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Archive for the ‘Good Reads’ Category

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Before we published HORSES CAME FIRST, SECOND, AND LAST, I knew of Jack Le Goff. I knew of him the way any once-young-and-aspiring eventer would: through stories shared by the trainers I rode with through the years, as well as those very fine horsemen and women I’ve had the honor of working with during my tenure at TSB. He existed in my mind as a formidable individual, one who hesitated not in turning the screw in order to elicit improved performance. I knew he was a great coach, but his name caused the same quake-in-my-boots fear that George Morris’s always did…and it also raised the question that any rider with even a smidgeon of self-doubt will admit: Had I been born at the right time under the right star and found myself under his tutelage, would I have found the resolve and personal strength to flourish…to become truly accomplished in the saddle?

In HORSES CAME FIRST, SECOND, AND LAST, we hear of plenty who did flourish with Le Goff as their guide and coach. But what helps is not that they succeeded where I admittedly think I would likely have failed (in that fantasy where I am an elite rider during the heyday of US eventing), but that Le Goff shares his strategies: how and when he chose to be hard or soft, why he’d settle on keeping or losing his temper, and what his reasoning was behind decisions he made concerning coaching and the teams he led. So now we see the path to the medal, but we don’t just hear about the fences cleared, we also know about the tears, the injuries, the heartbreak. The times riders tried, and failed, and tried again. And we come to understand the passion for the horse felt by all involved, perhaps most profoundly Le Goff’s own.

Larger lessons aside, there are also hundreds of fascinating facts and historical notes throughout the book. Here are 10 that stayed with me:

1 In the notoriously hard 9-month course at the Cadre Noir, “students rode eight horses a day for a total of eight hours or more.” Le Goff writes. “For the first three months, six of those eight hours were without stirrups, so the breeches were more often red with blood than any other color…. In the evening, we had to do book work, and we all spent that time sitting in buckets of water with a chemical in it to toughen the skin.”

2 At the Olympics in 1956, the Russian eventing team only had one helmet for three riders, and passed it from one to the other after each performance.

3 Britain’s Sheila Wilcox won Badminton three times and in 1957 at the age of 21 became European Champion, but was never allowed to compete in the Olympics because she was a woman.

4 American rider Kevin Freeman helped save a horse from drowning by holding his head up in a flooded river at the Olympics in Mexico in 1968.

5 Bruce Davidson didn’t know what a diagonal was when he first started riding with Le Goff. Two years later he competed in the Olympic Games.

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Tad Coffin with his copy of Le Goff’s autobiography.

6 You should walk a cross-country course as if that is the ONLY time you’ll be able to walk it. You should have total concentration and envision how you will ride it. A walk simply to get a first impression is a wasted walk.

7 Today, people learn to compete before they learn to ride, and that makes it difficult for them to be truly competitive and to progress to other levels.

8 There is no instant dressage like instant coffee. You can go out and buy a top-level horse if you have enough money, but the true rider should be able to “make” his or her own horse. In eventing, there are often “pilots” who “fly” or ride the horse, and mechanics who prepare him, train and condition him. But the true horseman does both.

9 Although he was a brilliant rider, Tad Coffin did not believe how good he was, so while Le Goff would intentionally infuriate some riders to get them to perform, he would instead look for ways to give Tad confidence.

10 The riding coach who is looking to be popular will not produce the desired results, and the rider who does not accept discipline “may be better suited to another pursuit,” Le Goff writes. “Crochet comes to mind!”

I’m certain you’ll find many other tidbits that motivate you or make you laugh or look at your riding differently in this book. Most importantly, by reading Le Goff’s book, you, too, will be able to share his stories and spread his philosophy. And through us all, the best of Jack Le Goff, the man George Morris called “a genius,” will live on.

 

 

HORSES CAME FIRST, SECOND, AND LAST is available from the Trafalgar Square Books online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

 

—Rebecca Didier, Managing Editor

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.  

