Jumping Clinic With George Morris
Clean is what horse-keeping is all about
Our first rider needs to fix some basic problems with her leg and release. Regarding her leg, she is standing on the ball of her foot, which pushes her toes down, causing her heel to go up. This makes her seat go up so she is jumping ahead. She needs to shorten her stirrup leather a half or entire hole and work in two-point on the flat at walk, trot and canter and over crossrails, driving weight into her heel. This will improve her base of support, giving her a secure position.
What also is causing her to jump ahead is that she is not releasing her horse. She is trying to follow his motion with her upper body instead of her hands, which she has incorrectly set just in front of the withers. She is hitting her horse in the mouth and unintentionally punishing him for jumping. She also could fall off if he stops. As she works over crossrails in two-point, she needs to practice moving her hands halfway up her horse’s neck in a long release and waiting with her upper body. She needs to wait for the horse’s thrust to throw her seat out of it just a little, allowing the knee angle to open and the hip angle to close. Her posture is good and her eyes are looking ahead.
This horse is quite a saint because even though the rider is restricting his mouth, his ears are pricked forward and he’s looking for the next fence. Though his knees are symmetrical, below them he’s very loose and uneven, so I don’t love his front end. He’s also jumping flat because he can’t use his head and neck.
Though the horse’s weight is all right, he could be groomed better to get some of the hair off and to give his coat more of a gleam. His mane needs to be pulled and trained to lie flat on one side. The tack looks like it could be cleaned and oiled. The saddle pad fits nicely and the rider’s clothes are clean and well-fitting, though I’d like the same attention on the horse’s turnout.
This rider has an excellent leg, an impeccable seat and she is using a correct short release. More importantly, from her and her horse’s stellar turnout, I can tell she’s a true horsewoman.
While I can’t see her foot completely, I can see that her heel is down and her toe is turned out. She needs to make sure the outside branch of the iron is ahead of the inside and that her little toe is touching the outside branch to ensure the most flexibility. The angle behind the knee is about 120 degrees and it should be closer to 110 degrees, so she could shorten the leather a hole. This will help her maintain a secure leg with this narrow-sided jumper.
Her base of support is correct and she’s demonstrating an ideal short release—hands a few inches up the neck, pressing into it. If she lowered her hands 3 to 5 inches so there was a straight line from her elbow to the horse’s mouth, she would be demonstrating a classic automatic release. This rider could practice this release over cavalletti and crossrails. As she approaches the obstacle, she should soften her hand and follow his mouth.
This horse has a lovely expression through his ears and eyes. He’s a lofty jumper and his knees are symmetrical and even, but his left leg below his knee is loose and hanging, though he’s not what I’d call a hanger. I’d like to see him tighter in the front end to be comfortable with him jumping solid verticals. But very often great jumpers are not tight in front, so they compensate by jumping higher, which this horse is doing.
He is beautifully cared for. Someone has scrubbed the hair off of him—he’s got a great coat. His tail has been pulled and banged and his mane is lying flat on one side. The tack and the saddle pad are scrupulously clean and the rider’s attire is subdued.
This rider is correct in most of her riding basics, but she needs help in her horse-management skills. Her leg position is impeccable with the iron at a right angle to the girth, a quarter of her foot in the iron and the leather perpendicular to the ground. Her heel is down, her toes are turned out and her calf is in contact with the horse’s side. She could try shortening her stirrup a hole if she feels she is reaching for the iron—the angle behind the knee is a little wider than the correct 110 degrees.
Her seat is also just far enough out of the saddle— she is not jumping ahead or dropping back. She is ducking with her upper body—throwing herself down alongside the neck of the horse. Her short crest release is trying to lift the horse off the ground—she is very slightly picking up her hand and rotating it back and down. She needs to press her hands into the crest of the horse’s neck. She also could lower her hands 4–6 inches and follow his mouth with a soft contact, inviting him to drop his head and neck and jump rounder.
This horse has a good expression with alert ears and eyes. His knees are up and his forearm is parallel to the ground, though he could be tighter below the knees. From the poll to the dock of his tail, he’s inverted—the rider’s slight lift of the hand is contributing to that. In addition to following his mouth more, the rider could practice trotting deep to the fence and getting off his back to encourage him to jump rounder.
This is very poor turnout of horse and rider. The horse’s coat is dull and his mane needs to be pulled and trained to lie flat. The tack looks dirty and the rider’s boots need to be polished and the brown spur straps should be black. The first criterion of horse management is everything must be scrupulously clean—dirty predisposes accidents and disease.
Our final rider is focused and stylish and she would be even better with a few position tweaks. Her iron is not at a right angle to the girth—instead, it’s at a right angle to her foot. She needs to adjust it so the outside branch touches the little toe and is angled so it is ahead of the inside branch. In this position, it will correctly be at a right angle to the girth, which improves the suppleness and flexibility of the rider’s leg. Other than that, she has a solid leg position with her heel down and calf in contact with the horse’s side. The stirrup length looks good as well.
Her seat is maybe a hair too far out of the saddle, which we riders tend to do at oxers. Her posture is good, though you can see in the region of her shoulders that she has a slight roach. On the flat, she could make sure her shoulders are back, but I also would not want her to get too stiff and posed. Her eyes are up and she is very concentrated on the next fence. She doesn’t have a straight line from her elbow to the horse’s mouth, but she’s getting close—she just needs to drop her hand another inch or two to have an automatic release.
This horse has a beautiful eye and ear. He also has a very good front end. His knees are up, his forearm is parallel to the ground and he’s very symmetrical. He could be a little tighter in front and he’s not very round from his poll to the dock of his tail—he’s almost stepping over this fence in a big canter stride—but he’s a very pleasant horse.
He is beautifully cared for and beautifully turned out. His coat is gleaming from good grooming and nutrition. He’s wearing boots so they’re in an equitation class. I’m not crazy about the sheepskin girth but it’s OK because it’s horse-friendly. Everything in this photo—the horse, the rider, the tack—is very clean, and that’s what horsekeeping is all about.
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.