ON THE HORSE Magazine Presents

An In Depth Review of the Legendary George Morris Clinic

Hosted By DMF Productions at Caledon Equestrian Park
Photos taken by Olivera White Photography and Ian Woodley

SAFETY/TACK
“Safety, efficient function, and of course I like aesthetics.”

At the tack checks on the first day, George had all riders remove standing martingales. He said to riders, “Only use standing martingales for safety reasons, if a horse bucks and plays and throws his head. As a directive to my clinic, I don’t want standing martingales.” He only wanted jumpers using running martingales, and they all were adjusted to be at least as high as the withers in order to prevent excessive pressure on the bars of the horse’s mouths. Stirrup irons were to be plain, stainless steel. George frequently chastised riders who had “tacky” stirrup irons, whether they were rubber hinged or made of light aluminum/plastic. He also had all ear plugs removed, and noted “Ear plugs should only be used in competition, they are not for use in training.”

POSITION

A masterful position is detail. First teach position, and then teach function. There are 4 parts to the rider:
1)Legs from the knee down
2)Base of support (all parts touching the saddle)
3)Upper body (chest, shoulders, neck)
4)Arms and hands
If all 4 parts are correct, there will be equilibrium and the balance will be correct.

“If you don’t have interest in position, if you don’t have control of your position, you will never have control of your horse. You must be able to control your position so that you can control the horse. Once you have control of your position, there is a chance you have control of your horse.”

Stirrup length and position was very important to George over the course of the weekend, and he frequently reminded riders about the stirrup length, and especially the positioning. For the stirrup positioning, only ¼ of the rider’s foot shoulder be in the stirrup, right angled to the girth with the outside branch touching the little toe. Make sure to keep heels down, the knee relaxed, and allow contact of the lower calf. Adjust your stirrup length according to the activity you are performing approximately 2 holes longer for flatwork, and 2 holes shorter for jumping. Adjust your stirrups in front of your thigh with your feet in the stirrups for safety. Don’t school horses on the flat with stirrups too short, and don’t jump horses with stirrups too long.


Being a strong advocate for the forward riding system, George frequently reminded riders to stay up off the horse’s backs when galloping and jumping. The galloping position (second position) is used for galloping a horse on straight lines and very large curves. The horse should not change when moving into a light seat, and should circle nicely. The upper body should be forward in a galloping position, but take care to not get too far out of the saddle. Even in dressage (first position), the upper body should be a little more forward to be in balance with the horse.

FLATWORK

Inside Leg to Outside Hand.
The first thing you do is walk your horse to the rail between your inside leg and the wall of the ring (INSIDE LEG TO OUTSIDE REIN). Control the hind quarter with your inside leg. Straightness is the basis of collection. When you have opposition, you have balance and straightness. Everything is instigated on a horse with your inside leg. Start, stop, turn. The aids on the inside of the bend take precedence. Legs precede hands; hands are equally important, but your leg precedes your hands.


Working on the bit.
You don’t make a horse round with your hands or martingales, or the work of the devil – draw reins. Draw reins cause horses to break at the third vertebrae instead of at the poll, this is not good for the horse. Instead, you push the horse’s head down; push the horse to the contact with your legs. Always leg to hand! “Not low hands hoping and praying the horse will be round. Even at a high level, most people hand ride.” The horse’s neck is a reflection of the hind leg of the horse. Never let a horse learn to get higher than your hands. If a horse over flexes, raise the poll.

“The poll should always be the highest point. The current fashion is the horse is breaking in their neck (3rd vertebrae).” The poll should always be above the withers, unless the horse is working long and low.

“Bad hands butcher a horse’s mouth. Very few people will ever achieve educated hands. You won’t achieve educated hands with draw reins or auxiliary reins. The fashion today is flexion, flexion, flexion. When you produce it (flexion) too early with gimmicks, you pay the price of over flexion.” When over flexed, the horse is on their forehand. The poll must be the highest point so the horse is not “rubber necking”.

