George Morris Clinic Report, by a Dressage Rider
Firmly-grounded blogger Jessica Fox audited a clinic with the master himself last week and reports back to us on the experience, replete with Perez Hilton-style photos.
Who cares that I had lost all ability to make it over an oxer, even if someone promised me a pony? That the last time I’d jumped anything (outside of logs on the trail) was around the same year Fishbone and the Rollins Band were Lollapalooza headliners? Or that for the last few years I’d been doing my best to ride dressage?
There was a George Morris clinic at a neighboring barn, and I was auditing it. So, together with my friend Julie (an ex-barrel racer), I got up extra early on a freezing 45 degree (I know. I’ll turn in my east coast membership card now) California morning for a clinic pre-ride, then headed to Middle Ranch.
After gawking at the horses in an open ring (all beautiful and beautifully ridden), we made our way to the covered arena.
And there he was. George Morris. I’m not gonna lie. I felt a bit fangirl squealy.
Then, as if urged by the same mysterious force that sends birds south for the winter, the riders began circling the ring, and he began to speak (or growl, rather) through a bullhorn’s handheld microphone.
My pencil sprung to the ready. Like most riders, I’d heard of the funny, harsh remarks for which (along with being the Yoda of hunting/jumping disciplines) George Morris is known.
Sure, those came, but the truth is he was kind, gruff, and very astute. The man didn’t miss a thing – even across a morning-dim indoor arena. And though he did serve up a few caustic bombs, they were dropped when riders were not listening to direction, changing anything or generally not paying attention.
The clinic was, in many ways, a reiteration and education on how to ride:
- “There are two cardinal sins of riding. Hit the horse in the mouth. Hit the horse in the back.”
- “Watch you don’t get stick happy.”
- “Look ahead people, look ahead!”
- “If your horse hesitates, leg, not seat. Leg.”
- “I don’t care for seat riding.”
- “You push the horse to the bit. You do not pull the horse to the bit.”
- “You have to use both legs to bend a horse.”
- “The horse must listen to you. Not the birds or the bees or the golf carts outside the arena.”
He also talked a lot about the riders counter-bending or over-bending their horses. Which, along with many of his other points, I hear from my (amazing) dressage instructor, Jill Warren Pond, who shows impressive fortitude while coaching me over and over and over again to stay straight.
Video courtesy of Jessica’s ex-barrel racer friend Julie
But, it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns. The man did occasionally lose patience:
- “When he is spooky, don’t let him stop and stare like a bleating sheep!”
- “Stop, stop. I can’t look at that right stirrup anymore.” (This after repeated requests for the rider to change her iron’s position.)
- To the same rider: “I hate that stirrup position. You’re a very intelligent woman, but I hate that stirrup!”
- “When I say sit the trot, I mean Sit. The. Trot!” (Everyone was blithely posting though he’d asked for sitting trot twice.)
- “You totally missed that cavaletti because you weren’t watching the others. You’re not shaaaarp.”
- “She’s a kisser. She doesn’t know how to cluck. X, go show her how to cluck right.”
- “Your stirrup has a life of its own.”
- “You ride beautifully, but it’s eye catching, that stirrup position.”
- “You’re nice, I like you, but you’re a control freak, am I right?” (This after intoning mantra-like to let her horse goooo as she rode the course.)
- “Shhh, spectators. It’s very distracting, all that yapping.”
- “If I were you, I would slither out of the ring, get my helmet and slither back… if I were you. The point of slithering is no one watches you. So. If I were you, I’d slither there, get that hat, and slither back!” (When one of the resident trainers, who, when commanded to mount a rider’s horse, explained he didn’t have his helmet. Another helper schooled the horse.)
The best part was when G.M. commandeered a clinic rider’s mount (give me your horse!), hopped on, and proceeded to trot and canter around (no stirrups! too-small saddle! strange horse!) easy as pie. No flailing. No bouncing. Nothing. Together, he and the horse just kind of floated along. The skill, ease, and balance demonstrated was extraordinary.
I’d hoped to see a legend in action, and got that… and then some. Sitting there in a sunlit corner of Middle Ranch’s covered arena, I caught an inspiring glimpse of greatness and was reminded that good riding is good riding, no matter the discipline.
About the Author: Jessica Fox is a freelance writer and novelist-in-training who dreams of the day she can sit a trot without flailing about. She currently lives in Los Angeles, CA where she writes as much as possible to feed her increasingly voracious horse-habit and almost rides Dressage. Read previous “Riding the Second Time Around” columns on Horse Nation and visit her website at www.foxywrites.com
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