"Does your horse ever stop?" McLain Ward asked Carolyn Curcio after she had jumped a 2-foot crossrail in the center of the ring a few times. She murmured, "No," and McLain took away the crop she was carrying.
"I rode Sapphire with no stick and no spur," the two-time Olympic gold medalist said of his partner in both the 2004 and '08 Games. In doing so, he wasn't following the common school of thought to always jump with those aids. "You really have to judge a horse as an individual. I'm a traditionalist, and it's nice to ride with a stick and spurs, but you have to be realistic and do what's best for your horse."
After Carolyn jumped the crossrail a few more times, her horse settled. "Look how much more relaxed your horse is when we took the stick away," McLain said. "Feel the difference. Your horse took a nice deep breath."
Understanding a horse's individual needs was a common theme of McLain's lessons with eight young rides on the fifth, and final, day of the 2009 George Morris Horsemastership Training Session in Wellington, Fla., in January. At the welcome reception earlier in the week, George said he had handpicked McLain to teach because he "is absolutely the consummate stylist. Position is everything to him as a base. Also, I said to him, 'Let's see your system. You have a very definite system.' This is something I preach and preach. What's important is that you're very convinced about your system."
Echoing those comments, McLain told the riders that a winning system needs to be consistent and based on classical teachings. But the riders also needed to be open to incorporating new ideas they've learned. "You all ride great," he said. "But the difference between being a good rider and an Olympian is that, to be an Olympian, you have to take what you learned all week and put it together in your own system. Don't change your entire system. Take bits and pieces and put it with what you already know."
Watch a video of McLain teaching the students about having a system.
To read more about McLain's session during the 2009 George Morris Horsemastership Program, read "Create a Winning System" in the August 2009 issue of Practical Horseman.