Learning Laterals with Jean Bemelmans

Story – Chris Hector & Photos – Roz Neave

Jean Bemelmans is one of Germany’s most successful trainers of Grand Prix horses. Under his watchful eye, the Spanish team became one of the world’s top dressage nations, and Jean has gone on to work with the French team. He has recently formed a partnership with CB Dressage an exciting team of up-coming stars who bring together experience from both Germany and Spain. The team also includes Australian, Ashlea Day who has spent several years working and gaining experience in Germany.

Fie and Media Luna competing at the Bundeschampionat, Media Luna is by the Trakehner stallion, Münchhausen

In this article from 2006, Jean works with Fie Skarsoe, the resident rider at the training yard at the beautiful Wiesenhof Stud. We recently did another special article with Jean and his new team, watch for it – soon…

Jean Bemelmans is the consummate professional. His voice is never raised, he speaks quietly, but it is well to listen hard, because he is one of the world’s most thoughtful dressage trainers.

We caught up with Jean – and Fie – at Wiesenhof – to record this illuminating discussion on teaching the dressage horse laterals, but as always, with Jean, we had to start at the beginning, at the stage he calls ‘obedience’ before we could move on to ‘gymnastic.’.

Jean on Games… and Obedience

“When we are thinking about any horse’s education, first you have to look back in the horse’s earliest learning experiences. You have to remember that the horse is an animal – and what do animals like? They like to play games. If you put two dogs outside, they play all the time. This is not like us in our offices thinking all the time of business – they don’t have any business, they want to play.”

“The first thing you should remember is that it is a game. If you start with a young horse, you cannot start with collection or gymnastics, first you have to think – how can we get the horse obedient.”

“I like to look at some of the techniques of people like Pat Parelli, who work on the pre-education of the horse. So the horses know what is going to happen. They have to follow you, go away… move away from pressure.”

next how to teach lateral work

“If we are talking about teaching lateral work, they have to first of all accept the leg in a forward movement. Then the left leg to go right and the right leg to go left, and it is very easy, but everything first has to be like a little game. Horses are not obedient immediately, they have to be convinced. Oh oh, if he pushes with his right leg that means I have to go immediately to the left side. Later if everything is in place, then you can start work on the gymnastics for the horse. First everything has to be in the right place, and it has to be confirmed.”

Jean on Go Forward… and Sideways

“We start from the ground, and then the same procedure, when we ride. On a long rein, you come with your leg, and he goes forward, you pat him. If he doesn’t want to go forward, you help with the whip, so he understands that the leg means a forward movement – he has to go away from the pressure and go forward.”

“At the beginning when you do this, you leave him loose on a long rein. Because at that stage the hand is just to bring him back, so if you put your hand on and start to push, where should he go? He is in prison between your hand and your leg, then he gets disobedient. So the first thing is this game. Long rein, leg on, he trots, Oh very good.”

“Step by step, this is a long development. The education of a horse begins at the age of three years, maybe a little earlier with pre-education on the hand, just coming and going. It starts to be in a good moment when the horse is seven, then it still doesn’t finish. The top horses – Anky and Bonfire, Gigolo and Isabel, they were Olympic winners when they were 18. That’s a long time and they were still working with those horses. It’s not like horses are machines where you can take them to the test then put them away, you are still training, although later on it is more gymnastic than learning.”

next, introducing the leg yield

Jean on introducing the leg yield…

“The first gymnastic that involves a sideways movement is a leg yield because that is the most easy way to do it. The horse has the wall to help him, and he can go along the line of the wall, nose to the wall. Then you have your inside leg and your inside rein. If you are on the left rein and you push with the right leg and keep the whip in the right hand to support your right leg, then he understands that he has to go to the left side with the hindquarters.”

“It is also very good to teach this on the circle. Start in the middle of the arena, and made little turns. Make him understand if you come with the left leg with the left rein, that he has to move his hindquarters, to go to the right, so he is turning around his front legs.”

“This is just a leg yield, it is long time until you introduce the shoulder-in. If you see it in ages, then the shoulder-in begins at the age of five. Not before. Look at the scale of education. Here in Germany, the first L level test you do at the age of five. The German Championship for 5 year old horses, that is an L test – but in an L test there is no lateral movement. The lateral movement begins at six, then for the first time you ask for shoulder-in in a test. For the first time you ask for a half pass in a test.”

“Before you do the shoulder in, you do the shoulder fore. You don’t go from nothing to shoulder-in… first you do shoulder fore, before leg yielding, with the young horses, you can do a game move away from my leg – but this is a game, this is not a gymnastic exercise. Shoulder in, shoulder fore, then you are already gymnasticizing the horse.”

Jean on horizontal and vertical lines…

“If you go through the game age of 3, and you come to the age of 5 where it gets more serious, then you can think about working on the horse’s body and his position, gymnasticise a little. Then you have two lines that are very important: one line is the vertical line, the balance of the horse. Then you have the horizontal line and this line gives him the position where he is to be in the neck. In the Grand Prix it is the highest line, when he begins as a young horse, it is the lowest, long and low.”

“These two lines you have to keep in mind all the time. Then you work on these two lines – so if you work on the vertical line, then you don’t start to crack and break this vertical line, you go very slowly, like the shoulder fore, this means riding straight with a little bit position of the neck on the left side, but the body is as straight as possible. Then next step will be to bring the left shoulder a little bit in front of the left hind leg, to work on the straightness, and then, if this all works well, you start a little bit in the way of shoulder in.”


Jean on Shoulder-in…

“What is the aim of shoulder-in? The aim is to bring the inside hind leg under the point of gravity, so that the inside hind leg gets strong. As long as they move forwards, they can move away from the weight, but with the shoulder in, the horse has to bring the inside leg more under, and then if he is educated – this is at the age of 5 or 6 – and he knows how to react, then you can activate a little this left leg, bring it more forwards and under, and this makes the left leg strong. On the other side, we do the same thing with the right leg – this is the purpose of the shoulder in, to make the inside leg more strong and able to carry more weight.”


“There are many ways you can teach them the first steps of shoulder-in. One is coming out of the corner, you can do it on the circle, a little bit like the leg yielding we did with the young horses, then more and more, they understand leg and hand and you can put them into shoulder in. To do a good shoulder in, you have the vertical line and you have the horizontal line, but you have to control the horizontal line, because if you don’t control this horizontal line, then how can you bring him under himself with a good contact in front if you don’t have any contact in front – if you lose the contact, or there is no contact, it is not a shoulder in, it is a leg yielding.”

“When I go to a show, I see many horses, many older horses, but I don’t see many shoulder ins, more I see leg yield. More than 50% are not doing shoulder-in, they think they are doing shoulder in, they take the position of shoulder in, but they are not really doing shoulder in because the moment you don’t have good contact, then it is not a shoulder-in.”

“The movement of shoulder-in develops from the hindlegs, it brings movement into the horse, it goes over the back, it comes to the rider, and the rider lets the feel of this movement that comes in his hand into the mouth of the horse, and he lets it come out there. If there is an interruption in this flow, then the hind leg is not working, it is just moving sideways, it all has to be confirmed together. That is why shoulder-in with a four year old horse is not possible – how could you do it? It is only possible the more the horse is confirmed in the training, then you can start to do correct shoulder in.”

more laterals follow

Jean on the other laterals – half pass, renvers, travers…

“If they can do a good shoulder-in, then they can do the half pass. Shoulder-in  is the basis for all these exercises. The half pass is much easier than the shoulder-in because half pass, like renvers and travers is not very difficult for the horse – but it is another gymnastic effect. The shoulder-in is gymnastic of the inside hind leg, the travers is gymnastic of the outside hind leg. For this you have to control 100% the outside hind leg. It is not a question of going in a lateral movement, no it is a question of feel – have I the right hindleg in the travers coming under the point of gravity? Is it active enough? Is it going forwards? Is it taking weight? It is very complicated.”


Jean on using lateral work to increase obedience…

“If the horse is not very obedient, then I think more about obedience before I think about gymnastics. First I have to have obedience, then I can work on the gymnastics. If a horse is not very obedient then using a lateral position can help you get control. My theory is always, if you have a man standing in front of you, and you try to push him down, it is not very easy. But if he stands sideways – in a lateral position – he is not very strong any more. You can push him over very easily when he is in that lateral movement – this is the system you can use if a horse gets disobedient.”

“Think again about games – and in this game I am putting the horse in a lateral position so I am stronger than him, then very easily, without a lot of effort, you get the horse under control again – if you are having problems getting the horse obedient, always think of this little game, then okay, I have control again – now I can think about gymnastics of the left hind leg. Sit down, push, think about shoulder-in. If the horse is a bit disobedient don’t think about gymnastics think about establishing obedience.”

“You must always think about the balance between the two. What am I working on? Obedience or gymnastic? First has to be obedience, then you can think about the right position, and about gymnastics. At the end, everything should be simple because it is not very complicated – the horse doesn’t have problems, the rider creates problems. If you become too complicated in your thinking, if you do things before the horse understands obedience, and if you are already two steps further than your education, then you will have a problem.”

“Horses are not bad, they have good minds. Think about what happens in the field – if you have ten stallions on the field, there is no fighting. There is only a fight if you put them new together. Three or four stallions, three or four years old, put them together in the field for the first time and all they will do is fight, but they fight because they need a rank order. In nature, they have a ranking order – see a troupe of lions, one is the boss. That is why the game of obedience is the first step for everything, and out of this, later you can move to the gymnastic exercises.”


Jean on the language of riding…

“It is like being with a little child. You cannot talk to him – how can he understand things if you cannot talk to him? First teach him to speak, then you can explain – it is the same with the horse. He has to learn my language, my hand, my leg, my body, this is my language. If everything is there, that he understands my language, then I start to teach him. I think that many people before the language is there they start to do exercises and of course the horse doesn’t understand, and then they get disobedient. The next step is that the horse starts to take control, because horses are stronger than riders  – there’s no rider in the world who can force a horse to do anything. The horse doesn’t understand the language, but he thinks, ‘I am much stronger than that guy’, and the horse makes a little game, and that guy loses!”

If you think about all these principles then it should not be very complicated. Look at the good riders, then you don’t see so many bad pictures, you only see the bad pictures with the not so good riders, because they don’t know how to talk to the horse. The riders get nervous because they know they are not so good and they want to put pressure on the horse. They think ‘oh I have to keep him under control!’ The good rider is calm because he knows how to get control, he knows how to get the horse obedient, and without any big effort, he gets there very easily.

What happens when you are young? You don’t know so much about technique, so you feel more comfortable with your force and strength than your technique. But when you get older, maybe you are still as strong, but you don’t want to lose so much energy. You start to think more. In my own life, I did many things wrong, but you can only learn if you make a mistake, because no one comes into the world and knows everything. What I did wrong when I was young, because I knew I didn’t have the technique, I rode a little too much with power. If you are 21, 22 you have that energy, but now with all these years, I’ve learnt that tomorrow is another day. Go slowly and you will go quicker.

You need an experienced rider with inexperienced horses, and for the inexperienced rider, experienced horses. This is a very old saying but what is the problem, is that we don’t have so much time, and at the beginning you need time if you want to educate any animal. If you have a little dog and you don’t care, he gets wild, but if you want to teach him something you can’t say, oh I have ten minutes I will teach him – no, no, no – you have to start a game with him, and then you have to stay in this game until he understands you, until he accepts the game, and he accepts the rules of the game. This is the same with a young horse.

The problem is we live in a very quick world. Years ago to make a car, it took say two months. Then the machines came and they did it in one month, and now they do it in… 20 minutes. But the mentality of the animal is the same, it doesn’t change.

Now I don’t do so much with the young horses. I am now more specialised, and my specialisation at the moment is the Grand Prix, so all the horses that are here in the stable are more or less at Grand Prix level. The pre-education is done and we are preparing horses for the top competition –  what we do here is have a Grand Prix horse, train him and always think, in four weeks we have a show, or next year we have the World Championships. This is our goal. How can we be in form for the Olympics, what is our plan with this horse? This is our speciality and it is a lot of fun, but we did other things before… and now I have bought a three year old horse. But I don’t look at a three year old horses, I have people to do that.

