Surrey, BC – May 2, 2015 – Charlotte Dujardin took on a fresh group of 10 horses on Saturday, the second day of her clinic in Surrey, British Columbia. While the specifics of each session changed, she stuck to her underlying system, giving horses and riders clear steps to improve communication and execution. She worked on transitions and reactions throughout the day, showing the audience how these fundamentals are essential to success at all levels.
“It’s not just about riding the movement,” Dujardin told Rochelle Kilberg, who rode Samba Hit V. “It’s about making transitions within the movement.”
Under Dujardin’s direction, Kilberg took Samba Hit forward and back while staying in shoulderin, asking the stallion to produce quick responses to her legs and hands. This helped focus Samba Hit’s attention on his rider and finetune Kilberg’s ability to direct each step of the movement.
“She should be able to just touch him with the reins, and he should come back,” Dujardin explained.
She had Femke Onderdelinden, riding Royal Subtilia, move on and back in halfpass, adjusting their gait while continuing the movement. After putting Dominique Buckland and Rockwell through pirouette work that included travers, shoulder fore and medium canter, all on a circle, Dujardin brought the audience’s attention to these training elements.
“How many transitions do you think [Dominique] has done in there?” she asked the audience. “A lot. That’s what it’s all about. It’s not just making a small pirouette.”
Small start, bigger finish
The canter pirouette is a common problem spot for horses who tend to take over from their riders, and Dujardin’s approach is aimed at keeping the rider in control from beginning to end. She shared her goto exercise to ease the horse into pirouettes while setting up the rider to take charge.
Riders began with a halfpass from H to X and a canter straight down centerline toward A in a slight shoulder fore, followed by a half circle to the left in travers to come around the corner before returning to the same diagonal line in halfpass to restart the exercise.
“Once you can do this exercise, you can control every step,” Dujardin said.
She worked with more advanced pairs on ensuring their pirouettes were even across the centerline. She noted that many riders drift over in the direction of the pirouette immediately before beginning the movement, placing the resulting figure mostly on that side of the centerline.
“The preparation for the pirouette is so important,” she told Buckland. “You have to think about having a small start and a bigger finish.”
She urged Canadian Olympian Bonny Bonnello, riding Encore, to keep the horse forward and active when working on pirouettes on a circle.
“Think about bringing the outside front leg around,” Dujardin said. “Turn your hands to the inside and bring the shoulders around.”
Building a house
The morning session on Saturday featured several young horses, and Dujardin took the opportunity to share her approach to bringing them along. She stressed developing them correctly from the beginning and resisting the temptation to ask for too much too soon.
“It’s like building a house,” she said to Sven Smienk, who rode the 4yearold stallion Quarteron. “It’s the foundation of the horse. This stage is so important. If you make mistakes, then they haunt you the rest of the horse’s life.”
She had Smienk ride some leg yields, reminding him to start on a little bit of a diagonal to help set the horse up. While she thinks it’s worthwhile to introduce a little bit of straightforward lateral work early on, she avoids putting too much pressure on them.
“You wouldn’t want anything more from a 4-year-old,” she said.
Dujardin explained that she doesn’t work on the collected walk with horses of that age. Her primary focus with young horses is developing forwardness and straightness in all three gaits.
“You have their whole lives to collect them,” she said. “Let them be. People get carried away teaching them the tricks, but really it’s just important to go forward.”
Just try again
Dujardin does believe that riders shouldn’t be afraid to give a new movement a try, keeping the pressure off and just seeing if the horse is ready to produce it.
“When they’re 4 or 5, I will literally just canter across the diagonal, flick them with my leg and see what happens,” she said. “If nothing happens, that’s fine.”
She encouraged Kilberg to test out the twotempis on Samba Hit V. The 7-year-old Brandenburg stallion is a new mount for Kilberg.
“It doesn’t matter if he makes a mistake,” Dujardin told Kilberg. “Let’s have a go.” When Samba Hit successfully produced a line of two tempis, the audience cheered.
“If you never give it a go, you’ll never know,” Dujardin said. “If he makes a mistake, you just try again. You have to see where you’re at.”
Teaching the reaction
Dujardin’s mount of the day was the Lusitano stallion Ali Baba, ridden first by Derek Huget. She took the reins to see how she could address some of the challenges Huget was facing, admitting it was an added bonus to ride a horse of that breed.
“When I retire, I want to get a Lusitano,” Dujardin said. “They’re the comfiest horse you can sit on. You could just sit here all day. You could eat your dinner.”
Despite the praise, Ali Baba didn’t take it easy on Dujardin. He often anticipated lead changes, and Dujardin worked on making him soften and wait for her aids before asking, sometimes staying in counter canter or changing up the exercise to keep him listening to her. She also focused on getting a quick reaction to her leg, asking him for short bursts of speed to demonstrate what she meant when she asked riders to “go for a yeehaw.”
“I don’t want to punish him, just teach him the reaction,” she explained.
Dujardin noted that at the beginning of her ride, Ali Baba responded to her leg by tightening his frame.
“He uses his neck as a tool against me,” she said. “I’m really trying to get him to soften over his back and not resist in his mouth when I use my leg. He’s got to stay round and loose in my hand.”
She said it was important to have the feeling of playing with the bit, since bracing against a strong horse like that would get the rider nowhere. By the end of her ride, he was lighter in her hand and engaging his hind end, creating the push that had been missing at the start.
“The more I hold [the bit], the more he holds it,” Dujardin explained. “I can’t fight with him. Going sideways a little helps, and the canter made his trot better because he became more engaged, bringing his body up underneath me. He goes from quite a normal trot to being able to move his body much better.”
Dujardin isn’t afraid to keep chipping away at a problem until she gets the response she’s aiming for, and she is quick to praise every step in a positive direction. Once she felt the improvement in Ali Baba’s trot, she rewarded him and wrapped up the session. She ended by striking a pose with Ali Baba, who had some circus tricks up his sleeve.