If you follow my Dressage Addict Facebook and Instagram feeds, you probably already know that last I week I ticked an item off my bucket list, by having a lesson with Canadian icon Cindy Ishoy. Caprice was an absolute star, as usual, and didn't put a foot wrong. I worked harder than I've worked in years and realized that I'm stronger than I think. Meredith's not going to let me take as many breaks now, which is going to hurt!
Lesson-wise, as with any good dressage trainer, there was no magic. Simple, consistent riding of the horse from back to front, working on the basics of my position, and keeping Caprice moving honestly forward to the contact. Really forward. Way more forward than my muscles are used to in sitting trot. Farewell comfort zone!
For me, the magic was simply the opportunity to learn from a legend, the person who inspired me to take up dressage. So many people commented on how lucky I am and they are right. But those of you who grew up in the GTA are probably thinking, "What's the big deal? Anybody can call up Cindy and book a lesson or clinic."
That is a big deal. A very big deal.
I was 16 years old and still living in Newfoundland in 1988 when Cindy and Dynasty danced their way to Olympic bronze, along with Ashley Holzer, Gina Smith and Evi Pracht. At that time I had never seen a double bridle in real life, didn't know that reins could be be used for more than turning your horse's head, and didn't have a clue that "on the bit" was a thing, let alone understand what it meant. I had no idea what I was watching when I saw Cindy and Dynasty, but I knew I wanted to ride like that.
Being able to call up a Grand Prix rider to book a lesson was unthinkable. At a time when nobody in the province had competed any higher than the equivalent of Second Level, even watching somebody ride the Grand Prix was unthinkable. Even after living in Ontario for 19 years I've never quite gotten over the thrill of watching my trainer school her upper-level horses at home, or hanging out by the warm up ring at shows, seeing riders in person who were once simply mythical names in a magazine to me. I've had the pleasure of knowing Cindy for a few years now and have interviewed her a number of times for articles, but having the chance to ride in a lesson with her was very, very special.
The opportunities that arise out of living and riding in the GTA are easy to take for granted if you've never owned horses anywhere else in Canada. It seems entirely normal here to have a choice of stables with indoor arenas, and of competition venues and show circuits. On any given weekend we can audit a clinic or book a lesson with national and international stars. Riders have a choice of farriers, a choice of vets, and even a choice of equine hospitals with MRI machines, surgical suites and rehab facilities. We've got countless equine nutritionists, message therapists, acupuncturists, physiotherapists, and even psychics to keep our horses in peak physical and mental condition.
The depth of talent and resources here in Ontario is astounding. Not everyone else in Canada is nearly so lucky. Watch for an upcoming blog post about a new rider development program created by Ontario Equestrian, aimed at using those resources to help more Ontario riders reach the podium. In the meantime, I'm happy to share my good fortune with you, by sharing two of the exercises Cindy had me work on. Good luck!
This one sounds deceptively simple (and maybe for other people it is, but not for me!). Ride a three loop serpentine, wall to wall, with simple changes through walk over the centre line, and a 10m circle each time you reach the wall.
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.