A clinic with Charlotte Dujardin, winner of a Team and Individual Gold medal in the London Olympics 2012 and a Team Silver and Individual Gold in Rio Olympics 2016. This is a big event in the dressage community. A thousand people came to watch and to learn. The clinic started with two young horses, four and five years old and moved on to a six year old and then onwards to horses doing more advanced work finishing with two Prix St. George horses.
A huge audience, surrounding the ring is an intimidating experience for a young horse and so to help them, the first two horses, the youngsters, came in together.Horses are by nature herd animals so it helps the youngsters to have company. Here are some of the “gems” from Charlotte.
THE FOUR AND FIVE YEAR OLD HORSES
“ Try not to let him stop when he spooks. Give him a pat and don’t tell him off . The rider has to give him confidence.”
“Start in control, not a stretching frame. Stretch at the end when they are tired.”
You must think “forward”! Legs on….GO!
“No sitting trot on a 4 year old. He just has to go forward even in a downward transition you must think forward.
“If you make a bad transition do it again. Do hundreds of transitions.”
“Do lots of circles. Straight lines encourage them to become flat.”
“Ride them UP and forward ,not forward and into the hand.”
“Give them lots of breathers; if you hold them in an outline too long they will be sore and stiff.”
“That is the slowest canter I’ve ever seen! GO! You don’t want him to be collected. GO! You ride slow because it feels safe but you take away the expression. And…it doesn’t have to be perfect.”
To one of the riders on stretching at the end: “That’s sloppy riding. Stretch with the contact not just floppy long reins and the same when you come to the walk.”
THE SIX YEAR OLD
The rider had told Charlotte she was having difficulty with the flying changes.
“Lots of riders don’t want to show us any mistakes. Well that’s rubbish. I’m here to help the rider so we’re going to work on the flying changes. I don’t start these on the diagonal but on a figure eight at the end of the arena. We’ll start with forward and back in the canter on a circle. A six year old should be able to shorten and bring the weight back onto the hind legs.
“Push the weight into your seat. Where are your legs? Are they on holiday? When you use your leg allow him to go forward with your hand.”
“If a horse has learned to make the change late it is so difficult to stop that. “
“When you are at home use someone on the floor to help you as they can see when he is late.”
“When he has done something good give him a breather. If it felt good then finish and put him away.”
“For the shoulder-in turn from the outside rein. Two reins, two legs”
“Hands forward not pulling back.”
“Corners and the short side are so important. They set you up for what comes next.”
“If he is worked in the right way he will want to stretch at the end of the lesson. “
SECOND LEVEL HORSE
“She’s a big mover and she struggles with the self carriage. Use your seat to get her to come back not your hand. “
“Why are you riding with a whip when you don’t use it? Excuses! Excuses!” (At this point she took the whip away from the rider.)
“You’re babysitting her. Let her make a mistake.”
“Let’s have a bit of a ‘hee haw’ down the longside. That’s not enough. Give her a kick! That’s not really a kick! MAN UP!” ( BTW….The rider was a man!)
“Sit on your bum. Don’t let her pull you down.”
THIRD LEVEL HORSE
When the rider makes a mistake: “ Slap the rider! Pat the horse!”
“And forward! Come on!”
“Move your fingers on the rein so he doesn’t get stuck on the rein.
PRIX ST. GEORGE HORSE
“Horse is rocking up and down. I know the rider is not in control.”
“I never ride the test movements because the horse learns to take over. I ride exercises.”
“For the pirouettes start small and make a big finish. Keep the inside bend, turn the shoulders, turn and look at the marker you are going to.”
“Half halt UP and let go. Move the bit and let go”
“Try to always finish the session with relaxation.”
2nd PRIX ST. GEORGE HORSE
At the start: “ Just let him go in a slow easy trot. You see this? This is why I don’t worry about the trot. This is nice, correct and a lovely rhythm. Now pick him up. Now she’s going to put expression into the trot. She has taught the horse how to have lift.”
In the half pass: “ Think of keeping his ears up. You’ve let him drop down.”
“Your correction is to pull him toward you and you have to push him out.”
“This is a hugely talented horse and he does it all with relaxation.”
During the clinic people in the audience could write down questions and hand them in. Here are some of the answers to those questions.
How do you keep fit besides riding horses?
“ I go to the gym four or five days a week and focus on core strength for balance on the horse and so I fit to ride all of them well. My strength and weaknesses are passed on to the horses I ride so I have to work on that.
Sport psychology is important. For me it was not so much for competition but it helped me deal with the media and social media.
Along the way we’ve all had the same problems.
What makes somebody an winner?
“Somebody who takes a risk. In the ring they go for a ’10’. In your training you have to be brave. People are always holding back. It doesn’t have to be perfect at home. Training is all about taking risks. In the show arena do your best and enjoy it.
How was your experience in Rio?
The media was so bad before we went out. We were all saying ‘Are we going to be coming back alive?’ But it was great. Where we stayed was good and the stabling was good. On the team we were all very supportive of each other. Before going to ride the freestyle (the individual medal ) I have never been so nervous in my life. I had made the decision to retire Valegro and that made it a very emotional day. My legs felt like jelly. As we went round the arena Valegro said: “It’s OK Mum. We can do this.’ And we did it. It was an incredible way to finish his career.
That partnership. That is what it’s all about.”
I think that says it all really .
As the last lesson finished the audience applauded with tremendous enthusiasm. Dressage audiences are usually a subdued bunch but today they were as energetic as they could be without scaring the horses. Tomorrow we will have more advanced horses including developing Grand Prix and Grand Prix horses.
Photo credit: Jaime Porter Photos.