Driving aids
“Firstly people, the horse has to go forward and listen to driving aids. Leg, cluck, spur, whip that is the progression of intensity of driving aids.” A stick will teach a horse to respond to leg. Legs act by closing to apply pressure. When the horse responds, they become passive. “I don’t teach every stride tapping – trust me, that gets the horse dead to the leg. If a horse doesn’t respond to your leg, that is why we have spurs/whip! If leg is not enough, and the spur/whip is too strong what do I do? Cluck! You must change the intensity of the driving aids for each specific horse!”

Transitions
Transitions work to get the horse backwards, forwards, and uphill. Downward transitions are important because they educate the horse to the aids and teach the horse to go backwards. Stop and back a horse up very often to get the horse light in the mouth. “Lots of downward transitions to get them light in my hand. When you stop him, get his head up. Don’t let the horse lean on your hands. When the horse halts, relax your aids. Sink into the saddle for downward transitions, legs are resistant, stretch up in the spine, close your hands. Your hands work like squeezing a lemon. NEVER saw the mouth. Sink, stretch, leg on, close and raise hands.” The horse should sit and come up in the withers through their transitions. “Legs participate in the downward transitions; they are not to be forgotten.”

Repetition
Repetition is details, repetition to get habits. To make habits, you’ve got to concentrate. Repetition will get a horse soft. You look, you think, and the horse does it.

Walking
Horses should be restless when they walk, marching along.

Turning For a very green horse, the first aid in turning is the leading hand. For a more advanced horse, the outside neck rein turns the horse to keep him straight with an opening inside rein. There should be no backwards effect on the reins, instead a sideways pressure with both hands to the inside. The neck rein pushes the weight into the opposite shoulder.

Turn on the Forehand
Working on moving the horse’s haunches, keep inside leg on, outside leg back do not pull on the reins. Moving the horse’s haunches is a good prep for canter, counter canter, and flying changes.

Walk/trot transitions
Schooling walk/trot transitions help to develop rhythm, it is a simple transition that gives you control of the horse. As you take your horse back, keep your inside leg on. As you ask him to go forward, inside leg is the dominant aid. If you ask the horse to trot and he doesn’t promptly go to the trot, apply the stick. Keep the horse straight in transitions, there should be no bulging from the horse. “Trot/halt transitions will teach you a great deal about the horse’s balance.”

Trot work over poles
This teaches both the rider and the horse rhythm. Regulate your pace with your hands, if the horse rushes, close your hands. The horse should neither hesitate nor rush the poles. Incorporate cavaletti work into your flat work regularly. “Ingrid Klimke and Charlotte Dujardin are big on cavaletti incorporated into dressage.”

Half Turns (At a Trot)
The half turn is a good exercise to get the horse lighter to your legs and coming under with their hind legs. Schooling half turns precedes movements such as haunches in and half pass. During half turns, change the diagonal and bend, but not the rhythm of the horse. Always touch the saddle to change your diagonal, don’t stand up in the stirrups.

Schooling the Canter
The inside leg at the girth asks the horse to canter. The outside leg placed slightly behind the girth signals the haunches for the lead. The outside rein keeps the horse straight. “Forget about your inside hand because you overdo the bend.” Sit the canter, it should be slow by definition – otherwise it is a gallop. Keep the forehand slightly to the inside, almost shoulder fore. Don’t post into the canter or trot him in, walk a horse into the canter.

Schooling At the Gallop
First we teach at a walk, then trot, then canter, then gallop. Don’t forget to school at the gallop. It is more difficult because their blood gets up. By the time we get to the gallop, they don’t listen. A horse must be as light in a fast gallop as they are at the walk/trot. Your horse has to be beautifully schooled at the gallop.


Schooling the Halt
For discipline, stop in the corner. This gets the horse softer to the outside rein. Don’t stop the horse by pulling, let the corner stop that horse. Stop the horse for 6 seconds, teach the horse to wait for you.

Rein Back
When asking the horse to rein back, always keep the legs back a little bit. The horse must go promptly forward out of the rein back, he should not be allowed to get “stuck”.

