CHARLOTTE DUJARDIN EDUCATIONAL TOUR - TORONTO - day one

Nestled about an hour from beautiful downtown Toronto is the stunning Caledon Equestrian Park, which was to be the setting for the educational clinic to be presented over two days by Charlotte Dujardin. As we arrived at the venue, Charlotte couldn't help but comment on the breathtaking views of the Caledon Hills and Niagara Escarpment that welcome you to Caledon Equestrian Park like no other and we were in awe of the facilities and sense of calm at the property..

For the packed crowd of over a thousand, this was an incredible opportunity to learn from one of the greatest icons in the sport of Dressage, with more accolades and medals to her name that one can count. Charlotte had seen some of the horses the day before and decided to put the two young horses together at the start of day one, to give them confidence in an electric atmosphere, laying out the message that would be repeated throughout the two days, that it's imperative that we give horses time and patience during all of their learning’s.

The clinic started with two young horses, four and five years old, and moved on to a six year old and then to the more advanced work finishing with two Prix St. George horses. Charlotte began with Emily Hill on Spiderman (Sir Donnerhall x Contendro) and Nancy Stanton on High Voltage (Harvard x EM Wruffian). 

Emily's horse was fairly nervous of the large crowds to begin with, but Charlotte began by telling the audience that it's important not to punish the horse for his fear but to pat him, ride forwards and let him take in the experience. She wanted to see the horse move from the leg when asked, not to trot over his shoulders but keep him up and forwards. At this age, it’s just important to get reactions from aids when asked, she said..

"With the legs - he must respond and with the reins, you must be able to slow down and stop"

Charlotte also didn't want Emily to allow the horse to stop when he spooked, insisting that Emily ignore the spook, ride him forwards and pat him. She emphasised the need not to overwork young horses and as a rider, to try and be their confidence as they experience the world. Short, productive sessions being key with young horses and repetition and accuracy being important from the very early stages of training.

Charlotte insists that at this stage of a horses learning, one must keep it black and white and ensure the horse learns the correct foundations and basics of training. Throughout the two days, she was very quick to pick up on bad transitions that riders were making. 

Nancy Stanton, once shortlisted for the 1996 Olympic Games, was encouraged by Charlotte to rise in the trot and stressed that she wouldn’t do as much sitting on such a young horse; instead preferring to encourage a swinging trot with the horse moving through the back. Particularly impressed with the horse’s natural correct and rhythmic trot, Charlotte worked on Nancy lifting the horse up and not working so long and flat in the trot. She also stressed the importance of thinking forward in all downwards transitions with the hind leg coming under and not letting riders use the walk as a break and getting distracted. 

Charlotte also focused on the need to do lots of transitions in a session ‘hundreds’ of them and circles, as too many straight lines will encourage a horse to become flat. She wanted Nancy’s horse to have the poll as the highest point and for Nancy to work on getting sharper reactions from the horse. 

“Avoid going low and round; keep your horse in front of the vertical”

Charlotte also wanted Nancy’s horse’s canter to open up, stressing that people often ride slow because it feels safe but this way of riding can flatten the horse and ruin the expression. 

“Give them lots of breathers; if you hold them in an outline too long they will be sore and stiff.”

By the end of the session, the difference in Nancy’s horse was obvious for all the attendees to see with the horse in a relaxed, swinging, loose trot. Emily’s horse equally finished the session without spooking but trotting around in a supple, balanced frame. However, Charlotte did point out and pull several riders up on their poor downwards transitions to the walk, something that never escaped her eye over the two days.

 “Sloppy. Think forwards as you transition down, not just throw your reins away when you come to the walk.”

In between the sessions, Charlotte answered questions from the audience; one question asked what her weekly routine is. She told the audience, the horses are ridden four days a week – schooling on a Monday and Tuesday, hacking on Wednesday, schooling Thursday and Friday, hacking Saturday and Sunday is a day off. With young horses, she will ride for about 20 minutes and often the grooms warm up the horses with a brief hack down the road beforehand and then move on to the warm up exercises. Charlotte stressed the importance of the need to prepare your horses correctly through warm up exercises and not to just come into a schooling session without the adequate warm up plan in place.

The six-year-old session was with Daisy Kosa and the young ‘Explosif’ This horse has experienced a little more than the horses in the earlier sessions and when asked what she would like to work on, Daisy said she was having difficulty with the flying changes. Charlotte liked the trot of this horse picking up the lovely, round action of the front leg. She didn’t want Daisy to worry about making mistakes in front of the audience and emphasized that whenever you have what you consider is a bad session with your horse, to always take away a positive from the session and that training is a constant and riders will have bad days and good days.

Charlotte doesn’t generally start flying changes on the diagonal, she says,  but on a figure eight at the end of the arena and wanted Daisy to begin by gaining an active but slightly collected canter before they started on the Flying Changes.

“A six year old should be able to shorten and bring the weight back onto the hind legs. Push the weight into your seat. When you use your leg allow him to go forward with your hand.”

Charlotte wanted Daisy to achieve more jump in the canter and is known to want to see a little '‘yeehaw’ and riders to be brave enough to take risks. She asked Daisy to use the corner to collect the canter before attempting the flying change and stressed that collection still needs to be active and quick, not merely to slow down and flatten. She praised the horse’s walk telling the audience it’s very difficult to change a horse’s walk, unlike the trot. She always wants riders to train the walk for at least an ‘8’ and not to neglect this pace as so many do. At this point, she cites ‘Damon Hill’ as a horse with an incredible walk. 

On working on the shoulder fore, Charlotte insists that the movement is not a bend in the neck;  it’s a flexion in the poll and the trot must retain the same rhythm, the same angle and frame throughout. She encouraged Daisy to keep her horse up in his frame and pushing from behind. 

