“My birthday is not far in the future, and you are an old and generous friend…”
This report is from George Morris’s clinic at Mt White, January 2017
Words – Christopher Hector and Photos – Roslyn Neave and archives
Opening pic – George Morris demonstrates on Vicki Roycroft’s Dynamite Bay, and he suggests that she might give the stallion to him!
It was wonderful to spend a few days over the New Year break, sitting in Vicki Roycroft’s shady paddock watching the World’s Number One jumping coach in action with an all star line up of riders and horses…
There are a few regulars in the group – Chris Chugg has long been a devotee, and his partner, Gabi Kuna has been a regular of recent years, with spectacular results. Amanda Madigan who has worked for many years at Diamond B, and who is now the top stable jockey there, is another regular, while Tom McDermott has rejoined the fold.
Tallara – stylish and correct
Dave Cameron is a more recent convert, and this time his partner, Tallara Barwick, is showing what a stylish and correct rider she is.
George Morris is the most quotable of trainers, and he leads with: ‘Riding is very simple, however, it is not easy…’
George and Gabi Kuna’s Flaire
George says that he has been encouraging his long time pupil and assistant, Chris Kappler to read the great nineteenth century German master, Waldemar Seunig, although he suspects that he, George, has got more out of the study course than Chris. And what is the message of Seunig? ‘Riding is a question of balance, riding a horse in balance.’
much more below
Sadly, George has one rider who’d best go un-named, who is the perfect example of the reverse, even in walk, he is in the back of his saddle, collapsing his weight onto the poor horse’s back:
“That is an example of excessive sitting back. There is so much weight in the seat that there is none left for the heels, which are our anchor to the horse. Sitting behind the horse jeopardizes leg contact, leg control. Modern riders have forgotten the lesson of weight distribution and as a consequence, balance has been forgotten.”
Tom McDermott demonstrates balance on Diamont
“Lean forward with your back slightly hollow, slightly out of the saddle with your weight in your heels, then sink back, don’t plop back, sink – the horse’s back is very fragile.”
From this point on, you notice the good students using this technique to re-adjust their balance every time they go into walk…
“What I am teaching is the light school of riding, the school exemplified by Bill Steinkraus. If you look at the jump off in Rio, then five of the six riders in the jump off – Peder Fredricson, Nick Skelton, Steve Guerdat, Kent Farrington, and the most forward of them all, Eric Lamaze – are from that light school.”
Bill Steinkraus – pioneer of the school of light riding
“The modern horse with lots of Thoroughbred doesn’t tolerate a backwards seat – that’s why race jockeys are so forward. The importance of a forward seat is not how far out of the saddle you are, but the forward inclination of your body to lighten the horse’s back. You can sink and sit deeper, but don’t sit back. Watch how light Nick Skelton rides, he always did, all of Ted Edgar’s students did.”
“Replace the word ‘sit’ with the word ‘sink’ – don’t sit back. Worry about heels down, not sit down.”
“If you think your heels are down – I want them further down. When the heel is down it engages the bicep muscle of your calf and you have a powerful grip.”
Poor Gabi Kuna kept committing the unforgivable sin of letting her stirrup slide from the position where the outside bar was slightly in front of the inside bar: “Fix the stirrup iron Gabi. It is driving me crazy, the outside bar should be closer to the toe. That stirrup has a life of its own. What keeps the stirrup in place? Weight in the heel. The stirrup slips and slides because she is not spending enough time out of the saddle.”
Gabi gets her stirrup position corrected
Contact comes next
It’s not just about the seat, it is also about contact:
“Shorten your reins. Why? Because the quality of the contact depends on a straight line to the horse’s mouth. When you shorten the reins, raise and close your hands, it de-contracts the horse’s mouth. Some people like to use those white rubbery ‘happy’ bits – the problem is not the bit, it is the contact. I find with the happy mouth bits, the horses don’t respect them, they are always a little heavy.”
George is putting the theory into action, riding Dave Cameron’s mare, Conquista. The initial attempts to get the mare round look so ungainly, but George is not one to compromise:
“You see, I don’t lower my hands. I maintain a straight line, elbow to mouth and teach the horse when I raise my hands, she must lower her head. For the de-contraction to work the horse must keep going forward or all you are doing is slowing the horse down. When she softens and stretches, I soften and give.”