Collection
If the horse breaks, keep an active inside leg on. Riding circles will naturally invite collection, slowing them down but keeping the same rhythm. Impulsion has very little to do with speed. Always periodically interrupt collection by going forward and straight.

Leg Yielding is the first stage of haunches in/out, half pass. Leg yielding further schools the horse and further puts the horse to the bit. It facilitates the harder things such as flying changes.


Shoulder Fore/Shoulder In
All horses are crooked, especially in the canter – schooling shoulder fore keeps the horse straight. Put both of your hands a little to the inside. Keep a very slight angle and very little bend with an active inside leg. Keep your hands up, no low hands. Keep the horse’s hind quarters on the track. The inside hind leg footprint should fall between the two front feet.

Counter Canter. Frequent counter canter/walk transitions will help to develop the counter canter. Don’t just counter canter. When you counter canter, be slightly off the wall so the horse does not strike into the wall.

Flying Changes
Do not pull on the inside rein to get the flying change, or to fix cross cantering. You fix it with inside leg. Inside leg is the first aid for a flying change, with the outside leg back. It’s called a change of legs, not just for the horse, but for us. It’s so easy to get a flying change if you are straight and understand leg aids. Most hunter/jumpers get light in the croup for flying changes. To prevent this let the horse go forward in the moment of change.

Longitudinal Schooling vs. Lateral Schooling
Longitudinal schooling works the horse back and forth, up and down through transitions both upwards and downwards, collection, and extension. Lateral schooling works circles, half turns, shoulder in, haunches in, etc. “Gymnasticizing a horse is not just cavaletti, straightness, or gridwork, it is everything.”

JUMPING


“Jumping a horse is not just the jumping. It is the rideability (flatwork) of the horse, it is 50/50. Discipline is the most important part of jumping get that horse rideable.”

A Tip From George on Jumping in Clinics
“I see people that enter clinics that aren’t prepared. Horses that have not jumped a variety of jumps. Stopping, ducking, bucking, these horses are not prepared. Enter the session you are confident in, don’t get in over your head.”

Jumping Position
There are three possible faults when jumping: ducking, jumping ahead, or dropping back in the air. Never punish your horse over a jump by sitting back on him.

Following the Horse’s Motion
There are 3 possibilities when riding a horse: with the movement, ahead of the movement, or behind the movement. You should never be ahead of the movement! The Dutch and Germans prefer to ride behind the motion. George’s preference is both with and behind (softer and stronger). There are lots of benefits to with, but sometimes we have to be behind when necessary. However, he does not like always behind the motion because it is harder on the horse.
People that advocate behind the movement are behind the vertical, and that is not correct. Judges should mark that down in position. “If you are behind the horse, you are carrying the horse.” Self carriage is the holy grail that is the North American philosophy.
When George rides a course, the first two fences he trusts the horse and is in a light forward seat. If he trusts the horse, he jumps the whole course forward. If he does not trust the horse, he sits for the last jumps. “Once a horse is educated, I don’t have to get so far behind the motion.”

Distance
“There is no such thing as a bad distance. Whatever you get to, you make that distance work. You don’t give up. Good riders don’t always get to a good distance, but they work it out, they fight for it. Don’t question it, don’t hesitate. Over it, under it, or through it, there is no other option.”
“Distance people, is simple!” A trick to sense the distance is to soften in the turn and let the horse come out of the turn. Watch the top rail and measure the jump. There are two options: go with the distance (long), or against the distance (short). You have to actively look for the distance. Watch the highest point of the fence – you have to be active on the offense when jumping. You have to think about distance and acquire a sense of distance. You need to make a decisive decision.
“People, you have to let a horse come out of the turn so you can lengthen to it easily, or shorten. If you box the horse up, you will not be able to adjust to the fence. We miss if the horse doesn’t follow us out of the turn.”

Jumping Spooky Fences
Trot back and forth over the spooky jump, lay a stick on him on take-off. Back and forth, this is how we educate a horse. Practice this skill by trotting into a jump and applying a stick at the base. With every aid, you have timing and intensity. When using a stick before a jump, it is used on take-off. This use of the stick will help to educate a green horse over a spooky fence.

