Jumping Clinic With George Morris
Four good releases
Great riders follow the horse, like one partner follows in dancing, and our first competitor is such a following rider. This is in part because her basics are so correct—she has a very good leg position and she is showing a beautiful short crest release.
Starting at the all-important stirrup position, about a quarter of her foot is correctly in the iron, which is at a right angle to the girth. This puts the outside branch slightly ahead of the inside, creating a supple leg.
This is how a base of support should look—she is not jumping ahead or dropping back. You might say her seat is a little high out of the saddle, but it’s over an oxer and her horse is really using his back. Her eyes are looking up and ahead. This is a beautiful example of a short crest release. To be textbook perfect, she could lower her hands about 4 inches to create a straight line from her elbow to his mouth. This takes practice because with this automatic release, you are not able to use the horse’s neck for support.
This horse does not have a great front end—his knees are pointing slightly down and he’s loose—but he’s jumping up and his legs are very symmetrical. Olympic gold medalist Touch of Class did not have a good front end but she was scopey and a trier.
The horse is well cared for—his coat looks good and he’s clean. I like a full-cheek twisted snaffle for jumping. She needs to slide the center piece of the noseband up about one-quarter of an inch; it’s just a little low on the horse’s nose, which could restrict his breathing. I don’t care for what looks like hinged irons—the ankle needs to flex, not the iron. And I don’t like the elastic breast plate—I saw a horse almost choke when the saddle slipped back after a round. I also think the horse would be more dressed up with a white saddle pad and if his hooves were polished.
This horse and rider are beautifully turned out, which should be the standard for all riders regardless of discipline. Her leg needs some work, but she’s one of the few riders demonstrating a textbook automatic release.
She is pinching with her knee, and as a consequence, her leg has slipped back. I think this is just a bad habit with her because her stirrup is the correct length and the iron is correctly positioned on her foot. She needs to practice keeping her heel down and distributing the weight evenly among her thigh, inner knee bone and calf. To do this, she can practice riding without stirrups, first on the flat and then over low fences.
Her base of support is a little high—I’d like her seat closer to the saddle. This fault is called jumping ahead. Her back is impeccable, neither too stiff nor too round. Her eyes are looking up and ahead. She has a perfectly straight line from her elbow to the horse’s mouth and she is not relying on the horse’s neck for her balance, which takes practice. In my day showing at the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden, you didn’t get a ribbon if you didn’t use the automatic release, a hallmark of which is maintenance of a light, following contact.
This horse is a dream of an equitation mount. He has a cute head and expression and his front end is very good with his knees up and very symmetrical. He jumps flat, which is what you want in an equitation horse so the rider has an easier time maintaining position. From his poll to the withers to the dock of his tail is a straight line.
He is impeccably turned out. He’s clean and in good weight. I love the well-fitting white saddle pad. The whole picture is clean and very simple and elegant, so the attention is on the beauty of the horse.
Right off the bat, I can tell you this rider’s stirrup is too long because the angle behind her knee is too big. It should be between 100 and 110 degrees at this point in the jump. The consequence is this rider’s leg is loose and slipped back. She needs to shorten it by at least a hole and then twist the iron so the outside branch leads the inside and her little toe touches the outside. These changes would help to stabilize her leg. Then she needs to do a lot of work in two-point position and jumping without stirrups to tighten up her leg. Pluses are that her heel is well down, her ankle is flexed and her toes are turned out.
The slipped-back leg has caused her seat to be too high and her crotch is in front of the saddle. Her posture is very good and her eyes are up and ahead. This rider’s release is approaching the automatic release. If she lowered her hands 2 inches, it would be textbook, but I admire that she’s attempting to graduate from relying on the horse’s neck for balance. That and her focus tell me that she’s a conscientious student.
This is a very cute horse with a great expression with his ears and in his eyes. I can’t see his front end too well—I can see that his forearms and knees are up but not whether he’s tight or not. He’s 2 feet over this jump, showing a lot of thrust. He looks like he could jump a big fence. He wants to be round—he’s dropping his head and neck—which helps his jumping effort.
He looks poorly cared for to me. His coat is dull, so the rider might need to check his deworming schedule and his feed program. It’s irritating when a rider’s position is good and her clothes are beautiful but the horse doesn’t look well. I’d prefer a more fitted saddle pad and a girth without a cover if the horse doesn’t need it.
This rider’s leg is slipped back, but I think it’s more from habit than from being too loose or gripping with the knee. The angle behind her knee is too open; she needs to shorten the stirrup leather a hole so when she jumps, the angle behind her knee is 100–110 degrees. For a more supple and stable leg, I would like her to twist the iron so that the outside branch leads the inside and her little toe touches the outside branch. She then can work in two-point, jumping crossrails and keep her heels down to form a new habit.
She’s jumping ahead but not too badly—her seat is too high out of the saddle, which often comes from a too-long stirrup. She’s standing in her irons a little. She has very good posture and her eyes are looking up and ahead. She’s moved her hands a couple of inches forward and is pressing them into the horse’s neck in a good short release. The rein is a little slack with a broken line above the mouth, which are also hallmarks of a short release. A broken line below the mouth is unacceptable because it hits the horse in the sensitive bars of his mouth. There are different releases for different levels of riders and horses.
This horse has a very loose front end. His knees are up and his forearms are parallel to the ground, but he’s pretty casual below them, which will cost him points in the hunter ring. A jump like this forgives a horse who does not have a good front end because there is such a stepped ground line on both sides of the fence. It doesn’t separate a so-so horse from a really good one, like Touch the Sun from the 1970s.
I think this horse could use more time in the grooming stall being curried and brushed. I like that his mane is braided and he has a well-fitting saddle pad. But the rider’s boots could use more cleaning and polishing—before she goes into the ring, a friend could wipe them off.
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.