“An educated hand resists the horse’s mouth in exact proportion to the resistance of the horse’s mouth.”
And yes she does, sort of. She certainly looks more interested in the world, it’s a reminder that when horses are ridden logically, their expression goes from dumb to attentive.
Conquista tries a few little leaps in the air, and George chuckles. “Oh no, don’t try that little trick! She has to accept my seat and hand. ACCEPT.”
As always George’s training session begins with lateral work, shoulder fore, the first position, haunches fore, second position: “Supple your horse behind the saddle. You ride these horses that feel like boards.”
Seunig on Flying Changes:
There are many ‘recipes’ for making it easier to exercise the flying change of lead at the gallop. Transitions from one curved line tot another, serpentines, or the counter-gallop in which we suddenly shift controls once we have reached the corner – all provide an opportunity for acquainting the horse with the new phase sequence… We are in no hurry to exercise the flying change and begin it only when the horse lets us know that it is ready for it, think that the straight road is the safest and best in the truest sense of the word.
Riding the horse across the hall, we increase its collection at an active gallop, with careful even loading on all four legs, which may become a shoulder-fore position in certain circumstances. If we begin to use the reins to effect the shift at approximately the middle of the hall and then change the position of our legs, our seat controls will have completed the change before the new change points have been reached without our having to call upon the horse for an greater flexion, such as is required when changing from one circle to another. If we made any such call, there would always be the danger that the horse would learn the trick of throwing its weight about. This would not only interfere with the correct execution of the single flying change, but also result in insurmountable difficulties during later instruction in several successive changes of lead. Once this warped turning during the change of lead has become a habit, the greatest patience and a long period of time are required before we can correct this basic fault, which always results in a horse being over-bent and holding back… The rider’s change of seat must always occur in such a way that it is unnoticeable to a spectator. A mounted horse must convey the impression that horse and rider are cast in one piece and inspired by the same will.
– from Horsemanship: A comprehensive Book on Training the Horse and Its Rider by Waldemar Seunig
Read on, there’s lots more…
Like Seunig, George wants his changes straight. “I hate this habit of pulling the front of the horse in the flying change – make the changes with your legs. Straightness is a virtue, if the horse is not straight it doesn’t have to work, it doesn’t have to collect. Make the horse straight with a bend round the inside leg, make the horse straight with shoulder fore.”
“Make the horse straight with shoulder fore,” – Gabi and Cera Cassiago
“Calm, forward, straight. You can’t make a horse straight, that is not forward. When the horse is straight, the flying changes comes easily.”
All power – the Cassall son, Dynamite Bay, and Vicki Roycroft
“I hate these horses that are light in the croup, they kick up behind or swish their tail in the change – it’s a resistance to the legs and seat, a very serious resistance to the driving aids. You see it in dressage, horses that win medals that swish their tails in the changes, they shouldn’t get a mark over 6, tail swishing is a serious resistance to the legs.”
“Rider have such a habit of pulling on the inside rein in the change, that’s why the horses get very light behind, and very short in the change.”
“After the change turn in the opposite direction, in counter canter. I love that exercise, it fixes the horse with a crooked change, quickly.”
“When I train flying changes initially, I sit very deep so he doesn’t learn to toss me out of the saddle.”
Seunig on the jumping seat:
Nowadays we have overcome the obsession that we must help the horse to surmount obstacles by applying various active ‘controls’ and that we can help it maintain a wrongly understood balance by employing rein and weight controls. These controls are even more problematical, since all they do is place a disturbing load on the horse’s hindquarters and prevent its neck from acting as a balancing rod. The best assistance we can render a horse in jumping will always be to enable it to surmount obstacles suitably, but the only way in which we can do this is by means of our quiet, adapting, relieving jumping seat..
– from Horsemanship: A comprehensive Book on Training the Horse and Its Rider by Waldemar Seunig
“We should read the old books because competition breeds a lot of false information. It breeds artificiality, it breeds exaggeration. That is why we love Beezie (Madden) because she is very simple. When she rides it looks very easy and very classical.”
When she rides it looks easy… Beezie Madden and Authentic
“Today is the time of the cheap read, read the old books — How to Groom a Horse. In the next generation that knowledge will be extinct. We will have lost the horse care, the stable management, I love the old, simple, good horse management that proceeds riding. Then you can’t ever learn enough dressage and that precedes jumping, and it all meshes together. It’s what Charlotte (Dujardin), Michi (Jung) and Nick (Skelton) are, they all meticulous, detailed horsemen – it’s all detail, all detail. In modern jumping circles, 10% are interested in dressage – the rest are just fascinated by gadgets.”