The first thing you need is someone who understands the theory, who knows how the elephants live together, how do the lions live? There is a classical ranking order. Then you need someone who is not afraid, someone who is brave enough to get on a young horse and get it under control, using all these methods. You have to have a good balanced seat, you have to be ready if the horse makes a little jump. Step by step, we only play with them – it all takes time, and knowledge.

The exercise of walking around the front end:

This is the first step after the horse accepts going forwards, then we try a little bit the sideways movement. They accept inside leg and the hand, if we push on one side, they go to the other. Later if you have a horse that has been badly ridden and it is disobedient, then the first thing I do is test this response. Is this going okay? If it is, then I can start.

This article first appeared in the August 2006 edition of The Horse Magazine

Interested in breeding dressage horses? Go to www.ihb.com.au and choose one of the best stallions in the world  to suit your mare – stallions like Fürstenball


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Making Grand Prix Horses with Hubertus Schmidt

Hubertus and Wansuela Suerte: Wansuela was for me perfect, she was not the biggest mover, but she was a perfect, sensitive mare that you really could ride with two fingers, no spur and no whip. It is not with every horse that you can do it like that, but for me, always the goal of the training is that at the end it is as easy as possible and as light as possible – for me, this is absolutely the goal and it works like that.

There are several amazing things about Germany’s modern dressage master, Hubertus Schmidt. One is not only has he produced Grand Prix horses of great quality but he has produced them in great quantity as well, producing new Grand Prix horses every year. This article sets out to find how Hubertus goes about selecting a prospect.
The other amazing thing about Hubertus Schmidt is his warmth and generosity – he was only too happy to take time out from a busy competition to share his knowledge with readers in far away Australia. Once again, thank you Hubertus!
Another Grand Prix horse in the making for Hubertus, Escolar competing in the Prix St Georg at Aachen in 2017
What is the most important thing when you go looking for a dressage horse?
“For sure they need good gaits. You can make compromises because it is very difficult to find a horse like Renoir with three super good movements, so maybe one horse is not so good in the canter, the next one is not so good in the walk. I think the trot must be really good because the trot work – and I include piaffe and passage – makes up most of the Grand Prix work. So the first is that they have good gaits.”
“The next is very important for me – the horse must be able to work through its body, not just in the back, the whole horse must come together. Often you have super nice built horses and they look very pretty but they are un-elastic, not working in the body. You look at other horses, and you say it is not possible for this horse to do piaffe / passage, he is the wrong shape, yet I had one horse, much too long, high behind, but he was super in piaffe / passage, super easy to collect. What is important is how they can work with their body.”
Next we ask Hubertus, Can you select a Grand Prix horse moving free?
  “What is important is how they can work with their body.”
Can you see that when they are moving free?
“No, I have to sit on it. There are a few good trainers who can check that when the horse is running free, but I can’t do that at all, I really have to feel it. For that they must be a little older, at least four years old, better five, then you can play a little bit, ask to collect and see what they are doing.”
“You don’t try piaffe or passage or something like that, that is not necessary. Only make the trot a little shorter, make the trot really swinging – then I can really feel if they are able to make piaffe and passage, because if they are horses like that, that give that feel, they will be able to do it.”
“The third is that they are good in the mind, that they are sensitive enough. For me, and I am always looking for Grand Prix horses, better a little too hot than too lazy. I think that is not for everybody – for the amateur rider maybe better that they are not too sensitive. But the horse has to be sensitive to make good Grand Prix sport when they need expression without the whip, and without pushing too much.”
Does the breeding interest you – or you don’t care?
“I don’t care about that. It is very important if they are very young, like three year old fillies, when you can’t try them so much, but for me when they are five or six and I try them, then the breeding doesn’t matter. I have to feel and try them – I don’t have to buy off a piece of paper that says, this line is too sensitive, or too spooky, if they are five or six, then I can really try.”
How soon after you have bought the horse and taken it into your system do you know whether the horse is going to go Grand Prix?
“After two days – otherwise I don’t buy them.”
They always go Grand Prix the horses you buy?
“When I buy them when they are five or six, then 100% of them go Grand Prix for the last ten years. Not all of them on the super super level, but most of them are international Grand Prix horses.”
That’s incredible…
“It’s true, but for that I need to sit on them, and they must be at the end of their four year old year, almost five at least – it is easier when they are six, at this age when I can play with them going forward, backwards, specially in the trot that you can feel piaffe / passage.”
we asked Hubertus how important conformation is next
And you don’t care about conformation, they can be high behind, whatever…
“For sure, normally it is easier if they are well balanced, but it is more important, I can only keep coming back to this expression, that they can work with their body. They can work through the body, they are swinging, they are able to be really elastic in their movement, especially in the trot. If they can do that then for sure they learn passage, they learn piaffe, not everybody for an eight, but they all learn it.”
You don’t ever have problems with flying changes?
“You are right, that is the next step. If they are five years old then normally you can work on it, you can play a little bit. If they can do one flying change, then they can learn everything, if they do one, then they will do the one tempis. I’ve never had a horse that can do one simple flying change at the age of five or six, that did not go on and do the one tempis. If they can do one change to both sides, then they can learn the one tempis. As soon as they are really sure in one change – that means in every situation I want to make the change, counter canter, long side, diagonal, I can do one flying change anywhere I ask, then it is really quick to come to four and three tempis, and then one or two years later, two and one tempis.”
 Do you like to work your horses a lot? Do you work them once or twice a day?
“Once – I don’t have the time to do more, but what we do is that they go out for a walk under saddle, around the fields. We take them out for 45 minutes, we have a track around our village, and we use that. Normally we work them in the morning, and in the afternoon they go out for a walk.”
Do you think that it makes any sense to talk about Grand Prix horses being ‘happy’?
“It doesn’t matter if it is a Grand Prix horse, or a smaller level horse, I think the goal must be that it is as nice as possible for the horses at the end of the training. That must be the result. I am 100% sure that you are able to do that with all the horses. I am realistic and I know that sometimes you have to push a bit harder, sometimes you use the whip, and you use the curb, to bring them on the way – but as a result of the training, the end result must be that it is very nice for the horses.”
“If the horse has the choice, they want to go out in the fields and nothing else. They don’t want to draw a wagon, they don’t want to jump, they don’t want to do dressage, but if it is a nice training in the end I don’t know if they enjoy it really, but I am 100% sure they don’t say ‘oh oh working again!’ They get used to it, and if they are really through, then it is easy for them.”
“Normally at the end, with a Grand Prix horse it must be easy, okay sometimes you have to push them a little bit, and say okay boy, go now, and push a little hard, but over all it must be easy for them.”

The Classical Tradition, the Training Scale Part Four: How old are our principles?

The history of dressage is one  of development – it is certainly not static.  In Germany, which has been the heart of dressage riding in the twentieth century, the first attempt to codify something like the ‘classical principles’ occurred in 1912 in a Cavalry Manual, this was later expanded in 1937. I am extremely grateful to my friend Kerstin Niemann of St Georg Magazine who translated this important document for me.

Here we find the development of the concept of ‘throughness’ – of a contact that is elastic and in a state of changing equilibrium, rather than the Baroque concept where the rein is looped and the horse behind the bit:

As the straightness improves, the throughness of the horse will improve as well. The pushing capacity of the hindquarters can now go its way through the horse up to the mouth and makes the horse give to the pressure of the bit, bend the neck and chew on the bit.

This is the natural way the horse achieves the correct “going through the poll”. It would not be correct to achieve this “going through the poll” by brutally pulling neck and head of the horse. Instead it must be the result of the hind legs pushing towards the quiet still hand. This is the only way to fix the neck to the wither. And only if the neck is fixed to the wither it is possible to link forehand and hindquarter.

While training a horse, it should never be the way that only separated parts of the horse are worked on, but always the whole horse. Difficulties and disobediences are always connected and will show in either stiffness of the neck, the back and the hindquarters. The rider should always solve those problems with the horse in motion. The rider can gain a false impression that the horse is giving while it is standing still – whereas this wouldn’t happen when the rider lets the horse stride forward energetically.


Felix Bürkner (1883-1957) one of the authors of the original formulation of the modern training scale…

And later in the document, we find:

Shape/ frame for dressage use

The best shape of neck and head is the shape when the neck heightens freely out of the wither and the upper line builds towards the poll in a soft bend, which highest point is the poll itself. The head should be held on a straight line from forehead to nose. Such a frame/shape is the right one to allow the rider to best have an effect on the hindquarters. This grade of “aufrichtung” (the horse having his poll at its highest point) should only be asked from the horse for short periods of time and only in halt or in collected gaits. In higher tempo the rider must allow the horse to lengthen the bent neck and to slightly push the nose forward as well.

Kerstin – who is regarded in Germany as THE expert on the training scale, included this comment with her translation:

“As you can see, in this chapter you cannot even find the word “training scale”. I therefore had another look through a few of my books and found a few sentences about the development of the training scale. It is found in a new book for professional riders that I worked on with Hannes Müller. This chapter is written by him with a little help from the dressage judge, Angelika Frömming:

I quote:

“The first military riding instruction was published in 1825, but became well-known in the “Heeresdienstvorschrift 1912”. This book was mainly written by the equestrian experts, Redwitz, Lauffer, Felix Bürkner and Hans von Heydebreck. Their ideas based on the knowledge of the earlier authorities, Ayrer, Seeger and, mostly, Gustav Steinbrecht, who wrote a “timeless” classic book with his “Gymnasium of the Horse” which has been re-written by Hans v. Heydebreck in 1935/36. (The first issue was published after the death of Steinbrecht by a pupil of his in 1886. His name was Paul Plinzner. In this first edition were a few sentences and thoughts which had to be corrected.)

The essence of these earlier writings was then published in 1954 in the first issue of the “guidelines for riding and driving”. In this publication the scale of training still did not have its name, the most remarkable thing was the listing of:

  • phase of the horse getting used to everything.
  • phase of development of pushing capacity.
  • phase of development of carrying capacity.

The scale of riding was first published in the 1980’s. To the first abovementioned phases were added rhythm and Losgelassenheit, these two points were separated in the early 90’s. The listing of these elements shows that “classical” does not at all mean “old”, but it shows a developed, harmonious system. It is known like this all over the world and even the rules of the FEI are based on these ideas.”

Once again, thank you Kerstin for your assistance.

So the ‘timeless’ training scale is in fact, a child of the nineteen eighties…

The late Reiner Klimke who won the World Dressage Championship in 1974 told me that when he started competing in dressage, that coming from a background in eventing, he warmed his horses up firstly in a long free-flowing frame before bringing them up to a competition outline. He said at the time he was one of the first to use this technique which later became standard…
As we can see from the photo, Dr Klimke and Mehmed had a very modern look about them…


Especially if we compare it with the photo of the World Champions of just four years earlier – Elena Petushkova and Pepel, with their more elevated head carriage and loose rein.

Elena Petushkova and Pepel – World Dressage Champions in 1970

It is my impression that in our desire to find an unbroken historical golden thread of Classical Dressage from the Greeks, to the modern day, we obscure many important ways in which the dressage tradition has developed and matured, and most importantly, the kind of training methods and techniques that are appropriate to the kind of horse we are dealing with have been modified. Perhaps the current furore over the deep and round methods, which started back with Rembrandt and Nicole Uphoff and continues to rage today, are merely an indication that consensus on the right way to deal with the current crop of modern dressage horse models, has yet to emerge. Certainly we can be open minded about new techniques so long as we refer back to that over-riding tradition, that relates every training technique to the horse, its physical and mental properties and well being.

Nicole Uphoff and Rembrandt

We can all think of plenty of examples where the rolkur technique has been used in an unacceptable way – the horse resisting the contact, the rider forced to use strong contact, the horse does not look calm. This to my mind is not acceptable – and to those who feel this whole rollkur debate is simply a German plot to de-rail the Dutch dressage team’s rollercoaster ride to Gold, I can think of a number of occasions where I have seen German riders (including team members) using an unacceptable technique.

