Lessons Learned From George Morris

“If riding were all blue ribbons and bright lights, I would have quit long ago” – George Morris

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Whether you idolize him or just have a passing interest, George Morris is a driving force in the Hunter/Jumper community. And today the esteemed Horseman, Trainer, Author and Judge turns 79 years old! In the past I have been very fortunate to clinic with George Morris, not once, but three times. I was also able to audit his clinics long before I rode in them, and the years in between riding with him. With that experience under my belt, I share with you three big takeaways:

  1. You can never be too prepared – Whether it’s reading his book before the clinic (Hunter Seat Equitation) so you can accurately and quickly answer his questions. Or being armed with the proper equipment and knowing what it is and why you use it (i.e.: knowing which bit you use and why, if you are short having stirrup leathers that taller people can use etc.)
  2. Be an Active Listener : If you are auditing or participating in one of Mr. Morris’ clinics remember why you are there. This isn’t a social hour for you, your friends, or someone you remember from a show 2 months ago. You are there to learn. So being awake and aware of what’s going on around you is important. If you think you misheard something, ask George. Trust me, on my “been there done that horse”, he asked me to jump the course first. I have a hard time remembering courses and wasn’t sure how to approach the jumps. I trotted up to him, asked a clarifying question and he happily gave me the answer and shooed me to jump. It helped relieve my anxiety.
  3. Know Your Horse – The first two times I rode with George I took my older “been there/done that horse”. He was well schooled but he had a naughty streak and an aversion to Liverpools. In the clinic environment, he did really well and I was able to work on the exercises presented, improve some, and appropriately tackled that longtime nemesis, the Liverpool. After two days my gelding no longer cared about the blue plastic tarp. The last time I rode in the clinic, I  rode my young green horse. He was a mild mannered trying kind of horse; the flatwork in the advanced group was not a problem but the obstacles and exercises over fences were a bit much for him. At the end of the day he wasn’t over faced by the height but it may have been overstimulating for him and we wouldn’t reap the rewards of the experience until months later. In retrospect, the horse needed another year under saddle before going to a clinic of that caliber and that was a valuable lesson.

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At the end of the day, if you’ve never participated in a clinic with him before, definitely audit a day or two first. Pay attention to the exercises and practice them at home. Discuss with your trainer and listen to your horse about whether it’s the right opportunity for you to take at this time.

Of Presidents and Horses

Tomorrow is President’s Day! Many of our past Presidents kept pets at the White House. Dogs like: Checkers Nixon, Bo Obama, and Feller Truman. Cats like: Socks Clinton, Nip, Tuck and Snowflake Coolidge.  Many of our countries illustrious  leaders were also phenomenal horsemen. Whether family pets, or trusted steeds who bravely carried them into  battle, our presidents cherished and cared for their horses with the highest standard! Here is a glimpse at a few:

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Painting of President George Washington and Blueskin by Rembrandt Peale.

George Washington, our first president, was an avid foxhunter who spent many hours a day in the saddle. Thomas Jefferson spoke of President Washington as being “the best horseman of his age, and the most graceful figure that could be seen on horseback.” Of the five stallions Washington owned, the most notable  were Nelson and Blueskin, whom he rode during the American Revolution. Nelson was a 16hh chestnut with lots of chrome. He was President Washington’s preferred mount during war since Nelson would bravely charge into battle as he was less spooky with gunfire and cannons. Can we say “bombproof”! Blueskin received his name from the deep blue grey hue of his coat. He was full of stamina and endurance thanks to his half-Arabian heritage. After the war, both Nelson and Blueskin retired to Mt. Vernon and were spoiled for years to come. Nelson lived to the age of 27.

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Painting of President Jackson and Sam Patch.

Andrew Jackson was passionate about horses from a very early age. He even worked as a saddle maker as a child. Years before he became the 7th U.S. president, President Jackson was a famous owner and breeder of Thoroughbreds in Tennessee. His most prized race horse, Thruxton, had his lineage traced back to the Godolphin Arabian… and even sparked a duel between President Jackson and Charles Dickinson (a famous American attorney at the time – not the 19th century British writer). When he was elected to office, President Jackson, took his horses with him and ran his racing stable out of the White House. His other horses included his favored Sam Patch (pictured above), Lady Nashville, Emilie and Busiris.

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President Ulysses S. Grant’s favorite horses- Egypt, Cincinnati and Jeff Davis.

Our 18th President, Ulysses S. Grant also became obsessed with horses at an early age. President Grant excelled in horsemanship while at West Point and was revered and admired as a talented rider throughout his life. He owned many horses over the course of the American Civil War- some gifted to him, most acquired. Cincinnati, a handsome 17hh Thoroughbred by a famous racing sire, Lexington, was one of President Grant’s favorites. Many of the paintings and statues of President Grant depict him riding Cincinnati.

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President John F. Kennedy with daughter Caroline Kennedy and son John F. Kennedy Jr and the family pony Macaroni.

Just about everyone has seen the sweet pictures of President John F. Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline, and her roany pony, Macaroni. Given as a gift, Macaroni would frequently visit the White House. Although President Kennedy (and John Jr.) were severely allergic to animals, he still encouraged his wife and Caroline to ride. First lady, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, grew up riding and competing in horse shows on the East Coast. She continued riding and foxhunting well into her years.

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President Ronald Reagan astride El Alamein.

Playing young cowboy roles during his early Hollywood career, Ronald Reagan fell in love with horses. During his term as our 40th President, a special secret service agent was assigned to be President Reagan’s riding partner, it took a while to find someone who could keep up with him! His ranch in California, Rancho del Cielo, became known as the “West Coast White House.” He once told a columnist, “most of my thinking about speeches comes–doing ranch work, not sitting at a desk.” President Reagan had a several favorite horses- Little Man, who had a tragic accident out in pasture, and El Alamein, who was a gift in 1981 from the President of Mexico, José López Portillo.