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March 10, 2014

Short Reins Win Medals

Charlotte Dujardin helped Hilda Gurney with the details on her homebred horse Wintersnow.

Burbank, Calif.—March 9   

It’s not every day that an Olympic double gold medalist asks to ride your horse. But Victoria Rea seemed to take it in stride.

Though the Southern California-based trainer has been the only one to ride her 11-year-old Dutch gelding W.H. Roux, she readily handed over the reins to Charlotte Dujardin, who won team and individual gold in dressage with Valegro at the London Olympic Games in 2012.

Noting that Rea had experienced resistance on the left rein, Dujardin said, “OK, Vicki, we’re going to see if it’s you or the horse.”

A moment later she said, “It’s you.”

On Day 2 of her dressage symposium at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Burbank, Calif., Dujardin displayed the same sly wit that had marked Day 1, throwing out comments like, “Pat the horse, slap the rider,” when a rider made a mistake, or telling another, “You go on holiday when you’re going sideways.”

The crowd of several hundred spectators was delighted.

While she remained a stickler for correct transitions—asking riders to repeat them over and over until she was satisfied—she also appeared more relaxed in her role as clinician, seeming to genuinely enjoy her interactions with horses and riders. She was again joined by her former coach, FEI judge Judy Harvey.

Kristina Harrison-Antell was first up with her 4-year-old Barnaby Wilde, whom Dujardin and Harvey praised for his correct outline and swinging trot. Dujardin asked Harrison-Antell to do trot-canter and canter-trot transitions on a 20-meter circle, urging her to alternately push and collect a bit.

They then moved to counter-canter and began “playing around” with the changes. When you introduce changes depends on the horse, Dujardin said. “You’re not going to ask [for the change] like you would with a horse that knows what it’s doing,” she said. “He just has to go from one side to the other. It doesn’t have to be a clean change.”

Adult amateur Sheryl Ross was next with her 13-year-old Danish gelding Lancaster. Reserve champions at Intermediaire I at the U.S. Dressage Federation National Finals last November, they’re now focused on moving up to Intermediaire II.

Observing that the horse was “curled up” to the left, Dujardin had them work on leg yields to loosen him up. They worked in travers down the long side with a 10-meter circle in the middle and, as on Saturday, worked on preparing for the pirouettes: half-pass to the centerline, shoulder-fore on the centerline, large half-pirouette and then half-pass back.

As a judge, Harvey said the main fault she sees in pirouette is loss of control. “This is a great exercise,” she said.

When Ross’ reins got long as she schooled the flying changes, Dujardin said, “Sheryl, I’ll let you in on a little secret. Short reins win gold medals.”

And when Ross rode a poor transition to walk, Dujardin quipped, “All those bad down transitions you’ve done all these years, they’re going to haunt you now.”

Harrison-Antell returned to the arena with the 9-year-old Dutch gelding Arlo. Dujardin quickly zeroed in on her hand position. “Krisi, you need to ride with money in your hands—coins. That’ll teach you to keep your fingers closed.”

They worked on introducing the flying changes while maintaining a feeling of looseness and lightness. “They don’t have to be perfect,” Dujardin said.

She also asked Harrison-Antell to begin playing with piaffe. When she first teaches a horse to piaffe, she said she usually begins at a walk along the rail. She asks the horse to take “quick joggy steps” and then touches him on the croup with the whip.

Rea was up next with her 11-year-old Dutch gelding Roux. “He’s got a great expression,” said Dujardin. “And he’s got amazing piaffe and passage.”

She quickly critiqued Rea’s position: “You have to really work on putting weight in your seat.”

The audience applauded when Dujardin asked if she could try the 17.2 Roux. Noted Harvey, “She likes hot horses.”

Dujardin got on and winced. “I’ve got new boots, and now I have a hole in my left leg,” she said. “I’m in absolute agony.”

Noting Roux’s tendency to look around and spook, she said, “He’s cheeky. When I put my leg on he must not run away.”

Zeroing in on how Rea’s position blocks her horse’s movement on the left rein, she demonstrated that Rea should practice opening her left shoulder.

“Don’t spook—that’s cheating,” she told the horse at one point. “He’s a cheeky little bugger.” But she praised his willingness, “He’s very keen to work.”

Having Dujardin ride her horse was “a dream come true,” Rea said later.