The point then is that you can not lay down a geometrically precise series of rules or principles – we must refer to a Classical Tradition, that marries the physical and mental capability of the horse, with the demands of the training or the test – and in these modern times the guardians of this marriage, are the people sitting in the boxes – the judges.


And this is why judges must always be horsemen. When you handle horses every day, you soon learn to recognize tension – tense horses are the ones that can do unexpected things. I know in our country, there are Grand Prix level dressage judges who do not see a horse from one competition to the next. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck. If a horse won’t halt, is covered in sweat, irregular in its movement, has its ears back and switches its tail, then the chances are that it is tense – and if Olympic level judges can’t see that, then they have no business judging. There are plenty of horsemen in the ranks of the spectators who can see what is invisible to them.

I guess this – for mine – is the crux of the matter. While we have seen huge advances in training techniques built on a body of highly intelligent and insightful theory, the attempt to judge and score dressage on some sort of objective scale, is a recent project and one that has more often failed than it has succeeded.

At each Olympic Games, from 1912 to the present day, the judging in the dressage has given rise to huge controversy. Sadly it is not possible to say that the most recent judges – those at Athens – covered themselves in glory. Quite the reverse, judging standards seem to be deteriorating rather than improving.

Perhaps then just as we have seen that the progress of the sport has been driven by changes in the breeding of the dressage horse, we need to look similarly to our judges – are we selecting on the basis of the best gene pool available? Are middle aged ladies with incomes large enough to allow them to travel to the plum jobs and then show the diplomatic skills that see the ‘right’ result emerge, necessarily the breed we want in judges boxes?

Or are we going to have to finance judges who are also knowledgeable horsemen to take over this role, if we are to see the classical tradition flourish on the scoreboard and in the medal count of this the twenty first century?

Our horses continue to improve every year, our rider techniques become more and more refined, watching dressage tests should be a source of increasing joy – and it will be, if we can find a way to ensure that those who get the highest marks are those who conscientiously relate their demands to the capacity of the horse.

I believe that the classical tradition will survive, but it will not survive if it is frozen into being a museum exhibit – to survive it must be a living organism, that is always in a state of evolution. I look forward to those developments that increase the beauty and grace of the performance, We must continue to speak out against techniques that are harsh and restrictive. In other words, we are back where we started, with those words of Xenophon:

‘For what the horse does under compulsion… is done without understanding; and there is no beauty in it either, any more than if one should whip and spur a dancer.’
To that, amen.

George Morris and more on the Ultimate Learning Curve

Thinking Riders

In an age of instant cyber everything, George Morris’ insistence on theory and old fashioned book learning should appear ridiculously out-of-date, the trouble is all those riders he coaches that keep winning look decidedly up-to-date…

So it was that the participants in his most recent Australian series of clinics, found themselves over and over again having to use their heads to make their bodies work:

“The first thing is position, because position puts you in the place on the horse to use the aids. If your leg is too far back, you can’t talk to the horse’s haunch. The first thing is where are you sitting? Where is your hand? Where is your seat? Then talk about aids, because aids are increments of pressure… position, contact, increments of pressure with your seat, with your leg, with your hand, with your upper body – but first, where are you sitting? What you do with a horse is produce the impulsion with your legs and with your rein aids you channel, you receive, that impulsion is then monitored by the rein effects but that comes after impulsion. Don’t try to steer the car with the motor off…”

“I recently was part of a symposium with Ingrid Klimke and at the beginning I cheeked her – and I hope she took it with a sense of humour – I said I disagree with the order of the German training scale, because I put impulsion first. I went to Saumur and asked the Cadre Noir, which do they put first, rhythm or impulsion? A few said ‘rhythm’ and the rest said ‘impulsion’. I say impulsion because I can’t talk about rhythm unless the horse – even a baby horse – is taught right from the first time I sit in the saddle that he is thinking forward. I have read this in French books, impulsion is the mother of equitation, and I would have to put that before rhythm. Now they are very close, you could say rhythm, I could say impulsion. You could say, I want to establish the rhythm and that will give impulsion. I say my first lesson is the leg, first impulsion, and then I monitor the rhythm. Looseness is a beautiful third, contact a beautiful fourth, straightness, obviously collection is last. Collection is the result of the other things.”

“Ingrid said, oh they are all interchangeable, and that is the right answer. It isn’t fixed except collection will always be last.”

George is always very aware that he is the product of an American system, that has a history of practical theory:

“The American system of riding traces to Caprilli and the racing seat. The American riders are the closest to his philosophy. The Italians used to be but they have gone more to the continental system. Our philosophy is based on racehorse balance, and it works, because most competitions are decided against the clock. Our seat is between a dressage seat and a racing seat, a half racing seat. We teach the horse to carry his own motor. We use the whip or spur if necessary, but the horse is responsible for himself, for his motor, and the rider controls this with the half halt. Take and give, that is the greatest principle in riding with the hand and leg, take and give. All the time we are asking the horse to do as much as possible himself. That’s the philosophy of Caprilli, of Whitaker and Lamaze, you can always help the horse, but that is not the heart of the Caprilli philosophy. The last two gold medalists, Eric Lamaze and Rodrigo Pessoa, they are both very forward, light riders.”

“On his death bed, Jack le Goff said to me – I never taught the safety seat except when necessary, for instance at a big drop into water, but if it is not necessary, don’t do it. If you sit in the horse’s back every time, there is less chance of a good jump next day, I guarantee that. The first punishment for the horse is hitting him in the mouth, the second cardinal sin is hitting him in the back, and it is that second cardinal sin that destroys the jump.”

another of George’s themes follows…

Always the message had layers on layers, so while he berated the riders into a better position, George was also developing another of his themes – letting the horse teach itself.

Chris Chugg and Vivant, basic school figures

Watching George teach a group that included a couple of international representatives, drilling them in the basics of the school figures, I remarked to Australia’s eventing coach, Wayne Roycroft, who was sitting next to me, that he wouldn’t dare take his charges back to such basic basics, and he agreed, saying that while he did a lot of very basic work with the squad, the riders would probably kick if he had them riding single file around the school practicing circles and counter canter. I guess it is some measure of the authority that goes with George Morris and all he has done, that very senior, and very successful riders, do exactly what he tells them, and are prepared to put up with his quite physically difficult demand that they be in total control of their bodies the whole time.

And bascis for Wendy Schaeffer

“Come into the corners, both hands to the outside, come into the circle, both hands in, the inside opening rein, the outside neck rein. Every six strides, ride a little circle, bring the shoulder in, so the horse is light in the shoulder. To lighten the horse’s shoulder make a little shoulder-in. What is important is not the shoulder but the haunch, you must be able to fix the haunch on the track…”

“Now up into two point and ride circles in two point. You have to be able to teach your horses every movement in two seats: full-seat and half seat, or two point.”

“Now let’s think about contact. Contact has four points: 1. It is straight from the elbow to the mouth, 2. It is steady, 3. It is definite and 4. It is elastic.”

“Nowadays people are very interested in the computer, and they don’t read books. We read books, we were avid readers in the 50s, 60s, 70s – I have about 300 books that I have read at least once, some of them, five or ten times. It’s in these books that your learn these great principles that I try to teach. You can’t learn enough in a clinic, you have to have something behind that. The best advice I can give, is read books, learn all those basics because if you don’t know from reading, about position on horseback, the leg aids, the rein aids, the voice aids, the use of the whip, the use of the spur, if you don’t know that, you can’t receive. You have to know a half turn and a zig zag… you have to study the great geniuses throughout history. De la Guerinière, he invented shoulder in, imagine, what it must be to invent that! These principles are very ancient, as I tell my pupils, much brighter people than us invented them, we just have to try and understand them. As we get older, older, older, our perception changes and we understand them better, and perfect them – not reinvent them, not reinvent them.”

“What is the purpose of a circle? Not just to make a round track. What is the purpose of a corner? What is the purpose of half pass? People don’t really understand riding, they do it, they go through the motions, they might execute it, but real understanding doesn’t come very quick.”

“The important things are so simple to grasp at my age. I have ridden for 65 years, I am obsessed with theory, and obsessed with riding, so I can see the word ‘rhythm’ and as far as I am concerned, really understand it. They are so simple the words, and so simple the principles, but they are not so simple to grasp.

“You must study the aids. No clashing of aids. That is the great French lesson of legs without hands, hands without legs, and gradually combine them. The thing I did with the chestnut I rode today, is abandon the front and attack the back end – the horse understood absolutely clearly that when I closed my legs, he went forward, I relaxed my legs and he came back. That’s legs without hands. Hands without legs. Then you start combining them together, but not initially, it has to be very clear to the horse, or else you are clashing the aids, which you see a lot in every discipline. What I call ‘burning rubber’.”

And before every class, George inspected and commented on the tack: “Every horse, even if you can’t see it, gapes its mouth, that is why I want to see every horse come back tomorrow with a flash nose band.” And, I guess it is no surprise that given the central importance of the stirrup in establishing the seat in George’s system, that he pays particular attention to stirrups. “The stirrup leathers must be even by numbers or throw them out. You must be meticulous in every detail.” He likes good, old fashioned, plain stainless steel stirrups… he can almost live with the black ones if they have enough weight in them but not Greer Butcher’s neon red ones!!!

“I can’t look at those red stirrups, hide them in your disco clothes closet…”

And the reason George is so particular that the stirrup is angled out a little on the foot, is not for appearance sake, it is because ‘with that angle out a little, there is leverage to break the ankle.”

“What is important to me is detail. Your horses go out a lot (in the paddock), they are healthy – most of you are horse people. The British are historically the greatest horse people in regard to welfare, and you inherit that. On top of that you have to learn beautiful turnout. Go to the beauty parlor with your horse, that is the icing on the cake.”

read on


“Be precise with every detail. With that horse I worked this morning. I adjusted my stirrups to what I thought was the correct length, then when I walked off, I thought, ‘a trifle short’. I stopped and dropped them another hole. That is being meticulous, not saying this is good enough, I’ll do this demonstration it doesn’t matter that the stirrup is a hole short, it’s okay. It is not okay. A big problem in this country is a lack of attention to detail, meticulous detail, the little things not the big things.”


“It is a contest of horsemanship. Chugg, you should count backwards from the London Olympics and the Kentucky WEG, and every fence counts. Every horse has a certain number of jumps in him. That is why John Whitaker is so good at keeping horses going when they are 18, 19, 20 years old. Your focus must be horse management. This is a horse contest, all the top riders are good.”

“The first and most important thing for me is management. The stable management is the whole kit and caboodle, the vet, the blacksmith, the groom, that management has to be top class, that can never be good enough. In many cases today, people don’t know when it is not good enough. What keeps you competing is the barn.”

“It is a thinking sport. You see with Michel Robert, Joe Fargis, Hugo Simon, the sport has gotten very old because it relies on brains. It is not like it used to be, blood and guts, where every other horse was on the floor at the Olympics. It isn’t like that now, it is very sophisticated, very heady, that is why Ian Millar is still so good”

“Manage the competitions – that’s where most people let themselves down. McLain Ward, with his father, they are great managers, they are great planners, they plan years ahead. The top people are all very good planners. Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum is a super horsewoman, and has a super planner in Markus, they are one of the great teams in history, they manage her career beautifully.”


Breeding jumpers? Choose from the large range available from International Horse Breeders: www.ihb.com.au 




The Classical Tradition – Part 3 – The Masters of the Nineteenth Century

By Christopher Hector

For all the talk of a classical tradition extend back hundreds (some even say, thousands) of years, really dressage as we know it really started to flower only in the latter half of the nineteenth century…

The first engraving I can find of a horse in extended trot is this one of Baucher – very much a child of the nineteenth century, and to find the next step in the development of the classical tradition, a step that sees the outline of the horse change from a fixed contained never varying outline, to a concertina, with the horse’s frame moving longer and shorter in keeping with the demands of the movement, we must turn to the nineteenth century German master, Gustav Steinbrecht and his work, The Gymnasium of the Horse.