“Watch Nick Skelton jump a horse, no one has ever jumped a horse better, and the jump is always natural, not artificial.”
“Grow tall, don’t slouch, but relax and stretch your spine, and slightly raise your hand, that drives the horse under behind.”
Of course, every transition had to be perfect:
“Sink, stretch, inside leg, outside rein, and stop. That’s a mantra for every downward transition. Every downward transition perfects the half halt. You don’t have to have a driving leg for the downward transition, you need a sustaining leg.”
“Once your horse is at the desired pace, your legs are passive on his side. You don’t need as much leg to lengthen the stride as you do to shorten the stride.”
Tallara Barwick at the desired pace
The Swiss star, Thomas Fuchs comments in George’s autobiography that he was puzzled because George was always cantering his horse on the ‘wrong’ leg, when he became a pupil, Thomas like all the others, found he too was spending a lot of time on the ‘wrong’ leg.
“One of the beauties of canter work is teaching collected canter. The only purpose of counter canter is to collect the canter, to shorten the horse’s back.”
Seunig on counter canter
“The counter canter becomes especially valuable when the horse’s shoulders are carefully guided, the forehand always being turned towards the wall ahead of the inside hind foot. The inside hind leg near the wall can be better controlled and supervised in the false gallop than in the corresponding simple gallop. This will naturally have a favourable effect on the activity of the outside hind foot and thus improve the horse’s entire posture.”
– from Horsemanship: A comprehensive Book on Training the Horse and Its Rider by Waldemar Seunig
Back to trot and the cavalettis come into play. “When you ride through the cavalettis you regulate the impulsion and straightness with your hand, and you learn contact.”
George Morris doesn’t just teach with his voice, he has an extraordinary ability to construct fences and combinations of fences that teach the horse, each fence had been placed with an accuracy of millimetres, and woe betide the course assistant who didn’t get it right.
Tom with Diamont over the triple bar, she’s learning to be clever…
“We have a triple bar, six to a vertical, six to a plank, and two to an oxer. The second fence teaches the horse to be clever, it is very instructive to the horse. Let him hit, don’t make him hit, let him hit. The best teacher of the horse is the horse – he is his own best trainer. If a horse raps, never lose your temper or use a lot of leg or spur, rapping the fence is enough punishment for the horse.”
Now George is prepared to allow the rider to get back, but only if the horse needs it. “Perhaps the first time over a new jump, get behind, that makes for a stronger position. There are four seats: dressage – deep and upright; riding seat, two or three holes shorter; jumping seat – which goes up a hole for every extra foot in height; racing seat, the most forward of them all.”
It must be said at this point that I am puzzled by Tom McDermott and his recently acquired Diamont (the imported Selle Français mare, previously owned by Savannah Hopkins). To my mind, the horse is in an awful, jammed up in front frame, but Tom as always sits so elegantly and effectively, and uses his legs and body correctly, and George says ‘Good Tom.’
Next day, George answers the question. He will ride Diamont, “another U-necked one”, but George quickly sets about lengthening the mare’s frame. He has had the double bridle removed and is riding the mare in a snaffle. Suddenly the outline has changed, George hands her back to Tom – “tell me if you can feel the difference.” “I can.” Point made.
George moves on to his second group of riders but to tell the truth, a fair number of them have already ridden in the first group.
Gabi is riding a beautiful Dutch mare, Flaire – George likes her, but wants Gabi to “push her to the verticals, get her a bit quicker over the jump.”
And Amanda Madigan is riding the Diamond B stallion, Baluga, George says: “He gets so high over the triple, that makes me hold my breath. Do you get in trouble with him hanging up?”
“Just rest your stick on him.”
“The stick can get that confidence in a horse.”
“At the first fence just rest your stick on him. The great master of the whip is Ian Millar. He uses the whip liberally in competition, and he gets a better, more forward jump. The stick can get that confidence in a horse – it’s not just about training – it’s about winning.”
