Erin Sylvester. ph: Shannon Brinkman Photo

While you may be familiar with the infamous George Morris quote, “Either break your ankle, or I’ll come break it for you,” you may not know the story behind its origin, or at least one person it’s been directed to. For that lucky rider—U.S. eventer Erin Sylvester—tough love was the name of the game when she attended a clinic with Morris back in 2014. The trainer chose that descriptive verbiage to encourage Erin to steady her lower leg.

Bluntness aside, however, Sylvester recalls the impact of her three clinics with Morris, and how they helped to hit the “reset button” on her own riding.

“I haven’t ridden with George Morris in a few years, but…his clinics are game-changing to ride in and they’re very humbling. It resets your ability as a rider, your training as a rider, and the standard you hold yourself to. Throughout every discipline, you’re taught to try and feel and read your horse—from riding to working with them on the ground—and this transcends through every experience.”

Currently 45th on the Longines FEI World Eventing Rankings, the now-32-year-old Sylvester reflected on how easy it is to lose sight of the fine details in this sport, in particular, while focusing on “always getting stuff done.”

Morris, she says, brings the details back into focus.

“As eventers, we can get set in our ways of being a little nitty gritty, but I’m not super hard on myself when it comes to always keeping a perfect posture and riding things consistently 100 percent of the time. As cross country riders, we learn to be adaptive and reactive, so you can kind of drift away from being very regimented about what you’re doing. [George] really brings you right back to that when you ride with him.”

Here, Erin shares a handful of George H. Morris-approved lessons she’s learned so far with NF Style. 

1. Equitation matters.

[George] starts his clinics off with your equitation, which is hugely important; how you’re sitting in the saddle, not being too far back with your seat, having your leg balanced [and] underneath you, and your shoulders just up from your hips. He’s harsh on you about it, and he made me cry in the first of three clinics I did with him.

2. For goodness sake, get the lead change. 

The rideability of the horse [is also] hugely important. Lead changes are a must for him, and [it’s embarassing] if you don’t have good lead changes on your horse when you come to a clinic with him, which is very fair. Lead changes are something that are really key to the rideability of your horse on a course.

3. Be strategic with your exercises.

[George] puts the pieces of a course together [using] related lines. Once you do [bending] lines in a certain number of strides,  he’ll force you to cut it down to 5, 6, and then [back up to] 7. For eventers, that’s actually a really key exercise to have a handle on, since we sometimes need to do that out on cross country. There [might be] a five-stride line that walks long, and maybe it’s big tables, so you need to make it down in five so the horse has the scope to jump both [of them]. Then there are times when we need to add an extra step to the last jump, because there’s something surprising on the back of it—maybe it’s [feeding] into a water jump or something like that, where you wouldn’t want to be lengthening your horse. So that’s a really important and helpful exercise.

4. Heels down, eyes up, always.

[George is relentless] about keeping your eyes up and your heels down, which is very important. No trainer will ever tell you to look down and bring your heels up!

-Photo credit: Shannon Brinkman.