EN Today: An eventer learns from The Master

Event rider Katie Murphy had the opportunity to audit a George Morris clinic over the weekend and was kind enough to send Eventing Nation her notes. Enjoy!

Katie Murphy, whose talented 4-year-old Esccord RGS recently won the Young Event Horse East Coast Championships, audited a George Morris clinic on Nov. 9-11 at the Buffalo Therapeutic Riding Center in Buffalo, N.Y. She was kind enough to send us a clinic report, which she also posted on her blog at www.murphyeventing.com. Anyone who’s ever read George’s Jumping Clinic column in Practical Horseman knows he’s a staunch stickler of traditional turnout, meticulous details and no-nonsense riding; he’s also one of the most accomplished horsemen of our time. As Katie points out, we eventers could learn a thing or two from him. Many thanks to Katie for sending us this report. -Jenni Autry

Top photo: The Master himself. Photo courtesy of Katie Murphy.

From Katie:

I didn’t know much about George Morris. I knew he had accomplished some impressive feats as a young man in the equitation world, and I had heard that his interests recently transferred to the jumper ring. He was known as “The Master,” and despite the impressive number of years he had accumulated in the tack, George remained at the forefront of the American Hunter/Jumper Forward Riding System. A long-time friend invited me to join her for the clinic in Buffalo, N.Y., at the Buffalo Therapeutic Riding Center. I didn’t realize George still taught, nevermind rode. He has become a proponent of the USHJA Trainer Certification Program, and this was the start toward earning a certification for a discipline where many eventers lack poise. The lines between the eventing and hunter jumper worlds rarely cross, but given our unique way of riding show jumping, a collision of the two worlds may be more appropriate.

After George set the course, a team of employees purposely approached the jumps with moist towels and dusters. One by one, they wiped down each pole, standard and flower box, followed by sweeping off the dust from the painted brick and stone boxes. The riders entered the ring in a structured, single file line. Their tack, soft and supple and evident of consistent care, was brown and simple. Very few riders rode in snaffles. Their boots were so polished that the leather looked as if they were dipped in black ink. The horses were expertly clipped; white coats were so clean that the pink skin beneath was apparent. The riders were dressed in a classic, refined elegance: beige knee-patch breeches with belt and pastel sweaters with a collared shirt peeking out from beneath. As I watched the clipped and immaculately turned-out horses warm-up, I wondered if I would be shot had I ridden in this clinic. My colored breeches would be disruptive, my Chiberta a travesty, my padded saddle pad unnecessary. The focus was on the horse and your ability as a rider, not your barn colors or the newest equipment fad. Everything was simple, clean and elegant. When George comes, everything must be immaculate — his standard becomes your own.

Each day opened with a discussion of rider position, stirrup length and use of the aids for varying requests of the horse. Stirrups should always be adjusted for flat and jumping — you do not warm up on the flat in a jump-length stirrup. Accuracy was paramount throughout the entire clinic — practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. Day by day, I found myself aligning with George. He and I shared many of the same thoughts: perfection begins in the details; you must work through a problem not remove it from the equation; be bold and achieve your objection through accurate, well-planned riding.

At 74, George still rides regularly. Photo courtesy of Katie Murphy.

George Morris-isms:

  • Don’t practice being stupid. Don’t practice being weak. You people are so soft.
  • You have to fight for it (even George Morris has a little eventer in him).
  • I’m not putting up with this meek and hapless riding.
  • Straightness is a virtue with horses.
  • What teaches horses and riders are the problems. Problems are being removed. That is why the U.S. is getting so soft. That is why we don’t win medals.
  • You sit there like a soup sandwich (not a compliment).
  • This country has become riddled with fear. Fear attracts fear. We must be BOLD!
  • It’s not “Everybody’s a winner.” “Everybody” is feel good. That is not the real world, and it is not the horse world. There are winners, rands and losers. Maybe next time the loser will be the winner.
  • Pace to the base. Ride the tape.
  • The stick is at take-off, not the approach.
  • Every aid has two components: intensity and timing.

The riders only spoke if they were spoken too. The viewing panels were silent, and you were expected to give your absolute attention. In the past, George had yelled at people for texting and chatting. You were expected to offer complete focus — there were no excuses. George has a tendency to repeat things: the first repetition is to be certain everyone heard him, if he repeats himself a second time you are in trouble. This often happened when riders were repeating their mistakes or did something that was not asked of them (trotting, riding too far out on the circle) — you do not make a change, unless it is repeated. George never once backed away from a challenge, and he expected the same of all riders while maintaining professionalism at all times. He defined work as conquering the difficult. He rode at least one horse from each group, every day. He chose horses he liked, those that he was able to teach on and show an example — not horses that needed to be “fixed.”

Ultimately, George believes in accuracy, correct training and discipline on behalf of both the horse and rider. Riders showed improvement over the three days, and horses were performing beautifully. Exercises were clear, with an appropriate amount of technicality for the group’s level. Despite the discipline, good horsemanship is good horsemanship. The weak at heart do not come to this clinic. George accepts no excuses. In 2013, I hope to ride in one of his clinics. I am curious as to how he will react to my eventing background and style of riding. I know I will learn a great deal; I just have to dig out those boring, beige breeches.

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