 

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In her new book TRAINING HORSES THE INGRID KLIMKE WAY, gold-medal Olympian and champion eventer Ingrid Klimke shares intimate profiles of 10 of her horses. We are invited into her barn where she explains their personality quirks, their strengths and their challenges. Klimke outlines each horse’s training plan, highlighting why certain accommodations are made for a particular individual, and illustrating how another has blossomed under different training expectations.

Among others, readers meet Geraldine, a large-framed, elegant chestnut mare who shines in the  dressage arena. This is her story:

Geraldine grew up with the herd at Gut Schwaighof, the facility of her breeders and part owners, Hannelore and Ulrich Zeising. They informed me that she was ranked rather low in the herd as a foal. The Zeisings showed her to me as a three-year-old and we turned her loose to move about in the indoor arena. She had a light, floating trot and I liked her. I could also see that she was going to first need to grow into her large body and definitely needed more time to develop.

We decided to send her to my former apprentice, Lara Heggelmann, who thoroughly and carefully trained her through Second Level. Afterward, Geraldine returned to my barn at the end of her fifth year.

Geraldine is a quiet and reserved horse. She is shy and was often afraid in the beginning, especially when ridden out in front of other horses. She did not trust herself to lead the group when riding out, but she did not feel comfortable in the middle of the group, either. She went at the back of the group and put a big distance between herself and the other horses, which fascinated us. She let the distance get bigger and bigger and gave the impression she would prefer to have nothing to do with the other horses. Over the years, her behavior has changed: today, she will bravely take the lead and stays with the group, as long as the others don’t get too close for her liking.

Geraldine is a sound-sensitive horse and whenever anything is new for her, she finds it daunting at first. We have tried to be very cautious when getting her used to new things and to increase her self-confidence. When she does something well, I always praise her and build in a walk break. In this way, she knows everything is all right. She can relax and I win her trust. She is very sensitive to ride, so I really need to concentrate fully on her and give my aids with feel. Geraldine is very good natured and always very motivated. She wants to do everything right and always tries her best. In the barn, she is also very sociable and well behaved. Just being “left alone” is not her thing. Without her stablemates, she does not feel at ease.

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Photo from Training Horses the Ingrid Klimke Way

In order for Geraldine to learn to relax when being ridden in a group, we always take her with us on our hacks and adventures. I’m of the opinion it will help her to experience being ridden out in the open. Of course, she is also worked on the longe line once a week and ridden over cavalletti for gymnastic benefits. As Geraldine’s future lies clearly in dressage, it has also become the emphasis of her training. This means I do dressage-oriented work with her four days a week. She learns new exercises step by step, and I’m currently beginning to compete her at Prix St. Georges. In order for her to be able to learn new exercises well, it’s important there is a relaxed atmosphere in the riding arena or the indoor where she’s working. Most significantly for Geraldine, we really need to master that which she’s already learned, so that she can demonstrate it with self-confidence. When — and only when — the fundamentals are good, I can go further with her training, step by step.

At the moment, Geraldine is secure with all exercises at Prix St. Georges and she has successfully begun learning collected steps, working in the direction of piaffe and passage.

Read about Klimke’s other horses, as well as her training philosophy and favorite exercises, in TRAINING HORSES THE INGRID KLIMKE WAY, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

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In November of 2016 the book HORSE SPEAK: THE EQUINE-HUMAN TRANSLATION GUIDE was released, becoming an instant bestseller and propelling a little-known trainer and riding teacher from Westminster, Vermont, into a whirlwind of book signings, speaking engagements, and clinics throughout North America. Now with the book soon to be released in Dutch and in German, and a follow-up DVD and book in the works, Sharon Wilsie is looking to help more people, from all equestrian backgrounds and disciplines, all over the world, learn to truly communicate with their horses—but not using our language of words and ropes. Wilsie has decoded Horse Speak for the rest of us.

TSB: How did you conceive of the different aspects of Horse Speak?

SW: As a long-time animal trainer, I am intrinsically aware of the difference between a “trained skill” and an “authentic response” from the animal’s own nature. I can train a horse, for instance, to come to the mounting block while at liberty and stand perfectly still without a halter or bridle, and I can then proceed to ride that horse without tack. Eventually, though, this was no longer satisfying, as it occurred to me that just because a horse could do this with apparent ease and obedience did not necessarily mean that he was choosing to do it of his own volition. A well trained and loved servant is still a servant.

