Jumping Clinic With George Morris
Relaxed versus stiff positions
I like this rider—her basics are excellent. Her leg is reminiscent of those from the 1950s and ’60s. The stirrup iron is across the ball of the foot and her foot is touching the inside branch. It is twisted so this branch leads the outside, making the iron perpendicular to her foot, not the girth. Her toes are turned out almost to the maximum 45 degrees. This stirrup and foot position allows for a strong, viselike leg, which is OK for cross country, but I suggest she modernize it—you don’t see great eventers like Boyd Martin with this type of stirrup position/leg. Today we’ve graduated to a more supple, beautiful leg. Only about one-quarter of a rider’s toes are in the iron, which is placed so that the little toe touches the outside branch. This branch leads the inside, making the iron perpendicular to the girth. I like that her heels are down and her stirrup leather is properly short—there is about a 110-degree angle behind her leg.
This is how a seat should look in the air: The thrust of the horse’s jumping effort has tossed the rider’s seat just out of the saddle. Her back is flat and relaxed. The most important part of riding, her eyes, are looking up and ahead. Her hands are excellent in a short crest release. Her fingers are closed on the reins, but they are not gripping. For textbook perfection, she could drop her hands about 3 inches to create a straight line from her elbow to the horse’s mouth.
This is a solid, workmanlike horse. He has an honest, noble face with an expressive eye and ear. He’s a good jumper, though he doesn’t have textbook hunter form and he has a flattish bascule. His left leg is a little lower than his right and he lays on his left side a bit—he also throws his hocks to the right.
From my jaundiced eye, this turnout is far from elegant—it’s rustic—but the horse is in good weight and well cared for.
This rider has quite a good leg. About onequarter of her foot is in the stirrup iron and her little toe is correctly touching the outside branch. I’d like to see that branch lead the inside so the iron is perpendicular to the girth, not her foot. Her heels are down and her toes are turned out the maximum 45 degrees. Her leg has slipped back a little, but that could be partly because this is a bit of an awkward jumper who is making it hard for her to hold her leg.
Her base of support is excellent. You don’t see as much jumping ahead with eventers as you do with hunter riders. This is partly because they ride with shorter stirrup leathers so they aren’t reaching for their irons. Even with the safety vest, I can tell that she has a flat back—it is not too soft or stiff. Her eyes are looking up and ahead. I like the hand placement of her long crest release. This release gives the horse the maximum freedom of his head and neck while the rider’s hands press into the neck to support her upper body. But I’m sure my close friend [the late] Billy Steinkraus is looking down from wherever he is with his hair standing on end because he was so opposed to the crest release. He believed riders must always strive for the automatic release, where they lower their hands down the neck to form a straight line from the elbow to the horse’s mouth and maintain a following contact.
This horse doesn’t have the brightest expression and his head is average with a thick throatlatch. His forearms are parallel to the ground, but he’s quite loose below his knees. He’s a little flat, but he has some thrust— he’s jumping higher to compensate for his front end.
I’m not a fan of the turnout, which is too rough and ready for my taste. The horse doesn’t look as if he’s been trimmed and his mane needs to be pulled. I don’t like the maroon saddle pad or the casual blue shirt.
3 Our third rider has a serious leg problem—she grips with her knee, which acts as a pivot, causing her lower leg to slip back and her heel to come up. This leaves her susceptible to falling off if her horse were to prop or stop. She needs to stabilize her leg on the flat by dropping the weight in her heel and distributing the contact evenly between her calf, inner knee bone and thigh. Working in two-point would help strengthen her leg. I like the placement of the stirrup iron because it is perpendicular to the girth and the little toe touches the outside branch. This helps make her leg suppler and more beautiful.
The second problem that occurs when a rider grips with her knee is that the upper body goes up or forward. This rider’s seat is way too far out of the saddle. I call it standing up in the air and it’s categorized as jumping ahead. However, she has a flat back and her eyes are looking up and ahead. I sense, though, that she’s a little stiff in her posture and her arm. From her shoulder to her elbow to her hand to the horse’s mouth, there’s too much restriction. The horse’s neck is too short and he’s not free enough. He needs to be able to poke out his head and neck for better balance, which would improve his jump. One fix for this is that her trainer could longe her without stirrups to supple her arm while encouraging her to give and take with her hands. Then when she approaches the fence, she can add her leg as necessary and give with her hands.
The horse has a decent eye and ear, though he looks like he could be a little difficult. I like his left front leg much better than the right, but he looks like he has scope to jump a bigger fence.
He is very clean and in good weight. The tack is clean as are her boots and breeches. The secret of good horsemanship is cleanliness. 4 From her expression, body position and following arm, I sense that this is a relaxed, natural rider who just needs education and polish. She has a very short stirrup, which is good because this horse has a very big thrust. When jumping, it’s better to err on the side of too short a stirrup than too long so you can stay with your horse’s motion. What I don’t like is that her heels are up too far. She needs to work in two-point and drop the weight into them.
She has a good base of support. The horse’s jumping thrust has tossed her seat out of the saddle just enough— she is not making any effort to jump for him. She has good posture and the area above the belt is slightly hollow. Her eyes are looking up and ahead to the next fence. Though she’s following the horse’s mouth nicely with her hands, they’re slightly above the crest and they need to press into it for support. It’s a steppingstone to an automatic release, which this rider could try by dropping her hands 4–5 inches down the neck to create a straight line from her elbow to the horse’s mouth and maintain a following contact. That release is difficult because you need to rely solely on your balance—your hands are independent of your body and the horse.
This is a scopey jumping horse whom I want to like— he has a lovely expression, seems conscientious and is round—but his front end really bothers me. His forearms and knees are pointing down. If they are doing that over this oxer, what will happen at a vertical, where a horse needs to have a sharper front end? Unfortunately, I’d categorized him as a hanger.
I like that he is in good weight and he looks clean and is braided, though I’m not a fan of the white ear bonnet. But my problem is that I can’t get past the rider’s dirty boots. If I see dirty boots, I know there’s dirt elsewhere in a horse’s management.
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.