Surrey, BC – May 3, 2015 – Charlotte Dujardin pushed riders to tackle their own and their horses’ weaknesses on the final day of her clinic, put on by Scott Hayes Productions at the Cloverdale Agriplex in Surrey, British Columbia. She called on clinic participants and auditors alike to focus on improving the most difficult gaits and movements during training, despite the temptation to practice the pieces that come more easily.
Alyssa Pitts, who rode two lovely young horses at the clinic, started the morning off with the 5yearold Oldenburg mare Selestial R. Pitts is strongest in her trot work, so she’s been doing plenty of canter work with Dujardin to round out her skills.
“Alyssa is a good girl: she works on the things she doesn’t like to do,” Dujardin said.
After putting Pitts and Selestial R through a series of exercises at the canter, Dujardin challenged spectators to up their game during training sessions at home.
“How many of you would do all these transitions by yourselves?” Dujardin asked the audience. “You just keep riding around and get slower and stiffer. This is what keeps the horse active and engaged.”
She continued, “As a rider, I am constantly thinking, ‘Is he waiting? Is he listening to my leg? This makes it much easier for me to teach everything else because the horse is already waiting and listening to my aids.”
In the next session, Dujardin urged Chelsea Froese to go for more in the medium trot, and Froese promptly moved Barcelona forward into a more lively version.
“Why would you do it for a 6 when you could do it for a 7 or an 8?” Dujardin asked.
After the clinic, she said she feels one of the keys to a rider’s success is the ability to create a routine for each horse, identify what needs tweaking and then work steadily toward the end goal.
“Having a plan with each horse and knowing each horse’s weaknesses and strengths is something a rider needs to do,” she said.
The feeling you get
Dujardin chose the 6-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Echalon R, who was ridden on Saturday by Sean Rae, for her first mounted demonstration of the day. While trotting him around the arena, she talked the audience through her approach to testing out a new horse.
“One of the first things I want to do when I get on a horse is see what feeling I have in my reins and what reaction I get off my leg,” she said.
Her initial aim was to produce a quick response to her leg aids and have Echalon pushing forward rather than down. She then experimented with a few steps of passage.
“Because he’s 6, I don’t want him to feel like it’s hard,” she said. “I want him to feel like he’s playing. Anytime it feels too difficult, I just make it easier on him.”
Dujardin showed the audience how she could then draw on the passage steps to add suspension to Echalon’s trot. After concluding the session with some work in the canter, she praised the horse’s brain and rideability, noting that he had ample potential.
“When buying a horse, it’s not about what you see,” Dujardin said. “It’s about the feeling you get and what’s between their ears.”
She also sat on Samba Hit V, ridden on Saturday by Rochelle Kilberg. The handsome 7-year-old Brandenburg stallion breezed through the questions she asked of him, and she appeared a little reluctant to hand him back over despite maintaining earlier in the clinic that she prefers geldings and mares to stallions.
“Rochelle’s never going to get on the back of her horse again,” Dujardin joked. “He feels really fantastic. That’s why you have to ride different horses: you think all stallions are lazy, but this one’s not. You have to get on and give it a go before you say no.”
Riding in and out
With the older, more experienced horses later in the afternoon, Dujardin highlighted the canter pirouettes, zigzags and tempi changes from the Grand Prix test as well as a less flashy but still critical movement: the halt and reinback.
“You see a lot of people making mistakes in the reinback,” she said. “You do it in the tests along the way, and then it gets to Grand Prix, where for some reason, horses make a real mess of it.”
Just as she had drilled several riders on regaining control of each step of the canter pirouette, she directed Roanne Tyson to break down the five steps of the reinback to ensure Isleno XXXVII would listen and wait for her aids.
“How many horses halt and fly backwards?” Dujardin asked. “Then you don’t have any control.”
Tyson tackled the reinback two steps at a time, halting in between and ensuring Isleno was standing square. Later in the session, Tyson practiced the same concept in the piaffe, making sure Isleno executed the transitions in and out according to her cues.
“She’s got to be able to ride in and out, not just get into it and he starts piaffing, because then you can’t get out,” Dujardin said, reminding the audience of the many points to be earned or lost for transitions in the piaffe/passage tour.
Hard work and dedication
Throughout the threeday clinic, Dujardin shared stories of her own experiences moving up through the ranks of dressage, from mucking stalls to medaling at the Olympics. She encouraged auditors to make no excuses in their riding, pointing out that she is jealous of riders with long legs but has learned how to make the most of what she has. Similarly, she stressed that good horses come in all shapes, sizes and price tags.
“I hope I’ve inspired them with what I do and the background I’ve come from, and that they don’t think it’s just all about money and I bought my way into my success,” Dujardin said after wrapping up her final day. “I’ve done it through hard work and dedication. I’ve tried to give them everything that I know and I’ve done. If they can come away with just one or two good tips, then I know I’ve done my job right. I just hope they’ve enjoyed it.”