Jump­ing Clinic With Ge­orge Mor­ris

Practical Horseman - - Special Dressage Issue -

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.

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