I Survived George Morris… With 50 More Hours of Homework: Day 3 Clinic Recap

I woke up way before my alarm and laid in bed anticipating what would come on Sunday morning. The final day of a George clinic is always the most testing. I knew that last year he had us jump a larger liverpool, a big bank and some tight-strided lines, so I anticipated a more technical course to round out the weekend.  George smiled as he rode up to us on his golf cart for the morning’s course build and greeted everyone.

“Today you will have to ride,” he said to our group.

We set up several combinations utilizing some of the natural obstacles that lined the jump field including a rock wall and a big open water for the most experience group in the clinic. The first exercise of the day would be another serpentine exercise winding back and forth between a small liverpool, an oxer and a single vertical. Then we set up the ASPCA wall, a short four strides to a bigger liverpool, followed by a hustling five strides to a big red gate. Finally, we built a triple combination that was an oxer, two strides to an oxer, one stride to a vertical. George was right, we would have to ride.

As always, our session started on the flat. We worked on establishing our pace at the walk, at which point George had me swap out spurs for a bigger option to liven Ty up a bit. Then we began working at the trot and including some shoulders-in, haunches-in exercises. Ty’s weak area is his lateral work and he grew a bit fussy when I asked for more out of him with the larger spur, but I stayed calm and kept him organized until he understood the question and fell into a rhythm.

“Very tactful, Meagan,” George commented and I tried to smother the smile on my face. We closed out our flatwork session with some work counter cantering, another test Ty struggled with at first but my friend Morgan had given me some tips on how to use my inner leg to hold Ty into place without swapping and I was pleased to see it worked in our favor. Then, it was time to jump.

Photo by Joanna Russell

First was the serpentine exercise to get us warmed up and bending. The goal was to get our horses supple, collected and prepared for the lead change. After the serpentine, we moved on to the line that included the bigger liverpool. My biggest personal struggle jumping Ty so far has been understanding his stride. He has a shorter stride and has to open up and get moving to cover ground, however we often wind up just running at the fence rather than me packaging him up and keeping him steady. This line was perfect for getting us on track. The first time through, we chipped into the ASPCA wall and I tried to hustle to get to the liverpool in four, but we came up a bit long and Ty thought about hesitating.

Last year had my horse opted to stop at a fence, I would’ve sat there like a victim and allowed it to happen, but this year I reached back with my stick, clucked him forward and closed my leg. Even when he hopped it exuberantly, I went with the motion and didn’t punish him by grabbing him in the face, something else that I wouldn’t have been able to do this time last year. Unfortunately, because I was a bit disorganized, we got to the third obstacle, the red gate, in six strides rather than five.

“You talk the talk, but you don’t walk the walk,” George said as I made my way back to the group. “You are a bit of what I call a ‘bird brain.'”

Photo by Joanna Russell

This might have offended some people, but I knew he was right. I was so worried about the fences in front of me that I forgot to put all the pieces together. This is something I have always encountered in my riding. Rather than seeing the big picture, I hone in on what makes me nervous and watch my ride fall apart in front of me. Determined to prove George wrong, I made a plan on how I would tackle the line the next time around. When it was our turn again, we cantered off with a powerful stride. I lifted my hands to keep Ty up and on his hind end and we made our way down the line making the strides with ease.

“There!” George proclaimed. “There you have it. You see you get the four and the five when you are going. Very well done.”

Next up was a small triple bar set around the rock wall, a big rollback to a vertical and then five strides to the oxer, oxer, vertical combination. I knew that would be the trickiest line of the day for me because the vertical was set on a downhill slope and we would have to have collected pace coming down to the triple in order to put it all together.

We came in a bit tight to the triple bar, so I pushed out in the roll back to get going before the vertical, but I began to doubt my pace as we worked our way down the hill to the vertical, so I pulled up a bit. This caused us to chip into the vertical and meant we would have to hustle to the first fence of the combination. I legged Ty forward but he sucked back to the first fence. As he tried to halt I reached back with my stick to keep him going forward and next thing I knew he was bunny hopping the fence from a dead stop and I was flying in the air like a rag doll.

All I could think as I neared the ground was, “of course I would fall on the last day.”

Thankfully, one of my best friends, Morgan, came running out to give me some words of encouragement as Ramiro, my favorite barn hand, gave me a leg up. “Get your pace,” she said. “Get going. You’re okay!” I can’t tell you how much I have cherished Morgan’s friendship throughout this past year and having her there to dust me off and pick me back up was all I needed to get back on the horse, literally, and get it done.

At the end of the day, George went around and gave us all our homework. I was the last in the line and I waited with gritted teeth, afraid of what he might have to say. I thought I had done very well this year, especially in comparison to last year, and I was afraid the fall might have tainted George’s opinion of my hard work. He looked at me, grinned and just laughed. I wasn’t sure what to say, so I laughed along with him.

Photo by Brody Robertson

“You need another 50 hours, Meagan,” he said. “You need dressage and you need another solid 50 hours jumping. Where is Brody? Brody she needs another 50 hours jumping before next year. Come back again next year, Meagan.”

And so, this is the official start of the next 50 hours. The last 50 hours changed me in so many ways, and not in just my riding. In my attempt to become a better rider, I found a piece of myself that I had lost a long time ago: my grit. I have been scared, I have been nervous and there have been times where I thought to myself, “how bad do I want this?” And each time I have overcome. Each time I have pushed through and made it happen and with each time I have grown more and more confident. I have never felt as confident in my riding as I did this weekend. Even after my fall, I walked out of that field feeling like I actually rode yesterday. I felt like I had done exactly what I aimed to do. I proved to my trainer, to George and to everyone else how bad I want this and how hard I have worked to get better.

And most importantly, I proved to myself that I could do it. So here is to the next 50 hours. Who knows what it has in store!