Wellington, Fla. – Jan. 3, 2020 – On the second morning of the Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic, Grand Prix competitor Katherine Bateson-Chandler taught four lessons. She’s represented the U.S. in many international events including multiple Nations Cups and the FEI World Equestrian Games in 2010, and currently trains with British Olympian Carl Hester. Throughout all four of her lessons, the theme of taking risks was recurring.
“This is not a show. Don’t be afraid of having ugly moments or making a mistake! You have to be brave enough to take a risk,” Bateson-Chandler said. “You have to have messy moments in order to be able to fix it. When you are training, you can’t go around pretending to be perfect without making mistakes.”
Callie Jones, a Young Rider individual double gold medalist at the North American Youth Championship, kicked off the morning aboard her longtime mount, Don Phillipo. As Jones aged out of the FEI Young Rider division this year, she is now working toward the U25 Grand Prix work. Though they did not focus on specific Grand Prix movements in her lesson, Bateson-Chandler wanted to refine the gelding’s response to the rider’s aids, which will contribute to their success as they head toward more difficult movements like the one-tempis.
“You have to get the biggest reaction with the tiniest aid. I’d rather have too much reaction that I can deal with than a dull response — think of your aids as a volume button,” she said. “You need to be more picky with the timing of your aids and be picky about the moments.”
To work on improving Don Philippo’s suppleness, Bateson-Chandler had Jones pick up the right lead canter. From K to R, she had her ride a canter leg yield off the rail, and when they came to the rail, they maintained their lead and positioning to counter canter around the corner before asking for a flying change. She explained this exercise was a very helpful suppling tool to get the horse off the rider’s outside leg.
They then moved onto the popular ‘rubber band’ exercise on a 20-meter circle by working on collecting the canter before asking for medium on one half of the circle.
“You must maintain the same rhythm of the collection while in the medium,” Bateson-Chandler said. “You have to have control of the size of the stride and the rhythm separately. You need to control the tempo. [To work on adjustability and response of your aids] always think you are going to add a stride in the corner — think you are a show jumper needing to add a stride in a line of jumps. Can you do that?”
Bateson-Chandler also emphasized the importance of maintaining the jump in each canter stride.
“When you work on your changes, envision yourself on a trampoline. The horse can’t get flat, you must keep the jump each stride…like the ground is lava,” she explained. “You need to have that medium canter feeling when you are collecting in the corner. Think about making the change bigger than the canter stride.
“Start your flying change schooling with only two single changes down the long side and be picky about the timing,” Bateson-Chandler continued. “Start being brave in these changes. Be brave! Don’t make him rounder but ask for more. Ask for bigger. Adding tempo doesn’t mean he gets longer in the stride. As a rider you must be able to put the lift and remove the lift whenever you want it.”
After giving Don Philippo a walking break, Bateson-Chandler wanted to look at her half-pirouettes at the walk. She stood and acted as a barrier to encourage Jones to turn her horse’s shoulder sooner.
“You don’t have to do only a half pirouette, do a full one,” she explained. “Imagine turning the haunches tightly around a cone. Keep turning it and fixing it. See a point on the ground and see how big it is. Control the outside. Now, check on the walk, do you feel like you can trot and canter at this moment?”
When they returned to the trot, Bateson-Chandler asked her to rev it up, and the horse’s answer to her question was to evade the use of adding more power of his hind legs by jumping into the canter. The trainer had the pair ride a shoulder-in on the 20-meter circle and once the positioning and balance was correct, she had them ride the same position in a medium trot. The left direction was significantly more difficult for the gelding — he’d try to fall out of his outside aids. After working in shoulder-in, she asked them to switch from shoulder-in to renver on the trot circle a few times.
“Don’t make him feel claustrophobic but don’t let him push you around. Don’t compromise with him. Plant the inside rein at the withers for a few strides,” Bateson-Chandler said. “The second he goes into the correct position and he gives you an inclination that he becomes softer on that rein, you must release the pressure so he knows that was the correct choice.”
The second rider of the morning was the 2019 USEF Dressage Seat Medal Final 14-18 Champion Mackenzie Peer. The 18-year-old from Overland Park, Kansas, explained the horse she was riding has a tendency to get too low. Bateson-Chandler had them start in the canter and immediately commented that it was starting off too quick and asked for them to ride a 20-meter circle with 10-meter circles inside of the larger circle.
“Do you feel that he keeps trying to make the circle bigger because that is easier for him? Imagine the edge of the circle has a cliff edge,” she explained.
“I want more adjustability in the canter,” Bateson-Chandler said. “Try not to let him get so stiff in your hand by keeping a more supple wrist, and you need to get your leg attached to his hind legs better.”
“Show him what balance you want — you don’t let him chose the balance,” she continued. “He wants to hang on you so don’t give him your hands to hang onto. Don’t let him tow you around! You aren’t going to out muscle him so you have to figure out how to balance him. If he gets running with you, put him on a 10-meter circle — doesn’t matter where or when. Hold him responsible for his own balance and don’t be afraid to be corrective in these moments.”