Importance of the 1st fence
Whether a triple, double, or line it is all about the first fence. The first fence sets up for what follows. Don’t take this for granted or get complacent with this. If the first fence is short, you must ride forward for the next, if the 1st fence is long, you must hold back.

Lines
Make adjustments in the first strides of the line, not in the last few strides, so you can soften at the second fence.

Bending Lines
While working a bending line that could be ridden as either 7 or 8 strides, George advised: “If I have a nice 1st fence, I would do 7. If I had a miss to the first fence, I would steady for 8. That is judgement. If the 1st fence is sufficient 7 strides. This is exercising judgement and eye.”

Jumping on a Figure of 8
This exercise gives the opportunity for flying changes. “If I have an acute problem, if I anticipate a problem, I will put the stick to the hand it will need to reinforce the leg of.” Shifting the stick to the outside hand can help to reinforce your outside leg in the change. If the horse is quick, raise your hands and take a half halt. This is a good exercise to get the habit of how to school a horse for the flying change. This is also a great suppling exercise when schooling riders and horses gymnastic exercises are not always grids!

Rubbing/Hitting Fences
“Lots of horses will hit this jump because it is square and airy, it is a good fence to improve a horse’s jump. If they just tap it, just rub it it gets the horse’s front end sharp. I’m very happy they are tapping it.”

Automatic Release with Gridwork
Gridwork is great for practicing jumping out of hand (automatic release). As you soften your hand, lower your hand to follow the horse’s mouth over the jump. After the grid, bring your hands back to position. It has to be habit to follow the horse’s mouth as the horse drops his head and neck. Make sure the reins are not too short when jumping so the horse is able to use himself in the air.

TROUBLE SHOOTING PROBLEMS

If the horse bulges or spooks, the first aid is the inside leg, and the second is the outside rein.

If your horse bulges in, open your outside rein. Inside rein is less important and is replaced by the inside leg.

Keep contact with the horse’s mouth when it is playing with the bit and shaking it’s head. It must learn acceptance of the contact.

If the horse cross canters, put it on a big circle and persist inside leg to outside rein. If still no change, put the whip to your outside hand to reinforce your outside leg.

*INSERT GEORGE WHIPPING HORSE*
One horse was particularly stubborn about jumping a liver pool and was rearing and spinning. George told the rider to first lengthen the reins and go forward, then to go and jump other fences and use a stick at the base. He had the rider go back and forth over the liverpool, using a lunge whip to urge the horse on from the ground. Unfortunately the difficulty continued over into the next day, and George commented: “Once a horse senses he is stronger physically, mentally, and emotionally, once he realizes his strength, you are at a disadvantage.”

If a horse ducks out of a jump, correct him with a sharp turn.

If a horse bucks, get his head up. Prevent the buck by keeping their head up. Correct the buck by going forward.

If a horse fights an aid, don’t get rid of it. The horse must learn to accept the aids.

Most horses, when their blood gets up, they cut corners and fall in. Circle the horse between jumps to collect the horse and get it back under control for schooling purposes.

If your stirrups slip too much, it is probably because you sit down in the saddle too much and take weight out of your heel.

MISC/QUOTES

“Canada has less people, but equal success on the Olympic stage. That’s because you’re workers! I’m very proud of Canada.”

“I can teach you what I was taught, I can’t teach you what you were taught.”

“ Riders like Ian, Mac, Eric, Tiffany they get out of the horse’s way, they let the horse do his job.”

“Charlotte and Carl are real horse people before they’re winners.”

“Disperse and go to separate areas of the ring. Don’t be sheep.”

“What’s important people is the horse listens to your inside leg.”

“I need a good legger-upper NOT iffy.”

“You must have stirrup leathers that are long enough for your instructors!”

“Where are my hands? UP! Where is the horse’s head? DOWN! Don’t try to pull his head down, you PUSH the head down.”

“Your ankle should bend, not your stirrup iron.”

“For a traditionalist’s eye, these stirrups are tacky, tacky, tacky, tacky, tacky, tacky, tacky! It’s called bling, I DETEST bling!”

