January 3, 2012—The theme of today's flatwork and gymnastics session at the 2013 George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session was "contact." George set the tone early by stating that there are three types of contact the horse must accept: legs, seat bones and hand. He demonstrated this on Dana Scott's KM What Ever RV. At first the horse was resistant to George's aids, tossing his head and being a bit naughty, but George said, "Resistance is normal when teaching." He went on to explain that he resists in exact proportion to the horse's resistance. To determine the horse's resistances, he asked for different exercises such as counter-canter, reverse turns, voltes and leg-yields in both the full seat and the two-point. "Low hands are the biggest myth in riding," George cautioned. Instead, he wanted the riders to lift their hands when the horses resisted. "The yielding of aids is reward." When you hear your horse blow out, he's starting to accept the contact, George said.
After the riders warmed up and he returned his mount to Dana, George worked with each rider in turn on flying changes. He was very particular about how the riders asked. Instead of making the mistake of many hunter riders, which is pulling on the inside rein for the change, he instructed the riders to hold the new outside rein and use the new inside leg to ask for the change. He cautioned riders to do this first in the full seat until the horse accepted the contact so the horse doesn't get light in the hind end during or after the change. This is a backward resistance, he explained. Once the horse accepts the seat bones in the change, the rider can work them in the half seat. While some of the horses were a bit confused by these new aids, they all quickly caught on after a few repetitions.
"If the horse doesn't like the contact, that not our problem," said George before moving on to gymnastics exercises.
George started by explaining to the riders how to perform an automatic release—or jumping out of hand. Using Catherine Tyree for demonstration, he instructed her to soften her hands down Udento's shoulder without touching his neck over the jumps. The riders first practiced this release over a cavalletti to a small vertical before moving on to a triple bounce, a triple combination with one stride between each jump and finally a short two stride. "Bounces and short distances teach a horse self-initiative," explained George.
The lesson finished with the riders tackling the liverpool. George said that horses by nature are suspicious of ditches. He explained that liverpools are a lesson of impulsion (or "thinking forward"). In the introduction stage, he recommended that riders reinforce the leg with a cluck, spur or the proper application of the whip. He said, "Every aid has intensity and timing." For the liverpool, the proper timing of the aid is a fraction before takeoff. The intensity needed depends on the situation and the horse, but is basically on a scale of 1 to 10 with practicing taking the whip hand off the rein scoring a 1/2, stroking the back of the saddle with a touch a 1, giving a crack with the whip a 5 and using the stick in a turned-up position a 10. The riders practiced using the intensity they thought their horses needed. Every horse and rider was successful.
Group 2 mirrored the first session with George starting out riding Abigail McArdle's horse Bravoman. He began by asking for leg-yield and haunches-in at the walk to expose the horse's resistances and encourage him to better react to the leg aids. "Carry your hand, and he'll carry his head," George said. He explained that part of the training process was to nicely set up resistances to break his resistances. Moving on, he added simple transitions to test the gas and brakes and then figure eights to supple Bravoman laterally for greater straightness. He explained that straightness is important so the horse doesn't escape the rider's leg aids. George found Bravoman unusual in that he was left-handed. (Approximately eight out of 10 horses are right-handed, George estimates.) During his training session, George did more work to the left (exercises that used his right leg) to supple Bravoman's right side.
As the Group 2 riders moved on to the gymnastics, George warned the riders that as the vertical gets higher, you don't ride faster.
After lunch, the riders joined Dr. Deb Bennett for a seminar on equine biomechanics. Dr. Deb put riding into perspective by looking at the history of classical training. She cited the dressage masters and the Classical Training Scale, explaining that the basis of all training is getting the horse forward and straight. A horse who leans to one side is not able to move straight. And any horse not able to move straight cannot offer roundness. Dr. Deb encouraged the riders and spectators to test this theory by getting on all fours. She first had them find their centers of balance and showed how they could round their backs when symmetrical. Then she had them lean more to one side and try to round their backs, which was not possible to do. Therefore, it quickly became clear that the side effect of straightness is roundness—they both come from the same aids. These revelations seemed to be appreciated by the spectators and Olympic riders in attendance alike.
Finally, everyone met for Dr. Tim Ober's seminar on evaluating your horse for soundness. This dovetailed well with Dr. Deb's talk as the audience could see the effect of a crooked horse on his soundness. The horse used for the demonstration was quite clearly leaning to his left side and showed corresponding soreness and resistances as Dr. Ober made his evaluation. When the horse was on a small circle to the left on the longe line, Dr. Ober pointed out a subtle lameness in front, which corresponded to the leaning and to some discomfort the horse showed in his jaw and neck during examination. When longed to the right, the horse moved dramatically better, though showed some potential back pain with the way he carried his inside hind leg and by the muscling in his hind end. Dr. Ober's message was to encourage riders to evaluate their horses every day and remind them that THEY are in charge of their horse's care and well-being. The evaluation also gave the riders a baseline for what's normal for the horse and helped them determine whether something can be fixed with proper training or if a vet consultation is needed.
Friday's riding sessions will include more flatwork and gymnastics with an introduction to the water jump, a continuation of the biomechanics seminar with Dr. Deb and a farrier seminar with Dean Pearson. Watch live on www.usefnetwork.com beginning around 8 a.m. ET or watch each session on demand.