Two exercises proved to be very helpful to Peer while working in the canter. The first required her to canter down the quarter line and leg yield him over to the rail while maintaining the adjustability of the forward and sideways dictated by her. The second was a 3-loop-serpentine with 10-meter circles over the centerline.
“Make him carry himself — have the exercise do the work for you,” Bateson-Chandler said. “Don’t be afraid of making ugly moments. Think ‘in balance on your seat’.”
When they moved into the trot work, she had the combination begin on a 20-meter circle while riding in a shoulder-in. When they left the circle to trot around the arena, she had them ask for an active and forward-thinking walk for a few strides in the corner, then trot across the centerline and walk again in the second turn of the corner.
“Don’t let him slow down — he needs to stay forward and pushing while keeping the positioning,” she said. “Activate him. To help manage his balance, shoulder-in. Expect him to carry himself.”
The 2019 USEF Pony Rider Dressage National Champion, Lucienne Bacon, rode a catch-ride for the clinic and had only ridden the horse a handful of times before her lesson with Bateson-Chandler. Bateson-Chandler explained to the young California native that the horse was very light in the bridle and encouraged her to get him to reach more out from the bridle.
“Don’t hold him tight. Sometimes you can get more than you think you can,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to try. Never be afraid of making a mistake. You have to decide for yourself if you are happy with the response you got from your aids — that’s what makes you a trainer.”
After cleaning up their canter-trot transitions, Bateson-Chandler focused on the balance and the quality of the canter.
“Keep their inside leg close to the center of their girth. That’s their center of gravity and that is when you will have a balanced horse. When you are cantering, feel like you are jumping over a pole every stride.”
They began with the same exercise she taught to Peer — leg yielding in the canter from the quarterline to the rail. They then rode down the centerline for a few strides before riding a short diagal toward B or E (depending on the lead they were on) before asking for a flying lead change once they were straight on the rail.
“Be married to the rhythm,” Bateson-Chandler emphasized. “It cannot change! Don’t let the tempo fall behind you. No slowing down. When asking for more collection, the second the tempo fails, you must go forward.”
“Every single change you do, count it like a tempi,” she continued. “One-Two-Three-Aid. Give the aid when the inside front leg hits the ground. Keep counting. One-Two-Three-Change. You have to remember that the flying change is just another canter stride. If you don’t have a nice canter, you won’t have a nice flying change. If he is a little behind you or crooked, the change will not be high quality.”
When the horse broke in the counter canter through the short side Bateson-Chandler said, “Mistakes are never a problem,” and had her pick up the outside lead again without causing a scene.
When the horse was listening and performing a lovely collected canter in an uphill balance, she said “Excellent. You must expect it! You have to know that’s available to you at anytime. Positive riding!”
At the end they did a handful of extended trots on the full diagonal but Bateson-Chandler got after Bacon for not riding the movement accurately. “Maintain the extension until you get to the letter. Don’t slow down so soon and aim for the letter not a few meters before it. That’s how you go from an 8 to a 6. I want you to get the 8!”
The final rider of the day was Young Rider Katherine Mathews of San Marcos, California. Her horse also had a tendency to go downhill and curl behind the bit, so Bateson-Chandler began by talking about the importance of self-carriage.
“Don’t just use your hand — use your inside leg to push him into shoulder-fore and a better balance,” Bateson-Chandler said. “His inside hind needs to come forward toward his outside front leg. You want him up and round.
“You don’t want to feel you pick up the reins and you get less,” she continued. “Picking up the reins is like bringing him to attention that something may be coming. If you give an aid, make sure you get the response you want. You’ll never get him lighter in the hand by pulling. Get his hind legs quicker.”
In the canter work, Bateson-Chandler wanted to encourage the rider to improve the horse’s natural shape of a rectangle to become more compact like a square. She had the rider think shoulder-fore in the canter both on the long side and on circles, and when the horse’s balance was becoming too downhill in the corners, she had her ride a 10-meter circle in the corners.
“Find your sit in the canter. He must carry weight behind,” she said. “Maintain your expectations. Don’t add more power before you have the correct balance or you’ll just be adding more power into your hand.
“You have to be brave enough to take a risk. Ask for a little more forward without the balance changing. If the rhythm gets slow, it’s going to be a problem.”
Bateson-Chandler’s quarterline leg yield to the rail exercise was used for the third time of the day but she then had Mathews ride a 10-meter circle once on the rail to reinforce the balance. They then cantered across the full diagonal in a very collected, pre-pirouette type canter.
“He must use his hind legs to balance instead of your hands. Ask for the smallest, quickest canter you can imagine. Give your reins. Does he stay in self-carriage? Keep the quickness. Ride a half-halt that makes him shorter and quicker. Touch him on the croup with the crop to encourage him to lower. Don’t block with your hand and be able to give. Wean him off your hand and get him on your seat.”