GP 50: Horsemanship according to George H. Morris

George Morris (r) with Ben Maher and others in Florida in 2018
Credit : Sportfot

Wednesday 29 August - 17h08 | Sebastien Roullier and Ian Clayton

GP 50: Horsemanship according to George H. Morris

Alongside Nelson Pessoa, Jos Kumps and a few others, George H. Morris is one of the great riding masters in the world. Silver medallist at the Rome Olympics in 1960 and winner of the Grand Prix of Aachen and Calgary as a rider, the iconic American also won two consecutive Olympic titles as national coach of the United States, in 2004 in Athens and 2008 in Hong Kong. Today 80, this tireless teacher continues to travel the world to share what he has learned throughout his life. Below, some excerpts from George Morris' Grand Prix 50 reflections on the notion of 'horsemanship,' encompassing the values to which he is so deeply attached. 

 - GP 50: Horsemanship according to George H. Morris

Morris' 2016 autobiography

"Horsemanship is all about the horse. Like us, horses want to live as close to their natural state as possible. That is why I consider that the Arabs were very great horsemen for many centuries. But the English tradition of caring for horses and living with horses, and their riding discipline in modern times – I consider our heritage in the United States to be that of the English care of the horse. And the term describing it all, ‘horsemanship’ – horse and man, together – is a very good word in our language. 

In America, we learned our riding from France but we learned our horsemanship from England. Not that the British were ever technically the best riders – they were great riders by nature, but they were not technically great riders like the French or the Germans. But when it comes to how to stable a horse and how to let a horse be in a paddock as close to nature as possible, their horsemanship is all about what is best for the horse. If you have the horse in an airy box and turn him out in the paddocks and follow the great, natural principles of riding – with impulsion, engagement, straightness and rhythm, and contact and volte and transitions – it is all in accordance with nature. For my part, I look at what the horse wants. The horse wants Eric Lamaze, the horse wants John Whitaker, the horse wants light. 

That is why I am very against a lot of riding methods with things like draw reins – all the artificial aids that counter the horse and are against the body of the horse. Most people don’t study horses long enough to understand how to ride them. That is why they resort to gadgets. I am very, very, very anti- draw reins because draw reins prevent the oscillation of the head and neck, and of the horse’s back. They prevent the top line of the horse from stretching. They are anti-suppleness. They are cosmetic and make riders feel good. It puts the horse on the shoulders, and in fast riding most of our injuries are front-end: they are front-end injuries, so you are compounding the wear and tear on the front legs. You want to develop the hind-quarter, the muscle behind, so the horse carries himself and carries the rider on his hind legs, not on his shoulders. Draw reins – I don’t care who rides with them – impede that.

In terms of suggestions for riders, I am a very great advocate of the Caprilli [Italian Capitain Federico Caprilli revolutionized modern jumping techniques – editor's note] forward seat for jumping. However, some riders in a backwards seat will still win competitions, and can still go fast. But what is better for the horse, and more consistent for success, is a light seat. Animal welfare and good horsemanship should go hand-in-hand. And Captain Etienne Beudant wrote well about fast cross-country riding, and how to combine manege work, slow work to school the horse, and fast riding. 

In terms of my own approach, I am a classicist. Because that has worked for me. My pupils have won. I have watched McLain Ward win classes. He adheres to this method. Eric Lamaze adheres to this method. It still works. I am not saying that other methods are not also successful, but I do not think on average, for thousands of horses and thousands of riders, that there is a method that works better than Beezie Madden’s, or John Whitaker’s, or again, one of my favourites, Kevin Staut, or Rodrigo Pessoa, Bill Steinkraus and Michael Matz in the old days. For example, Bosty is a great horseman. Horses love him. He has success with every horse and is a great horseman, but it is very hard to interpret his method, his position, and his style. And if you tried to do it for thousands of people, it would not work. Beezie Madden, Patrice Delaveau, Jerome Dubbeldam: they are successful because they are all adhering to what the horse wants."  


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