A Clinic with George Morris

So as not to reveal my age, I will simply say that the last time I watched a George Morris clinic was many years ago. At that time, one of George’s talented pupils was a young Australian showjumper named Adam Wootten who subsequently spent a few years training with George in the United States. This weekend Adam was not only riding in the clinic but was also playing host at his own equestrian centre, the Australian Sporting Equine Academy.

The Academy, set in the heart of the Yarra Valley about one hour outside of Melbourne, provided a good venue for the clinic. With his reputation as a bit of perfectionist, it must be a bit nerve wracking for Vicki Roycroft, who brings George to Australia, to find suitable venues for George’s clinics but the Academy incorporates a 60 x 40m indoor arena with an excellent surface and quality showjumping equipment. The facilities for the spectators are not quite as comfortable, as the seating is on steel benches outside of the arena – on the other hand I paid hundreds of dollars for similar seating at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky so maybe I should not complain! There were fewer spectators than I had expected –at $30 this seemed excellent value as an opportunity to learn from watching one of the most successful trainers in the world. George involves the audience as a part of the whole experience and he addresses his comments to them almost as much as the riders. The man is indeed a consummate performer on top of everything else.

When I arrived for the second session of the clinic on Saturday, the small audience was already intently watching George in quiet reverence (the quiet part is essential – later in the day the audience started to chatter as he was mounting one of the horses but they were quickly silenced as George growled to “be quiet or I’m out of here!” It is sometimes hard to tell if he is joking or not, but they instantly shut up!) George may have mellowed slightly since I last attended his clinic but he certainly has not lost his eye for detail. His first instruction to well known local eventer Emily Anker was to “wear a hairnet tomorrow”. This session was well attended by eventing riders – Emily’s husband Will Enzinger was also in the group along with Del Ogilvy and Meg Ferguson ( Meg was very keen, having also ridden in the earlier session on another horse). Showjumping riders Hayley Kelly and Ali Lamb rounded out the class. All of the riders are experienced but if they were expecting to be straight into the jumping after a quick warm-up, they would have been disappointed.

Much of the lesson was taken up with flatwork to reinforce the basics of the riders’ positions and their horses’ obedience, suppleness and submission. After checking stirrup lengths (flatwork stirrup length should be two holes longer than jumping length) George talked about hand position “Don’t ever have had a low hand – you need a hand position which gives the best contact for the horse and you cannot have that with a low hand” and “Never pull back – if you need stronger contact, close your fingers tighter around the rein and create a firmer fist”. The riders were asked to perform the seemingly simple transitions of walk 5-6 steps, halt,walk 5-6 steps followed by the same in trot. All of the initial trot work was done in rising trot (or “posting trot” – younger riders need to familiarise themselves with a few old fashioned terms before doing George’s clinic!). From here they worked on bending and flexion through serpentine loops gradually increasing the number of loops. So far, so good - now haunches in, haunches out and some sitting trot. Then walk, canter, walk and counter canter. Slightly more tricky for some and a great test of whether the horse is fully submissive and on the aids, but most of the eventers were showing the benefit of the dressage phase of their sport. As with all of the exercises so far, this is done on both reins to check suppleness and submission on both sides. Training in Australia has come a long way in the last few years – I figure that most of the riders I watched in the clinic many years ago would have been really struggling by now (I actually remember one rider being unable to sit to the trot – no wonder George has a reputation for being unforgiving, he must have wanted to tear his hair out – or theirs!) However George seems pretty happy with the riders this morning and he is impressed with the horses “You have super horses here”

After allowing to horses to stretch at a forward long rein walk, the stirrup go up to jumping length (a little hint here – always keep your foot in the stirrup when altering the stirrup length – or you will be barked at for not knowing something as basic as ‘Horsemanship 101’!). Compared to the flatwork, the jumping exercises seemed to come as a relief to the riders. There were some straightforward grids followed by a more spooky combination but the whole point of the flatwork was borne out here and George finally hopped on board one of the horses.

George Morris mounts up to demonstrate

His aim was to make Meg’s horse more responsive and reactive whilst keeping him calm and concentrating on the job and he succeeded. The second day which I didn’t attend would no doubt have included some more complex jumping exercises but when I caught up with Del Ogilvy and Will Enzinger afterwards it seems that felt they had really benefitted some their session with the master of showjumping training. To hear their comments, click on the recordings below. You can also watch some short videos from the session on our YouTube channel (aneventfullifebook).

Del Ogilvy talks about her lesson with George Morris

Will Enzinger talks about his lesson with George Morris