You Have to Be Brave

Femke Onderdelinden and Doortje

Surrey, BC – May 1, 2015 – Charlotte Dujardin is in Canada for the first time to teach a three­day clinic put on by Scott Hayes Productions, and she’s keeping the horses and riders assembled in Surrey, British Columbia, on their toes. While the 10 horse and rider combinations who opened the clinic on Friday represented a range of backgrounds and experience levels, Dujardin stressed similar themes throughout, pushing each rider to tap into her horse’s potential.

“You have to be brave as a rider,” she told Carmie Flaherty, mounted on Euros, a 6-year-­old gelding by Ampere. “You have to see how far you can go.”

Whether she was asking riders to push for a little more trot or ride truly forward through their flying changes, Dujardin urged them past their usual limits. She explained that when she approaches the lines of tempi changes in the Grand Prix, she rides boldly, aiming to start the changes at one end and finish at the other.

“I can do that by riding forward and expressive,” she said. “That’s at high risk. I notice a lot of riders get in a comfort zone of riding slow and feeling secure. It’s only by riding forward and expressive that you start to get 8s, 9s and 10s. You have to learn to go beyond your comfort zone.”

Carmie Flaherty and Euros

Time faults and tea breaks

Carmie Flaherty and Euros Riders had to have a fair amount of courage just to sign up for the clinic and subject themselves to the scrutiny of the Olympic and World Equestrian Games gold medalist, two­time World Cup Final champion and triple world record holder. Dujardin’s witty barbs and frequent refrains of “slap the rider and pat the horse” kept the audience laughing and the riders scrambling to make corrections.

“You could almost get time faults for your dressage test,” she told several riders who needed to pick up the pace and ride forward. “You were going so slow you could have had a tea break in the middle.”

But her overall message was encouraging to those in the ring and watching from the sidelines. She related stories of her own difficulties with Valegro along the way and reminded listeners that dressage should be fun for both horse and rider. When mistakes happened, she urged riders to continue riding and working through them rather than getting hung up on the error.

“It doesn’t matter,” Dujardin said over and over as horses fumbled a flying change or broke into trot or canter. “Just keep going. The horse is allowed to make mistakes. You musn’t stop them from making mistakes; that’s how they learn.”

Courtney Palleson and Beauty

Click, kick and off you go

To shake up some riders and horses and get them thinking forward, Dujardin told them to “take off the handbrake” and “go for a yeehaw” around the arena. “Open her up and let her have a little fun,” she told 16-­year-­old Courtney Palleson, who was riding Beauty, a PMU rescue she has brought up to Second Level. “You need to have a reaction off your leg at the canter. Click, kick and off you go!”

Dujardin demanded snappy reactions from horses at the touch of their riders’ legs. She reminded riders that, when schooling, there is no need to constrain themselves to the gaits and speeds asked for in dressage competition.

“Dressage hasn’t got to be perfect every day,” she explained to Palleson. “You want it to be fun, and you want horses to enjoy their work. When you’re doing the same thing every day, it gets really boring.”

Eleonore Elstone and Extravagant

We’ll definitely do that

Eleonore Elstone and Extravagant Dujardin gave out plenty of tips on how to approach day­to­day training. She shared the weekly schedule of the horses she and Carl Hester oversee: schooling sessions on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; hacks on Wednesday and Saturday; and a day off on Sunday. Most of all, she stressed keeping it fresh and enjoyable for the horses and not being afraid to tackle the weak points.

“She needs to do hundreds of these 10 meter circles, because she finds them hard,” she told Eleonore Elstone, whose mount, Extravagant, tends to rush in the canter.

Dujardin suggested the pair practice canter to walk transitions on 10 meter circles in each corner of the arena, using the wall to their advantage.

“This is a really good exercise for teaching canter­walk­canter,” she explained. “The circle collects the canter so you have a shorter canter, and then the wall makes them back off.”

She joked that many riders, when asked what they wanted to work on, told her what they wanted to avoid – which promptly became the focus of their session.

“She said, ‘Let’s not do that,’ so we’ll definitely do that!” Dujardin laughed during her session with Rebecca Garrard.

She had Garrard work on half­pass zigzags in canter with Grand Prix mount Con Brio, practicing with leg yields off and back onto the wall. Once Garrard picked up Dujardin’s counting technique – “one, two, three, four, straight, change” – she quickly became more consistent in the exercise. Dujardin pointed out that a common mistake is going too far to one side and not being able to get all the way back, which is readily apparent when practicing on a wall rather than on the centerline.

“You have to do all the things you find difficult instead of the things you like doing,” she concluded.

Rebecca Garrard and Con Brio

Definitely a challenge

Dujardin followed her own advice when she took her turn in the saddle. Despite a difficult first ride on Noah, the mount of Kerry Marit, on Thursday, she decided to work out the kinks in front of the crowd.

“I thought this would be a good one to show you because it’s not perfect,” Dujardin explained to the audience. “I don’t want you to think that I just ride perfect horses. I love a challenge, and this is definitely a challenge.”

According to Dujardin, she “could not stop doing one­tempis” on Thursday. Every time she asked for a change, she got several, whether or not she wanted them. To teach Noah to listen to her cues rather than anticipate, she asked for single changes, collecting him afterward.

“I’m doing changes one at a time when I feel I can make him wait,” she said. “When I lose control in the twos, I go back to the single ones. You can’t tell him off – he’s just trying to be useful. He’s always trying his best.”

Charlotte Dujardin and Noah

She also stressed controlling each step in the walk, a movement that has been tricky for Marit and Noah in competition because the horse becomes tense.

“I can piaffe for a 10, but that’s about all I can do,” she laughed after getting on Noah, who wasn’t sure what to make of her leg initially.

Whenever the horse became tense in the walk, Dujardin asked him to walk very slowly, riding every single step of the walk. When he relaxed, she gave him the rein and let him walk on.

“I would do this every day because he has to learn to wait,” she said. “He’s not being naughty; he’s just so keen to do the next thing.”

Alyssa Pitts and Quintessential Hit

The dictionary of dressage

One of the true standouts of the day was a 6­year­old gelding named Quintessential Hit, ridden by Washington­based trainer Alyssa Pitts. Dujardin had a chance to preview the clinic horses on Thursday, and she was clearly a big fan of “Quin” even before his training session.

“What you’ll probably see today is that this 6-­year-­old has already read the dictionary of dressage,” she said as Pitts and Quin warmed up. “He literally can do a bit of everything. Some people might think, ‘Oh God, he’s only 6 and already doing that?’ But he does it so naturally and doesn’t get stressed. I think he’s going to be a very special horse for the future.”

Dujardin gave the pair a few key pieces of feedback, asking Pitts to work on translating the horse’s great outline in trot into the canter as well. But she didn’t have much she wanted to fix, instead taking the opportunity to show the audience what she likes to see in an upper level prospect.

“His hind leg comes so far underneath him,” she pointed out as he cantered. “He has three really super paces – nothing under an 8. He’s the sort of horse that you ask a question and he does it. It’s so nice to see a combination that does everything so softly and so nicely. You can see that the horse has trust and confidence in her.”

“I wanted to steal him,” she admitted. “Horses like this are what make you smile every day.”

Alyssa Pitts and Quintessential Hit
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