And Tom is warned not to take too much notice of the riding he will see in his new home in Wellington, Florida:
“Tom don’t fall into the trap of riding de jour which you will see all the time in Wellington. You are better than that – remember LEG RIDDEN, that’s the lesson of today. The fashion in riding today is not good – hand riding, the horses are broken in the neck, the highest point is the third vertebrae, not the poll. They are so obsessed with ‘the look’ – look at the horse’s legs and back, don’t get obsessed with pulling the horse’s head down.”
“Jumping riders with their gimmicks are very proud of their ‘dressage’ when it is not dressage at all.”
“There was a steward handing out yellow cards to jumper riders for Rolkur. That is to be applauded, Rolkur is so wrong. The horse’s neck is a reflection of the hind leg.”
“I was so happy for Peder Fredricson, the silver medallist at Rio. I talked to him the other day, he doesn’t use draw reins, he works his horse in a snaffle, and works from behind to the front. I said to him, you must use this time to use your success to influence other riders.”
Peder Fredricson and All In, silver at Rio, and an example to the world…
“In my day, Bert de Nemethy insisted it was 70% training at home, 30% at the show. Now it is all rankings points and prize money not schooling. If it had been like that for me, I would have been very unhappy.”
The next exercise starts with the group popping over a cavaletti before they halt in front of the little vertical.
Gabi and Cassiago
“What’s important in this exercise is that the horse listens to the hands and in the halt, they raise the forehand and get off the shoulders.”
Next they had to halt the horse after the second fence: “This quickly educates the horse to the half halt. I don’t care where the horse’s head goes, I do care that he comes off the forehand. And when you halt, halt STRAIGHT.”
“Keep the horse straight and let him learn to back off himself. You don’t want to use so much hand that the horse doesn’t learn to use his own initiative. Keep them straight with your hands but don’t help them with your hands. Once I am sure I’ve nailed the stride, I soften and give, I let the horse used its initiative.”
Halt in front of a fence, is very very different from turning off in front of a fence: “Don’t pull off a fence. When you head to a fence you either go over, under, or through. There are only rare exceptions.”
Now George has the riders going from halt straight – no warm up – to the Swedish Oxer: “I use this to test the horse is in front of my legs. I don’t care if he twists or hangs, as long as he is brave, confident and careful. The most important thing in this system is that the horse does it for us. Look at Valegro on the last day at Rio, it looked as if the horse did it without the rider.”
Tallara goes straight over the Swedish Oxer
“These are very good students. What is important at a clinic is that you get inside the clinician’s brain. What’s Carl (Hester) thinking? What’s Ludger (Beerbaum) thinking? Even if you learn what you don’t want to do, that’s what I often get out of a day watching at Wellington, it’s instructive because you have discarded that approach.”
“I was luck I had very good teachers, trainers that were ahead of the world. I was inducted from the get go into the importance of flatwork, dressage. When I started, all the riders were curious about dressage – now they think they do dressage, but they don’t, their horses are short in front, and out behind.”
“As I grew older, I became more aware of the basic principles of dressage, and the first is soundness. In my country we have vets at the stables 24/7 – it’s a red flag, it tells you something is wrong. Why is the horse limping? Because it is not worked correctly. You need dressage for soundness, to build muscle, to get the horse carrying the weight on its hind legs – then you have less vet problems.”
The great thing about George Morris is that he never for one second forgets that it is not about money, or ego, or the rider’s vanity – it is a system that is based around the understanding and appreciation of that unique four-legged creature that lets it all happen – the horse.
Tom McDermott – life in Florida…
You’ve been living in Florida, how do you like that?
“I really like it, it’s really my scene.”
You like a bit of glitz…
“Yep, but there’s also nice horses and things like that. Obviously a lot of it is a bit over-done, like George says, a lot of it is fake and not natural and not the right things are going on, but I like the jumping, and the rings are much nicer than you find in Australia, and the competition is a lot tougher. I went over there working for Ansgar and Ellen Holtgers – a German guy and an American woman – I took Airtime, one of my World Cup horses over there, planning to sell him. I started him in a few 1.45m classes, then we sold him quite easily. Some of the horses I rode came from Böckmanns, so I knew most of them. I got the ride on quite a good stallion, Quick Petite Folie, that was a big tricky, and he ended up being very very nice. I did my first Nations Cup on him. I had him and a very nice seven-year-old from Gilly. (Böckmann)”
“I came back to Australia to get my five year visa, I’ve got that now, then a couple of things happened here…”
Like some very nice horses to ride, Tom and Diamont…
“Everything sort of fell into place. Savannah Hopkinson has stopped riding for now to go back to school, and I bought Diamont from her. When I first came back, they said ‘can you have a ride on Chamille, the brown one… that eventuated into a couple of dinners, and they said, Sav is thinking of going back to school, one thing lead to another, and we ended up buying both the horses.”