“No babies here. Babies are out. Either the baby goes out, or I go out. I don’t want to hear babies (crying), it’s very distracting!”

“You get everything, people, from that inside leg to outside rein! Replace that excessive inside rein with inside leg!”

“Drive him, urge him, lay a stick on him!”

“BAAAHHHHH. This girl looks at the jump. I don’t want bleating sheep. I want the wolf that ate the bleating sheep!”

“Very attractive horse, he’s just spoiled.”

“Get up out of your saddle people in order to put weight in your heels. What’s important to get those heels down is to get out of the saddle.”

“Teachers, don’t worry about people sitting down. You have to worry about them getting up when they gallop the horse.”

“It’s not faster, faster, faster people. It is slower, rider stronger.”

“I want YOU to go faster because you hate to go faster. She’s what we call a controller.”

“Lots of things that are older are still the best. These fancy irons are not better. If they were better, I would buy them.”

“Position precedes function, function and form go together. Function invented form, but form precedes function.”

“This group is sharp jumping. Not dressage too much, but they are sharp jumping. They are very accurate.”

“Sink into the saddle, don’t sit!”

“You’re a sweet girl, you’re not a bad rider, but you’re kind of what I would call an unmade bed.”

“I sometimes sit down now because I’m very, very old.”

“Don’t smirk my dear, you don’t ride well, how can you smirk?”

“I want perfectly steady hands.”

“That’s what I call an insidious disease opening your hand. Keep your hands CLOSED.”

“You’re too dramatic, you have to be quieter!”

“Patience, patience, is called equestrian tact.”

“My horses, those suckers, they stop they don’t drag me all over.”

“You have to practice what is difficult. You have to practice what is uncomfortable.”

“What is simple about the sport, is it is always the same aids even on different horses.”

“German horses are very talented, but they are very, very difficult.”

“The secret to jumping a horse is waiting and following the horse.”

“I might immigrate here finally to Canada, I like teaching you people.”

“Pull the horse up in the corner. That’s what your children should do, face the wall for a couple hours.”

“You’re what we call a butt grabber. Get out of the saddle!”

“When you school horses you have to be meticulous and detailed.”

“I want pace to the base, not pace to the outer limits!”

“The best rapping is when the horse does the rapping and raps himself.”

“Contact is straight, definite, steady, and supple.”

“Seat makes your aids stronger, but does not replace these aids to produce impulsion.”

“Trainers are not studying horsemanship. In my country, they are fat and heavy.”

“The horse does not trust the bit to take it and be round. The horse will be hollow and stiff using exotic bits. It is impossible with the exotic bits to be round.”

“I want a horse thinking forward with a desire to go forward. At all costs, I want forward thinking.”

“If you insist on draw reins, short martingales, chambons, the resistances will intensify.”

“Whenever you ride a horse, you are either schooling or unschooling. Most of the time, until you’re an expert, you’re unschooling the horse.”

“If I see a happy mouth, I know it is not a happy horse.”

“We want the horse to be submissive like your husbands and boyfriends are.”

“A fresh, playful, good natured horse is very good in competition.”

“Have you seen me once in this clinic see saw? If I thought it was a good idea, I would do it.”


“It is like talking to the deaf, talking to you is like talking to the deaf.”

“I say seat 1/100 times, I say leg 99/100 times.”

“Oxer to oxer, they can’t build that anymore. *Meow* They can’t build triple, oxer, vertical because they got soft.”

“Stick! Stick! Stick! Ah, that’s what I want! A reaction!”

“I don’t like Pelham effects because they overflex the horse.”

“I did not have aptitude, but I worked at it. I concentrated and worked at it, and was sharper than my friends. Concentration and work ethic.”

“When I stop talking, you stop talking.”

“Never lose calm, never exhibit temper. Calm, forward, straight.”

“Do you have to go to the Dr.? No? Then shut up and go again!”

See you at the next clinic!

Never miss an opportunity to learn!
Join our mailing list

Never miss an opportunity to learn!

Join our mailing list

we'll send you one of a kind educational equestrian content, absolutely free!

You have successfully subscribed!