I truly wanted to know if a horse, given freedom of choice, would choose to offer me his back. In order to answer this question, I needed to go beyond training. I had to be able to ask a question, “Would you be interested in having me on your back?” Moreover, I would have to understand his answer.

Ultimately, I had to learn to speak “Horse.” Language flows, bends, twists, and turns. It is not the straight-line reasoning of training, which pares down to a set of responses the animal learns to give to the same cues over and over again. The language of the horse belies his innate world view, which can be similar to ours, and in other cases can be almost in opposition to us.

In this work, I start teaching people with the most basic platform: I call it “Going to Zero.” This simply means you adopt the inner state of calm that horses seek to maintain at all times. If you can steady yourself by learning to be at “Zero intensity,” both outside and in, you are on your way to learning the visual language of the horse.

TSB: How does Horse Speak differ from other forms of human-animal communication?

SW: Horse Speak demystifies the subtleties of not only horses, but of the best of the best trainers that people may wish to emulate. When we see a truly stunning performance—whether dressage, circus tricks, Roman riding, or some other amazing horse-and-rider combination—we all wish to experience that level of connection and inspired horsemanship. What few people understand is that body language is a natural part of all of us. It is the level of innate brain connectivity around the interpretation of body language that varies among us. Some people can be naturally fluent in this skill, while others may struggle to interpret even basic facial cues (as is the case in autism).

Horse Speak assists people on any level of awareness to either take what is already working and make it better, or even start from scratch and learn body language basics from the ground up.

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TSB: Why do you feel others can benefit from and should learn Horse Speak?

SW: Whether a person has professional goals (showing, teaching, training) or simply enjoys a backyard horse or two, everyone generally wants to have a happy, healthy, and wholesome relationship with horses. Taking the time to really learn their language is just plain common sense.

TSB: How has Horse Speak changed your life with horses? Your career as a horse trainer and riding coach?

SW: To speak the language of the horse is to dive into a world of potential that only exists when two beings can really communicate with each other. And on a completely practical level, I know no better way to help a horse “buy in” to our ideas—whether we want to jump a bigger fence or just get through a veterinary visit without incident.

TSB: How do you see Horse Speak growing and changing other people’s lives with horses? Other people’s equine careers?

SW: In any theater of horsemanship, it is essential to have the utmost safety possible. Far too many people live with a level of mistrust, getting stepped on, run over, bucked off, and so on, while assuming this is just the way things are with horses. This is most definitely NOT the way things should be, and it is NOT ultimately the way horses wish things to be. Especially in the arena of therapeutic horsemanship (physical or emotional/psychological) the need for trust, rapport, and co-facilitation from the horse himself is paramount. One cannot simply layer on more and more obedience-based training, hoping to reach the horse’s authentic core and gain access to the depth of heart that these animals are capable of offering. This can only be reached through communication.

TSB: If there is one common message that most horses are trying to tell us that we don’t understand, what is it?

Horse Speak Final CoverSW: Live from your heart. Horses don’t mind if you cry, or are afraid, or even if you feel frustrated. But they abhor incongruity. If your insides are churning, and your outsides are trying to act like a rigid authority, this inner vs. outer conflict makes horses confused and anxious. If nothing else, learning to think and act like a horse will give any human access to a level of inner awareness and outer presence that trumps any other mechanical, rule-based roboticism that steers us to see horses as more of a biological motorcycle than the elegant gatekeepers to a richer existence in which being “one with nature” is more than a quaint expression: it is reality.

To find out more about HORSE SPEAK and to download a free chapter, CLICK HERE.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small company based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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Alois Podhajsky with Norman.

 

Colonel Alois Podhajsky was an Olympian and Director of the the Spanish Riding School in Vienna for 26 years. Podhajsky was known to bring out the best in each horse he rode, and to rely on patience, understanding, and affection in the training process.