Diamont has been successful, winning two young horse titles, Elegance de la Chamille looks seriously tricky, yet she came out of the Onassis yard, you might have thought she would be a bit more educated…
“Her heart is in the right place and she has an amazing jump, once she is in the ring, her mind switches on a bit…”
She is super determined not to put her head down, you tried, George tried…
“I think George has realised now that she is not going to do it, and George finally said, it doesn’t matter where her head is, as long as she jumps. I think she was shown as a six-year-old in Europe and then came here, and Sav did some Juniors on her and found her a little tricky, she’s a bit sharp and a bit Bolshy. I took her over and she stepped up a bit. She’d only done 1.20m, and her first show with me was the Bronze at the Polo Fields, and she was amazing there. She’s by Clinton, and she is very very nice.”
She doesn’t look like a Clinton, she’s not grey…
“She’s hot and a bit smaller and brown.”
The other mare, Diamont has always looked nice…
“She’s stepped up another level now, just maturing a bit. Sav was only doing 1.35s on her. My first show with her was the Summer Champs, and I put her in the Mini Prix there and she went really well. I think she’s got a very bright future.”
What are your plans now?
“My plan was to go straight back, but then these two horses came into play, and I think I’ll get them going a bit more – not too much longer – and then take them back to Florida.”
Do you think your riding style has changed after your time in Wellington?
“I think I’ve always had my own riding style, I’ve always gone to Europe to learn, and I’ve also had lessons here with George. As George said yesterday, do what he says to do here, but then go home and do what you feel you got out of the lessons and make your own mind up. I think going to Europe and being taught by Gilly – which is a real German style – total opposite to George, is good for my riding so I can mix both together.”
Were there any riders in particular that you were watching in Wellington?
“Obviously all the main classes, they have like 100 riders, but in there are all the top riders, like Eric Lamaze and Nick Skelton, and you obviously watch them closely. When I was other there, Laura Kraut was just bringing back Cedric, and she had him out in the metre ten ring, getting him fit again. A lot of people here think that over there they just do big classes, big classes, but you see them getting their horses fit, not saving them too much, watching them really train their horses.”
“George helped me a lot over there, introduced me to riders, and then they talk to you in the practice ring and that’s a help. My thing is that I walk the course by myself but George would come up to me and ask, do you need help?”
Will you stay in Florida over their awful summer?
“I started doing summer, I did the Fort Worth circuit, which was long but we then moved to Kentucky where I did the Omaha World Cup show where the next World Cup final is going to be held – that’s really really nice. I did quite a bit of the Kentucky circuit, it was good, it was worth it. I’ll do it all over again.”
Gabi Kuna – 2016, what a year
You had a bit of a tumultuous year in 2016?
“We have, it’s been exciting and everything went almost too well – but now we’ve come back and have another team of horses ready to go. It’s re-building time now.”
It must have been a huge wrench selling Cristalline, but you always said that sooner or later, you would get an offer you couldn’t refuse…
“At the World Cup final everyone was onto Chris after round one, the phone were very hot, but we took our time to find the right person for her. We were very adamant that she wasn’t going to just anyone. Of course it would have been lovely to see her at a five-star professional’s stable starring on the TV at all those big shows, but Adrienne Sternlicht, the girl who has purchased her, she’s a very talented young rider, she’s twenty two, she’s finished uni now. She trains with McLain Ward – so she’s got very good eyes on the ground and I think the system of theirs is really going to suit Stella. Adrienne has racked up some pretty good performances on her already, which is really nice to see. When you sell any horse, you want to sell them to a nice home but it is a bonus when they just click and go well at the shows right away, it’s a really nice feeling.”
Cristalline and Adrienne Sternlicht on the Florida circuit, going well…
And now you are riding Cassiago?
“Chris has been really generous giving me the ride on him, I’m really enjoying him, he’s a really honest, safe horse. He’s still young with a lot of miles left in him. Chris has a nice team of young horses that he is schooling, so he has given me the ride on ‘the boy’.”
