Thursday, January 1, 2015

Why I appreciate (but do not worship) George Morris

'Tis the season for the George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session!  I love this annual, five-day clinic from Wellington and all this has to offer the general equestrian community.  Click that link to see all the sessions on the USEFNetwork webpage.  Each session is available live or later on demand if you can't see it real time.  Sessions include flat schooling (basic dressage principles) as well as gymnastic and jumping exercises.  Beezie Madden did the flat demo this year, which was great.

Inevitably, though, this event comes with a lot of controversy online because it seems like George Morris is one of those very polarizing figures in the horse world.  People either seem to worship him like a "god," or despise him.  I see more of those extremes than moderate opinions.

I've heard everything from:
"He’s a sexist body shaming pig"
"uses abusive language to belittle his students" 
"He's just a mean old white guy"
...and just generally that's he's a bully that can't ride anymore, to:

"He's a GOD!!"
"OMG he's so great he doesn't even need reins, he can stop horses with his mind!"
...and lots of the Chuck Norris (he can do no wrong) phenomenon.  Hero worship at its worst.

I appreciate George Morris because these days he seems to be one of the loudest advocates of classical riding in today's American hunter/jumper world.  A world that seems more and more obsessed with draw reins, leverage bits, and less obsessed with correct, classical flatwork.  There should not be a huge gap between basic dressage and basic hunter or jumper training.  They should be the same, because they all benefit one another.  But it's getting harder and harder to find young folks that know how to correctly school a horse on the flat with nothing but a simple snaffle (no draw reins or neck stretchers or garbage like that).  More young folks need to be exposed to the basic concepts he advocates.  He didn't invent this; he is quick to remind the riders of folks like Bill Steinkraus, Gordon Wright, and others he learned from.  Morris isn't the only one out there, Bernie Traurig has his online resources and clinics; Anne Kursinski is one of my very favorite riders and I love watching her compete or school horses, very classic and correct.  Beezie Madden shows on a regular basis why she's consistently one of the top riders in the world, because of her background and schooling.  Do some of these folks use things like draw reins from time to time?  Yes, I've seen some of them use extra equipment.  But they still use proper fundamentals and can prove that they can still school the horse correctly without relying on that gear.

I can't speak for what the guy is like in person, because I've never spoken with the man myself.  I can't speak for what he might have been like 20 or 30 years ago.  Maybe he was as bad as some people say he was about weight and other topics, who knows.  The clinics I've see and the online Horsemastership series that I've watched the last couple of years do not give me an impression that the man is anything less than a stickler for details and demanding.  Demanding does not make someone evil.  Being tough does not make them a bad person.  It does mean that those that choose to ride with him have to be on their game, mind every detail, and not take little quips personally.  I rode with a no-nonsense lady trainer for years, and she made me a much better rider and horseman for it. 

I think people take things entirely too personally and that society is getting extremely delicate these days.  Morris' comment of "And she's not even a blonde!" after one of the girls jumped the wrong fence this year will surely get taken out of context and offend someone.  Everyone gets a participation ribbon or a trophy just for showing up.  Everyone expects to be lauded with compliments for average work.  People don't or can't handle criticism, because for years they've been showered with praise for minimal effort or achieving minimal standards.  People complain about how sexist GM is, but this year I noticed no difference between his treatment of the boys and the girls.  He was as tough or as kind as he needed to be, based on that individual's performance and effort.

He called Wilton Porter "spacey" and told him multiple times in a very stern voice (and whittling patience) to "get with the program."  Shortly afterward, as he prepared to do a mounted demo, he took one of the girls (Hannah) aside and happily explained the purpose for the billet guard on the saddle, as hers was positioned too high to protect the inside of the flap.  He was perfectly patient, perfectly pleasant, and spoke in a tone that was pleasing and not demeaning.  It was a no-shit, nice conversation with a young lady.

So yes, this guy is clearly a monster. [/sarcasm]   Honestly, like a lot of what we see online, I feel like some folks get a kick out of being the voice of dissent and speaking out against George Morris.  They like the thrill of feeling fashionable by calling him a bully, outdated, or that he rides poorly due to age.  They feel unique and trendy NOT being the person who worships George Morris.  It's edgy.  It's also stupid.  Just as stupid as the people who blindly agree with and support everything George Morris says and does, and worship him like a god.

George Morris is not a god.  He has made mistakes and I'm sure he has crossed the line on occasion, as people are quick to remind everyone of.  He is not politically correct, does not hold hands or suffer fools, but also I have never seen any kind of "abuse" or inappropriate behavior from the evidence I have seen the last few years.  He has an enormous amount of knowledge to give to our up-and-coming young riders and future professionals.  He is a reminder of days gone by, old school horsemanship and an appreciation for classic riding.  I hope these young riders take that forth in their careers and that their horses benefit from this exposure.  At the very least, events like this should remind these riders that there is always more to learn and ways to improve for the horse's benefit.

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