In his preface to the 1935 edition of Gymnasium the great German showjumping rider, Col. H. H. Brinkmann clearly lines up the equestrian principles outlined with the physical properties of the horse:

“Thus we confirm the accuracy of the thesis that even future discoveries will be unable to change Steinbrecht’s system because its principles have been gleaned from nature.”

Steinbrecht was an advocate of the English saddle, not just for hunting and steeplechase but also for dressage riding, because it demanded a balanced seat on the part of the rider:

“While the old masters, on their dressage saddles knew how to advance the art of riding to a high level under greater expenditures of time and strength on the part of horse and rider, we, if we reach the same level with our lighter, more agile, and nobler horses, will have produced a more perfect art since we have attained this goal with nothing but simple, natural means.”

(Page 6 of the Xenophon Edition – how indebted we all are to Ivan Berzugloff not only for his splendid magazine, Dressage & CT, and his excellent Xenophon classics…)
Along with the change of saddles, came a change of seat, or there should be a change, according to Steinbrecht:

“I must remind the reader again and again to give up old prejudices and to derive the rules for the rider’s position only from natural principles. The unchanging so-called prescribed seat to which many instructors stubbornly adhere is the reason that the art has such a bad reputation. It prevents the student from becoming independent on his horse since with such a seat, he will lack the necessary feeling to be able to correctly evaluate his horse’s carriage and movement. The rider who has been schooled in such a seat will present, after a long struggle, not a thoroughly schooled horse – that is a horse whose natural talents have not only been channelled and made subservient by dressage training but have also been developed by suitable exercises – but a wooden machine which, although working mechanically is devoid of all elasticity and freshness in its way of going. Such horses are certainly not likely to produce enthusiasm for the art because their dull, mechanical way of going fatigues the rider and wears the horse out before its time. For that reason, many riders feel safer and more comfortable on a horse with good conformation that moves in its natural carriage, than on a confused, so-called dressage horse that has been robbed of all its vitality. Whoever does not want to degrade this beautiful art to a mere trade – an art that has been held in high esteem from early times and will continue to be appreciated as long as there is courage and chivalry in the human race – should first be diligent in exercising his own body and making all its parts agile and mobile, so that his stiff limbs will not act as shackles on better understanding and feeling.”

next, riding with one hand or two…

While Steinbrecht was very much closer to the modern dressage style than any of his predecessors, there are still a few crucial differences, for instance, horses were still ridden predominantly with one hand, although styles were changing:

“However, guiding a horse with the left hand alone requires a completely trained horse that is capable of responding to the curb only. The old masters, who had time and means for such thorough work, knew only the curb bit for the well-ridden horse and placed their little finger between its two reins. For preparing the green horse, they used the cavesson. Today, since we have once and for all added the bridoon and its two reins to the curb bit, we admit right from the start that we do not intend to, or are not able to, work out horses to such perfection that they can be mastered under all circumstances with only the curb reins in the left hand… Because of the differences in our bits, and primarily the less perfect carriage of our horses, we must also modify the hand aids just as we must adapt our seat to the changed conformation of our present-day horses and to the English saddle.”


 Otto Lorke and the beginning of the ‘modern’ style of dressage

By the time of Steinbrecht, dressage is moving away from the fixed outline of the Renaissance horse – even in 1909, this photo of Otto Lörke looks much more ‘modern’ – next month we will see what a crucial role Lörke played in shaping dressage in the twentieth century. I guess it is because it took so long for a translation of Gymnasium of the Horse to appear in English, that Steinbrecht is largely unquoted in English language equestrian discourse, a pity since his words make far greater sense thansome who are more regularly cited.

Consider: “Correct dressage training, is, therefore, a natural gymnastic exercise for the horse, which hardens its strength and supples its limbs. Such exercise causes the strong parts of its body to work harder in favour of the weaker ones. The latter are strengthened by gradual exercise, and hidden forces, held back because of the horse’s natural tendency towards laziness, are thus awakened. The end result is complete harmony in cooperation of the individual limbs with these forces, enabling the horse to continuously and effortlessly perform, with only the slightest aids from the rider, such regular and beautiful movements as it would demonstrate on its own only fleetingly in moments of excitement.”

 James Fillis was a controversial figure in the nineteenth century

Steinbrecht was opposed to the unnatural school of Baucher – and to his disciples like James Fillis.

Steinbrecht certainly saw his horsemanship as being natural horsemanship as opposed to the artificiality of the French school of Baucher: “The greatest example of such quackery is Mr Baucher, who with the audacity of his claims and the enormity of his promises, has brought the entire equestrian world into uproar and confusion. His method consists in gradually and cunningly robbing the horse of its natural power, which Mr Baucher considers to be the enemy, and to thus make it subservient. He renders his horses so wilted and limp by unnatural bending and twisting in place and so thoroughly robs their natural forward action, that the poor creatures lose all support and are no longer good for any practical purpose.”

And again:

“If I have pointed out in these general comments the difficulties involved in the natural training of the riding horse on a scientific basis, this was not done to frighten amateurs away from the more serious studies of the art, but rather to motivate them from such studies. With a correct view of the principles of this art, it is quite possible to find a way to the desired goal by independent endeavours. Our generation is neither lacking chivalrous spirit nor in talent, nor in the means to return this beautiful art to its highest flourish…”

“The first prerequisite for reawakening a general interest in the art of riding and a contribution in this respect is the main reason for writing this book is to ban from the art everything that is stiff, forced, and pedantic and to overcome the prejudices that a man on a horse must carry himself in strange posture, and that the dressage horse has to walk around as if screwed into an instrument of torture. Instead, the equestrian art is for both the type of natural gymnastic exercise with which it is possible to attain and demonstrate the highest development of physical strength and skill.”

This passage would seem to me to encapsulate what is important about the Classical Tradition, and with Steinbrecht, the connection between the horse’s natural physical and mental properties and the methods and aims of dressage training – only hinted at in previous texts – is made explicit. This does not mean that Steinbrecht, any more than any of the previous writer / horsemen, has ‘the last word’ on the subject, since obviously, as Steinbrecht himself stressed, changes in the breeding and the conformation of the horses, will produce further changes and refinements.


Otto Lörke on the Thoroughbred Chronist – who carried Fritz Thiedermann to a medal at Helsinki in 1952

Here is the next in the series:

The Classical Tradition… The Training Scale Part Four: How old are our principles?

George Morris – Jumping Past and Present

An interview with Christopher Hector… Photos by Roz Neave and archives…

One of the intriguing things about the equestrian tradition, is how much of it is handed on from generation to generation by gifted horsemen, developing and becoming richer in the process. Back in 2008, we talked to George Morris and asked him:

But is the sport better?


“Of course lots is better, much is quicker, and of course you could write a thesis on what was better, what is better, what could be better – yes, the sport has lost a lot, but the sport gained a lot.”

“What it has lost the most to me is time. We used to have time for our horse, we used to have time at home, at horse shows, which were great social gatherings. There isn’t now the time, and that colours everything that happens with a horse, and with a horse show. Time and space – my sport of jumping is taking the country to an arena, and you take away time and space and the space gets smaller and tighter and the time gets quicker, there isn’t time to manicure and manage natural fences. Natural fences present an unexpected problem to a horse that hasn’t been given time in his schooling to learn to deal with them. That’s our biggest enemy now, time and space.”

morrisAachen Night Owl

George Morris and Night Owl at Aachen 1960, when the fences were natural

The horses have changed a lot – I was talking to Melanie Smith Taylor at Aach about the almost total domination of the sport by European Warmbloods…

“Everything has become universal. Universal riding style, universal training, universal horses, universal courses, it is a very much smaller world, and what has happened to the horse is that it is the American Thoroughbred with substance and scope, and the European horse with Thoroughbred refinement – it’s one horse now, and you don’t see the differentiation. Even if you saw a Thoroughbred horse now, it would be a boned horse, or if you see a Holsteiner, it is a blood horse. It is the universal horse but that has happened because the world has shrunk. This Brazilian helps that French girl, that German helps that American rider, it is one much tighter smaller family. In my day, the Chileans were a force to be reckoned with, in the early thirties, the Japanese won the gold medal in jumping. It was very separate and very distant, very individualistic. In a very funny way there was more universality in those days than these days. Lots of things are different, but as we say, everything changes but everything remains the same…”

When you went looking for horses in Europe in the 70’s and bought Calypso, were you looking for a European horse that looked more like the Thoroughbreds you had grown up with? 

“Yes, we always gravitated – as you did in Australian and New Zealand – to the Thoroughbred horse. I really was the first person in the very late 70s with Melanie Smith that really started that ball rolling. The odd horse had come over from Europe by accident, but it was an odd event. We were in Aachen, I had Melanie Smith and Michael Matz, two individuals, and we bought a wonderful horse from a Spanish rider, Val de la Loire. At Aachen I bumped into an old Dutch dressage trainer, Harry Hillhice, who I’d grown up with in the United States, he was a professional dressage trainer in the United States, training ladies, early early on at Oxbridge. At Aachen he said, ‘George, I want to show you a couple of horses, they are a very short distance away. We’ll have dinner and bring you back by 10 or 11 o’clock. We went with Harry, I got into the beer – which in those days I did more than I do now – and got very tipsy very quickly.”



Melanie Smith and George Morris went looking to find horses in Europe and discovered a super-star, World Cup Champion – Calypso

“We looked at a little horse, he must have been 15.3, a little stallion, Vivaldi, and I convinced Melanie and her mother and the owners to buy this little speed horse. He wasn’t very expensive, he wasn’t very big, but I loved the horse. I woke up the next morning and said to Melanie ‘What did I do?’ Luckily this little Vivaldi turned out to be a world beater as a speed horse – a metre forty maximum. That horse led Melanie, and Neil Eustice, who was her owner at the time, to re-contact Harry Hillhice.”

“I wasn’t there at the time, I was in America giving a clinic, and I think Neil Eustace was on an antique trip or something, and he called Harry who said ‘I have a horse for you.’ I wasn’t there, Melanie wasn’t there, she was the demonstrator at a clinic of mine in Kentucky. They looked at the horse, and the owner, Neil Eustace was a great guy, I wouldn’t say a horseman particularly, but he looked at the horse in the stall, and bought the horse. I said to Melanie, you have to ride the horse, you have to get over there and sit on that horse, because it could be dangerous to your health if it is not a good jumper. She jumped on an airplane, got there and loved the horse. So they bought Calypso.”

“By early 1978, the ball was rolling in America for the European horse. The Americans fell in love with Calypso, they liked Val de la Loire and Vivaldi, but the horse America fell in love with was Calypso. In the late 70s I bought another Dutch horse, Olympus, also by Lucky Boy, and he was a very handsome horse – more of a half bred type, and I was one of the first to show a European horse in the Hunter division, and he was never first, and he was never fourth, he was always second or third. Now all the Hunters are European. That was the tipping point, 77, 78, with those Dutch horses.”

But Vivaldi and Calypso were by Lucky Boy, a Thoroughbred stallion… were you deliberately looking for European horses that looked more like the horses you were used to seeing?

“Even today when I look at horses in Europe, I gravitate intuitively   and instinctively towards the Thoroughbred horse, that’s our base, that’s our background, that’s our upbringing – so they bring out horse after horse after horse, I say ‘that one’ because that’s the blood horse. The big footed, straight pasterned, no wither, clunker, I say ‘ I don’t want to see that one…’”


Beezie Madden, George describes her as a ‘giant talent’ 

What was Calypso’s big strength?

“Actually when she got him home to Connecticut, I went up to see Calypso, and I said, I liked his bounce. He’s not a big horse, I like his type, he was a pony type, but a Thoroughbred pony type, and he wasn’t particularly good in front. I was suspicious of him up there, but once Melanie got him to Florida and she entered him in the first preliminary – the class preparatory to open jumpers, he was a winner. He was very very fast, he was very careful, he had sufficient scope, although he was the type, you didn’t know if he had Olympic scope, or World Cup scope, until he did it, but he won me very quickly. The initial impression was that I wasn’t crazy about his front end.”