Your chestnut Dutch mare, Flaire, looks very nice…
“She has surprised us, she’s only six and a little on the green side but she has just adapted to our way of riding. I’ve changed a few things around, I ride her a little more forward and a little more open in the frame than what she was ridden before and she has just found more jump, and power, and scope. She’s sweet, she’s a lovely mare like Cristalline was, there’s not a bad bone in her body, she really tries and she’s got that self-confidence as well. You kind of forget that you are riding a six-year-old. In Stella’s case you forgot you were riding a seven-year-old, or an eight-year-old at the World Cup Final. They have that self-confidence that gets them across the line, it gives them that extra spunk. I’m really lucky and I am really happy with her.”
You’ve got some very fancy babies coming, including an embryo by Big Star…
“Yes, we had a good day yesterday, we found out that Flaire had a 14 day positive embryo transfer to Big Star, that’s exciting. This season the last of our Stella foals hit the ground – we had a Cassiago colt, and an Emerald colt. The Emerald one is just phenomenal, he’s everything we wish for – we were hoping for a tall, nice colt and he’s all that!”
How long have you been coming to George’s clinics?
“This is my third year with George, although I watched a lot of clinics before that. Before I had Cristalline, I had Jimmy Choo and I was always a bit nervous to do one of his clinics, so I used to spectate.”
“Three years ago I grew some balls and brought five-year-old Stella to his clinic, and I’ve been coming ever since…”
Here’s Gabi and Stella in 2014 at the George Morris Clinic
He’s not as scary as people say, he’s really a pussy cat…
“Yeah, BIG pussy cat. He has just a wealth of knowledge and it is such an opportunity to be coached by someone like him – it’s a priceless addition to the rider’s bag of goodies. George’s knowledge and his eye, you take bits and pieces of what works and everything he says, does work for me.”
You get it all the time through your partner Chris Chugg, who was so strongly influenced by George when he was a young rider…
“Chris’s coaching is very similar to George’s, the theory is the same, so it is not hard to come and be coached by George because we do much the same on a daily basis. It’s really great to have him back out here.”
Gabi and Cristalline at the Summer Showjumping in 2014
Looking back at yourself three years ago, in what areas do you think you have improved?
“It’s funny, I watched some videos of my World Cup rounds on Jimmy Choo and just to see the transformation from being on him – an off-the-track Thoroughbred who was honest, but had his own style, quirky and all the things Thoroughbreds are, to then getting a young Cristalline who as green as she was, was straight forward and simple and beautiful to ride. She educated me a lot, even though she was a young horse, and you can see a lot of style change in my riding from Jimmy to her, and as she grew older, my riding improved again, year after year. No matter what anyone says, good horses make good riders, you still have to be able to ride, but they do educate you a lot.”
READ ON BELOW FOR MORE FROM GEORGE MUSINGS…
Holsteiner Stallion – 16.3 hh – AWHA Approved
World Cup winner, proven producer.
Cassiago offers breeders type, temperament, ability, pedigree and character!
Cassiago winning at World Cup level with Gabi Kuna
For more details go to Chuggy Equestrian: www.chuggyequestrian.com
Contact Chris Chugg
Ph: 0418 274169
George muses on various things..
I n the clinic you were talking about training the horses to handle Frank Rothenberger and his trademark triple:
“Like all course builders, Frank has several trademarks – one of his is the triple. I’ve seen him at shows like Aachen and Falsterbo use this particular triple very often, he had it in the Europeans. The triple bar at A, two strides, 35 feet, oxer, wide, to a normal but a little bit short vertical. Or he’ll have the triple bar two strides to the vertical, then the oxer, but the triple bar always comes in first.”
Frank’s triple combination as the horse first sees it – Mt White version designed by George.
“Funnily enough, when I jumped in Rome in 1960, the triple was the same: triple bar, puissance wall type fence, to an oxer, but it was an unjumpable distance as well, one and a half strides – even Winkler pulled out! You didn’t know until you were inside whether you were going to push for one or hold for two, and lots of horses fell.”
“If you have triple bar, oxer, vertical, then the triple bar and the oxer gets them going forward and a little flat, then they see the vertical at C, which is a little tight and they cut down on B. In all of Frank’s courses, that was always the difficult fence, the back rail of B. If you have triple bar, vertical, oxer, then if you come in too strong to the triple bar, the vertical gets flat, or if you come a little more conservatively to the triple bar, then you take the risk that the oxer can get very scopey. So there are all kinds of possibilities when you start mixing those three jumps up.”