Charlotte stated:
•    That it's Important to have someone on the ground to help you and be a secondary pair of eyes.
•    When a horse does something good, give him a pat and a breather. Try and finish on a high.
•    The use of corners and the short sides is fundamental. They allow you to prepare for the movement. 
•    Do not hold and kick at the same time and expect your horse to be able to go anywhere. 
•    Flexion is through the poll and not the neck.
•    “Short reins equals gold medals”

In the third session, Charlotte worked with Jaimey Irwin and the impressive Rosche Flor, a huge Oldenburg mare by Floriscount out of a Dimaggio. The horse is very athletic and powerful and Charlotte said she felt the horse appeared to be a gelding at first, but was clearly endeared by the mare from the outset.  Jamiey wanted to work on her self carriage and getting her more supple through her body. Charlotte wanted Jaimey to not hold her through the session and told the audience that a simple give and retake of the reins will tell the rider or trainer if the horse is in self carriage. 

“Use your seat to get her to come back not your hand”

Charlotte then asked why he was carrying a whip if he doesn’t use it and that he was slightly babysitting the mare, encouraging him to let her make mistakes and that he isn’t riding a test but in a training session. Charlotte took the whip from Jaimey and asked him 

 “Let’s have a bit of a ‘yee haw’ down the longside” 

Charlotte wanted him to execute lots of transitions to get the mare loose through her shoulders, asking him to rise to the trot during travers to encourage the movement and rhythm. 

Charlotte states:
•    Hot horses need legs on, lazy horses – legs off
•    Prepare the walk for a canter transition, shorter, quicker, active.
•    Change and vary the speeds of the paces during the sessions, so you can see how reactive the horse is.
•    Horses have to be able to sit and be able to push. It’s pushing not increased speed.
•    Vary the sitting and the rising trot – don’t always sit to the trot.

The next horse of the day was ridden by Shandiss McDonald, who is a four star level Three Day Event Rider and whom Charlotte wanted to work with her horse to achieve more ground cover.

“You’re not carrying any handbags today, turn your thumbs on top and carry your hands forward” in Charlotte’s dry sense of humour which chuckled the audience throughout. 

Charlotte was also to point out several times throughout the day how important it is for riders to consider their own fitness and not to rely on the strength of the horse to carry a rider. She focuses particularly on her core in sessions at the gym, at least four times per week, alongside pilates and yoga so that she always feels independent in her seat and strong through her body. 

The next rider was Tom Dvorak riding File Della Caccia (Accorada x Ginger FLB) and here they focused on straightness, something Charlotte said is one of the hardest things for many riders to achieve saying that she too, faces all the same day to day challenges in her training of horses of all ages and ability. She emphasized the need for the head and neck to be in front of the chest and the hindleg needs to be underneath to be truly straight.  

"A lot of people naturally curl the horse left, in part because we do so much on the left", she explained. "We get on, on the left side, we put rugs on by the left and we lead horses from the left side so this is common problem" 

They worked on pirouettes using an exercise Charlotte frequently uses and favours; half pass to the centre line, straight for a stride, shoulder in, half pirouette and then half pass back to the track. She stresses the shoulders must lead the half pass and to not to allow the horse to take over during this sequence of movements. She told the audience that a lot of horses  just spin round far to quickly when they learn the pirouette and the rider can lose control if not disciplined.. 

“With 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. You must be able to ride every step of the pirouette as this is an important x 2 movement”

At six / seven years old, Charlotte will think about introducing the double bridle to a horse, but will start slowly by letting the horse hack in the bridle for a while. She is adamant that one mustn’t  ‘over-bit’ a horse or rush to use a double, as she frequently rides her top horses in a snaffle in schooling. 

“If you can’t achieve what you want to achieve in a snaffle, you will have no chance of it in a double”

The last horse of the day was piloted by Tina Irwin and was a nine year old named Laurencio. Charlotte insisted that riders should not always ride test movements in sessions,but keep this to a minimum so the horses do not over anticipate and take over. She prefers to ride specific exercises the majority of the time and the movements secondary. 

Charlotte was particularly impressed that the horse had a nice, correct trot with a lovely rhythm and encouraged Tina to let the horse begin in an slow, relaxed trot.

“Now pick him up. Now she’s going to put expression into the trot. She has taught the horse how to have lift.” 

And the horse continued with a more expressive trot emphasizing why Charlotte doesn’t worry about the trot as this is always one pace, which can be improved. 

When working on the half pass, Charlotte wanted Tina to keep the horses ears up and not let the horse 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.”

Charlotte concluded the session telling the audience that this was a super impressive horse and one to watch for the future.  The audience left with smiles on their face with one reviewer posting online "What impressed me about the presentations is that Charlotte didn't go for big splashy stuff. She focused on basic stuff, even with the upper level horses. CORRECT transitions, and lots of them, leg yield, rhythm and tempo changes within the gaits without a loss of connection or suppleness. There was nothing "new" here, just a rigorous attention to detail and fundamentally correct training. So refreshing to see. There were lots of things that she could have done/said, but she carefully selected, for each horse, the "hole" in the training, sometimes without even pointing out "the hole" to the auditors, and used simple exercises to effect the changes. Almost every horse came to the end of the session in a better balance, better connection and with relaxation. Nice to see. The standout for me was to observe how MUCH more forward she wanted, how much more CORRECT every transition needed to be, how much and the QUALITY of the stretches, how BIG to make the changes, etc. For me, it was all about starting to define more clearly the differences between 6s and 8s, and how to achieve that in the training. Really good, I got lots of "take away" exercises and ideas, and no real earth shattering differences in my own training system, just a better idea about volume and discipline and building more and better."