Ilse Schwarz & Sauvignon in 2nd Lesson With George Morris
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Editor’s Note: Ilse Schwarz is an Australian FEI dressage rider and trainer based in Wellington, Florida. She trained for several years with Steffen Peters and arranged his riding clinics in Wellington until he gave up the frequent travel. In the past two years she has trained regularly with Debbie McDonald who has re-located to Florida for the winter circuit. However, with Debbie’s blessing Ilse received some private lessons from George Morris, the legendary teacher and coach, considered the “founding father” of Hunt Seat Equitation. As a rider, he won the Maclay Horsemanship Finals and the Hunt Seat Equitation Medal Final at Madison Square Garden at the age of 14, the youngest winner at that time. In 1960, he won both Olympic team silver and the Grand Prix of Aachen, the world’s most prestigious jumping event. Ilse wrote this series for The Horse Magazine, an Australian publication and is re-printed here with permission.
By ILSE SCHWARZ
Lesson number two where, amongst other things, George Morris develops an obsession with the placement of my right foot in the stirrup.
In the two weeks between my lessons, Sauvignon (Savi) and I had simply been confirming the clarity of the aids for the changes, most days finishing with a nice line of nine or so one tempis, now and then a beautiful line of 12. I think the photos from today’s lesson will also show the clear improvement of the frame and connection. Initially, I had to always start the changes on the left lead, somewhat problematic for the Grand Prix, but the day before my second lesson, I managed some respectable one tempis from the right lead and started to get a little excited about the possibilities of a future grand prix. I kept these slightly excited thoughts to myself, however, as Savi has a history of a major injury immediately before any significant competition.
I was wondering what we would work on, the changes were so much better that I didn’t predict another lesson devoted to changes… of course, in reality that lesson was as much to do with honesty to the leg aids and the connection as the flying changes themselves. As previous, I need not have worried.
The lesson began with me on my mare standing in front of George and giving a brief recap of the last two weeks. It’s time to move off and I shorten the reins and gather Savi’s attention. Clearly George’s eagle eyes are attentive from the start. “Quiet with the hands, simply close the hand until the horse accepts the rein then put your leg on, don’t be too busy with the hand.”
I start trotting and almost immediately, George tells me to walk and shorten my stirrups. Only one word went through my mind (are we allowed to print the word S**T?!!) I have new leathers and the buckle is close to the stirrup itself, not at the stirrup bar. It is the ONLY saddle in my tack room with leathers that cannot be shortened with my foot still in the stirrups. In fact, it is a major ordeal to change the length whilst sitting in the saddle. I get George to understand that changing the length military style simply isn’t going to happen and then I proceed to HURRY. The more I hurry, the more thumbs I develop and I suspect there is a huge neon sign over my head flashing the word “incompetent.” After what seems an eternity my stirrups are one hole shorter and we can all put that incident behind us.
Savi is again my hot princess, feet barely touching the ground. I wonder if the megaphone inspires that or if it simply is the presence of the master. Either way, this super hot, or “fresh” horse, as George calls her, is my absolute favorite to ride. George is again impressing the importance of straightness and a steady contact, during which Savi proceeds to show off her piaffe. It is possible that he is even a little impressed, although with a smile in his voice he suggests that all he really wants is for me to walk her forwards from leg to hand keeping my legs close to and carefully in contact with her ribcage.”No swinging neck, to use your hands you just close the fingers and keep your hands close together.” Fortunately this was a general directive and not specifically indicated at anything I was actually doing. “I don’t like this new fashion of moving the hand left, right, left and always busy hands.”
Another succinct general reminder. “If there is any resisitance in the mouth, three things: If necessary shorten the reins, close the fingers and raise your hands.” This could also be a mantra. So simple and so effective. How have we as riders in general managed to make it so much more complicated?
“Now, from your seat and back make some halt-walk transitions. Make sure that inside the halt, the horse is still in front of the legs and correct in the hand.” As we move into walk, “keep the horse super straight, inside leg, outside rein, almost shoulder fore and again into the halt. As you walk forwards again, close the hand. That is how simple it is.”
We move into rising trot. Savi decides on a huge cadenced trot which is, in reality, a little too much expression to maintain good balance so George has me go across the diagonal and make almost passage steps (how many people have heard George ask for passage??!!). Savi is SO happy to oblige eliciting a “wonderful horse” comment from George. The point of playing with adjusting the stride length and cadence in the trot is that she will accept a light pressure from my legs. Interestingly this is very similar to the work I do at the start of the lessons with Debbie McDonald. I find myself training daily towards this hot horse accepting the leg in a way that she actually gains confidence from the presence of a quiet steady leg pressure. George totally understands this and instruct me to “keep my legs closer and closer to the ribs, that she is not tense from the legs,” Savi finds a wonderful balanced collected trot ofter a few diagonals and we focus on using a steady leg contact to maintain it. If she tries to rush I add a quiet half halt, during which I am chastised that I “must be steadier with my hands.” I was pretty bloody sure that my hands were as quiet as possible but sure enough, on watching the video, there is definite room for improvement. It isn’t much movement, but it is clearly too much.