You suggested the riders set that combination up at home, and let the horse work it out…
“Yes. One year in the Nations Cup at Aachen, it was very very big – triple bar, oxer, vertical, it was the biggest I’ve seen at Aachen. Then you saw the horses that had been schooled over that combination, and the ones that weren’t.”
Three in a team – or four?
There have been a number of commentators who have spoken strongly against the FEI decision to reduce the Olympic jumping teams from four to three, what are your views?
“When I rode in the American team at the Rome Olympics, that was when they had three riders and three scores. It didn’t work, there was a greenish rider on the British team, David Barker, and his horse, Franco ran out at the triple combination and eliminated the British team. He was a friend and it really hit him psychologically – and the horse. Shortly after that they went to four riders because with two living entities like that, it is too unpredictable, and it does disadvantage the better teams. For example in Atlanta, the Germans would have been eliminated.”
“Decreasing the number in a team and increasing the number of teams, means that it opens the door for a lot of other countries – which means, they have got to accommodate that standard by lowering the standards.”
“I was talking to John Madden the other day, and I said, that’s not why I get up in the morning, all the debate about the rules. I also said to him, we are so pussy whipped by being so afraid of being ex-communicated from the Olympic Games. We are making all these sport decisions as equestrians because ooooh we are sooo scared of being kicked out of the Olympics. We are not really making sport decisions, we are making Olympic decisions. Now it is very important to be in the Olympics, the Olympics are a great carrot, but when you have to really compromise, then after each Olympics to get to the next one, you’ve got to compromise further and further to the demands of the Olympic committee, and they don’t know horses or horse sports.”
“That’s why the WEG is powerful because there we are not beholden to the Olympic Games.”
Light seat riding
It was interesting that you said five out of the six in jumpoff at Rio were forward seat riders, who was the odd man out?
“The Quatari rides well, very well, but his methodology is to be behind the movement of the horse. I’m not saying it’s wrong, it is a different methodology.”
Nick Skelton riding to Gold at Rio
But it is wrong isn’t it? Wrong for a number of reasons mostly relating to the horse…
“In principle it is not as smooth and easy for the horse. That’s why so many people over the past century have adopted the forward seat. You have to prepare the horse and school it in your dressage seat, but when you shorten your stirrups, you still have that dressage in your horse, but you are riding in a very different seat. Your stirrups are short, your leg is a little braced forward, you are out of the saddle – it is a racing seat. Jumping and racing are very close together.”
The new example for the riders to follow – Peder Fredricson
“In the late 80’s and 90’s, I taught a great deal at Flyinge, the historic Swedish national stud. In the early 90’s, Dr and Mrs Fredricson ran Flyinge, their son, Peder had just ridden in Barcelona in the Three Day event on Hilly Trip, a very wonderful, very hot Thoroughbred mare. They had a lot of dressage in their background, but the jumping dressage I taught was quite different for them in Sweden at the time.”
“I remember at the first clinic, Jens, who is now as good as his brother, Peder, Jens came to a cross rail, and didn’t see anything. Peder came to the cross rail, and being an eventer, he saw distances but he always went for the long distance being an eventer. So I have a very old and close relationship with the boys.”
“I called Peder several times after the Games to congratulate him. In Rio, I loved watching him work his horse. Jens is a little more under the radar, but they are both very good horsemen, very rounded horsemen. They breed horses, they raise horses, they break horses, they teach, they are great guys.”
George and the dreaded stirrup position
Why is it so important that the outside branch of the stirrup is further forward than the inside branch?
“I was taught that by Bert de Nemethy. It is written in the German manual of riding that the stirrup iron should be at right angles to the girth, so it obviously has a good mechanical reason, it is also aesthetically attractive, and it supplies better flexibility, it again is opposition – like inside leg to outside rein – and opposition gives balance. So with that diagonal, the balance is better, the support is better, the flexibility is better. I can’t look at a rider if the stirrup is not placed correctly. It hits me quick! It’s about the first thing I see.”
It could go on, as long as you keep asking the questions, the wisdom flows – George Morris, we salute you and look forward to celebrating many more of your birthdays…
Don’t miss our Birthday celebration…