January 22, 2008 — On Monday, the horses have the day off, so I spent most of my day with Connie Sawyer. Amongst other things, Connie helps organize the Syracuse Invitational as well as the George Morris Horsemanship clinic. Since the clinic started yesterday afternoon, there was plenty to coordinate. Think about everything that is at a clinic and then consider that someone had to plan for ALL of it to be there. From the sponsor banners to the microphones, every last detail needs to be taken care of.
Laurie Pitts is the barn manager for the clinic for the week, and I got to spend part of the day with her as well. To call her a wealth of knowledge is a serious understatement. As soon as the horses started arriving, she was in the thick of things. Just as John and Beezie explain the “why” of things constantly, Laurie tells people upfront the reason why she does things in a particular way.
Last night, there was a reception for the riders, families, sponsors and mentor grooms. George Morris gave an introductory speech as to his hopes for the week. For those who haven’t gotten to see him speak in person, he is every bit as interesting to listen to as his books are to read. He provides an excellent mix of instruction and anecdotes, and his genuine love of the sport comes through loud and clear.
This morning, I got to observe the riders and their mentor grooms. All of the grooms seemed so happy to be able to share their knowledge, and the riders were very interested in picking their brains. The highlight for me was learning a new mane shortening technique from Laurie. Even though it involves scissors, it gives a very “pulled” looking result.
From there, I watched the first session of flatwork with George. He put them through their paces and tweaked everyone here and there. After watching everyone go for a bit, he got on Nikko Ritter’s horse to demonstrate how to get a horse to move off of your leg. I’m sure everyone there noticed George grabbing the horse’s attention! He talked a bit about the difference between an active leg and a passive leg, and how the horse should move forward without a constant active leg. After his demonstration, he talked a bit about the importance of working the horse at the walk, trot, canter and gallop. It was a great session to watch, and I look forward to seeing more of his teaching this week.
After that, I went back to the barn and got to take Judgement on a walk. I’m sure his name and record is more than familiar to everyone! Even though he’s a stallion, he’s a total mush. What a fabulous personality–he clearly loves his groom and is so well mannered. Just walking around the ring, it was clear that I had a ton of horsepower under me. I spoke with one of their riders who knows him well, and she said despite his large size and strength, she never felt like he was trying to intimidate her.
John schooled a rider after that, and yet again I was impressed with his devotion to getting the basics perfect. He used the ground rail exercise again (riding different number of strides in the same distances), which was interesting to see used with such a rangy horse.
Once I finished up there, I went back with John to hear Melanie Smith Taylor give a lecture on the importance of being a thinking rider. She talked a good amount about her early days with George, and how you have to develop your sense of what is right for a particular horse or situation. A part of her speech that stuck out to me was when she discussed why she felt so confident going into competition. She talked about how she knew her horse in and out, if his legs were as tight as normal, what he had to eat that day, the exact tack he was wearing, that the tack was in good working order, etc. Since she knew she was perfectly prepared, all she had to do was execute.
In the afternoon, Beezie finished up her rides for the day, and everyone started to get organized to begin showing tomorrow. I have a feeling it’s going to be a very, very busy day tomorrow! I’m very excited to see them show–especially their preparation in the schooling ring. As the week goes on, it’s struck me that the minor details are what makes the difference between winning and losing. John and Beezie don’t let a single detail go unturned and really take the time to do everything thoroughly. Tomorrow’s another early morning, so I’m off to bed now! I apologize for not having pictures. My digital camera is giving me technical difficulties… namely, not turning on!
Katie Faraone, 27, spent a week with John and Beezie Madden as a grand-prize winner of the 2007 Week with the Maddens Contest, sponsored by Bates Saddles, Practical Horseman and the Syracuse Invitational Tournament. Katie started riding when she was 11 and showing jumpers at 15. She works in sales for a staffing company in Boston and rides several times a week.