January 1, 2016—George Morris’ presence was felt in more ways than one on the second day of the 10th Annual George H. Morris Training Session when Olympic medalist Beezie Madden unveiled a plastic figurine of George and placed it in a golf cart to oversee the clinic. From the favored spot of the iconic trainer during previous clinics, the smaller than life George supervised the gymnastic training of the horses as Beezie lectured, coached, cajoled, corrected and praised the 12 riders chosen to participate.
Beezie’s overriding message was to set yourself up for success. Her goal was to dovetail today’s gymnastics lesson with dressage Olympian Christine Traurig’s dressage lesson on Thursday. Beezie wanted to take the rhythm and balance Christine emphasized and translate it into training for the horses. Beezie said that adjustability of the horse with gymnastic and rideability work were part of the day’s playbook.
The horse and rider teams were divided into two groups of six, and heavy emphasis was placed on the horses’ vigorous reaction to the leg so that adding leg or spur at every stride wasn’t necessary. “Once they get reactive to the leg, it’s so much better to do everything,” Beezie said.
In the warm-up, the horses were expected to be in front of the leg and seek the bit. Frequent transitions served as tests “to keep the horse up to the bit, keep the impulsion and balance,” she explained.
Lateral movements, including shoulder-in and half-pass, helped loosen the horses while allowing riders to maintain contact. They rode over a series of three rails, each placed 48 feet apart, making frequent gait changes to test rideability. The exercise checked the rider’s ability to regulate rhythm and tempo. Walk–trot–walk over the rails led to trot–canter–trot–halt were ridden—all in an effort to keep the horses listening to their riders while maintaining balance and frame.
At the canter, the riders changed the number of strides between the rails, first four strides then three strides, and then changed direction and to come back to do three strides followed by five. “Your horse should be able to do that like an accordion,” Beezie said.
Then she added a set of three vertical jumps set at 20 feet apart using landing rails at 10-foot intervals in between, also ridden in different strides. “I can prepare my horse well for a competition with those because mostly what I need is rideability,” she explained. “You can do a lot with that.”
When the verticals and landing rails were combined with the first set of rails on the ground, the exercises could be changed in myriad ways with deviations in stride mixed with transitions. “You have to change it up enough so they can respond when they have no idea what’s coming,” she said. “Jumping is a sport of concentration.”
As more jumps, including oxers and a water jump, were added throughout the session, Beezie urged riders to supple their elbows to increase connection with the horse. “When they react to the hand, we reward them by becoming more and more supple ourselves,” she said. She also insisted on straightness when changing strides on a line as well as for flying changes.
She repeated commands often: Shoulders behind the hips. Supple arms. Eyes up. Use your seat and back to get a little more connection. Shape the turn with the inside leg. “Get the shape of the horse with the inside leg,” she said. “Get the balance by putting the horse on the outside rein. Short and light. Short and light. Balance and light.”
As the day wound down and the students looked forward to the following day’s clinic with Laura Kraut and jumping a course set in a Nations Cup format, Beezie praised George while acknowledging his tiny figure set in the golf cart overlooking the proceedings.
“He’s the driving force behind this training session and, thanks to him, we have a good program here,” she said.