Jumping Clinic With Ge­orge Mor­ris

Which two horses would Ge­orge love to ride?

Practical Horseman - - Contents - Jumping Clinic With Ge­orge Mor­ris


Over the years, the only other per­son I’ve known to be as ob­sessed about stir­rup-iron po­si­tion as I is He­len Crab­tree, the doyenne of sad­dle-seat equi­tation about 40 years ago. She said, “Ge­orge, it starts with the stir­rup iron.” It’s such a triv­ial-ap­pear­ing thing, but in my own ex­pe­ri­ence, it’s crit­i­cal be­cause it is the foun­da­tion of po­si­tion and bal­ance.

With that in mind, I want this very nice rider to twist her iron so that the out­side branch is a lit­tle ahead of the in­side. This puts the iron per­pen­dic­u­lar to the girth, which al­lows for a sup­pler leg. Oth­er­wise, her leg is ex­cel­lent: Her toes are turned out, her heels are down, her an­kles are flexed and there is even dis­tri­bu­tion of con­tact between her thigh, in­ner knee bone and calf.

This is how a rider’s base of sup­port must look: The thrust of the horse’s jumping ef­fort has tossed her seat out of the sad­dle. Her pos­ture is ex­cel­lent and she’s us­ing her eyes well in the left turn. This is a good ex­am­ple of a long crest re­lease. It’s like plac­ing a hand on a ta­ble—it sup­ports you while giv­ing the horse free­dom. How­ever, if the hands are thrown more than half­way up the neck as you often see in the hunter ring to­day, that is un­nec­es­sar­ily ma­lign­ing the crest re­lease.

This is a lovely horse whom I’d love to jump. With a beau­ti­ful head and ex­pres­sion in his eyes and ears, he has an im­pec­ca­ble front end and his rider is let­ting him drop his head and neck. He is not the round­est over the low fence but his hind end is fol­low­ing through nicely.

He is also beau­ti­fully turned out. His coat shines, he’s a good weight and he’s braided. The rider has cor­rectly put a red rib­bon in his tail, in­di­cat­ing that he kicks. I’d pre­fer a white sad­dle pad be­cause I think it dresses up a horse. I’d also like the rider to wear the more tra­di­tional navy or hunter-green coat. The over­all pic­ture is a bit gray and musty for my taste.


This child is a good rider, an ath­lete, with a beau­ti­ful leg. To be picky, the out­side branch of the stir­rup iron could be twisted just slightly far­ther for­ward, but she is cor­rectly feel­ing the out­side branch with her lit­tle toe. I like the iron’s heavy-duty stain­less steel and its narrow width from front to back. Her toes are out, her heels are well down and her an­kle is flexed.

Her seat is also fine. She’s not jumping ahead or drop­ping back. She’s a very bal­anced rider. She’s also fit, some­thing I think rid­ers have an obli­ga­tion to be for the comfort of their horses. It’s part of horse­man­ship. I don’t want anorexic rid­ers, but I don’t want them over­weight ei­ther. This rider also has beau­ti­ful pos­ture. And look how se­ri­ous she is—she is not wast­ing her time, her trainer’s or the horse’s. I love her.

She’s at­tempt­ing an au­to­matic re­lease, but her hands are too high and ro­tat­ing back so she’s lift­ing this horse over the fence. You can see there’s pres­sure on the horse’s mouth—he’s smil­ing a lit­tle. This is not good for the horse be­cause he can start to de­pend on be­ing held off the jumps. While still us­ing her leg, she needs to lower her hands a lit­tle and have a softer, more fol­low­ing con­tact on his mouth. Her pony might hit the jump the first few times, but he’ll learn to use him­self bet­ter.

The pony has a big ro­man nose and plain head, and he’s just step­ping over this jump with an un­even front end, but he ap­pears to be safe. He’s healthy and in a good weight but there’s not much at­tempt at turnout. He could be bet­ter trimmed around his pasterns and his mane could be pulled. I don’t like the light-col­ored tack and it doesn’t seem to be well made. The trick with tack is to buy qual­ity, which will save you money in the long run. Lesser tack wears out and breaks. I also think her boots could have more shine.