You worked on that front end technique?

“No no, in my system we don’t work on a horse’s front end. A horse jumps with a style, that will get better, that will get worse, that will maintain. If well ridden, consistently ridden, gymnastic jumping, course jumping, it takes care of itself, or it doesn’t take care of itself. God made that – and this horse being very very intelligent, that style got better. If that horse was a chicken or stupid, that style would have got worse. You can’t fix that. That horse just got better, he was a very smart horse, he was just a winner. He hated to touch fences.”

You were talking about your admiration for Gerd Heuschmann, do you think it is time for all the equestrian sports to take a step back and look hard at how horse friendly the training methods are?

“I am very critical myself of the way people walk, trot, canter horses, even riders who are great over fences, who have a knack for jumping, I am often critical of their flat work. I was educated by icons – Richard Wätjen, a German icon before the War, taught me. Bert de Nemethy, an icon for all the world, taught me. Gunnar Andersen was my last teacher – the great Danish man that even the Germans bowed to. I never had lesser teachers so I was taught the difference very early, and that makes it very difficult for me to look at lots of riders. I’m not saying I am better than they are, just that I was very well-educated to what was correct for the physical and mental apparatus of the horse.”

“What they taught me has always stood me in good stead. It’s worked for me and my students. I first saw Gerd Heuschmann’s book reviewed in your magazine, which I always read, and I don’t read many magazines. I read that very thoroughly and I was very intrigued and I loved it. Very quickly I got a copy of the book, and while I’m not a vet and some of it was very vet orientated, I was in total agreement with the whole book. If I am in total agreement with some horse literature, I say – yes. If it is something that that contradicts what I really believe inside, I say – no. This book, cover to cover, I said yes, yes, yes. He’s writing and taking pictures of what I’m thinking. We have to take a really hard look at what we are doing physically to horses, and what we are doing to horses mentally.”


“Basics are basics are basics – the horse has to properly work his body, and at the same time properly working a horse physically works him properly mentally. You can change horses over time, amazingly – it’s impossible to make a bad horse a good horse, you can make an adequate horse a pretty decent horse, you can make a good horse a very good horse, you can maintain a great horse so he doesn’t slip. Anyone can ruin a horse in a heart beat… and what is happening is this vicious circle of working incorrectly, veterinary need, working incorrectly, more veterinary maintenance, that’s a vicious circle.”

“I don’t remember with de Nemethy, lame horses. I don’t remember with de Nemethy, vets around the clock. In the 50s and 60s I don’t remember missing horse shows because of veterinary problems. Yes, we had the great vet, Danny Marks at a Championship, but we didn’t have vets in residence, we didn’t have injections maintaining, maintaining, maintaining, maintaining. I personally have never used massage or acupunture – I’m not saying it’s wrong – but I exercise my body, and I think that’s how to deal with animals – to properly exercise their bodies on a daily basis. I have great friends who are vets, and I respect vets, but I think this obsession with vets, is preceded by incorrect riding.”

It was lovely at Rotterdam watching Beezie Madden warm up her horses – it was just so uncomplicated, so forward, and yet she was doing some quite complicated lateral work at the same time…

“Because it is simple. The classicists from Xenophon through the Renaissance to France, to Italy, to Germany, they were brilliant. Imagine people inventing the impression of impulsion, the exactness of straightness, imagine inventing half pass, piaffe, passage, all the classical movements that make the horse better to ride. The classicists taught us the rules centuries ago, and I am very reluctant to go off the track of these rules. As a rider and a horseman, every day here at Aachen, I have ridden Beezie’s horses, and Beezie has such a fabulous attitude, she is so humble that she watches what I do with her horses – Beezie Patton Madden, who won the Grand Prix of Aachen last year. I don’t stray. I’m not saying I am Reiner Klimke, or Ludger Beerbaum or Bill Steinkraus, I never was that talent, but I don’t like to stray from what the classicists taught us.”

But you worry at some of the new techniques, the technique of hyperflexion…

“The Masters from the very beginning taught us there were two types of flexions. The first is lateral, where the horse turns his head slightly, yields his jaw to one rein. The second is direct flexion where the neck is straight and the horse yields his lower jaw to both reins. This flexion, especially this lateral flexion, is a very good technique because it relaxes the jaw, which in turn bends the poll which is a seat for resistance in the horse. Ancient classical principle, flexion de la bouche – the problem is that some of today’s riders took that great technique to an extreme, so that it has become a defect. That happens with every technique… Bill Steinkraus said to me, we invented the crest release, now I bet you wish you hadn’t…”

You are still riding horses here at Aachen…

“Beezie lets me ride them because she has a lot of horses here. I ask her, and she lets me, and I think she likes it. I do it at home too, with Laura Kraut and different people. Beezie has a very big day because she has four horses here at Aachen and a lot of classes, so to help her get through the day, I ride one a day. She watches and she is still learning from what I am doing with her horse. I’m now 70, this is my 50th year of riding a horse at Aachen. Still every step I am on a horse, I’m thinking about what is happening with the horse, what I am doing, what could be better, where is there resistance, how to break up the resistance. It’s not that I am hacking the horse, I’m a very intellectual rider because that is the only way I made it. I am not a natural confident rider, so I had to make it by brains. I have to bring Meredith Michaels into that whole idea, because Meredith was always very gutsy against the clock but Meredith had to work at it, and Meredith was always very very smart, and that’s her greatest asset. People ask what’s your most important aid on a horse? Some say seat, some say leg, some say hand – no, it’s your brain. That is Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum’s greatest asset, she is very very smart. She went to Princeton, and that’s no easy thing to do. That’s how I ride a horse, by thinking. Every second I am with a horse, I am thinking…”

You said that the great horses were God given, does God make the Beezie Maddens – was she like that when you first met her?

“Beezie Madden always had a giant talent. She’s got everything, giant talent, an emotion that never quits, cool as a cucumber, like Meredith, she’s super intelligent, she is very to herself in her work. She rides any any any horse, and she is respected around the world by the top men, she can ride any horse. She is very special.”

And George Morris is very very special: A horseman and a thinker. The sport of jumping may be better in some respects, worse in others, but it is very much the better for the contribution of George Morris. Long may he continue to influence its development.


Morris, George H


Rotspon – Hanoverian Stallion of the Year

Rotspon HERO

1995 168 cm Black

Breeder: Hans-Heinrich Müller

Rotspon has been the most successful Rubinstein in the Hanoverian breeding district – and perhaps part of this success comes from a powerful mare line. The dam sire, Argentan, was famed as a ‘mare maker’, with the added bonus of Pik Bube I and Wendekreis.

A full-sister to the grand dam, Jessika, bred to Matcho AA produced the Celle stallion, Morning Star.

Rotspon was reserve champion of his licensing and the following year, easily won his performance test with a score of 145.67. He was a particular star for the test riders, giving them all such a pleasant ride.

Rotspon has consistently produced top selling auction horses at the Verden auction. As of 2014, he is the sire of 157 state premium mares so far, including Romanze, the champion mare of the 2002 Ratje-Niebuhr Show in Verden.


Rotspon has been responsible for twenty licensed stallions, including Re Primeur and Royal Blend both of whom were awarded the Burchard Müller Prize as the best stallions of their respective age classes.

His son Rascalino was champion stallion of his Performance test in Adelheidsdorf in 2004. Royal Blend was the premium stallion of the 2003 Hanoverian Licensing and was second at the Celle stallion performance test in October 2004. At the Verden Indoor Riding Tournament of 2005, he was awarded the Burchard Müller prize as best stallion of the 2001 age class.


Royal Blend

However, it should be noted that the then Director of the Hanoverian Verband, Dr Wilkens, in his review of the 2000 stallion licensing, warned that for Rotspon to be successful he needed carefully selected mares:

“After viewing the first extensive group of stallion prospects by Rotspon, we advise the breeders who wish to breed to this sire to make sure that the dam has a well shaped top-line and very correctly positioned hind legs. His offspring show overall a very nice trot movement, an attractive canter, and a satisfactory or even better walk.” Like all the descendents of Rubinstein, who was a wind-sucker himself, there is a slight worry that the line is prone to the vice.

Rotspon stripped…

and under saddle…

In the 2015, Hanoverian Stallion Book, Rotspon is credited with 888 competition progeny with winnings of €680,105 – 767 dressage placegetters with 80 progeny competing at S level.

Rotspon’s FN dressage breeding index is 135 with a jumping index of 74. His Hanoverian dressage index is 126 with a jumping index of 79. In keeping with Dr Wilkens’ warning, he has a negative 78 score for hind legs.

In the 2016 Hanoverian book, the progeny stands at 913, with winnings of €759,161. Although he has produced nine horses that have won more than €10,000 in the dressage ring, none are stars. His FN breeding value for dressage is 132, for jumping, 72. His Hanoverian values are 126 for dressage and 80 for jumping.

He is the sire of 17 licensed sons including Rascalino and Royal Blend.

In the 2017 Hanoverian book, he has 940 competitors with winnings of €813,079. Twelve dressage horses have won €10,000, the most successful being Rotwelsch DE with €23,451.

On the new 2017 FN dual breeding values, he scores 127 as a young horse sire, 129 for his open competitors. He has a Hanoverian value of 125 for dressage, and 79 for jumping. He scores a lowly 94 for type and a worse, 88, for conformation.

In 2018, he was awarded Hanoverian Stallion of the Year. He has 29 Licensed sons in Germany and he has sired 122 State Premium mares.


Getting it Right with Gill Rolton

Story by Chris Hector, Photos by Roz Neave

What could be nicer? A perfect setting, some talented horses and riders, a respectable cross country course, a cool sunny day, and Gill Rolton is in full swing, doing what she loves, teaching…

The venue is the Main Ridge Pony Club on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. It all started out when Gill donated a day’s teaching to an auction to raise money for the Victorian Olympic Council, and was ‘bought’ by the Pony Club… And from then on it just ‘growed’ until Gill ended teaching for seven solid days.

What does the outside rein do?

She asks her pupils.

“Keeps the horse straight…”

“Yes, it controls the outside shoulder, it helps in the halts, it must always be a connecting feel, if the connection is too strong it blocks the inside hind leg. The contact must be elastic in both reins.”

And so it goes. What is the function of the outside leg? The inside leg? The inside rein?

Gill is one eventing instructor who takes her dressage seriously, spending time last year in Germany with the top instructor, Jean Bemelmans. Gill is well aware that international eventing competition has moved to another level in the first phase, and that if Australia is to regain its eventing crown it is going to take some serious work on the flat to get there…

I guess there will be nothing new in the dressage work for readers of this magazine. It is straight out of the textbook but sensitively applied to these predominately Thoroughbred horses.

“We want connection not collection, elastic contact, activity behind, now let them chew the bit out of your hand, stretching down. If the horse won’t stretch, ask for a tiny counter flexion, just a few seconds, then give back, with your legs pushing the horse’s neck down, keep that light elastic contact, feel the hind legs stepping through. Now give away the outside rein – HORROR, give AWAY the outside rein? Yes, you can check that your inside leg is holding him out. Now give away the inside rein, check that you have him on the outside rein and that the connection is still elastic.”

“Don’t be afraid of letting the horse go down deep in front. There are riders who are scared they will not get their horse back up again – it is really no problem to ride the horse back up again.”

Erin Callahan and the 7yo Accomplice. The chestnut gelding is bred to event, being by Brilliant Invader, and out of Connectic Kate, who was the dam of Warren Lampard’s advanced eventer Bootlegger. Twenty-four year old Erin is a dentist, and has been working with Accomplice over the past 12 months, with three starts in Preliminary… 

It would seem that Gill is even trying to get rid of that dreaded eventer’s elbow: “Think of your elbows as hinges, bent, hands level and together. Sit square and even in the saddle. Open your knees, open your thigh, let the weight go to your heels, keep your knee soft…”

Gill then starts on an interesting exercise, getting her riders to make trot to walk transitions, and back to trot, making the time in walk shorter and shorter until the riders just start the downward transition then ride on without going to walk.

