Jumping Clinic With George Morris
Small adjustments make a big difference.
Our first rider’s stirrup iron is exactly correct: She is touching the outside branch with her little toe and the iron is twisted so that branch leads the inside, making the iron perpendicular to the girth. This allows for a supple leg. The rider’s lower leg has slipped back because she has too much grip in her knee. As a consequence, her knee is acting like a pivot, sending her lower leg back. This is a bad habit that she can fix by riding on the flat and over small fences without stirrups, which naturally puts a rider’s leg in the correct position. She will be able to put more weight in her heel once she adjusts her lower leg.
Most riders who pinch with their knees and let their legs slip back then tip forward with their upper bodies. But this rider is not doing that—her seat is out of the saddle just enough—and her posture is natural and relaxed. She appears to be turning to the right with a nice coordination of aids to indicate that direction to her horse. She is looking with her eyes and her left rein is acting as a neck rein, pressing against the neck. I suspect her right rein is opening a little to help lead her horse to the right. This is a proper short crest release, but this rider looks advanced enough to try an automatic release. To do this, she must lower her hands a few inches to create a straight line from her elbow to the horse’s mouth and follow his mouth.
This is a very cute horse whose knees are up and even. He’s got a flat bascule—if you set a ruler from his poll to his withers to the dock of his tail, it would be almost a straight line.
The turnout is rough and ragged. The horse’s coat doesn’t have a bloom, which requires elbow grease. He looks like his fetlocks could be trimmed better and his mane pulled. His boots look dusty and I’m not a fan of the gray saddle pad.
This rider has a good old-fashioned Army leg that she could modernize with a few tweaks that would give her an even more stable position. Her heel is far down and turned out to the maximum acceptable 45 degrees. This allows for a viselike grip, which I do not criticize, but some might judge it as not modern enough. The angle behind her knee is 130–140 degrees and it should be closer to 110 degrees. That is one of the reasons I think she should shorten her stirrup a hole.
Another reason is that too-long stirrups often encourage a rider to jump ahead, which this rider is doing a little—her buttocks are too far out of the saddle. Riders also often jump ahead because they ride with their seats and not their legs. This rider needs to make sure that as she approaches a jump, she rides forward with her leg if necessary and not drive with her seat. If she rides from her seat, she may feel that she must throw her body forward to catch up on takeoff. As she closes her legs, she can relax her hands to let her horse jump, making no effort with her upper body. This is easier said than done. Her posture has a little roach, but it’s OK. She has one of the best hand positions we’ve had in a while. She has dropped them down her horse’s neck, working toward an automatic release.
This is a nice horse with a good expression in his eyes and ears. He’s not terribly refined—he has a big head and short neck. But he has a textbook front end over this natural brush. He’s got a rounder bascule than the previous horse. This is a horse I’d like to jump.
He also has some bloom in his coat, which is traceclipped, and he is in a nice weight. I’m not a fan of the blue saddle pad or the girth cover because they distract from the horse’s beauty. His boots could be cleaner as could hers.
Our third rider has a very good position, though her leg is back a little too far. Her heel is down, her ankle is flexed, her toes are turned out as her conformation allows—anywhere between 15 and 45 degrees is acceptable. The iron is perfectly placed—it’s not too far back on her foot and her little toe is touching the outside branch. Her lower leg is quite far behind the girth, but I’m not sure if that’s because her leg has slipped. It may be because of the way the girth attaches to the saddle. I suggest she ride on the flat and over low fences without stirrups. It’s very difficult to ride without stirrups and not have your leg fall into the correct place.
Her seat is about right. The thrust of the horse has thrown her out of the saddle just enough. She has a good natural posture with a slight concavity in the loins. Her eyes are looking up and ahead. I like her hand because it’s below the crest, showing that she’s working toward an automatic release. While the line from her elbow to the horse’s mouth is not straight, it’s close. The rein is soft, not taut, and she has a light contact with the horse’s mouth.
I love this horse’s expression. It’s very content with his ears up and eyes soft and looking ahead. I like that he’s stretching toward the bit, showing some bascule. His knees are up and symmetrical, but he’s loose below them. I’m a little suspicious that he could hang a leg over a bigger vertical or fixed fence. But his loose lower leg also could be because he’s basically just taking one big canter stride over this low fence; if the fence were bigger, he might put in more of an effort.
He’s in good weight and clean. His tail is braided, though his mane looks as if it could be pulled. I don’t love colors, but at least the saddle pad, his boots and her vest coordinate and they aren’t too loud.
I like that this rider’s heel is so far down, but it looks stiff to me. She could make it suppler by twisting the iron so that the outside branch leads the inside and the iron is at a right angle to the girth. She also could move it forward so that about a quarter of her foot is in it.
Her crotch and seat are high out of the saddle and over the pommel. This often happens when a person rides behind the horse’s motion to a fence. When the rider gets to the takeoff, she throws her body forward to catch up. Olympic gold medalist Conrad Homfeld rode behind the motion, but he still could wait on takeoff to let the horse’s thrust catch him up. This rider needs to have a spur and a stick to help her encourage the horse forward. As she approaches a low cavalletti, she needs to close her legs and relax her hands until she learns that she doesn’t have to jump for her horse. Her eyes are up and looking ahead and her posture is very good with a hollow loin. This is a great example of a short release. Her hands are a few inches up from the withers, pressing into the crest for support, and the rein is slack.
The horse has a bit of a sullen expression, making me think he’s not very generous or a little sour. He has a biggish head and his front legs are quite uneven— his left knee points down a little. However, with his long back, he looks as if he has the scope to jump a bigger, wider fence. Sometimes horses with a lot of scope can jump high with their bodies so even with a mediocre front end, they still do OK, though they can have rails in a jump-off.
The horse looks a little thin and while I like that he’s clipped, he needs more grooming to make his coat shine. His hooves could be cleaner as could the rider’s boots. Though the red shirt is bright and distracts from the horse, it is neat and fits well.
Do you want George Morris to critique your riding? If so, send in a color photograph, at least 3 x 5 inches, taken from the side, in which your position is not covered by a standard. Mail it to Jumping Clinic, Practical Horseman, 178 Thomas Johnson Dr., Suite 204L, Frederick, MD 21702 or email a high-resolution (300 dpi) copy to practical. email@example.com. Please indicate photographer’s name/contact information if professionally taken. Submitted photos also appear on Practical Horseman’s website and may be displayed on Facebook.