Podhajsky detailed his riding, training, and competitive experiences in the renowned book MY HORSES, MY TEACHERS, which was first published in English in 1968. By sharing the stories of each of the horses he worked with over the course of his career, we learn his methods, mistakes, and discoveries. One horse he writes of was an eight-year-old, part-Trakehner gelding named Norman, who helps us learn the lesson that sometimes we have to go back in order to go forward.

Norman had been taught quite a number of things by his breeder in Germany. He knew how to perform lateral work, flying changes, and even some sort of passage…most of it was superficial…. Once again I met in Norman a horse without sufficient urge to go forward unless pushed and often he offered a passage without its being demanded. But his passage was not the artistic solemn movement but a tense sort of hovering trot which had its origin in his reluctance to go forward. It is a great temptation for the rider to accept an exercise that the horse offers but would have a very negative effect on the rest of the training. The idea of dressage is to cultivate and improve the natural movements of the horse so that he executes them upon the slightest aids of the rider. If he anticipates these aids he proves that his obedience is not sufficiently well established. Besides, a horse will anticipate only to make work easier for himself and execute the exercise incorrectly. Consequently the standard of work will decline. If this is the case the rider must interrupt his present work and go back again to the basic training until it is well consolidated. 

We had the greatest trouble making Norman strike off into the canter from the trot. Either he tried to run away or he offered his “passage.” He had been taught to strike off into the canter exclusively from the walk and became nervous and excited upon this unusual demand. However, it is a very important exercise which improves suppleness and helps achieve the correct activity of the hind legs in response to the actions of the reins. It also furthers the will to go forward and establishes obedience and is therefore a necessity in thorough gymnastic training. Besides, it is much more natural and easier for the horse to strike off into the canter from the trot. Nevertheless it took quite a long while until Norman understood this unaccustomed exercise and I had to allow him his lapse of time because I did not want to confuse him or make him nervous.

 

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Walking Norman on a loose rein.

 

Once again I relied on my proven remedy—good for anything and everything, one might say—which is to teach the horse to move correctly and with suppleness and balance, to make him understand his rider and follow him without reserve. I began to take Norman on the same course of training I pursued with my young horses, with the exception that I spent less time on the various phases. That is, I moved on when I saw that he had understood and was able to execute my demands. Of course I observed him closely all the time and found that I could establish his confidence much more quickly after a few rounds at the walk on a loose rein at the beginning of work and that he paid much less attention to his surroundings than if I had had begun our daily session with the reins applied.

In this way, Norman had a chance to look around in the open-air arena and the adjacent paddocks, and when he was satisfied with what he had seen, he would concentrate entirely upon his work. The rider should always give his horse a chance to look around before beginning serious training. His horse will never become “fed up” with dressage if the rider respects his particularities and allows the freedom of mind necessary for concentrated work.

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You can read more of Alois Podhajsky’s stories in MY HORSES, MY TEACHERS, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

 

CLICK HERE to order now.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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Karen Robertson on Carlos at the George Morris clinic. Photo by Lisa Pleasance.

TSB author Karen Robertson shared her hopes and fears for her clinic date with The George in May (click here to read her first post). Now she’s back to tell us how it all went down.

To tell the story about what it was like for me riding with George Morris in late May, I need to start the week before the clinic, when I showed at Sonoma’s Spring Classic Show. It’s a gorgeous place and such a wonderful show, but Carlos and I had a really rough week…. It was the kind of show where the wires get crossed and each day ends with a frustrated feeling of not being strong enough or fast enough or smart enough to ride well enough in any key moment. Seven good jumps didn’t cut it when the eighth was a stop. I got in my head. I started trying different things to end the pattern of choking… a better night’s sleep, more caffeine, or more breakfast. I walked the show grounds with my ear buds in listening to badass music to get myself fired up before I got on for the next class. But at the end of the show, I drove away from Sonoma Horse Park without ever digging myself out of the rut and laying down a solidly good trip. The familiar, consistent feel I’d had all winter with Carlos had been shaken badly; my riding was full of doubt. Needless to say, it was not the kind of show you want to have just days before your first time riding in front of George Morris.

Or, maybe it was.