“Keep the hands soft, shorter and shorter then out, so the hind leg comes under and pushes off, and lightens the forehand. Close up without pulling and GO!”

next we move to jumping

Warming up the jump – twenty-year-old Nadine Rotherham with her 8yo TS Swampfox. Nadine has had the horse for two and a half years and is competing Grade 1, Pre-Novice.

It’s sweet work and all the horses improve, get softer, stretchier and start to move. Time for a delicious lunch under the trees with Main Ridge members before setting off to tackle the cross-country track.

But before they hit the track, Gill wants to see them over a few little cross rails…

“We’d already done a warm up in walk, trot and canter, and made sure they were loose and forward, and on the aids – going forward, coming back. Before they go cross-country I like to see them jump a fence. I hadn’t seen any of these horses jump before, so I want to see them over a few cross rails and showjumps before we go over the solid stuff. I like to get them up in the air to see how they actually jump. Trot in, over a cross rail, then canter down in an even five strides to another cross, and then gradually build that exercise up into a bigger fence. It’s just an exercise to work on straightness and line, rhythm and balance – and you can also work on the rider’s position, make sure they ride to where they are looking, and you can also look at the horse’s technique.”


The skinny is all the go with course builders, so it was no surprise when Gill had her crew jumping a 44-gallon drum…

“These days the course designers are getting trickier and trickier with narrows and the horses have to be schooled to recognize a narrow and draw to the fence. Horses are so used to jumping coloured fences and poles but they are not so used to jumping a solid narrow obstacle with poles on either side of it – they have to learn to draw into that narrow and jump it. These days you find course designers doing more little stumps, little round tables, all sorts of things, which are quite different, and you need to give the horse a feel for them. Until the horse learns not to get too deep, and the riders get a feel for riding their line and keeping their eye up, they are going to be in trouble. So you work on that over something that is not fixed, something you can pull apart and put back together again, before you try it on those solid cross country fences.”

First get him used to the drop – then try the fence. Accomplice learns about Sunken Roads…

Gill is so fanatical about never letting a horse go around a fence, that she has her own ‘skinnies’ made portable, so after they have been jumped they can be removed from the working arena, and no one gets the idea they pass them by…

Out to the bush and the first challenge was a pretty straightforward post and rails…

“The fence is in shadows though, the whole cross country track tends to be shadowed, so we need to get the horse’s eye on the fences in the shadows, it’s funny lighting.”

“The task for the horse and rider is to pick a nice spot and just keep on coming to that single fence. We are working over a little vertical, then a bigger vertical on five or six strides depending how you ride it, but on a funny line in with a big grass tree in the way so you had to make a decision: left or right. It was better to come in on the left hand side. You had to actually jump slightly across the front of the fence to jump out and get a curving line back in the six, or if you could pick a line that was a little more direct you could get there in five.”

“Next to that was the Grade 1 fence – a bit taller post and rails, still on the left hand side of our grass tree, on more of a curving left line to the first part. When you jumped that it was quite a forward two strides, a regulation two strides but because you are coming off a turn, it meant that you had to really ride to make to two strides. Then it was a matter of sit up and keep the horse in balance because it was a waiting four strides down to the next one. If you had a forward enough canter and a big enough jump over the second one, then you could keep on coming down in three but certainly in training, that was not the thing to do, much better to sit up and wait for the four.”

It was round the corner and through the bush to one of the more interesting fences on this Ewan Kellett re-vamped course, a Sunken Road with a skinny coming in.

“The Sunken Road was quite spooky because once again the shadows and the light played a part. You are coming down a track where it is difficult once again to get a line on it, to a narrow roll-top, to quite a short one stride down into a two stride sunken road. If you walked from the base of your roll top to the edge of the drop down, it was about 15 feet, so it was very short. But when you looked at the middle of the rolltop to the edge, it was about 18/19 feet which is actually quite a reasonable one stride distance, given once again that you are coming down a track without a particularly good line onto it.”

“Because we had a couple of younger horses that hadn’t done anything like that before, we popped up the out of the Sunken Road, then we popped inside the roll-top and down the step and two strides and out…”

“The nice little chestnut horse (Erin’s Accomplice) was really quite careful. He didn’t know what to do with his front legs, so we took time to get him confident going down the step. I spoke to the riders about how to use their body going down a drop, how to keep the horse in balance going through a fence like that and the importance of keeping your eye up and on your line, so that you can ride the line forward and straight and in balance, and give the horse every opportunity to do it well.”

Then we encountered something that an Australian version of  the House on the course at Saumur, except in the French version there is water inside the house, whereas the Main Ridge version, it was just a ride through…

“Basically in the shed it was a very long one stride, or a very short two if you had rails in and rails out. So we opted for no rails out, and a smallish jump in, just to give them the feeling of jumping into an enclosed space. You were going from light into dark, and once again, the sort of exercise horses need to do and become confident with. Compared with Saumur, where they have a big shed and jump into water, this was much softer, but still a good version of a jump into darkness.”


It was down the windy sandy track to a Hexagon, offering multiple options…

“We had a good big calf shelter first, then seven forward or a more waiting eight strides to a post and rails, a forward one stride to a vertical and another forward one stride oxer out. The calf shelter got them going forward, you could jump that and keep riding. For those who could keep riding through the line, it rode beautifully. Anyone who hesitated coming into the vertical found the distance very long – which is going to be your problem there. Our nice little chestnut did chip an extra on in there but Erin did a great job of keeping her focus, keeping her eye up, keeping her leg on – the horse just put in its little short one and she kicked on out. It was one of those you have to pick up on a forward stride because of the distance.”


Nicole Wernke is twenty-one and her gelding, Connection is 13 years old. Nicole has been riding him for four years and recently won the Preliminary at Camperdown.

And the experience of the mega talented ‘baby’ chestnut raised the question of the delicate line between giving the horse the experience it needs while at the same time, not frying its brain…

“Absolutely, that’s why I took so long on the Sunken Road, to get the horse confident going down the drop before we approached the narrow, and she did that super. By the time we got to the Hexagon, I think he was getting tired. On reflection, maybe I could have said, don’t bother jumping this line. But he was jumping so well and so confidently. It was just his inexperience, he was looky and Erin wasn’t quite quick enough on the landing to get her leg on and keep him coming, that’s when he put in the chip. So yes it is a fine line…”


Catherine Tolliday with Parkview Make Believe, and eleven year old by the Warmblood stallion, Close Encounters. Seventeen-year-old Catherine has been competing in Pre-Novice eventing and showjumping with the dark brown gelding.

Is that a case of ‘kids don’t try this at home’ – do you go to an instructor to learn these things?

“Very important to have someone with you who knows what they are doing because if you are not sure of the distance yourself, or you are not sure of the way the horse is jumping, then over solid, fixed fences, it can be quite dangerous. It is always best to have an instructor with you – and then obviously if things do go wrong, there is someone to help re-build confidence.”

On to the final fence, some fairly friendly water…

“The water was friendly but it always causes a lot of problems at the competition they have here, because it is a little black square and you are coming off turns on tracks where they don’t see the water until the last minute. Often the riders come in way too fast and the horses are frightened by their reflection in this black hole, and they stop, or they have problems. It is the sort of fence that you need to work them up to. That’s what we did, put the horses in the water, schooled through the water, getting them walking and trotting and confident before we put them through the lines. One line was just a barrel on a curving two stride to get on to the drop into the water. The main line, the Grade 1 line, was a Trakehner, six or seven strides into a bigger roll top into water, two strides in the water, then out and a waiting three to another narrow roll top. It was good, the horses and riders all coped very well.”

Do you enjoy teaching?

“I love teaching anyone who wants to learn. I don’t mind who I teach as long as they are enthusiastic…”

This article first appeared in THM April 2006.


George Morris – Timeless Truths – Part One

GeorgeMorrisBackground 2Story by Christopher Hector and Photos by Roz Neave

If the role of the trainer is to re-state simple truths over and over again, there is no trainer in the universe who can do the job anywhere near as well as George Morris. The most amazing thing is that even if you are a serial GM clinic attendee, I’ve been addicted since 1988, each time those timeless truths come packaged in a whole new set of startling sentences, each time with insights that are as fresh as tomorrow’s dawn…

So it was yet again at the 2011 Clinics at SIEC. At the age of 72, George shows no signs of losing the cutting edge of his wit, or the acuteness of his ability to read horse and rider.GeorgeIntro

At last, it would seem that Australian riders are appreciating the unique opportunity that time with George represents, and clinic organizer, Vicki Roycroft was delighted with the flood of applications for this year’s event, although the world wide wacko weather almost put an end to the whole thing when blizzards closed the Atlanta airport.

“I managed to get to Los Angeles and when I arrived there, I found they had erased my seat. I gave the young lady behind the counter first my decrepit old look, then my Hitlerian look, it’s like training a horse, repeat, repeat, repeat, and I finally was upgraded and made it here…”

What a nice line-up of horses greeted the master in the first group: Hilary Scott and Pro Ratina (an imported mare bred top and bottom to Pilot), Jamie Kermond and BWP Lincoln (by the great Indoctro), Jamie Grant and Vedette (another imported mare, this time by Cassini I out of a grand-daughter of Lucky Boy), Vicki Roycroft and Kartoon (by another great, Quidam de Revel), Danielle Butcher and the amazing Anglo Arab, Twins Quantum and Amanda Madigan and an exciting daughter of Vivant, Vigo.

In case you missed any of the countless stories I have written on George and his teaching, he is a stickler for detail and hates lazy or slack behaviour. “It’s a problem, jumping riders take short cuts, they can’t be bothered adjusting their stirrup leathers. Most of them end up riding in a chair seat, and what causes a chair seat? Short stirrups. In my system we have three, four, five lengths, and now I want your leathers at least two holes longer in a riding length. We have a riding seat, a jumping seat, a dressage seat and a racing seat, and you have to acquire all four.”

And of course, even in walk, there has to be total concentration: “I know you are only walking, but don’t tap with your legs. One blow with both spurs if necessary, but don’t tap, tap, tap, and raise your hands. I don’t want low, fixed, dead hands – don’t drop your hands. Your arm must be flexible with a supple elbow oscillating at the walk with the horse’s mouth. The contact must be even on both sides, invite the horse to stretch to your hands, and if the horse raises its head, lift your hands and softly push the horse to the bit.”

GeorgeMorrisJammedHands-Mar11Don’t drop your hands…GeorgeMorrisCarryHands-Mar11

Supple elbow…

It was into trot and right from the first step, George wanted the riders to establish a rhythm. Trot eight to ten strides, transition to walk, three or four strides then back to trot, working all the time on making the horse light to the aids. George was concentrating on contact: “Close your hand, don’t drop your hands. There should be a straight line to the horse’s mouth, and none of this left / right pulling – I HATE THAT!”GeogeMorrisEvenContact-Mar11

The contact must be even on both sides

If this feels like the most basic of dressage lessons, you are right, but consider this – this is an elite group of Australian riders who need basic dressage lessons. Is that scary?

But it is a very good basic dressage lesson, and if half a dozen of our top riders can benefit from it, I suspect we all can. And I suspect that lots of it has to do with being ‘meticulous’, one of George’s favourite words:

“Ride deep into the corners, be meticulous about your dressage. Now come out in shoulder in, and remember that you fix the haunches and displace the shoulder. Think first about riding the hind legs, you are too busy riding the horse’s neck.”