She bought Roux off a video as a 2-year-old, and he came in “looking like a yak,” she said. “I used to say, ‘Am I ever going to get him in front of someone who appreciates him?’ There’s a lot of horse there.”

Ross was likewise energized by her sessions with Dujardin. “When I first got Lancaster, I had trouble just keeping him in the ring.”

From her home in northern California, she works with Kathleen Raine when Raine’s schedule permits, as well as Dutch judge Francis Verbeek. She appreciated Dujardin’s frankness and willingness to pick apart what’s not working.

“When you do this kind of clinic, you have to park your ego at the door,” Ross said. “This is the No. 1 rider in the world. This is a learning opportunity.” 

The next rider after the lunch break was Mette Rosencrantz and her 13-year-old Danish mare Cenna. Harvey commented that Dujardin tends to be “a bit of a perfectionist,” asking riders to repeat an exercise until it was done properly. “She’s a bit like a dog with a bone.” 

Schooling the zig-zags, Dujardin emphasized control of the mare’s shoulders and hindquarters. And when Cenna got tight in the piaffe, Dujardin asked Rosencrantz to start from the walk. “She gets quite tense and worried, so we let her keep traveling. But don’t keep her in it for too long.”

Similarly, she suggested an “easy, soft passage; not too big. She does get quite stressed about it, so you just do little bits with her.”

Moorpark, Calif.-based two-time Olympian Hilda Gurney was next with her 12-year-old Oldenburg gelding Wintersnow, whom she bred herself out of her Trakehner mare Lavinia. Noting that the horse was still leaning against Gurney’s left leg, Dujardin asked her to do shoulder-fore on a 20-meter circle while pushing the horse away.

And then, “Shorten up your reins, Hilda. I told you my secret.”

“It’s fun to watch two Olympians working together,” said Harvey.

The last combination was two-time Canadian Olympian Leslie Reid and her talented PRE stallion Kobal. Dujardin, who’d ridden him on Saturday, raved, “He’s like an armchair. When I retire, this is what I’m going to buy.”

Working on passage, she advised, “I’d do it in leg yield so that he steps under.”

Dujardin was impressed with the 8-year-old’s willingness to work and his ability to handle pressure. But when Reid struggled in the tempi changes, which Dujardin had demonstrated just a day before, Dujardin protested. “Leslie! You’re ruining my ones!”

From the sidelines, Harvey explained that change aids vary from rider to rider. She suggested that Dujardin take away Reid’s stirrups. “You use your body, and your need to use your legs,” she told Reid.

“This happens with training,” said Dujardin. “You get them and then you lose them. On those days, it’s good to just get two. Now sit in your seat and don’t twist your body.”

The audience was enthusiastic until the end. Maureen Van Tuyl, an executive board member of the California Dressage Society, said, “This was a wonderful insight into Charlotte. I loved seeing her with Hilda. I got tears in my eyes. I’ve seen Wintersnow a lot, and to see him improve so much was great fun.”

Paula Langan, CDS’s office manager, was also impressed with Dujardin’s range. “She had a lot of very different exercises to achieve correction and address problems. The way she never just practices the movements but how she trains for the movements was very creative and really interesting. She was very demanding, but still very empathetic to the riders.”

Q&A Highlights Day 2

How does Charlotte maintain her position?

“It’s something I’ve definitely worked at. I try and have the feeling when I sit on a horse that I sit in the saddle, and my legs aren’t gripping around the horse—they just hang. At the sitting trot everyone wants to stop themselves from bouncing. What you have to do is let yourself go with the flow of the horse.”

What’s your approach to hacking your horses?

“Our horses go out on the road for an hour. In winter they just stay on the hard ground, and in summer they go out in the fields. So if you ever go out hacking with Carl [Hester], just hang on tight because he lets loose. And nine times out of 10 you’ll be on the young horse, and he’ll say, ‘Let’s have a canter.’ ”

On life as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire:

“I went to New Zealand in January and when I got home I had a phone message from Buckingham Palace. I rang back, and there was this lady, very posh, and she said, “Her Majesty the Queen would like to know if you’d like to join us for lunch on the 8th of May.”

And I was like, ‘I’ll have to check my diary.’ And I said, ‘Oh no, I just have to make sure that I won’t be out of the country!’ So I have lunch with the Queen on the 8th of May. I don’t actually know why… [though I know] there’ll be a lot of cutlery.”

Read coverage of Day 1 of the Charlotte Dujardin symposium.

 
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