In­vite Your Horse to Be Round

Practical Horseman - - Jumping Clinic With George Morris - 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


De­spite the fact that this rider is reach­ing for her stir­rups, her base of sup­port is ex­cel­lent and she is de­mon­strat­ing a beau­ti­ful au­to­matic re­lease. I can tell her stir­rups are too long be­cause there is lit­tle an­gle be­hind her knee, which needs to be about 110 de­grees—she should shorten her leathers about two holes. The iron needs to be twisted so its out­side branch is ahead of the in­side. This rider’s heel is down, her an­kle is flexed and her toes are turned out 45 de­grees.

Usu­ally riders who have to reach for their stir­rups com­pen­sate by throw­ing their seats out of the sad­dle and jump­ing ahead, but there is no sign of that here. This rider’s back is nat­u­ral and re­laxed and she is very fo­cused. This is where I want the hands in an au­to­matic re­lease: along­side the mid­dle of the neck, creat­ing a straight line from the horse’s mouth to the rider’s el­bow, which re­quires bal­ance and sta­bil­ity. As a mi­nor point, I would have more of the end of the whip above her hand so the whip is bet­ter bal­anced.

Though this work­man­like horse has a big head and looks a lit­tle plain, I like the con­cen­trated ex­pres­sion of his ears and in eyes. He has a good front end—his knees are even, but be­low them, the left is a lit­tle loose. He’s round from poll to tail, show­ing that he’s us­ing his back. This type of fence, with the pole set across the top rails, is not al­lowed in the show ring, but I take no of­fense to it. It re­quires a gut­sier ride. How­ever, I usu­ally do this only with a square oxer.

The horse is in good weight and well cared for, demon­strated by a clean coat. I be­lieve they are school­ing, but even so, the over­all turnout is a bit musty—the horse’s mane is too long, the bell boots and hooves are dull and the busy sad­dle pad and sheep­skin girth de­tract from the horse’s beauty. These are small de­tails, but they count a lot to­ward over­all ap­pear­ance.


This is a good rider who needs to make some po­si­tion cor­rec­tions, es­pe­cially re­gard­ing her re­stric­tive hands. Though her heel is down and her toes are turned out, her leg has slipped back. Her stir­rup length might be OK on a big­ger-bar­reled horse, but on this nar­row horse she may need to ride one hole shorter so there is more con­tact with her leg to pre­vent swing­ing. She needs to ride on the flat in two-point and drive the weight into her heel and keep the stir­rup per­pen­dic­u­lar to the ground. Then she must prac­tice the same thing over cross­rails.

She is drop­ping back too far in the sad­dle—I’d like her but­tocks to be far­ther out of it. Her back is ex­em­plary and her eyes are look­ing up and ahead. Her hands are not at­trac­tive. She looks as if she is try­ing to turn her horse by mov­ing the left hand for­ward and above the neck and us­ing a fixed right rein, which hol­lows a horse. If she is turn­ing, she needs to bring the left hand back a few inches, push­ing it into the crest, and move her right hand to the right to lead him with a giv­ing feel. While he’s not the round­est jumper, she wants to at least in­vite him to be round with a bet­ter re­lease.

This seems a sour lit­tle horse with his ears and eyes pointed back. Though he ap­pears to be safe, he’s not us­ing him­self very well. His front legs are not even, with the right lower than the left. He’s also a “step­per”—his belly is the low­est part to the fence.

Though his coat looks sun-bleached, he also doesn’t look clean and nei­ther does the tack and equip­ment. The sad­dle pad is unat­trac­tive and the rider’s boots aren’t pol­ished. How the horse and rider are turned out has a lot to do with horse­man­ship. So many horses I see to­day lack in spit and pol­ish.


This looks like a fo­cused rider, but she has some work to do on her leg and her re­lease. Her leg has slipped back. She needs to work on the flat and over fences in two-point, drop­ping her weight down into her leg so that the leather is per­pen­dic­u­lar to the ground. She also needs to move the iron for­ward to­ward her toe. De­spite these is­sues, her heel is down, her an­kle is flexed and her toes are out.

Her seat is too high out of the sad­dle and too far for­ward, de­mon­strat­ing a slight ex­am­ple of jump­ing ahead. Her back and pos­ture are good and her eyes are up. In­stead of fol­low­ing the horse’s mouth down, her hands have popped up. While I wouldn’t say she is lift­ing the horse, she’s close to do­ing that. The point of a crest re­lease is to sup­port the up­per body by press­ing into the crest of the horse’s neck and giv­ing him some free­dom with a longer rein. Once this rider’s leg is sta­bi­lized, she could drop her hands a few inches along­side the horse’s neck and work to­ward an au­to­matic re­lease, where there is a straight line from her el­bow to the horse’s mouth and an elas­tic, giv­ing feel.

I love this horse’s big ear, large brown eye and beau­ti­ful color. Though he’s a lit­tle less sym­met­ri­cal be­low his knees, the knees them­selves are up and his fore­arms are sym­met­ri­cal. Once the rider length­ens the rein a lit­tle and drops her hands, she will in­vite the horse to use his head and neck, al­low­ing him to have a rounder back and bet­ter bas­cule. Once he learns to use him­self bet­ter, he’ll have an even bet­ter front end.

The horse is well turned out, but I’d like to see a more at­ten­tion to de­tail: The rider’s and horse’s boots could both be bet­ter pol­ished. The horse’s fet­locks could be trimmed. The black sad­dle pad gives a musty feel to their look and all of the tack should be scrupu­lously clean.


This horse and rider are beau­ti­fully turned out, and the rider’s leg and seat are very cor­rect, but she is not re­leas­ing him—a se­ri­ous fault. Though I’m not a fan of hinged stir­rups like this rider’s ap­pear to be—the an­kle is sup­posed to flex, not the iron—the stir­rup is beau­ti­fully po­si­tioned at a right an­gle to the girth, her lit­tle toe is touch­ing the out­side branch, her heel is down, her toes are out and her an­kle is flexed. With the proper stir­rup length, her calf is in con­tact with her horse’s sides. She could con­sider work­ing with a dummy spur, which dresses up a leg. When you work a horse with an ac­tual spur, it re­in­forces the leg.

With the proper stir­rup length, the base of sup­port is much more likely to be cor­rect. This rider’s seat is ex­em­plary. Her pos­ture is, too, and her eyes are up and look­ing ahead. Un­for­tu­nately, she is set­ting her hands right down on the with­ers. In a short re­lease, the rider gives the hands up the neck an inch or two. In an au­to­matic re­lease, she drops her hands about 6 inches along­side the mar­tin­gale yoke. This horse looks very alert, so maybe if she re­leases him, he’ll take off. But be­cause she can’t give with her hand, he can’t use his head and neck, so he can’t round his back. As a con­se­quence, he’s jump­ing very flat. If he is quick, she needs to check that she is us­ing a suf­fi­cient bit with him. Then she needs to trot fences and stop him af­ter so that he is not tak­ing over. If she could give with her hands, he would start to use him­self bet­ter.

This horse is a flat jumper, but his knees are up, though he could be tighter be­low them. Their turnout is sim­ple and beau­ti­ful, al­low­ing the horse’s nat­u­ral beauty to take cen­ter stage. The horse is beau­ti­fully groomed. The sheep­skin pad fits like a glove. The tack looks clean and fits well. This rider is at­tempt­ing the old-school style of turnout, which I ap­pre­ci­ate.

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