The eight-hour drive north from Bend, Oregon, to the clinic location went smoothly, but I was full of restless anticipation. After a quick hack in the indoor and settling the horses in for the night, waves of nerves gave me goose bumps as I watched the farm’s crew collecting piles of cut grass from the beautiful front field in preparation for the next day.

In the morning, I was washing Carlos’s legs in the wash stall at the front of the barn when I saw George pull up. I walked out for a quick hello, gave him a kiss on the cheek when he stepped out of the car, and then scurried back in again to get ready. It had been just over a year since I’d seen him last—at the Easter Wellington book signing—and saying hello settled me. I was ready to put the previous week behind me and try my best for him.

When I rode Carlos onto the field less than an hour later, George looked up at me from his perch on the golf cart, paused and said, “Oh, Karen…I didn’t recognize you with your hat on. You look pretty good.”

I nodded with a ghost of a smile as I walked by him. After all the waiting, having registered six months before, it had begun.

As soon as that familiar cadence of George’s teaching—like the lecture of a college professor weaved with pointed instruction—began on that first morning, I found my nerves had passed. I settled into a mindset that stayed with me throughout the clinic: total concentration on following his direction exactly…with a strong dose of hustle. After watching George coach so many other riders in past years, it was absolutely surreal to have his voice speaking to me. It raised my focus to a calm but primed state of being present. I tried to absorb the big picture concepts while also being alert to react quickly.

The first day I was most concerned with riding boldly and not allowing the klutzy moments that had plagued us the week before in Sonoma. Carlos felt great—a little fresh but not wild. He ogled the ditch behind an oxer when we flatted by it, but when it came time to jump it, he didn’t hesitate. I found myself breathing barely whispered “Thank you” and “Good boy” praises to him. Flatwork set us up to feel the difference in our horses and then apply that feel in jumping exercises. George immediately zeroed in on my jumping position, telling me I needed to close my hip angle and lean forward, taking weight off Carlos’s back. This was his major critique of my riding, but throughout the clinic he acknowledged my practicing the adjusted position and encouraged my work to improve.

Looking back now at those three clinic days, I’m so proud that I met the challenges. We jumped a progressively wider water jump and rode well through some difficult exercises that tested flexibility of stride length, straightness, and tight turns. By Day 2, after flatwork and jumping without stirrups, George had me leading the group in most of the jumping exercises, which was exciting because having audited so many clinics, I knew what it meant: he thought I would bring confidence to the rest of the group.

There were definitely also some clumsy moments! Carlos and I haven’t had much practice jumping a bank, and at first we had a stop when he didn’t want to jump down over the small jump set at the bigger end of the bank. After I went to the stick hard and got him off the bank, I had a fire-breathing dragon underneath me for the rest of the day. I also halted at the wrong post in the fence line after someone had already made the same mistake ahead of me…George was very annoyed—and I heard about it. Then when he had us doing rider stretches, reaching down to touch our toes without stirrups, I knocked my helmet loose and my tucked-up ponytail started to slip out. Hair disaster!

As expected, there were the steely, scathing moments of George’s rebuke directed at various riders and auditors when they did not show proper respect or effort. Comments on the degraded state of our country, our general lack of discipline and work ethic, were weaved throughout the lectures each day. One rider had a fall when her horse caught a heel on the edge of the ditch, and George walked over, pointed down at her as she lay prone in the grass, and barked, “You have to keep your leg on at a ditch or a water! You didn’t leg him!”

He was right, of course. But what a picture that rider saw as she looked up at George Morris from the ground.

George also had soft, encouraging moments for riders who struggled. And he had so many words of reward—for everyone—when something was well ridden. “Excellent flying change!” “This girl—she is an educated rider, she is precise!” “That’s it…very good!” “Yeeeeesssss, THAT’S the way to ride that bank!” “This, people, is an excellent student—she listens!”

Every time George gave a compliment to any one of us, it lifted all of us up like we had climbed another step in showing him we, as a generation of riders, were worthy of the opportunity to learn from him. There was a silent, invisible vibration among the riders in my group. Although the rules of the road require that the riders not talk to one another during the clinic or even visibly laugh at George’s jokes (I’ve seen that go badly more than once), we were in it together and rooting for one another. I could feel it.

