The four 6- and 7-year-old horses featured in the clinic are living proof that development and training don't happen on a strict timeline; each horse is an individual and will progress at different rates and react to stressful situations differently. Despite being more or less the same age, they ranged from First to Third Level, and all but one showed varying degrees of stage fright in the large venue. However they all demonstrated superb quality and excellent potential for the future.
Recognizing that no two horses progress at the same pace, Charlotte still has a basic set of expectations for her own horses at this age; shoulder in, travers and half pass should now be well-established and she likes to introduce the single flying change between age 5 and 6. "There's no hurry to get the change in but it shouldn't be a big deal for most horses this age. If you have trained a good collected canter, it's not difficult to teach a good flying change," she said. Lateral work is particularly important at this stage to develop suppleness and strength.
Jaimey Irwin and Fortissimo (6yo, First Level)
This big, impressive-looking gelding captured everyone's attention the minute he walked into the ring. Charlotte cautioned that with a horse that naturally has such big movement, you want to encourage it to move smaller and in a more easy way, to reduce wear and tear and preserve the horse for the long run. "My goal with every horse is always the Grand Prix. I don't care about winning young horse classes or at the lower levels; the horse has got to last if it's going to be successful at Grand Prix."
Fortissimo was extremely nervous in the main ring and despite Jaimey's best efforts, never really was able to completely relax and focus on the job at hand. It was a wonderful demonstration of patience and tactful riding from a skilled professional who quietly worked through moments of tension and rewarded moments of relaxation. "We can all see how nice this horse is and we want to see what he can do but there's no point in trying when he's this tense and worried," said Charlotte. "In a situation like this the only goal becomes getting the horse to breathe, getting him to a point where he's not afraid and finishing the session on a positive note." Specific notes on the work they were able to do included:
- Use lots of serpentines, circles and changes of direction with a nervous horse to keep it guessing a little, keep its mind off the scary situation.
- Shoulder in and travers on a circle are excellent to build suppleness on the stiffer side and make the horse more even from right to left.
- Horse has a high quality canter, up and out with a lovely use of the shoulder and very active hind leg. A round and active canter like this indicates horse will have a good flying change and pirouette down the road.
- Horse is clearly nervous but keeps trying, never says no. Keeping this horse going is never going to be a problem.
- An experienced rider like Jaimey is exactly what this horse needs; he can gain confidence from the confidence of his rider. Inexperienced rider on an inexperienced horse is not a good combination.
Leah Wilkins and High Energy STH (6yo, Second Level)
This elegant mare showed her nervousness in the arena by sucking back somewhat, and bearing down on the hand a little when Leah used her legs. In horses as in life, forward fixes almost everything. "Sometimes you just have to forget about dressage and go for a good yee-haw," Charlotte said, encouraging Leah to have a good gallop around the perimeter of the ring. Once the horse was more relaxed, she moved into the lateral work at the introduction of the single change (which unfortunately I missed, due to a badly-timed phone call which I couldn't ignore.) Charlotte's advice included:
- Use lateral work to occupy the horse's mind and keep her from spooking.
- Do shoulder-in away from the wall to test if horse is drifting or not. Leah is doing it very well but lots of people cheat by pushing the quarters out, rather than bringing the shoulders in.
- Then try moving between shoulder in and renvers on the same line by changing the flexion.
- Travers is the best exercise for suppling as it bends the inside while stretching the outside of the horse's body. When the mare resists bending on her stiffer side, just keep correcting and riding through it.
- Half pass is simply travers on a diagonal line. Ideally it should be parallel but not when teaching a young horse. Make it easier at first for them to succeed by allowing the it to trail slightly.
-As horse gets stronger over time work on making half pass more parallel without allowing the rhythm or contact to change.
- Set up the half pass correctly in the corner before. If you ride a bad corner you will ride a bad movement.
Justin Ridgewell and Jolene (7yo, Third Level)
Justin unfortunately encountered much the same situation as Jaimey did. Despite the fact she schooled comfortably in the empty arena the night before, Jolene was simply too afraid of the large crowd on Saturday to demonstrate much of the Third Level work. "Justin is thinking 'this is horrible,' but everyone in the audience is learning from it because their horses all do the exact same thing," said a sympathetic Charlotte. After canter work settled her down, Jolene was able to show off the qualities that made Charlotte say, "This is the type of horse I go for. She's very go-ey, very athletic looking and quite uphill by nature." Specific comments included:
- Keep the poll up; you should be able to see the top piece of the bridle.
