Thursday, January 15, 2015

Sensitive Horses, Contact, and George Morris

Back in 2013, Guinness and I were having a lot of disagreements about contact. I didn't understand it very well, and he was (and still is!) very sensitive when it comes to accepting the hand. Things got so bad that I took 2 months of the summer off, and simply focused on establishing reliable contact. Remarkably, all of my work ended up paying off. After 2 months my trainer gushed over how different my horse and I's relationship had become, saying "now we can really get to work." And so we did.

My horse being difficult and sensitive when it comes to contact really frustrated me at first, but now I see it as a blessing. Because of Guinness, I am now able to take almost any horse and put them on the bit in the course of a single ride. Properly on the bit, too, not just putting their heads in a frame. It's a talent, and one I put a lot of sweat and tears into cultivating.

Do any of you want to cultivate this talent?

Of course you do. Pretty much everyone can do with a little more knowledge about working a horse on contact, especially a sensitive one. Anyone who asks me about learning more about contact gets the same advice I'm going to give you here. Go listen to George Morris.

Seriously.

Yes, I know George isn't a dressage coach. I know his riders aren't classical in the way many dressage riders are. I know the h/j world and the dressage world say nasty things about each other sometimes. But honestly, George Morris is one of the best lower level dressage coaches I've ever heard. His approach to getting a horse on the bit is excellent, and especially suited for those with sensitive horses (something that can be legitimately difficult to find in the dressage world!). His approach revitalized Guinness and I's relationship completely, and is 100% responsible for the fact that my difficult thoroughbred was able to accept being ridden in a double bridle this fall, and is working towards 3rd level. (Well, I mean, my trainer is responsible for a lot of that, but George taught me the contact basics!)

So for any of you out there intrigued, I'm going to link you to this amazing video from the 2015 Horsemastership Clinic with George. Go ahead and fast forward to 30:45, where George gets on one of his student's horses, a hot-headed thoroughbred mare. If you watch the previous bits of the lesson, you'll notice this mare completely flipping her rider the bird when it comes to contact.
http://www.usefnetwork.com/featured/coverage.aspx?urlkey=2015GMHTS&video=0_uk5tmcrl&playlist=
Just after George mounts the problematic horse. Note her flipping his hands the bird.
In 20 minutes, George has this mare completely turned around. While still sensitive and reluctant to trust hands, he convinces the mare to give in to the contact and work over her back. The change is drastic.
http://www.usefnetwork.com/featured/coverage.aspx?urlkey=2015GMHTS&video=0_uk5tmcrl&playlist=
Seriously. The mare doesn't look like the same horse at the end of his ride! I bet she was super sore later.

The best part about this video is George's commentary as he rides the mare. The whole thing is a master class in how to cajole a tough horse to accept contact, complete with some great lessons about how to develop more solid hands.

Obviously you can't learn to have perfect hands from a video, but I promise you can get a head start by implementing George's technique. I even picked up some more ideas to continue to build Guinness' trust in contact, and have started to implement them.

Do any of you like watching George Morris? Anyone else used his techniques to get a difficult horse on the bit? I promise they work. Let me know if you try them!

25 comments:

  1. Will deff be checking these out as Miss Kika is a candidate for sensitive horse that I likes to flip her rider the bird (ot:but where does that saying come from?) - i kneed to learn about contact so hope to sponge up all the info available ☺

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hahaha! I didn't even think about that phrase not being understood! "Flipping the bird" is another way to say "giving the finger". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_finger ;)

      Check the video out for sure! Sensitive ponies can be so frustrating, but it's really lovely to see George work with this one with extreme tact and patience. It's a great lesson even if all you learn is to "stick with it, keep checking yourself, and don't hold the horse to a timeline." Remember, this took me 2 months to get with my horse. We'd get a little bit more every ride until finally we got it together and he started to understand and trust my hands and legs.

      Delete
    2. I've only ever heard North Americans use that expression and have figured out what it means but am curious to know how it's use came about. Will nosey through that wiki link and see what i can learn.
      Patience is always key with horses, K seems to have cracked the contact thing thanks to the Guru's help over the last few years. Now for me to learn how to get her working properly from behind in all here paces - but more Co sis tent muscle building required for that. Thanks for all the links. Here's hoping I can watch them soon ☺☺

      Delete
  2. This is an awesome post! I am so, SO happy I started reading your blog - your dressage journey with Guinness is so educational for the rest of us. :) I used to ride a very sensitive jumper TB that would get so upset when you touched his face that he would fling his head open, open his mouth like a carousel horse, and RUN. I eventually got him to stretch & accept contact at all 3 gaits, and the first day I got him round at the canter I nearly cried from happiness!! It's definitely a 'cajoling', playful conversation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes! I completely understand! You're exactly right when you describe it as conversation. Everything with the hands is about following, resisting at the right moment, and responding to your horse's input. Unfortunately, it's also mostly feel, so you really just have to get out there and learn it, mistakes and all.

      Delete
  3. I honestly love a dressage lesson from a (good) jumper. The truly good jumpers have the best hands/contact IMO.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All that following over big fences is what does it, I bet. A good auto release maintaining contact is legitimately hard to do. Plus, jumpers seem to be a more sensitive sort of horse.

      Delete
  4. Going to make time to watch the video tonight! Riva and I are getting it together (finally) in trot and canter is starting to come together - but man can it be frustrating. Thanks for the link!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're welcome! Let me know what you think. I think contact is the most frustrating part of dressage. There's so much subtlety to it!

      Delete
  5. I always feel like I ride better for a month or so after I watch this clinic. I guess I should rewatch some of them every few months!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I should, too! At the very least he always gets me thinking with my "trainer brain."

      Delete
  6. yep - this is sooo relevant to my interests haha. thanks for sharing!!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Love love love his approaches to things. I need to watch this year's series of clinics still.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm still watching some of the jumping ones. Sometimes I just watch for the crotchety old man comments, not going to lie.

      Delete
  8. I want to watch! No sound (plus working) right now, but I'll catch it later. Thanks for the heads up.

    ReplyDelete
  9. George is a master! I learn so much from him and especially enjoy his sassy comments lol!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sassy comments are the best! "You! Don't lean on that fence! I'm riding your horse!" :)

      Delete
  10. I watched George for the first time this year and found him extremely entertaining and fun to watch. I will definitely need to rewatch this mare's transformation. I am lucky that my pony is sensitive and submits to the contact quite happily, but we are still working on being properly through.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Even if your horse is pretty good in contact, there are plenty of things to pick up to make that communication more seamless. Obviously he's not going to have a lot to say to riders working at an advanced level, but his grasp of the basics is stunningly on-point and always a welcome refresher!!

      Delete
  11. This is an awesome video, thanks so much for linking to it and pointing it out! I watched that mare go from completely hollow to really working over her back and in such a short amount of time... It really was super cool see. I will definitely be referring back to this video, and now I wish I had a horse to ride to try this on. :D

    bonita of A Riding Habit

    ReplyDelete
  12. I realized I hasn't even commented because I'd immediately zoomed off to watch the video! Great post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aw thanks! Hope you enjoyed the video! :)

      Delete