Clinic riders await their turn to complete a jumping exercise

The George H. Morris Clinic, held at HIPICO Santa Fe, April 27th-29th, was a critical learning experience for all involved. Generously sponsored by Invicta Farms and Rancho Corazon, Mr. Morris’ first visit to New Mexico was simultaneously an honor and a trepidations treat for organizers, riders and auditors from throughout the Southwest.

The indomitable horseman put 24 riders and their mounts through rigorous tests and challenges, both on the flat and over fences. Correct hand, leg, and stirrup position, finding straightness through bending, equine self-carriage and proper flexion were critical components of each day’s work on the flat. “For the horse to be in balance, the pole should be the highest point; the neck should be up at about a 45 degree angle.” Mr. Morris cautioned against trends of over flexing, or flexing where the pole becomes lower than other vertebrae of the horse.

Auditors assist by filling the liverpool on day 2

His intensive training style is not for the faint of heart, and Mr. Morris – now in his 80’s – did not disappoint. Selected equestrians were grouped into three training levels, and put through methodical exercises, lectures, and riding demonstrations from the master himself.

Young rider, Dominic Gibbs adjusts his tack for Mr. Morris. “This is not a good horse,” Morris teased him. “This is a GREAT horse!”

On the flat, riders practiced classical dressage, significantly furthering the suppleness of their horses with serpentines, shoulder-in and -out, haunches-in and -out and flying lead changes on a straight line. Morris preaches a forward seat for jumping, for the balance of both horse and rider over fences and contact of the rider in the saddle. “The forward seat – that is best for the horse, in jumping.”

His approval of the clinic facility was a meaningful recognition for our region. “You have a world-class ring here. World class. I don’t go to a ring better than this. Great footing, the structure, lighting, fences, spectators – this is where we can educate, listen, watch, and learn.”

You are so ORganized,” he complemented his hosts. “And you have such nice HORSes here in New Mexico.” Morris’ staccato, lilting speaking cadence, like his riding, is distinct, rhythmic, and – at times- corrects sharply.

“FORGET that over flexing to the inside that some do! Keep the horse bent to the outside, and ask the horse to canter from the inside leg.” Mr. Morris broke down his commands into systematic instruction for every goal.

“You will get a much PROMPTer and STRAIGHTer transition, if you canter the horse from the INside leg. Close your fingers, keep the contact with the horse’s mouth, and with your inside leg, push the horse to take the bit. Once the horse takes the outside rein from the inside leg, the horse will start to stretch his neck out and DOWN – and he will then GO to the bit.”

On day two, riders practiced over a water-filled liverpool, set with wings on the side. The fence was positioned so that riders had to ride forward to it, out of the corner. The first couple of times the riders approached the fence sitting behind the horse, teaching self-courage. Once the horse had confidence, riders substituted leg for the seat, allowing the horses to “think forward.” Adjustability within combinations requiring lengthening and collecting strides while maintaining impulsion were key to the practice each day, along with Mr. Morris’ emblematic repetition and meticulous attention to detail.

Morris expertly wove together key themes of instruction, building a cohesive evolution of learning over the three days. “If you want the horse ROUNDER; if you want the horse to take the bit in a more honest, steady fashion, use your INSIDE leg, then steady with your outside rein – so it’s constantly this half halt idea. Inside leg, outside rein, then relax the aides, and repeat. Do it OVER and OVER and OVER – until the horse starts coming rounder. Don’t try to get the horse to get rounder by pulling the head down – the contrary! When the horse’s head goes up, follow the horse up, and teach that him he can’t get above your hands.”

Dedication to horsemanship was emphasized in every session. “Take what you like from this clinic; take what you understand. If you don’t understand, then STUDY it,” Morris instructed.

Mr. Morris concluded his visit with a measure of encouragement and counsel. “I stay quite distant from my students,” he professed. “It’s not a good idea to get too familiar. I don’t want you to be comfortable. I’m very impressed out here. You have good basics, wonderful horses. But you have to push the envelope. You must go past your comfort zone on the flat and over fences. Now go home and write notes – or you’ll forget.”

HIPICO Santa Fe is a full-service equestrian facility featuring world-class, all-weather footing, grass competition arenas, designated horse-only bridle paths, and miles of trail riding on adjacent public lands. It is located in the beautiful tourist destination city of Santa Fe. Join us for the 4-week, A-rated 2018 Santa Fe Summer Series in July and August.