George Morris Clinic
Photos and words by SUZANNE MCGILL

There are so many extraordinary things about legendary American jumping coach George Morris. His effective methods, his unique style, his longevity.... and the fact that he’s been coaching in Australia for decades but hadn’t visited Western Australia for 30 years until January 2015.


Lured by an invitation from Yalambi Farm Stud in Margaret River, George returned to WA to coach an intensive three day clinic. Twenty participants in three groups ranged from Grand Prix showjumpers and 4**** eventers to a group with green horses and novice riders.

A horseman in the truest sense of the word, George’s ability to achieve effective outcomes by applying the same basic training elements to all three groups is the key to his long-term success as a coach and mentor.

Few coaches have influenced so many top level international riders, but George would be equally proud of his achievement in developing the skills of those he’s coached at all levels over the length of his long career.

“I teach old fashioned, classical riding,” said George, “not contemporary, fashionable techniques.” Credited with developing the forward American Hunter Seat and crest release (developed to help novice riders to learn to jump), he’s a sometimes controversial figure in equestrian sport; but the classic books he’s written continue to be widely read many years after they first appeared on bookstore shelves.

“What riders today lack is education. You don’t read anymore,” lamented George, who said he continues to read everything he can to continue improving the way he rides - even at 77 years old.

“Today’s fashion is to sit backwards in the saddle, not move with the horse,” said George, who advocates the rider being in a slightly forward inclined position in order to move with the horse. “How can your horse move forward freely if you’re sitting behind the movement?”

Hand position is another pet peeve. “In Australia, your hands are much too low, always pulling the horse’s head down. The way to get your horse to become round and work over its back is to raise your hands. If you want your horse to listen, to stop, raise your hands - don’t lower them!” Only direct contact from elbow to bit is acceptable and ultimately effective.

Putting what he preaches into practice - and disregarding his mature age - George reinforced his techniques by mounting and riding a horse in each of the three groups - advanced (1.30m+), intermediate (1.15m) and novice (1m). Once on board, he put his preaching into practice, demonstrating how to use his methods to get the most out of classical aids both during flatwork and gymnastic jumping exercises.

“There are three key elements to riding: hand, seat and leg. You riders here need to think more about your hands and legs. Hands must be in a direct line from elbow to bit and be close together, with the thumbs almost touching. Your calves should hug the side of the horse; the pressure and release of the pressure from them makes the horse go and come back - not kicking. No kicking!” George observed that Australian riders are taught ‘seat’ riding, which puts them too deep in the saddle and behind the movement.

“It isn’t fashionable today to get submission to the hand. I don’t talk a lot about seat bones, but I do pay a lot of attention to submission to hands and legs.”

Sitting down and leaning back on horses “punishes your horse,” explained George, who added, “riders should never ‘sit down’ on their horses; they should gently sink.”

As for stirrups, George constantly berated several riders that their toes should be out at a slight angle, not straight or pointed in, and stirrups (always plain, heavy stainless steel) must be a right angle to the girth. “Heels should always be firmly down. Your stirrups are your anchors and help you stay balanced.”

Once the riders in the clinic had these basic elements in place, they were able to maximise the gymnastic exercises and methods George built upon over the three days of lessons. By the last day of the clinic, it was clear to the clinic participants and to the more than 100 spectators that George’s long-standing, classical methods had improved every horse and rider.

Will George be back to WA? “This facility at Yalambi for riding and breeding is extraordinary,” said George, “and the footing for jumping rivals the early Hickstead - an exceptional arena space. I’d happily take home at least 10 of Yalambi’s young horses if I were still in the business of buying horses.” Hopefully that enthusiasm will encourage George to return here, following up on the wisdom he shared on this visit to WA.

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Left: Alison Rowland on Grand Prix stallion Yalambi's Carpino Z showed form during the gymnastic exercises.

Right: Yalambi's enormous grass arena was a perfect environment for the clinic. George especially liked the surface - and the enormous tree, which he incorporated into his turning exercises