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George Morris Tells It Like It Is

George Morris, the American equestrian, is known around the nation–and the world–not only for his stellar riding career and judging at shows, but also for his knack for coaching other riders. He is known by many as a “founding father” of equitation, and for competitive amateur riders, he is a great role model to look up to.

Morris has not only served as a team leader for the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) for show jumping, but he has also competed as a rider in the Olympics. Many of his students have gone on to compete and win medals at international shows and in the Olympics as well. It’s no wonder so many riders are eager to join one of his riding clinics.

Morris is usually pretty frank with his advice for riders, which has lead to the creation of countless George Morris memes (seriously, there are a lot, and they’re great!).

Photo courtesy of Michaela Weaver/Odyssey

Memes aside, Morris has a lot of great advice that amateur equestrians should take advantage of to work on honing their riding skills. Below, The Equestrian Confidential co-founder Jasmin Stair shares some of her favorite bits of Morris’s advice.

1. “Accuracy is better than Speed.”

In show jumping, it pays to clear a jump from the right angle and distance rather than to approach it as quickly as you can. Rushing to a jump can lead to dropped poles, a chipped distance, and other hazards. Don’t let the clock dominate your thinking.

Instead, avoid faults in the show ring by focusing on being precise about how you approach a jump. This becomes really important when you have to make a sharp inside turn after a jump; if you clear the obstacle with too much speed, you’re probably not going to make that turn. If you walk a show jumping course with your trainer before your round, stick with the plan and avoid focusing too much on being speedy.

Remember: you’re a show jumper, not a jockey!

2. “Make every transition count.” 

This bit of advice is important for virtually every riding discipline. Don’t let yourself be lazy with your transitions, even if you’re just hacking your horse casually at the barn; you can be setting bad habits for both of you. If you teach your horse (and yourself) to take transitions seriously each time they are made, then transitions in the show ring should become smooth, easy, and automatic.

Practice makes perfect!

3. “Counter-Canter to Collect and Balance.”

Counter-cantering (riding in the opposite lead) is difficult for most riders to learn, but it’s one of the best ways to better your riding and your horse’s collection in the canter. Practicing the counter-canter will teach you the importance of using your outside aides, including your outside rein and leg, to guide your horse. It will also teach your horse to stay focused and listening to your aides.

First start practicing your counter-canter by following the outside of the riding ring, then work your way into counter-cantering in smaller circles. Over time, you should find that your horse becomes more balanced and responsive to your outside aides, and together you will be able to make more precise turns and transitions. Read here to learn more about the importance of mastering the counter-canter.

4. “Dressage is the basis. If there’s something off here, there will be something off with the jumping.”

Flatwork is always your best friend, and you can never get enough practice. If you and your horse haven’t mastered the basics of equitation, as Morris says, it will show through in your jumping. This stands whether you are a huntseat, equitation, or show jumping rider. It can seem tedious at times, but practicing trotting over poles and perfecting your seated trot will make jumping so much smoother for you and your horse in the long run.

In the hunter and equitation show rings, in particular, judges will easily be able to pick out which riders have been doing their homework–aka, their flatwork–and so the quality and quantity of your practice will determine whether or not you leave the ring with a blue ribbon. Focus on everything during your practice on the flat, from your seat to your horse’s responsiveness.

Photo courtesy of B. Juhl Photography

This leads to another important piece of advice:

5. “Practice what is difficult.”

If you’ve gotten the hang of the extended trot but aren’t too happy with your seated trot, as hard as it is, you need to be honest with yourself and focus on your weaknesses. Even if you have managed to master most of your flatwork and riding seat, even small things, like keeping your shoulders far enough back, can knock you down a few notches in the judges’ eyes.

If you ride with a trainer, ask him or her to help you identify and focus on your areas of difficulty. Stay consistent and disciplined with your practice, and soon enough you’ll be trading in those pink ribbons for a blue.

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