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Speaking of clumsy moments, I had one while serving as jump crew during the 1.20 meter session on Day 1. I raised the top rail two holes on the water jump and stepping back from it, tripped backward over the wing box right in front of the audience and sprawled on hands and heels in the grass. I jumped up trying to recover and blushed hard, incredibly embarrassed. George looked over and said gravely, “Oh Karen, be careful,” and then addressing the crowd, “Karen wrote my book! That’s why she’s blushing…she knows alllll my stories! She knows more about me than my own mother. She even knows the stories that didn’t make the book.”

And just like that, he had taken my flustered moment and made me into a momentary celebrity out of pure sweetness.

George did not disappoint. He never does, does he? I was freaking out about being good enough to be in his clinic and wanting so badly to keep up with the group and belong out there. Now, looking back, I think to myself, “Don’t be silly—of course I belonged out there.” But maybe that’s just the post-George Karen talking. Maybe he instilled a level of certainty in those three days that makes the pre-George Karen a little bit of a stranger.

One thing that solidified that theory was the horse show I had the week following the clinic at the Rose City Opener back down in Bend. Just three days after getting home from the clinic, we were back in the show ring…and it was the best show Carlos and I have had together. We were consistently solid over all five days. We didn’t have a moment of doubt at a single jump. We got great ribbons all week, won the Ariat Medal class, and were Reserve Champion of our Hunter Division. But it was the Derby that felt like a true application of what I had taken with me from riding with George. I had never made it to the second round of a National Hunter Derby in four tries. At Rose City, we not only made it to the second round, but in the end, we were fifth, besting some excellent professional riders.

In my pre-clinic blog post, I wrote that I had hoped for one moment during the clinic when George Morris’s voice would make me feel invincible. Instead of a single moment to take with me, his voice, carrying me through those three clinic days, created a subtle, stream-of-consciousness-George-presence in the background whenever I ride. He is just there with me. In the Derby he was telling me, “Karen, first and foremost: Get it done.”

 

Karen Robertson worked with George Morris on his bestselling autobiography UNRELENTING, which is available from the TSB online bookstore.

CLICK HERE to download a free chapter or to order. 

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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When I was a little girl, I had a herd of imaginary horses and rode them by turns. There was a golden palomino, with lots of chrome, and a chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail. A coal black stallion with white stockings on all four legs and a broad star on his forehead galloped beside a buckskin with a stripe down his back and dark tips on his ears. I pictured them all in full color, and their invented personalities developed from the vibrant visions dancing in my head. Their coat color was more important than their size or breed—for a horse-crazy kid in the suburbs, that’s where the magic began.

But the horse color spectrum in real life is just as enchanting. So striking are the variations of bay, gray, chestnut, black, solid, and spotted that many people breed for specific combinations. This has led to a marked increase in international interest in the study of horse color genetics, and an active online community that shares and discusses the history, qualities, and names of tones, types, shades, and markings—as well as, of course, the science behind it all.

Horsewoman and genetics specialist Vera Kurskaya grew up with that same fascination with horses and all the many colors they could be, and she has spent much of the past decade researching and writing about the topic. Her new book HORSE COLOR EXPLORED provides a guide that aims to not only outline basic information about horse color appropriate for a general audience, but also explore the specifics of inheritance and recent color genetics research. Plus, she’s sourced over 160 color photographs from around the world, highlighting unusual breeds and lesser known examples of coat colors and characteristics many aficionados may yet know little about.

HORSE COLOR EXPLORED is available now from the Trafalgar Square Books online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

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Karen Robertson on Carlos at the Rose City Opener National Hunter Derby, Bend, Oregon (photo courtesy of Barbara Dudley).

TSB author Karen Robertson mulls over her upcoming date with The One and Only.

I started considered riding in a George Morris clinic in recent years. I know, I know… most of you are probably wondering why on earth I’d throw myself into the fire like that. And you’re right – I’m kind of freaking out about it. I’ve been freaking out for months! I haven’t ridden without stirrups enough and I’m not someone who rides five horses a day with a perfect position. George is sure to tell me my stirrup isn’t the correct angle on the ball of my foot, my leg isn’t strong enough, my hand isn’t educated enough, and that I sit “like a soup sandwich.” If I’m really lucky, he might even run behind me with a longe whip while I struggle to jump the water.

