barn managers here. Once barn chores were completed, participants returned to the ring to set courses for the following day’s session.

Ana Forssell shared her views, “Because of the EAP, I knew what was expected of me in the barn and how to do those things correctly and effectively. The EAP taught me how to pay attention to details in everything –from taking care of my horse in the barn and prepping her for the show ring, to getting myself successfully looking the part. Without the EAP, I would not have been invited to participate in the George Morris Horsemastership program and all the experiences I had this week. The knowledge I gained is invaluable. I am so grateful to the EAP for allowing me to have this opportunity.”

Day three focused on jumping, but Morris still put emphasis on flatwork – before, during and after each jump. The starting obstacles were no picnic this session; the elements were set in a line along the longer side of the ring. Morris said bluntly, “It’s different, but it’s different on purpose. If it’s easy, it doesn’t teach you anything.” Capable of being jumped in either direction, the line was one-stride oxer to vertical, followed by three tight strides to a liverpool vertical, and ended with two tight strides to an oxer.

“Mr. Morris really stressed the importance of the forward seat which was great practice for me because I like riding in a deeper seat and he wanted me to get more comfortable riding off the horse’s back.” Frances Land of Alpharetta, GA (2011 NAJYRC Team Gold and Individual Silver) shared, “He also worked with us on the automatic release over every jump and constant impulsion from our leg.”

After a few rounds of the gymnastics, Morris instructed the riders to devise a course of their own. The course could be upwards of ten fences, but must include the vertical red gate, Swedish oxer, a triple bar, and an oxer-vertical one stride. All the obstacles could be jumped in either direction. Morris watched a few different bending lines and striding choices before hammering home the point of the exercise, riders can’t wait until they’ve landed the first jump to envision the track and number of strides for the remaining course.

Once the jumping session concluded participants joined Dr. Deb Bennett for the second seminar about the physiology and anatomy that make up a horse’s motion. Understanding how the riders’ body position affects the horse’s soundness was a key lesson. Following Bennett’s lecture riders moved on to observe top farrier Dean Pearson give a presentation based on his belief, “no hoof, no horse.” After some great insight on proper hoof care and how to handle a sprung shoe, riders returned to the barn where Pearson assisted each one with removing a shoe from their mounts using the various tools from a gift bag he’d presented to each participant.

Day four brought about one of the most dreaded exercises – flatwork with no stirrups! However, Morris put his teaching into action and led by example by mounting up with each of the two groups and riding 20 minutes stirrupless himself. Morris emphasized, over and over, the three contacts a horse has to accept; hands, seat and leg. The successful application of these aids result in a horse that is more balanced, uphill and supple.

As the day progressed into the jumping phase, Morris continued to remind the riders, “The most interesting thing about the give-and-take of aids is the give. Good riders give when the horse gives; great riders give just before the horse gives.”

“I think I have a much better feel of impulsion, I feel like I am much more in tune with my horse. I also think I have become much softer with the horse while at the same time strong.” Jacob Pope said.
Each and every day when riders returned to the barn with their mounts, stable management expert Karen Golding was there to oversee and help the riders learn how to provide the best care.

“She [Golding] is the most knowledgeable horsewoman I’ve ever met and so fantastic with us. Telling us to ask her questions anytime we see her at a horse show. I’m exhausted but at the end of the day it’s a good exhaustion because I feel like I actually accomplished something.” Frances Land said.

For the final day, Morris had a technical course awaiting riders once they’d completed the warm up exercises instilled throughout the previous days. Morris wanted them to take all the tools he’d given and put them into use. He continued to remind riders of the key factors – connection, acceptance of aids and straightness. Overall, Morris was pleased with the progress of his young protégés and hopes his words will remain with them throughout their riding.

The 2012 USHJA EAP National winner Stephen Foran summed up the group’s feeling best, “The George Morris Horsemastership Training Session was a wonderful learning experience. George is the ultimate horsemaster. He is a master communicator, demonstrator, and motivator.”

If you missed the live stream please visit the USEF Network to watch the videos from each day.

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