January 4, 2009 -- George Morris kicked off his third annual Horsemastership Training Session tonight by talking to the eight young riders who, for the next five days, will be immersed in learning how the stars of the sport rose to the top. The legendary horseman and chef d'?quipe of the Olympic gold medal show-jumping team last summer in Hong Kong spoke to them at the welcome reception at the Equestrian Club in Wellington, Fla.
"Knowledge is power," George said. "I've always loved education. And still by my bedside, I always have a horse book. Don't ever underestimate education."
He continued, saying, "We have a problem today and that's called horse show, horse show, horse show, horse show, horse show, horse show. That's competition. That's competitive education. That isn't basic education. That isn't necessarily horsemanship or horsemaster education."
George's goal is to instill more basic education in these young riders, and this year he will get help from five Olympic riders whom he handpicked to teach the young riders this week at the South Grounds of the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington. (George leaves Monday morning for prior clinic engagements in Australia and South Africa.)
"Nothing happens by accident," George said. "We constructed this, John Madden (who masterminded the training sessions) and I, on purpose." George then explained why they selected each of the trainers and what the young riders could expect to get out of their sessions.
About dressage Olympian Robert Dover, who will be teaching four riding sessions and giving a lecture Monday on basic classical riding:
"Robert Dover is a consummate rider in what we call 'on the flat' in dressage. He's absolutely a classical rider, classically trained, great teacher, great rider. He's going to get things started off the ground with what I call 'walk, trot, canter.' Jumping is simply a tangent to walk, trot, canter. Walk, trot, canter to me is first. He'll be brilliant to start this off."
About show-jumping Olympian Anne Kursinski, who will be reviewing flatwork and gymnastic exercises Tuesday:
"If I had to think of somebody world class--forget how well Anne jumps--but in the world, walk, trot canter on the flat, she is absolutely second to none. And I thought that was a great transition to take up where Robert left off for you to make that bridge with the flatwork, which Anne is so brilliant at, and cavalletti work, which is the bridge to jumping."
About 2008 Olympic team gold medalist Laura Kraut, who will be teaching course strategy Wednesday:
"Laura Kraut is an innate horse woman. She has an innate sense and a great empathy for the horse. She honestly loves her horses. And horses love to go well for her. She's also a great ring rider. She has a great sense of the ring. She grew up in the South. The South is different than the North in that one is not so formally introduced to riding as is to the nature of the horse, going cross-country, fox hunting, riding hunters. That has given her this great ring sense."
About 2008 Olympic team gold and individual bronze medalist Beezie Madden, who will be sharing her system Thursday:
"She's the consummate stylist. I don't worship winning. I don't worship my paycheck. I worship the American style of riding. To be perfectly frank, I have passionately protected it. I still promote what we call the forward seat. Beezie represents that to a tee. She represents the position, she represents the flatwork, she represents the course analysis of what I call the American forward seat."
And finally, about 2008 Olympic team gold medalist McLain Ward, who will be sharing his system on Friday:
"Then we have 'Mr. Perfect,' McLain Ward. I say that with reverence. He is absolutely the consummate stylist. Position is everything to him as a base. Of course, the execution is magnificent, but much as I've always done as a teacher, I think position is so, so important, and I still stress that so much in my clinics. And that I'm sure you'll [speaking to McLain] stress that, too. Also, I said, let's see your system. Yes, I indirectly know your system. But you have a very, very definite system. This is something I preach and preach and preach. Everybody has a different system. What's important is that you're very, very convinced about your system. You really believe in your system. This is what I think will be a very strong day with McLain. His particular system will be very interesting."
George ended by encouraging the riders to "prick their ears" with all of the experts--the riders, veterinarians and stable managers--who will be sharing their knowledge with them.
The riding sessions and many of the horse-care sessions are open to the public free of charge. For a schedule, go to www.syracuseinvitational.com.
Sandra Oliynyk is the editor of Practical Horseman magazine.
The training session is hosted by Bates Saddles and Equestrian Sport Productions and supported by the U.S. Equestrian Federation. In addition to Bates, supporting organizations include Purina Mills, the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation, the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association, the Syracuse Invitational Sporthorse Tournament, Nutramax (Cosequin ASU), the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Practical Horseman.