Jumping Clinic With George Morris
Three who could move to automatic releases
This rider has a superb leg and impeccable base of support. She has the right stirrup length with a 110-degree angle behind her knee. Her heel is down, her ankle is flexed and her toes are turned out, which allows her calf to be in contact with her horse.
Her seat has been tossed out of the saddle just enough—she has made no attempt to jump ahead. Her posture is textbook perfect with a flat back and slight hollow in her loins. She has a lot of contact with the curb rein, which tells me the horse is strong. She might have to have this much contact, but it invites the horse to jump hollow and flat. Other than this, she is showing an acceptable short crest release with her hands 2 inches up his neck. She could drop her hands straight down the neck 3–4 inches and create a straight line from her elbow to the horse’s mouth to achieve an automatic release. This type of release requires the rider to be balanced so that her hands can be independent enough to follow the horse’s head and neck forward and down.
The horse looks like a sweet soul. His forearm is parallel to the ground and his knees are up, but he’s loose and uneven below them. He’s not dangerous, but he’s just stepping over the jump. He’s hollow from his poll to the dock of his tail to the point where he’s almost upside down. He’s a prime candidate for equitation because his flat jumping helps a rider maintain position.
I’d give the turnout a C. The horse is adequately groomed and the tack is adequately clean. The saddle pad fits well and the rider’s clothes are conservative and well-fitting. But the horse’s and rider’s boots could be cleaner and the horse’s mane is flying all over the place. While I like that the saddle looks good for jumping—light and not bulky—it looks like it could be better cleaned and oiled, too.
This short-legged rider with her excellent seat looks to be effective, though she’s making a mistake typical of someone her stature by riding with a too-long stirrup. The angle behind her knee looks about 140 degrees instead of 110 degrees, so she needs to shorten the leather one or two holes. She needs to reposition the iron so the outside branch leads the inside, which will create a suppler leg. But her little toe is touching the outside branch and her heel is down, her ankle is flexed and her toes are turned out. She has an even distribution of contact between her thigh, inner knee bone and calf.
Her seat is being tossed slightly out of the saddle with no signs of jumping ahead. Her posture is beautiful and her eyes are looking to the right for a turn. She is showing a short crest release, though her hands are floating above the neck. I’d rather see them resting against the neck to support her upper body. To be textbook perfect, she needs to drop her hands straight down about 3–4 inches and maintain a light contact in the air. But very few people today practice the automatic release—we’ve lost the ability to ride in balance.
This horse has a soft expression with a beautiful eye and ear and quality head. When a horse has quality, he has Thoroughbred blood—and the more, the better. His left leg is lower than his right. It worries me that he could hang that left if he came in deep to a vertical. So I’d like his front end to be more even. The horse drops his head and neck and wants to be round.
This girl and her horse are turned out in a simple way, which I admire. Everything is spotlessly clean— the horse, the tack, the breeches. The horse has been clipped but he has great bloom and he’s in good weight. The braid job is beautiful and the tack is simple, conservative and flat. The stirrup irons gleam.
This is an athletic rider with good conformation whose riding would improve with a few adjustments. She has long legs and she’s riding a narrow horse. The angle behind her knee is about 150 degrees—from the point of her hip to the point of her heel is practically straight. All of these things indicate that she needs to shorten her stirrup. This will allow her to have more contact with her calf. She also will have a suppler leg if she adjusts her iron so that the outside branch leads the inside and her little toe touches the outside branch. And she needs to move the iron so that only one quarter of her foot is in it.
Because her knee is acting like a pivot, sending the lower leg back, her upper body is too far forward and she is jumping ahead. Her posture is good, her back is flat and her eyes are looking up and ahead. She is demonstrating a short crest release and her hands are just alongside the crest, pressing into it. Once she adjusts her stirrup length and practices keeping her leg underneath her, she could try an automatic release by lowering her hands down 4–5 inches to maintain a straight line from her elbow to her horse’s mouth.
This is an earnest little horse with a very alert, conscientious expression. He has a plain, big head and short, thick neck. Though he doesn’t have much bascule, he has a beautiful front end with his knees up and legs so symmetrical they practically look like one. He looks like he’s a careful, fast jumper.
Their turnout would get a C-plus. I’m not saying her horse is not cared for, but I’d like to see more spit and polish. His mane could be pulled and trained to lie flat. It’s a little hard to tell because of the shadow, but his coat could probably use more elbow grease to bring out a bloom. It looks like his fetlocks could be trimmed more.
With her heel up, leg slipped to the rear and her seat almost ahead of the pommel, this rider has to work on the basics. She is gripping with her upper thigh and her heel has come up so she is unintentionally asking her horse to go forward. First, she needs to move the iron closer to her toes so that about one quarter of her foot is through it for more flexion in the ankle. Then she needs to drop the weight into her heel and stretch her leg down so she has an equal distribution of contact among her thigh, inner knee bone and calf. She must practice this leg position at the walk, trot and canter. Once her leg is stable on the flat, she can work to maintain it over crossrails.
Her knee is acting like a pivot so that as her lower leg goes back, her upper body goes forward too much and she is jumping ahead. This is a safety issue because, along with her unstable leg, if the horse props or stops, she could tumble over his neck. She is releasing her horse, but her hands seem to be floating above the neck a little. I want to see them pressed into the horse’s mane so they support her upper body. Her eyes are looking up and ahead and her posture is OK.
This is a big, handsome horse, but unfortunately, he’s got a poor front end. His right knee is pointing down over an oxer, making me think it could be worse over a vertical with no ground line. He wants to be round, though I don’t sense he’s very careful. I dislike any curb or gag bit that has only one rein. With these bits, you should always have a snaffle rein and that should be the primary rein. Using the curb rein will eventually make a horse jump flat because he can’t bend in the poll.
This pair’s turnout gets a C-minus grade. The tack and their boots do not look very clean. Whatever equipment you have cannot be too clean all the time.
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.