-Make little corrections when she drops down to keep the neck up and open.
- Rider needs stronger seat and stronger core to sit up and back more - tendency is to tip forward from the hip somewhat.
- Horse is very supple laterally, finds it easy to switch between shoulder in and travers
- Increase difficulty by starting in leg yield from centre line towards wall, then switch to half pass.
- By age 7 horses should be working on the pirouette. Start with a 15m circle in shoulder in, followed by a 15m circle in travers, then spiral the circle in towards more of a pirouette feeling.
- This horse shows ability to sit and hind leg does not get slower, keeps a good jump in the canter. Will be capable of a good pirouette.
- Another pirouette prep exercise is to gradually collect the canter more and more with smaller steps until almost cantering on the spot, then forward again for several strides.
- Think walk with your hands and canter with your legs. If horse doesn't stay in front of the leg in the collected steps go forward into medium canter right away, or even a good gallop.
Janine Little and Billionaire (7yo, Third Level)
The handsome gelding Billionaire received my "rock star of the day" award. Despite his young age and relative inexperience, this horse didn't bat an eyelash at the crowd, the constant movement, or the indoor environment. He has the training to show the audience some of the more advanced movements and he and Janine treated us to a lovely, harmonious demonstration. Having taught Janine privately before, Charlotte joked she could be tougher on her at the clinic. Her comments included:
- At this stage the horse is more balanced and can be kept together with the seat and legs, not the hands.
- Begin with canter work to activate this horse - he's a little sluggish by nature.
- To prepare for flying change work, begin with travers down the long side.
- Some horses just put the hip in without truly bending. Make sure you are really achieving a stretch through the outside of the horse's body.
- Be brave and forward in the tempi changes. Cover more ground, make the change happen higher off the ground.
- Do the changes on the wall to help the horse stay straight. If horse jumps to the right in the change, think leg yield a little to left.
- Need to ride the actual canter as bravely and forward as the changes. Changes are bigger than the regular canter.
- In the trot work this is the stage where you can really start to add suspension.
- Horse can keep the suspension on straight lines currently but struggles in the lateral work. Keep the angle of the shoulder in and travers more shallow to make it easier for horse to maintain suspension.
- "That's your trot!" after the medium trot, Janine found a new gear for this horse with much more energy, activity and expression, sitting more and truly pushing from behind.
That's it for now. Come back tomorrow for a recap of the four FEI level sessions!
So apparently there are people out there who not only want me to write a recap of the Charlotte Dujardin masterclass at Caledon Equestrian Park this weekend, but are actually waiting for me to do so! That's very flattering and I hate to disappoint, so will get right to it with no futher ado.
Was it awesome? Yes.
Was it the same as last time? No. While the clinic followed the same format as Charlotte's 2016 masterclass and the Carl Hester one last year, there was a completely different group of horses, and therefore was a completely different learning experience.
Instead of recapping each day, this time I'd like to break it down by level. It was interesting to compare the differences and similarities between the horses each day. Let's begin with the babies who were featured in the first session of each day.
Charlotte prefers to buy young horses around the age of two and start their training herself. She looks for correct and easy - but not necessarily spectacular - gaits. Although big gaits are becoming increasingly prevalent in the young horse classes, that extravagant expression is something she prefers to develop over time with training, saying that working in a huge trot at a young age will increase the wear and tear on a horse over the long term. She avoids the young horses who already walk for a 9 or 10, knowing that enormous walk will be difficult to collect later on. A 7.5 is her ideal walk at this stage.
By the time they reach age 4, like the horses featured in the clinic, Charlotte expects them to go forward from the leg, maintain straightness, steady contact and a steady rhythm. She keeps their training periods short - 20 minutes at most. Maintaining balance of the young horse is the rider's job and they have to be brave, allowing them to go forward without restricting them. Horses have their whole lives to be collected. Allow young horses the freedom to make mistakes, then correct the mistakes. That's where the learning happens.
With three out of the four youngsters featured this weekend, Charlotte wanted to see the riders work towards a more uphill outline with consistency in the contact, without sacrificing the energy, activity and rhythm. The fourth horse - a lovely mare ridden by Neil McIntosh - was a bit the opposite. She wanted this hotter and more sensitive mare to show more relaxation, slow down the tempo and reach forward more to the contact.