Even­ters have li­cense to put their stir­rup irons far­ther back on their feet than hunter or jumper rid­ers do and this rider is a great ex­am­ple of how to do this. But I’m not ad­vo­cat­ing this stir­rup po­si­tion be­cause top even­ters, like Ger­many’s Michael Jung, ride with only one-quar­ter of their foot in the iron, which al­lows for a sup­pler leg. The rest of her leg is beau­ti­ful with toes turned out, heels down and an­kles flexed. Some train­ers teach that toes should be par­al­lel to the horse’s sides, but I don’t agree be­cause it pulls the calves away from the horse’s sides.

She has an im­pec­ca­ble base of sup­port with her seat just out of the sad­dle enough. There’s no hint of her duck­ing, drop­ping back or jumping ahead. She has perfect body con­trol. Her eyes are look­ing up and ahead—she has won­der­ful fo­cus. Her re­lease is clos­est to a fol­low­ing hand with an al­most-straight line from her el­bow to the horse’s mouth. She has ex­cel­lent con­tact: She is giv­ing what the horse is tak­ing. To make it text­book perfect, she would need to lower her hand about 2 inches. Over­all, I re­ally like this rider.

This flea-bit­ten gray has a beau­ti­ful head with at­ten­tive and alert ears and eyes. He has an im­pec­ca­ble front end with his knees up by his eye­balls. You want a horse’s fore­arms to be par­al­lel to the ground and this horse’s are higher. Be­low his knees, his right leg is a lit­tle looser than his left, and he could pull both feet closer to his el­bows, but that’s not a ne­ces­sity. He’s not the round­est jumper, but he jumps boldly and cor­rectly with thrust and scope. I’d love to ride this horse.

He is also well cared for. He’s clean and trimmed with his tail pulled. The tack looks clean and un­der­stated as does the sad­dle pad, so the horse’s beauty is what you no­tice first. The rider’s turnout also looks clean, sharp and work­man­like.


This re­laxed, bold rider, who is with her horse, would be even bet­ter with a few ad­just­ments. The stir­rup iron is for­ward on her toe, putting her at risk of los­ing it. She needs to move it back about a half-inch and po­si­tion it so her lit­tle toe touches the out­side branch. I’m not a fan of wide (front to back) stir­rups or ones that are too light. If you lose them, they fly around and are hard to re­trieve; heavy stain­less-steel irons are much eas­ier to re­trieve. This rider has too much grip in her knee, which takes her lower leg off her horse so it swings back. She needs to work on get­ting her heels down and mak­ing sure there is even dis­tri­bu­tion of con­tact among her thigh, in­ner knee and calf.

Go­ing hand in hand with piv­ot­ing from the knee is a seat that is too far out of the sad­dle. She has good pos­ture and she is look­ing to the left. This is an ex­cel­lent demon­stra­tion of the short crest re­lease. She’s rest­ing her hands up the neck an inch or two and the rein is a lit­tle slack with a bro­ken line above the mouth. To im­prove the re­lease, she could drop her hands 3–6 inches to cre­ate a straight line from her el­bow to the horse’s mouth.

This horse has a dra­matic front end. He’s al­most hit­ting his chest with his feet. I’m not sure if this is a gag-type bit. If so, I sug­gest she use a rub­ber rein on the snaf­fle ring and a leather rein on the curb ring. Us­ing just one rein on the curb ring can cause a horse to jump high-headed and a lit­tle flat.

The les­son she gives us is beau­ti­ful turnout. The horse is groomed im­pec­ca­bly and is in beau­ti­ful weight. His coat blooms. He’s been braided. Her tack, sad­dle, breeches and boots are clean. The rub­ber rein is ab­so­lutely clean. This rider is a horse­woman. Horse­man­ship doesn’t start in the win­ner’s cir­cle; it starts with the horse. To­day that is not the norm—now it’s dy­ing out, which is scary. Top care­tak­ers are be­com­ing ex­tinct.

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.


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