Jumping Clinic With George Morris
Happy with riding, unhappy with care
Our first rider is good in terms of technical skill—I’d give her a score in the high 80s—but she needs help with turnout. She has a great leg, where the iron is correctly angled across the ball of her foot so the outside branch is ahead of the inside and her little toe is touching the outside. This allows for a supple ankle. Her toes are turned out and she has her calf on her horse. The angle behind her knee is a little open—it should be between 100 and 110 degrees—indicating that her stirrup leather is too long by at least a hole.
Her buttocks are too far out of the saddle because she is standing in her stirrups. Approaching the fence, she must use her legs if necessary to maintain forward momentum and then wait for her horse’s jumping thrust to push her seat out of the saddle just a little. Her posture is excellent. Her crest release is floating above the horse’s neck. She needs to lower her hands so they’re on either side of the horse’s crest and press them into the neck to support her upper body.
The horse is very cute with an alert expression. His knees are way up and he is very symmetrical from his elbow to the point of his toe. He jumps a little flat, which horses with good front ends tend to do.
While the rider’s technical skill is very good, her horse management needs more effort. There is dried sweat on the horse’s neck, which tells me he either needs grooming or a body clip. Not only does a long coat look unattractive, it’s unhealthy. As he cools down, he could catch a chill and get sick. His mane needs to be pulled, and the tack needs to be cleaner. I don’t like elastic breastplates because I saw a horse whose saddle had slipped back. The elastic didn’t break and he choked. The saddle pad takes my attention away from the horse. The rider’s boots are unpolished and her hair is flying out all over the place.
This rider has a nice following release, but her leg has slipped back and her hip angle has opened up too much, giving the impression that she’s riding a little defensively. In addition to the slipped-back leg, her heel has come up. This is partly because her iron is too far back on her foot. I’d like to see it a little closer to her toe—which should be about one-quarter of the way in the iron—to give her a suppler leg and allow her to drop more weight in her iron. Her leg will become more stable so she’ll be able to keep it closer to the girth.
Her seat is a little too deep in the saddle. She needs to close her hip angle a bit more so she can follow her horse better with her body. It seems she’s lacking confidence and rather than riding forward to the fence, she’s doubting herself. She shouldn’t doubt her horse because he’s great. This rider’s best feature is her arm. Though she seems tentative with her body, she’s following her horse’s mouth, allowing him to drop his head and neck. There is almost a straight line from her elbow to the bit and she’s maintaining contact and support, but she’s not stiffing her horse in the mouth.
This is a very cute horse with a beautiful, quality head and expressive ears and eyes. He also has a great front end with his knees up and very symmetrical. He jumps a little flat across his back in the air, but that’s OK. I’d rather have a horse with a wonderful front end and less bascule than the opposite.
Again, I have a problem with this rider’s turnout. The horse’s coat is dull—I’d like to see her use more elbow grease to bring more bloom to it. His mane needs to be pulled so that it’s not wider than a hand’s width and trained to lie flat by being loosely braided with rubber bands His fetlocks need to be trimmed and her boots need to be cleaned and polished.
Our third rider has an excellent leg with her toes turned out in accordance with her conformation, her heels down and her ankles flexed. Her stirrup-iron placement is helping with that flexion because her little toe is touching the outside branch and the iron is crossing the ball of her foot at an angle so the outside branch leads the inside. The angle behind her knee is just right, between 100 and 110 degrees at this point of the jump.
She waited for her horse’s thrust to push her seat out of the saddle just enough so that he can lift his back to jump yet she’s not in danger of falling off if he props or stops. Her posture with a flat back is beautiful. She’s attempting a crest release, but her hands are floating above the horse’s neck as were our first rider’s. The point of such a release is so the rider can rest her hands on either side of the neck to support the upper body. Except for that, she has a very good position.
This pony has a good, alert attitude and nice ear and eye. He is just taking one big canter step over this fence. He’s split his legs so the left one is down and the right one is up. This is not dangerous like hanging, but it’s not attractive and may indicate that he’s bored. But he’s safe for a young rider, which is important, and hopefully giving her confidence in her riding. He’s not dropping his head or neck and is hollow in his back.
I like that the pony is clipped and braided, but his coat is dull. Even with clipping, you have to groom them to bring bloom to a coat. I also think the rider’s boots could be cleaned and polished. Readers should study photos of the turnouts of Olympians McLain Ward and Beezie Madden and try to emulate them.
This horse is jumping so high that his rider is being jumped loose, but she’s doing a good job staying with him. Her toes are turned out the maximum 45 degrees and her heels are down. The angle behind her knee is about 100 degrees, indicating that her stirrup length is correct. But her lower leg has slipped back. She’s got a bit of a rounder thigh, like McLain Ward, and people with this conformation have to work harder to have a stable leg. She can ride without stirrups to get her leg stronger so she can stay with her powerful jumper.
Her base of support is fine. Her buttocks are a little too far out of the saddle, but it’s better than the alternative of getting left behind when her horse has made such an effort. There’s a little roach in her back and her eyes are looking up and ahead. This is a proper short crest release, where her hands have moved up an inch or two and are resting alongside the crest of the neck. She could try the next level of release—the automatic release—by dropping her hands straight down the neck about 4 inches to create a straight line from her elbow to the bit and maintaining a following contact.
Her horse is 2 feet higher than the jump, which says he’s careful and scopey. His knees are almost symmetrical. He’s flat across his topline, but when a horse overjumps like this, the bascule doesn’t matter as much.
He appears healthy with some shine to his clean coat. His mane is flying all over the place, which is sort of the fashion these days, but I think it looks sloppy. The tack looks all right as does her attire. I’d like her hair contained in a bun. If she doesn’t want her hair under the helmet, then it should be tucked in a bun at the base of helmet. When hair is not contained, it could get caught on something, so it’s a safety issue as well as an aesthetics issue. But everything looks clean, which is a priority.
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...
Take a trip back in time to read some of George’s classic Jumping Clinic critiques at www.PracticalHorsemanMag.com.