|not Charlotte...obvi LOL|
Not sure if you have heard of her, but she is a kind of a big deal, Charlotte Dujardin. Last year I had the pleasure of attending the Carl Hester Masterclass in Caledon as a Birthday present from my mom. This year for my Birthday, we went back to Caledon to see Charlotte. I learned so much last year, and was beyond inspired. It started a snowball effect of me getting more into dressage and developing a deeper understanding of the sport and riding required. This weekend was no different! It left me dying to get home and put the ponies through the motions of becoming dressage superstars.
There was so much good information, I have to encourage anyone who has to opportunity to see either Charlotte or Carl to do it, even if it means selling a kidney for the tickets. I took point form notes and will try and share the just of it.
In regards to horse care, and the life of her horses. Her horses live out as much as possible. Hotter horses especially, get left out over night and come in during the day. Leaving them out leaves them much more relaxed mentally and physically. This might seem the norm to us in North America who love turn out, but in the UK and Europe turn out is not all that common in competition barns. Horses who are on the lazy side or not as sharp, get turn out for a few hours a day instead of overnight. The horses all hack and go for gallops regularly, plus use of the water treadmill for strength training. Her horses work for about 45 minutes, on off days do hacking down the road or around the field.
|enjoy the random Ronnie dressage pics for inspiration|
She much prefers to start her own horses. She feels this is the most important stage and she also really enjoys the training. She will buy them no younger than 2 normally, as she finds it hard to buy foals, as they are so young so the time to wait and also the horse can change drastically. She tries to buy the horses no one wants, because they are a better price. She prefers hot sensitive horses, as these horses are easier to ride as the levels go up. She said the lazy horses need to be police horses, and the hot sensitive ones can do dressage. She has mostly mares, and said they get a bad name for no reason. There are horses of every sex breed height etc that can be good or bad. Stereotypes do nothing to help the horse. She said no one over wants a chestnut mare, but she will gladly take the chestnut mare (me too Charlotte ;) ). When looking at horses the most important paces are the walk and canter, because you can not change them, but you can drastically change a trot.
Starting of with the young horses she explained what does to start them. With 4 year olds she rides for 20 minutes. She finds after that they tire and lose interest and enthusiasm. That is when you start to run into issues. You have to give the young horses confidence and balance. You have to be balanced as a rider and you also have to be able to put the horse into balance. Young horses need to be allowed to go forward. They have their who lives to learn to collect. From the wither, she wants the horse to come up and from the poll she wants the horse to round. You would only ride a horse for so long in that frame as they become tired quickly when they are not used to it.
In young horses, you have to teach them stretch and most will stretch the best at the end of the ride. After your ride the stretch should always be given as a reward. When they are young try not to interfere with the walk too much. Do not try collection on a 4 or 5 year old because you can ruin the walk.
With hot horses, you have to put your legs on so the horse learns to accept the leg. One good way to do this is to do many walk trot, trot walk transitions. Once the horse is taught to forward and come back from the leg, you need to think of straightness. Is the head and neck coming straight from the chest or is it curled to the inside, outside, etc? Circles help to slow a horse down without using the hand. You can think of the short side of the arena as a 20m circle too.
Bending was a common theme of the weekend. She talked about making sure you do as much bending to one side as you do to the other. Do more work on your difficult side so you make it as good as the good side. Flexion, should see the corner of the eye when on a circle. With transitions, there is no need for a bad transition. The only reason bad transitions happen is because we allow them to. You are not disciplined enough. If it is not good enough, it needs to be repeated until it is correct. If you do it correctly from the start of training it never becomes a problem. The first step of the downward transition needs to be forward thinking, not back.
She does not love whips, and said that whips should only be used if they are needed. When you use your legs or whip, there has to be a reaction. Not this leg leg thing. Leg once, and reaction. She only uses a whip for cues with piaffe and passage etc.
The first lateral movements she teaches is leg yield. The rhythm never changes, and haunches should not lead. One thing she mentioned is that if you start a movement, you need to finish it. Most people stop riding at the end. You have to ride the start, the middle, and the end. For half pass eventually, make sure you do not make the line too deep when you are teaching it. Find the rhythm and keep the rhythm throughout. A lot of this work is about discipline. Where you position the horse, the quality, the reaction etc. You have to be aware where you are putting the shoulders, haunches, etc in the shoulder in, travers, etc. Corners need particular attention as a bad corner can be a bad start to your lateral work.
She starts changes when the horse is 5 or 6. She starts by just playing around with them, nothing serious, making it easy and fun. By 6 she wants the change solid. A horse with a long flat canter and a canter that isn't collected makes it very difficult to get the change. One or two steps of collection in the canter then out again can help prepare. Keep the straightness and the neck down. One way to start them is on a circle, 1/2 10m at K, then across the diagonal at a and the centreline. This helps slow and collect the canter, the wall naturally backs the horse off so they won't run off afterwards. The canter needs to be springy and bouncy. She emphasized to never tell the horse off if it does not get the change.
The takeaway, you have to be fiercely dedicated to every movement, every step. You have to also be willing to take risks. The difference between a 7 and a 9 is the risk between the two. People take steps back because something gets difficult, when really that is the place they should dig deeper. Riders are afraid to make mistakes, but you have to make those mistakes in order to work through them. This is how you gain experience, and figure out what works. Charlotte commented that she controls every step the horse makes. I think that is pretty clear as to what it takes to be the level of Dressage Champion she is. She does not spend one stride in her rides not working. She is always in either a transition or a lateral movement, or change of stride etc. The horse is constantly being asked to do something, and always asked for that little bit "more".
I can see why she is the insanely successful rider she is. She has inspired me to new heights, just in time for winter.