Jumping Clinic With George Morris
What the horse takes, the rider gives.
This is a good rider with an exemplary leg, a seat that has been thrust out of the saddle just the right amount and a workmanlike crest release. He has a relaxed position and looks as if he can ride—not just appear soft and beautiful.
A tiny detail to fix is his stirrup position. The iron is not at a right angle to the girth so the outside branch isn’t forward enough. He should twist the iron so the outside branch leads the inside with the little toe touching the outside branch and then practice maintaining this position first at the walk and trot and then at the canter and over crossrails. Other than the stirrup position, his leg is solid.
His seat is also very good because he has allowed the horse’s jump to open his knee angle and close his hip angle, tossing him slightly out of the saddle. I could say he’s dropping back in his seat a little, so I might shorten his stirrup a hole to help him be lighter in the saddle at this point in the jump. His posture is natural and relaxed, and he is using a classic crest release, halfway between a long and short. This kind of release gains support for the upper body in the hands.
The horse is a powerful jumper, but he doesn’t have very good technique. I don’t hate his front end, but I don’t like it. The left knee is higher than the right, which he’s close to hanging. He’s also heavy on his forehand with a big head and loaded shoulder.
The turnout of horse and rider is average. The horse, while healthy, has too much hair, the orange saddle sticks out and the saddle pad is a little large. The rider’s boots are not polished and the stirrup iron looks dirty. The gloves are a nice touch. He’s using two reins on the bit ring, which is instructive—I often see just one. The top is the snaffle, and the bottom rein, when used, applies pressure on the corners of the horse’s mouth.
Our second rider has a few position faults in her seat and with her release, but she’s an excellent stylist. She has a leg position reminiscent of those from the 1950s and ’60s. Her heel is down and close to half of her foot is in the iron with her toe turned out 35 degrees. It is a secure, strong leg, especially for fast riding. Today people ride so that one quarter to one third of the foot is in the iron and the little toe touches the outside branch; the toe is turned out 15 to 20 degrees with contact in the calf. This allows for a secure but suppler and softer leg.
Though this rider has good calf contact, she also looks to have an excessive grip in her knee. She needs to make sure the contact is evenly distributed among her thigh, inner knee and the calf. Her seat is a little too far out of the saddle. She has beautiful posture with a hollow back, chest out and eyes up and ahead.
However, this is a gross caricature of the crest release, the whole point of which is that the rider’s upper body has the support of the horse’s neck. This rider’s hands are floating about 2 inches above it, which is opening up her hip angle. To correct this, she needs to put her hands alongside the neck about halfway up and press into it. She also could practice the automatic release in which the horse takes the release. What the horse takes, the rider gives.
I love this attractive horse’s alert ears and eyes. He’s long-backed and jumps flat, but he’s respectful of the fence. His front end is dramatic with his knees way up. They are not even—his right knee is up but his left knee is higher. The right is not bad or a safety issue as if he were hanging.
The horse’s and rider’s turnout is solid. I’m not a fan of color, but at least the saddle pad, shirt and bonnet are all in a matching blue.
This rider looks like she has the old Virginia– Maryland foxhunting seat, where her heel is down but her leg is braced forward, pushing the seat back into the saddle in a defensive position; her foot is almost home in the iron. This can be useful if you’re in trouble over the fence but not for everyday use. This position gives her a roached back. I would shorten her stirrup for jumping and put the iron closer to her toe so that a quarter of her foot is in it. Then she can practice pushing the weight down and back into her heel. It’s said that you can’t put the position on a rider when jumping. Instead do it at the walk, trot and canter and over cavalletti and crossrails.
Her eyes are up and ahead. She has one of the few truly straight lines from her elbow to the horse’s mouth. It’s called jumping out of hand. She’s holding the whip correctly so that about 2 inches of it are above the hand. The nubby end of the whip should be a half an inch to 2 inches above the hand so the whip is balanced.
This is a very pleasant horse. He has a nice eye and kindly expression. Though his knees are even, I don’t like them pointing down and loose—it’s called hanging. Imagine galloping down to a fixed fence and the horse got too close to it. If a horse doesn’t have the ability to snap his knees out of the way, that’s where a rotational fall could happen. His bascule is also lacking: From the poll to the dock of his tail is flat. His palomino color is attractive, though horses with color tend to be a little farther from the Thoroughbred blood that makes for a good jumper.
He looks healthy and has had a thorough grooming. I don’t like the blue stirrup iron—it’s not very classy, and the rider could have polished her boots more and had someone knock the dirt off the bottom.
This rider, another stylist, is demonstrating the correct distribution of contact in the leg, an optimum seat and a perfect release. Her leg also is more of a throwback to the 1950s and ’60s. The contact is evenly distributed among her thigh, inner knee and calf. My only criticism is that she should wear a spur, even if it’s a small one. I don’t jump a horse if I’m not wearing spurs and I always carry a stick because you never know when you might need them. I also am not crazy about those black stirrup irons with the funny twist to them. Irons like that are so light that if you lose them, they’re hard to retrieve. Plus, they’re ugly.
The thrust of the horse’s jump has opened up the rider’s knee angle and closed her hip angle so she is tossed out of the saddle just the right amount. She has beautiful posture with a flat back that is not stiff or too soft. This is one of the few photos we have showing a perfect release. From her elbow to the horse’s mouth there is a straight line. Her hands are about 6 inches below the crest and she’s not relying on the horse’s neck for support. There is a straight, steady contact, but at the same time, it’s definite—not too slack or stiff. You just can’t get a better picture of jumping out of hand. The horse jumps and stretches his neck—what he takes, the rider gives. Not more, not less.
The horse is attractive with a good expression. He’s short-coupled with powerful hindquarters and forearms that are parallel to the ground and symmetrical. Though he’s not tight below his knees, he’s jumping so correctly and high that he doesn’t have to be tight.
As much as a stylist as this rider is, I’d like to see her have more interest in classic appointments for horse and rider. I’d also like the horse to have less hair—first a body clip and then a trim to his ears and around his coronet. A well-groomed horse just takes work.
George H. Morris is the former chef d’équipe of the U.S. Equestrian Federation Show Jumping Team. He serves on the USEF National Jumper Committee and Planning Committee, is an adviser to the USEF HighPerformance Show Jumping Committee and is president of the Show Jumping Hall of Fame.