George Morris HorseMastership Sessions 2016 Day 1: Flatwork Under the Florida Sun

By Erin Gilmore

The seventh annual George H. Morris Horsemastership Sessions are underway in Wellington, Florida, with a different energy than in years past. The man whose name this three-day clinic bears is absent this year, and in his place, a trio of international level riders are taking up the coaching reins. Twelve of the country’s best young riders qualified to ride in the GHM Horsemastership Sessions, signing themselves up for three intense days of training held at the Winter Equestrian Festival Grounds in Wellington, Florida. Let’s get started:

International dressage rider and Olympic bronze medalist Christine Traurig headlined the trainer lineup for Day One’s flatwork session (split into two groups of six riders each.)

“I’m most honored to be here in the spirit of George Morris, who most certainly is a legend, so thank you,” Traurig said as she opened the morning. After short introductions she straightaway sent all six horses out onto the rail, and there they stayed for the next hour and a half.

“When you first get on your horse, you spend five to ten minutes walking on a long rein – but not doing nothing,” Traurig said. “The horse should be marching, covering ground.”

Christine Traurig taught during the first day of the 2016 George Morris HorseMastership Sessions.

The sharply turned out horses did just that and promptly covered ground under guidance by their riders, who were all outfitted in identical blue polo shirts and tan breeches, continuing the high standard of professionalism that Morris has established over the years.

This day one flat session concentrated on the scale of training in relation to the aids applied to the horse. Seeking -not demanding- contact. Transitioning from working to shortened trot without losing contact. Changing direction within a channel of left and right sides aids for consistent bend. In that way, Traurig emphasized the first three steps of the scale of training: rhythm, basic contact and bend.

GHMDay1-20
Daisy Farish

As the horses worked during each session, Traurig lectured without abatement for 30 – 40 minutes on the acceptance of contact and cultivating the bend of the horse. It made for an impressive, uninterrupted speech from her, and an impressively tough regimen of forward, posting trot for horses and riders for 30 minutes straight. With Florida temperatures already in the low 80s and high humidity by 10am making it a day of record heat, it didn’t take long for foam to show between horses’ legs and a touch of exhaustion to show on the riders’ faces. Stay strong, riders, this is just the beginning.

Tori Colvin, Katherine Strauss, Eve Jobs, Lucy Deslauriers, Kelli Cruciotti, and Vivian Yowan tacked up in group one, with Ransome Rombauer, TJ O’Mara, Danielle Roskins, Daisy Farish, Mitch Endicott and Alish Coniffee in group two.

Group 1
Group 1

Traurig looked at each horse for a willingness to stay supple and maintain a soft bend, and after the marathon trotting session, no horse was in the mood to resist.

With the subject of suppleness well established, a short walk break was allowed before the session moved on to canter work collections that concentrated on the training of the horse by way of keeping the impulse needed to maintain a collected canter.

“Wow! You are much better than dressage riders! They would all run into each other!” Traurig exclaimed as the riders changed direction with half a dozen well-timed lines across the diagonal.

Katherine Strauss
Katherine Strauss

“In your sport as well as mine there is a holy rule: up, around and ahead of the leg, all the time,” Traurig described. “I like to say what comes off the inside and gets supple also has a destination and that’s the outside aid.”

Traurig lacks the silver tongue that George Morris is so well loved/feared for, but in her own way with a light German accent and passionate energy, she served up a few (slightly silver) remarks to push the riders on.

“Lucy, you’re a tiny little girl but I know your dad and I know you’re also tough.”

Lucy Deslauriers
Lucy Deslauriers

“Kelli, dare to ride into the bridle a little bit more. Connection has two ends that we are connecting.”

“Ransome, repeat that. Be a trainer, repeat that transition.”

As the sweat ran down Kelli, Lucy and Ransome’s faces, they were certainly working hard on being tough and riding into the connection for a correct transition. Hold steady riders, you have two more days to go. The Florida heat is a punishing foe, and that observation was coming from a reporter who started feeling quite lucky to be watching from the shade of the spectator seats.

Kelli Cruciotti
Kelli Cruciotti

It was, quite frankly, a hell of a marathon workout for any horse or human, even these 24, who are fit and more than ready for a big work. It made one question why Traurig didn’t choose to acknowledge the effect that such long stretches of exercise might be having on the horse’s responsiveness and even ability to perform the basic principles she was asking for. That is, after all, part of good training as well.

Beezie Madden heads the Day Two jumping and gymnastics session of the George H. Morris Horsemastership, with Laura Kraut stepping in to coach the third and final day, which will concentrate on Nations Cup-style jumping. All sessions are livestreamed on USEFNetwork.com.