January 15, 2007 -- I'm here in Wellington, Fla., attending the George Morris Horsemastership Training Session. It kicked off today with a welcome reception at the Palm Beach Polo Equestrian Club, sponsored by the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association.
The training session is a unique clinic featuring eight top equitation riders and several Olympic riders as mentor grooms. Several of the top junior riders in the country have been invited to participate in the training sessions. The goal is to give these young riders a leg up on the road to becoming top international riders. The clinic, presented by Bates Saddles and Stadium Jumping and supported by the U.S. Equestrian Federation, will include instruction from George, hands-on tutelage with the mentor grooms and additional education sessions with top veterinarians Dr. Danny Marks and Dr. Tim Ober, course designer Steve Stephens and other experts.
George spoke at the reception and outlined a seven-step recipe for getting and keeping horse and rider at the top of their game, which he attributed to one of his great instructors, Emile Hendriks from the Netherlands. George was speaking to the young riders, but his words resonated with me, and I think they will with you, too. Here are some excerpts:
- Ambition. This man over here [pointing to Frank Chapot], he had ambition. What was it, six Olympics? That's ambition. That's what Emile Hendriks taught us. That's first in making a good rider, ambition.
Second is emotion. My first interest with a horse is no temper. No temper with a horse, ever. I've used it, you've used it, and it's always the wrong thing to do.
Second is also empathy. Great appreciation and empathy and sympathy for the horse. Because your horse, unfortunately, in many cases, is a reflection of you. The inside of you. So empathy is a great emotion to have with horses.
And we have to practice courage on horses. A bold rider is a good rider. Beezie [Madden]. Whatever problem confronts her, she doesn't have temper, she doesn't have excitement, but she practices boldness. Leslie Burr [Howard], at the Lake Placid show before the  Atlanta Olympics--it was raining, and she was in the preliminary jumper division. It was a few months before the Olympics and I said "Leslie, what are you doing riding that horse? It's raining, it's muddy, it's up and down that Lake Placid hill." She said, "George, I'm practicing my guts." Yes, Leslie was practicing her guts. I admire her practicing her guts because we have to practice guts. I always had to practice guts. I used to go with him [Frank Chapot] in the back of the bleachers in Wiesbaden [Germany], and I said, "Frank, I can't do this. I can't jump those jumps." He said, "George, you got good horses, we're over here. You've got to do it." I always had to practice guts.
You also need great management of your horse. I don't care what horse you get, that horse will go down the tubes in a heartbeat if he isn't managed beautifully. You'll see people like Frank [Chapot] and John [Madden] and Katie [Monahan Prudent], and these people with a track record, that have had horses for decades at the top. They take beautiful care of their horses. They might each do it a little differently, but they take good care of their horses. That's management.
We also have Dr. Danny Marks and Dr. Tim Ober. They're going to help you with selection. That's like eating oysters. It's an acquired taste to develop an eye for a horse. There's a woman here, she's a great horseperson, and she was a great rider, Fran Steinwedell. If I wanted to buy horses again, I would put her over at these rings, and Fran would come up with the best horses at the horse show. She hasn't always had an eye for horses. That's selection.
There's also talent. Talent, and I speak personally, I never had talent. I got some place in this business, but I never had talent like Todd Minikus here. So that's what appealed to me several years ago about ambition, emotion, management and selection.
And of course, the schooling--not the jumping--the walk, trot, canter, gallop. That conditions a horse and properly muscles a horse. That's in the recipe, this wonderful flatwork I'm so much a believer in. Then of course, there's gymnastics, and then on to course riding and showing. We're too heavy with the showing today with horses and riding. There's too much riding and too little study.
So that's an outline of what George and the others hope to instill in the young riders this week. Tuesday the real fun begins--lessons on longeing and flatwork with George, instruction and advice with the mentor grooms, a conformation clinic with Dr. Danny Mark--it should be a blast. So stay tuned.
Sandy Oliynyk is the editor of Practical Horseman magazine. Click here for more information and the schedule of events from the George Morris Horsemastership Training Sessions.