All that makes my heart race. Over the past five months I haven’t gone a day without thinking about the clinic. It truly scares me to put myself on a horse in front of George. He has laid eyes on every great hunter or jumper rider in the world for over six decades…and now he’s going to lay eyes on me.

Gulp.

I’m doing this for two reasons: My riding has in the last decade or so (I’m 39) begun resembling correct fundamentals to the extent that I think I can hold my own in this particular clinic that has a 1.00 meter group. And secondly, I helped George pen UNRELENTING, his no-holds-barred autobiography published last year. Working on UNRELENTING with George was like getting a whole new education on my best-loved sport. Just by being in George’s orbit, my ambition caught fire to work harder, be bolder, and take more risks. I’ve watched a dozen clinics first-hand over the past five years, and I know what he expects from riders. Now it’s my turn. And in one week, my friend and I will drive seven hours north with our horses to Potcreek Meadow Farm in Washington to ride with George.

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Karen and George working on UNRELENTING in September 2015 (photo courtesy of Barbara Dudley).

Hang on, I had to put my head between my knees and breath deeply for a second there. Whew. Okay. I’m back.

What will it be like for me to ride with George? To feel those eyes that have an unmatched ability to instantly size up a rider and horse and then, in every pair’s case, fit a specific but well-worn key of wisdom into the right lock to help them reach their potential? What will it feel like to hear his deep, satisfied cry of “Thaaaaat’s it!” if I deliver what he commands?

I can only imagine how it will feel, but I hope that I have enough calm in my mind that I can absorb and enjoy the experience. No matter how well I ride each clinic day or what mistakes I ride through, the bottom line is that I will be riding with him: the timid boy too afraid to be off the lead line who became The Godfather of Hunt Seat Equitation and Chef d’Equipe of the Olympic Show Jumping Team; the reproach-impervious master who walks the fiery line between motivator and intimidator; the same coach who fifty years ago inspired a wily crew of American women to reach beyond their wildest dreams on the international show jumping stage and end the decades-long reign of European men.

George is also my dear friend. When I first met him in 2013, it took only hours for us to form a kinship that transcended the book and the horse world. With a kind of glee, we recognized in each other the same kind of professional ambition flanked by a sometimes reckless need for letting ourselves go and being wild. We grew close over the three years, and he listened kindly and gave me advice when I had hardship in my life. George shared his thoughts and feelings with me unreservedly, and I had the honor to hear hundreds of hours of stories from his life…only some of which made the book but which all fit together to help me understand how he wanted to tell his story. I was struck with awe and amusement in the moments I looked in at myself – sitting across from him at lunch or next to him as he drove the car or by his bedside interviewing him – when I wondered, “How did I get here? How is this my life? This is absolutely unbelievable that I get to be here.” It made me want to cry and laugh and collapse in wonder.

Riding with George will be a whole new relationship paradigm for us, and I will ride onto that grass field with no expectations for special treatment. I know he will measure me in a new way: as a rider and horsewoman rather than a writer and a friend. I’m a little afraid that he might lose respect for me if I’m not a sharp enough rider, but I hope so completely that this experience will bring us even closer.

This is scary, to take this risk. But sometimes you say yes to scary and the rewards are better than any ordinary day ever could be.

When I asked my childhood show jumping heroes during interviews for UNRELENTING what it was like to have George take them to the ring when the stakes were high, they all said that their trust in George and his belief that they could win made them feel like they could jump anything – A house! The moon! Besides the incredible learning opportunities, and taking to heart the critical comments (of which there are bound to be many), what I really want to feel in the clinic is just one moment where his voice lifts me up and I feel invincible.

 

K&C2

Karen and Carlos at HITS Coachella Desert Circuit, January 2016 (photo by Jose Ruiz).

Read Karen Robertson’s follow-up post, written after her clinic with George Morris, here.

 

UNRELENTING by George Morris with Karen Robertson, is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont. 

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