Danielle and Twins Quantum… shoulder in

Time to canter: “For the canter we want the horse on the outside rein, with the outside leg slightly back and we prompt with the inside leg. There is a slight flexion to the inside, and the inside leg gives the impulsion.”GeorgeMorrisAmandaCanter-Mar11

Amanda and Vigo

Cut to canter / walk / canter transitions – lots of them. Eight to ten strides canter, two or three strides walk, canter, walk, canter, walk, then a half turn in canter to proceed in counter canter. But still the riders had to work on contact:

“Take for two/three give, give, don’t hold. Take and give, that will give you self-carriage. These are exercises to collect, collection not by draw reins, but by correct riding.”

And it is not all contact: “Everything is legs, legs, legs, everything is bringing the horse to the head, not bringing the head to the body. You are all obsessed with seat, I’m obsessed with leg.”

The spectators are speculating – which one will he pick to ride? It’s Jamie Kermond’s Lincoln, a horse that has shown a tendency to go above the bit and that is just why George has selected him…

“Don’t pull the head down, drive the head down. Low open stiff hands affects your position, you need steady but supple contact…”

As always George is a horse appreciator (Riders, even spectators can sometimes feel the rough edge of his tongue, but I have never ever seen him put down a horse) and he likes the Indoctro gelding: “This is a lovely horse. Oh what a horse.”GeorgeLincoln-Mar11

Oh what a horse… BSW Lincoln!

George is just sitting there, letting the horse find its own balance, riding tiny canter voltes: “I don’t push the horse, I don’t work – the horse works. The first thing is to get the horse in front of my legs. Watch my hands, it’s not this zig zag garbage, that’s cheap. I hate this current riding style, bringing the head to the body. Classical riding is to bring the body to the head. This is a leg based system with motion of the horse. This is a system to teach the horse to carry himself.”

Sure enough, the horse is longer, stretching to the bit and looks so much more settled when George is finished with him, and Jamie is counselled to change his ways: “Don’t set your hands on the wither, the hand belongs to the mouth, not the wither, don’t fix your hands so stiff, copy what I did. Self-carriage is the Holy Grail of riding, it is not so popular today, with all this helping, helping, helping.”

Over a jump, George is no fan of the famed American crest release: “Amanda, not that crest release, hold your hands alongside the neck.”GeorgeMorrisamandaRelease-Mar11

When you halt, you halt in precisely the right place: “Stop at a specific place, come to the second corner then halt. This is specific riding.”

Specific riding but the horse is allowed the freedom to make mistakes… when a horse bungles its way over a jump, George is happy:

“Let the horse learn not to twist and hang, don’t help the horse. Let the horse be awkward and teach himself not to be awkward.”

And don’t get the impression that George spends all his time abusing his students, he is equally quick to praise, so when Hilary Scott finishes her line with a lovely corner into a square halt, of her own initiative, “Hilary that is dressage…. Beautiful, she is a great student.”GeorgeMorrisHilaryCanter-Mar11

Hilary and Pro Ratina

“What we are doing is a combination of French and German dressage and Italian jumping and some people might think the light racing seat is old fashioned and out-of-date, but look at Eric Lamaze, look at Rodrigo Pessoa, and to ride like they do requires very good dressage, legs and stirrups not just seat.”GeorgeMorrisRebezoRodrigoPessoaLR

Rodrigo and Rebozo at Kentucky

As George points out on numerous occasions, the halt is the beginning and the end of the Grand Prix dressage test, and every halt should be a dressage exercise. “The horse stops in front of you, you should feel like he’s walking (into the halt).”

The position of the rider’s foot is critical at all times – the rider can be battling through the toughest of GM’s tough lines and he doesn’t care that you made it to the other side leaving all the rails in the cups, “Adjust your stirrup, drop your heel, this position displaces your weight to your feet.”

And if you think all this is very complicated and hard to understand, you are wrong, as he tells Amanda Madigan: “Come on Amanda, don’t be so complicated. You make riding complicated my dear.”

Even when he likes what he sees, he wants more. Jamie Kermond turns super tight on the top of a Liverpool to make the seven stride distance George wants and is rewarded with a ‘perfect’, followed by “but repeat it, so I know it wasn’t luck. You really have to be on the ball on the top of that Liverpool to get the seven – it is not as easy as it looks, you have to have conviction. It is not just the jumping – the riding is critical. The trick is to not rush the Liverpool.”


Each and every item of tack is critically evaluated, with the emphasis on the critical: “I don’t like these white ‘happy mouth’ bits. If I see a ‘happy mouth’ bit, I can guarantee the horse has an unhappy mouth.”

Every jumping exercise is related to a dressage exercise, thus George had the riders jumping a line of three jumps, but the second he dropped his hand, they were to stop – right in front of the last jump. It was an exercise to shorten the horse – to illustrate the range of responses associated with the half halt: first half halt, halt, then rein back.Georgeexcercise1 copy


“This is an exercise to teach the horse to shorten by full halts. When you halt, stretch your spine, make sure your weight is in your heel and with the contact in both hands, elevate the poll. When you stop, don’t grab with your legs, your leg should be just in contact, if you grab then you are using conflicting aids.”

It was about halting, it was also about travelling fast: “This sport is half way to racing, especially today, in the jump off is always boils down to racing and that means you have to get off the horse’s back and adopt the principles of Caprilli, much of the time.”

The second group of riders was also an interesting lot. Hilary Scott and Danni Butcher must have been vying for the ‘Chris Chugg – who can ride in the most sessions’ award, since they both went out one door and came right back in again, this time Hilary was riding Oaks Miss Scarlett (another imported mare, by Papillon Rouge), while Danielle was riding the Thoroughbred ex-eventer, Twins Zenith, Stuart Tinney was riding Kinnordy Rubino, Emma Smith on the ginormous Ego Casablanca (by Camelot Ego Z out of an Aachen mare), Ian Hamilton was mounted on Corriegador (an interestingly bred gelding, a three quarter brother to Conquistador, out of the same mare and by a Clinton/Darco stallion) while Emma Scott is riding her up-and-coming and very talented young eventer, Jenbern Monyana.


As might be expected, the riders get a solid workout on the flat before they are let anywhere near a jump. Contact is once again a major issue, Corriegador is coming above the bit, but George does not want Ian to over-react. “Resist in exactly the same proportion as he resists.”

In the flat work, George expects riders to know the correct terminology for manege riding, and woe betide the rider who confuses a half turn with a reverse half turn – and it is not pedantry since they will be using the reverse half turn as an integral part of the next exercise. Over two fences, reverse half turn back over the fences again. It is an exercise in loosening up and getting with the flow of the jumping: “Ride it loose, don’t stop and start. Keep the pace, keep the position, don’t sit down.”34


Then things start to get more interesting, over a triple bar (with the top two rails at the same height) cut between two on the jumps of the treble and over the water jump and then round over a wall.

“We’ll start with you Stuart, when you see a stride, soften and drop your hands.”

It is the other eventer, Emma Scott, who wins the most effusive praise, “you are an excellent pupil, not quite in the ‘pet’ category yet, but close. Repeat the exercise and progressively make it faster, tighten the line. On that tight turn from the water to the wall, don’t chase it, just think it. Horses are built by these exercises, not by course jumping.”

And as Emma rides the line, George bellows: “STOP.” The angle of her stirrup iron is not perfect. “Now do it faster, faster. Yeah, there we go, don’t protect this horse to death. Despite you, he was better.”


If Emma’s stirrup angle fails to pass muster, Danni has total melt down since she is once again using the red ‘Disco’ irons that incurred the master’s displeasure last year. “You need heavier irons. Proper stainless steel traditional stirrups – if you lose one of those, it is easy to get it back. Plus they look beautiful.”

Now there was another gymnastic – a line of three oxers:37

“Horses have to be taught to be clever. After the quick stuff, now we have the triple of oxers to help shape them. Don’t help the horse with your body, help with your voice, and keep the horse straight to get the bascule. This exercise gets their shape back.”

Veteran GM watchers know that while it is okay – indeed desirable – to deliberately stop in front of a fence, circling is a real no no. “Don’t circle in front of a fence, don’t complicate it, it is called horse jumping, let the horse go to the jump.”

Still George was worried about the quality of the contact: “When the horse resists, don’t take your hands back behind your hip, shorten the rein and fix the hand. NEVER side to side NEVER. The first step to submission is a properly shortened rein. The next step is to fix the hand, and the third and most difficult is to wait for the horse. It might be 30 seconds, it might be three minutes, it might be eight minutes. How old are you Emma? Twenty-two. You are much too young to understand, it is impossible at twenty-two to wait.”BigOxersStuart

“Who is your teacher?”

“I’ve been working with Stuart.”

“When the great Dr Neckermann came to the Los Angeles Olympics, we had a great jumping team, and he said to me, ‘George, don’t think I’m rude, but I think your students ride better than you.’ You are good because you are aggressive and smart – smart and aggressive can conquer the world, aggressive and stupid can do nothing good. Stuart, it is great that even though you are a great rider, you come to this clinic, you are putting yourself subject to abuse, you are an inspiration to the other riders…”

(There was, I understand, a degree of cluck clucking in the web world at George’s alleged rudeness to his students, with a few of the smaller minds vowing that they would never subject themselves to such treatment – they have no need to worry, George would not even acknowledge their existence, he only gets tough on students he respects…)

In part two, George Morris is back with more jumping magic – don’t miss it…

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INSIGHT: Jamie Kermond

I’d heard about his coaching and you can see his methods and his theories, I knew he knew all about horses and how they should be ridden, what I didn’t know was how much he likes to get inside the riders’ minds and work them out from the inside, out. He treats different riders in different ways and really tries to get you out of your comfort zone, to push you, to see what you’ve got, and what you can take.”

It looked as if you don’t do a lot of sitting trot at home?

“You can tell? (Jamie is laughing) It’s something I have to work on… and stop eating so many pies!” (George was also somewhat rude about Jamie’s shape)

What are the main things you’ll take back into your own training at home?

“I think before I started riding the horses I am riding now, I did have good soft hands, but with some of the horses I’ve ridden lately, I think I’ve got quite stiff and rigid with my arms. That’s one thing I’ve really got to work on. Then there’s all the basics, the flat work at the start of the training session. He talked a lot about how the horse’s neck should be, and that is something I’ll take home…”

He certainly changed your horse’s frame over the couple of days…

“Yeah, it was good to see him ride the horse and see the horse accept what he was doing, pretty much straight away. It was very nice of George to say that he thought it was a super horse, that made me feel good about what I’ve done so far, but there’s still lots of improvement to come. You do a lesson like this, and it goes for two hours, and you get off your horse and you just wait to come back the next day and go again…”

This article first appeared in the March 2011 issue of THM.


Hubertus Schmidt on Classical Training


In the debate about dressage training methods, there is one rider who is always identified as the carrier of the classical tradition, one rider whose soft and sympathetic riding style is held up as an example of the ‘correct’ way – and that rider / trainer is Hubertus Schmidt.

Mr Schmidt has trained many many horses to Grand Prix, and he is, indeed, one of the most inspiring riders in the world, he is also a very thoughtful observer of the current scene, and by no means one-sided in his views of the current controversy….

There has been a lot of talk recently about the classical way of training, and ways that are not classical. As riders how do we tell when we going the right way, the classical way?
“In Germany we have to follow the richtlinien, the guidelines, we have a book, and it says, this and this, that is the right way. It takes you all the way from the warm up – making the horse loose and supple, step by step to the next point to higher collection, and later to pirouettes, piaffe and passage. There is a totally clear directive on how to do it. Okay it also depends on the horse, one horse needs to be a little higher, another a little deeper in the neck, but over all, all you need to do is follow the principles of the training scale – this is the way to do it.”

Can you tell you are working in the correct way, if the horse is always ready to take the rein and stretch and go long?
“That is one way to check that you are on the right way – in the high collection you must be able to stretch them so they follow the bit and they are not stuck up there. In every situation you must be able to stretch them – even a piaffe or a pirouette, even then, I must be able to do it. Okay if I do it for a longer period of time, they will lose the self carriage and come more on the front legs, but I must be able to do it because 90% of the horses are too short in the high collection, they are not really using the back, they come up and short by themselves, and the rider can’t make them longer or deeper.”


