December 31, 2015–Day 1 of the 10th Annual George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session kicked off with 12 participants and their horses working on the flat with dressage Olympian Christine Traurig. Although George took a sabbatical from teaching the clinic this year, Christine subjected the riders to intense Morris-like mounted sessions in the unseasonably warm South Florida sunshine at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington.
The clinic is designed to identify and develop a new generation of talented U.S. riders and Christine emphasized the dressage Training Scale as a way to help build top equine athletes as well as the key to gaining a competitive edge. Participants included Victoria Colvin, Kelli Cruciotti, Ailish Cunniffe, Lucy Deslauries, Mitch Endicott, Daisy Farish, Eve Jobs, TJ O’Mara, Ransome Rombauer, Danielle Roskens, Katherine Strauss and Vivian Yowan.
“Today, what I was trying to emphasize is that the flatwork does not only involve the responses to the aids as far as getting from fence to fence is concerned, but that we are also developing the athlete in strength and in muscle tone and in its way of going,” she said. “It’s important for the young people to understand that the physical development of the athlete contributes to the quality of performance as well as the enhancement and maintenance of soundness.”
Before each rider began, Christine carefully examined each horse’s bit and bridle fit while commenting and suggesting alternatives. The warm-up involved reins with enough contact for the riders to still feel the horses’ mouths. “Contact is never demanded, contact is developed,” she said. “The more you are able to implement contact, the more you can influence the position of the neck and the neck is the extension of the back.”
The horses and riders were divided into groups of two to provide more feedback during the two sessions. As the warm-up continued, the riders were instructed to have their horses march forward in rhythm and relaxation, the first two components of the Training Scale. “There’s always a purpose involved,” she said. “Willingness to go forward is an attitude. It’s not something you have to beg the horse to give.”
Contact between horse and rider was developed to increase the connection, and suppleness was encouraged when Christine directed the riders to pilot their horses in circles. Changes in direction were employed to test bending and straightness. She told the young riders that the horse’s acceptance of the aids is accomplished when you can make a circle or ride a bent line steadily with the horse willingly going forward while maintaining the bend–all without resistance. Then, she explained what she calls her Holy Rule when it comes to connection and maintenance of suppleness.
“A horse is always off, around and ahead of the inside leg,” she said. “The destination of the Holy Rule is the outside rein and the outside leg.”
Transitions were king with changes from gait to gait as well as within the gaits emphasized. “The whole system of you developing the athlete [the horse] lies within any transition and every transition,” she explained.
Finally, Christine worked on collection, the top of the dressage Training Scale, as she explained that collection is roundness within self-carriage and that the higher the degree of engagement, the lighter the front end of the horse becomes.
The George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session will resume January 1 with show-jumping Olympic gold medalist Beezie Madden helping with gymnastic exercises to prep the horse and rider duos for the jumping course that Olympic gold medalist Laura Kraut will encourage them to master on January 2.