We continue with simple transitions where the focus through the transition is how she steps to the hand. Ensuring that through the transition, she and I maintain a steady contact, nothing more. That I resist any temptation to be busy with the hand. We develop the work to medium trot on the diagonal and into shoulder in, carefully maintaining the leg should she want to add any tension because she is “fresh.” Savi is swinging through the exercises in the most wonderful enormous collected trot that we both know is on the edge of “bubbling” over. I love that George doesn’t either ask for more or insist that I “settle” it. He simply insists that within this tension she accepts the leg which continues the swing, suppleness and relaxation.
“This is a fabulous horse,” he repeats as we move into a medium trot which now has the benefit of relaxation. I wish this story had the capability of video footage rather than just photos. Savi looks like an elegant, elastic, energetic powerful panther. It gives me goosebumps to ride her when she is like this.
Meanwhile, whilst I am enjoying my horse, George notices something about my riding that irritates him. It also drives me crazy and I have tried to fix it for years. My right toe points out. My left sits where it should, all nice and neat in the stirrup iron, my calf flush against the horses ribcage. If I am going to lose a stirrup, it will always be the right. I have tried and tried to change the way my leg falls from the hip and while it has improved it is still different left to right. I am fed up with my right boot wanting to wear on the back seam and, let’s face it, it is downright ugly. George gets right to the crux of it. He fixes it from the foot–100 per cent about foot placement. Seems obvious once he says it.
He starts by saying, “Keep the stirrup a little closer to your toe,” which had the immediate result of me looking at my toe and thinking, “huh?” Clearly we have to pause.
“Always keep the stirrup at a right angle to the girth so the outside branch is leading, like the left one which is perfect.” This involves me staring at my left foot, then my right rather too often but I discover that I need to place my little toe on my right foot up against the stirrup iron, otherwise my foot insists on being in that wretched stirrup at an angle.
The lesson continues with me trotting on the diagonal once again and doing the repeated voltes in renver that are described in the first lesson, with George insisting that I focus on my right foot–“don’t let it slip and slide.”
“The stirrup is at right angles to the girth and the stirrup is stuck to your foot, it doesn’t change.” Internally, I yell at my right foot, “Do you hear that? Do I have to tell you again?”
At this stage Savi is still very good in the contact and swinging uphill so we play on the long side, one-third extended trot sitting, one-third collected trot rising and the last one-third extended again, sitting. The focus being on managing the adjustibility from a steady connection and acceptance of the legs. George gets really excited by this mare and does a quick check on which country I ride her for. “Australia.” He loves Australia, so isn’t entirely disappointed.
She starts a little tense with quick short steps behind, not surprising given the energy of the trot we were just in. He quickly has me riding eight meter voltes as I go around the arena at A, B, C and E until she relaxes and carries herself. “Give and take on the rein on the volte, maintain contact with the inside leg until she accepts the leg as she does in the trot and relaxes the stride.”
We start again with single changes, with George recapping that in the change from right to left, I have to keep her shoulder to the right, just like in the half pass. Left leg pushes shoulder to the right.
Then four tempis. “Beautiful.”
Three tempis, after which I am encouraged to make a big volte, give and take the rein to relax the stride again with the inside leg close.
Two tempis and another volte and again, I wish you could all watch the video.
After a quick walk break we return to changes in a lesson plan that is more traditional than the last lesson. We leave the one tempis until the very end. It is really quite a test for Savi as by now she has been working for a while, so if there is any fatigue this is a place that it can easily present itself as tension in the changes. In reality, this replicates the demands of a Grand Prix, the second last canter exercise is the one tempis, so the horse has to be able to execute them even when slightly fatigued.
We start off the track again, just asking for left, right, left and then George literally implores me NOT to think. “Wait until she is straight and then don’t think just change your legs. You are thinking (there I go again), there is NO TIME to think, just change your legs.” George actually then says, “It is difficult. I find it difficult because I am a thinker, but there is no time during 1 tempis.” We perform a line of 14 on the long side, a couple are short behind but George reminds me, “It doesn’t have to be perfect yet. Don’t worry, just keep swinging your legs, miss one, get three more, don’t freak out and start thinking, don’t think.”
I think the ultimate take home message for one tempis is straightness and stop thinking! All those years of academic education (Yes, I have a PhD) are wasted in the training of one tempis!
Next: A lesson on Monticello, six-year-old gelding making transition from hunter/jumper world to dressage.