“Look at the piaffe for example, see how high and how short most of the horses are and not as active behind. In Germany we have a word for it – Aufrichtung – which means the horse is high in the forehand, but it must be relative, which means if the neck is higher, the croup must be lower, and there must always be the right balance. If there is only the neck up and the croup is not deep, that’s what you see very often, it is wrong, the rider has not got the back, the front leg is high and nothing happens behind.”

The same in the extended trot?
“That is when they start more running than swinging, but I think a lot of horses that are not good in collection, are able to be good in extension – because extension is more pushing forward and not so much carrying. For a young horse it is much easier to do an extended trot than a collected trot – that is for sure. I think most of the problems that come about because the horse is stuck up in front and not really good in the back, come in the high collection.”


There is some discussion now that some movements should be included in the Grand Prix test to see if the horses are truly calm and relaxed…
“There is a lot of discussion of movements like the rein back and walk pirouettes, but in the Grand Prix you also have to make it interesting for the people who are watching on TV and the test should not be too long. Now I think they have found the right compromise. This new Grand Prix is a good Grand Prix. For me this double in half pass in trot is very very short, a bit too short, and that is the only thing I don’t like because it is very difficult to keep the horse really nicely swinging when they are crossing so much side-ways – but that is the only thing, in everything else I think it is a good test. There are other opportunities to see tension – for example, if the passage is loose and supple – or if it is tense and only up and down. And you can see the same in the piaffe.”

“The problem is that the judges give the right scores for that – it is not only how high the horse moves its legs in the piaffe, also they must be loose and supple, that is the most important thing. We see horses that are very good in piaffe, they can do a 9 or 10, they are special horses, hot horses, and the next piaffe can be very tense, very hectic, so much so that you are worried they are going to jump out of it – and they get the same high score! That is not right. I think if the judges really follow their rules and guidelines, they can judge what they see. We don’t have to change so much.”


So how do we change the judges, we have a problem at the moment?
“This is a problem as long as I have been riding. It’s not so long, but since 1994 I have been riding at international shows, and it has never been very different. It is very difficult, they try and make a lot of clinics, and say ‘this is what we want to see’ but at the end it is funny – it doesn’t matter if it is the Olympics or a very small show, you see scores between 6 and 9 or 6 and 8 quite often, and on the same movement. There are so many factors, they want to be invited again, they don’t want to be the highest, they don’t want to be the lowest, they are also under pressure. It is not worse now, it was the same ten years ago.”

But have the training methods got worse, in St Georg Magazine, they suggest that the training is now a long way from the correct line?
“In that I agree, I don’t like this way of training – that is not okay but this is different from judging. The steward at the warm up area has to say ‘stop, this is not horsemanship, this is not fair to the horse’. There are riders making their horses very very short in the neck and very very deep, most of the Dutch riders do this, and a few of the Germans, but most of the Dutch – and for me, that is not fair to the horses. The important thing is that they do this for such a long time, a whole hour so deep and so short, with the mouth on the chest. That is not okay with me.”

“Everybody knows that sometimes you have to make a horse lower to get it loose and supple, but the important thing is ‘sometimes’ – for a few moments maybe to correct something, and not the whole time. I don’t know if it causes the horse pain, for this we need very good seminars and clinics with good vets and they must check this out – is that bad for the muscles? Is that bad for the bones later?”


“The vet, Dr Heuschmann says that if you work the horses so short for a long time then later in their life they will have trouble with their vertebrae – we have to check this out, check the blood circulation, the muscles, so that we can say, okay it is not only that this doesn’t look good, it is also painful for the horses, and therefore it is forbidden. Or if it is not painful and it is just another way of training, then okay I don’t like it because it looks wrong but it is not forbidden. Dressage normally comes from natural things – like passage, you can see the horse make a passage in the field, or you can see young horses making pirouettes, but you never see a horse running along with its head on its chest…”

“Now is the time for the FEI to say, we need a proper examination of this whole question – get researchers in Germany and The Netherlands, and say please check this – is it fair to the horses? Is it painful for the horse? If they find there are problems, then it is not allowed to ride like this – it is already not allowed to use the spurs too hard, and it is not allowed to use the whip too hard, why is it allowed to take the curb and have them so short and behind the vertical for an hour? At the moment everybody talks about these things, but for me it is not 100% clear. For me, the horse does not look happy when they ride in this way.”

“Another thing I don’t understand is that they say ‘okay this is a new way of training, it is the best way of training, we make them supple, we stretch them and we make the horse loose and active – but on the other hand, they take people to court if they show pictures from this sort of riding! Hey what’s going on, if this is your program, and you say, this is our way to train, why are people not allowed to show it? The pictures in St Georg were from the Dutch championship, it is not as if the photographers wait and wait until there is one bad situation and they take a picture, they work the whole time like that. It is not only the Dutch, we have riders in Germany who work a bit like that, and I also don’t like it. Sjef Janssen says this is the new way to train good Grand Prix horses, that is wrong.”


But they win gold medals?
“That doesn’t matter, we must also think of the horses, we must do it as nice as possible for them too. That is very important. Okay sometimes we have to be a little bit harder, but at the end, good training is very light and easy going, for rider and the horse. It is not fun but it must be light for the horses too. What I don’t like about this new method is that they can train the horse at Grand Prix level for four or five years and win gold medals, and yet the work is like fighting every time they work – then I think something is wrong with the training. If I train a horse very well, then at the end you have them with very light aids, and you can’t see what I am doing. At the end of the training of a good Grand Prix horse, it must look like he does it by himself. And we should not just focus on the five minutes in the ring, also the warmup and the training. Everything fits together. You have to say with the Dutch riders that often in the test it looks good, but that is only five or six minutes, and we have to look at the whole thing together, the warmup, the training, and the test.”

“But we must have a proper decision – is it bad for the horses, or is it good?”

How do we measure mental stress?
“You can see that, and I am sure you can check it scientifically by checking things like hormone levels.”

But sometimes you see this new style even in the young horses classes?
“I think it is getting better at the German Bundeschampionate, now they don’t want to see a horse that is so up in front and trotting like a Grand Prix horse at the age of three or four. I think it’s better, maybe not 100%, but better. With the three-year-old horses we don’t want to see them uphill, we want them a little longer, stretched more naturally. It is once again the judges, the riders will do what the judges want to see.”

Even at the World Championships, we see five and six year old horses, so high in front, such extravagant movement with their front legs – is the problem getting worse because of the emphasis on young horse classes? In the past the five and six year olds were not so interesting for the trainers, but now they are going on the wrong path before they even come to Grand Prix?
“You’re right, once there weren’t such important classes for five and six year olds. I hadn’t thought about it before, but you are right, it adds to the pressure. Once again it is up to the judges. Look at a young horse like Florencio, he is an unbelievable mover – his canter is so huge. I didn’t see him at this year’s championship, but once I warmed up in the same arena as him, and it was nice riding and produced unbelievable movement. He was just trotting like that, it was not that the rider held him and pushed him to make him tense; he was absolutely swinging and uphill, I never saw a horse like that before.”

“The horses are becoming better and better from better breeding, much better movers. But yes it is interesting that the concentration on the Bundeschampionate and the World Young Horse Championships, then maybe things get a little worse. Normally we have our rules – at five the horse should look like this, and at six he should look like that. If they are only up in front and not good behind, then it is wrong, the score is not a nine it is only a six.”

Okay there are worries about some of today’s training methods, but surely in the past with some of those big, heavy old-fashioned horses, I don’t think the training methods were so gentle or beautiful then?
“I agree, in Germany, the riding is 100% better than twenty years ago. The horses go better, and they are easier to keep swinging and loose because they are built better and bred better than 30 years ago. Think of Piaff, that was a very famous horse, the winner of a gold medal at the Munich Games in 1972 – he would have no chance of winning a medal today.”

There is no excuse today because the horses are much more suited to dressage, it is easier for them… Why do riders persist in using stressful methods when following the ‘straight’ way is so much easier?
“I don’t know. For me, the philosophy is that the training must be as nice as possible for the horse, for me it is no fun if I have to fight all the time, then I think okay, this horse is not good enough, or I can’t ride him. It’s too lazy or too nervous, then maybe he can go jumping but for dressage it is not the right horse. For sure you have horses that are lazy and you have to push them harder and use the spurs more but with the training, it must become better and better, that is important. The goal must be that after a few years of training in Grand Prix, it must be easy going. But that is not the philosophy of a lot of riders, maybe they feel that they must make the legs go higher and higher in piaffe and passage and not that they have to go easier. I want both, but for me it is more important, that there is harmony.”


But for instance at the beginning of the dressage test, there should be a clear halt, then why not say, here the rider must surrender the reins, really test that the horse is happy to stand still?
“But it is a problem and I sometimes have this problem with my mare, Wansuela Suerte, that she doesn’t want to halt. It is only in the beginning. But you have to say, these huge big arenas, like Aachen, or at the World Cup finals, there are so many people, so much atmosphere, it is difficult for the horses. For sure they want to go, these horses that are light to ride, and it is sometimes they are difficult in the halt. But in general I agree with you. They should stay, and stay relaxed, and if they are not relaxed, then the score should be very low. But also it is important to look at what is happening after that, did they stay tense or did they relax after a few movements – it is very different a horse that gets hotter and stronger, and the horse that is nervous at first and then gets better and better as it does the test, that is also very important.”


“I think one problem at the moment is the judges look too much at one movement, then the next, and not so much on what is going on in between. For me it is very important that every corner is a quarter of a volte with flexion and bending. Look at how many horses are straight to the corner, straight when they turn, that is why some horses are very spectacular on a straight line, and very bad in a half pass because they have no flexion and bending. If there is no bending in the corner then the mark should not be good even if the trot is spectacular, if there is no flexion and bending, then the hindlegs will be out behind.”

Surely when the judges have a very big difference in their scores on the same movement, then they should have to sit down afterwards and work this out – one must be right and the other wrong?
“I know this is happening some times, when the judges get together at the show with the tape and say, let’s look again – why did you give a 6 when I gave an 8? I think they are trying, but they need to do more. We need a group of judges, a group of trainers, a group of riders, who will sit together and discuss these matters… to find the right way.”

But surely we must have some change in the judging system – at the moment with such inconsistent judging we run the risk that the International Olympic Committee will use this as an excuse to get rid of dressage from the Olympic Games?

“It is not so easy. I don’t have the key that I can say, do this and it will work. We need to talk, to have symposiums with riders, judges and trainers – that is very important – not just the judges by themselves. Sometimes I get the feeling that there are judges who have never ridden a Grand Prix. Now in Germany to judge Grand Prix then as a minimum you must have ridden St George. I think that is important, if you have never felt how it is – a good piaffe or passage or a good pirouette – then I think it is difficult to judge.”

But the problem is also that the people who have competed at the highest level, who would make very good judges, they are now training riders and teams – Mr Balkenhol would make a very good judge, but he can’t do that and coach the Americans?
“That is right, but it is not just that someone has to be a good rider to be a judge. I know my wife only rode to L level, but she can help me perfectly with the Grand Prix movements, but I do think it is easier for the rider if he knows that the judge has done it, then you say to yourself, hey, he knows what he is judging, I can accept that.”

Should we have a rider sitting as the sixth judge at the Grand Prix, so we have five normal judges and a rider sitting there, one who is not competing at this show, judging – maybe the score would not count, but it would be a guide to the five judges what the riders are thinking…
“I don’t know, I would have to think about that, this whole question is not easy. The judges try to do their best, but it is difficult, they have all this pressure: they don’t want to be the highest or the lowest… If only they would judge what they see, then we would be a big step forwards. They say they judge what they see, but often I don’t agree – they have their politics, they have the reputations of the riders… Sometimes you have the feeling that for a new rider you have to be good a few times to get a really good score, and the well known riders can have one or two bad tests before they get really low scores.”

It seems like judging in Germany is a bit like judging in Australia – or the whole world over… Thank you once again Hubertus Schmidt for your time and willingness to share your knowledge…