Inga Hamilton & Brigitte (4)
This elegant young mare is a half-sister on the dam's side to Cyrus, whom many of us have seen competing under Tom Dvorak. I've always enjoyed seeing Inga ride her spectacular stallion Fabregas, and equally enjoyed seeing her give this much younger, greener horse a lovely ride. Charlotte complimented the horse on her nice rhythm, easy movement and relaxed nature. Key points from her lesson included:
- Don't expect to see a 4yo in a Grand Prix outline but would like to see her a little more balanced uphill and less over the front end.
- Keep lifting the next sightly without disturbing the nice, easy rhythm.
- Think more forward and active but not faster.
- Make her work hard to carry herself more uphill, then reward that work with a stretch break.
- In the canter when the weight is rocked back a little more on the hind end, the whole quality of the gait changes. Mare has a lovely, super canter when balanced correctly.
- Transitions from canter to trot are still difficult for her at this stage. Until she can shorten the canter stride in balance the transition to trot won't be balanced.
Neil McIntosh & Juweel of Lichty (4)
He may have been a last-minute replacement when Harma Fraser opted not to make the long journey with her horse from PEI, but Montreal-based Neil McIntosh rose to the challenge admirably on this very nice young mare. Charlotte's comments to the pair included:
- Keep the leg on. Tendency is to keep the leg away from a hot horse but we need to do the opposite.
- Horse tends to slow slightly when Neil asks her to bend - indicates he is using the hand without enough leg aid to back it up, a common mistake on a sensitive horse.
- Maintain one single steady rhythm - no speeding up or slowing down.
- Lots of walk/trot transitions (good ones, on the aids and straight!) are really beneficial for this horse.
- Horse will have a really impressive trot in a few years.
- Keep testing the contact in the canter. Can you give without the balance and rhythm changing?
- Use shoulder fore to create straightness
- Maintain contact in the stretch trot - don't just throw the rein away
Magda Moyseowicz & Sam I Am (4)
The only amateur in the master class, Toronto-based Magda did an impressive job with her big young gelding. Charlotte encouraged her to persevere through occasional moments of resistance and not let the horse dictate what amount of contact he was comfortable with. Her words of wisdom included:
- Don't be a passenger you have to be the pilot.
- Canter is easier for this horse right now so go with it. Train the canter work first, then work on the trot once the horse is looser and happier.
- Horse likes to be a bit long and flat in his outline - working on long straight lines only encourages this more. Use lots of circles, serpentines and changes of direction while really asking the horse to bend and carry himself more uphill.
- It's easy for him to stretch long and low so he's happier there. Use that as a reward after harder work in a more uphill balance.
- Work uphill for a bit, then stretch for a bit. Rinse, repeat.
Alexandra Reid & Jewel's Idokarde (5)
At this stage, an extra year of maturity and training makes a big difference. By age 5, Charlotte expects to see the basic paces well established and horses moving forward from the leg with straightness. Now it's time to increase the suppleness with lateral work. Though "Dreamy" had a few cheeky young horse moments, Alex calmly and patiently continued to push the horse forward through the resistance, resulting in a much more relaxed and swinging trot by the end of the session. A great performance from this young professional and a super-talented young horse. Charlotte's tips for Alex included:
- Horse has a lovely looking, big trot with nice swing to the movement but isn't actually swinging through the body.
- Increase suppleness and encourage the legs and body to work together with walk/trot transitions. Lots of them.
-Horse keeps hind end underneath himself very well - sign he will have a great piaffe later.
- Leg yield is the first lateral movement for the young horse. Set horse up for success by starting as if on a diagonal line, then add the sideways.
- Will really highlight which side is the horses' stiff side - tend to over bend in one direction and not at all in the other direction.
- Horse has to go sideways from the leg, not from the inside rein. Pulling the inside rein results in horse falling out through the outside shoulder.
- Working with young horses takes patience and perseverance. You can't try to fix everything in one day. Bit by bit work on making them more uphill, more together, softer, more supple.
- After working through the resistance, by the end Alex was able to demonstrate a lovely stretch trot and canter with the horse swinging nicely through his back and body.
There's so much more to cover but I have a 9am lesson tomorrow and a full day of work and chauffeuring kids around, so it's off to bed for me! Stay tuned for the next installment, featuring the 6 and 7-year old horses.
About the author
I'm a middle-aged, overweight, rusty re-rider who refuses to let any of that get in the way of my passion for dressage.