Short Reins Win Gold Medals: Charlotte Dujardin Wraps Up U.S. Symposium

Burbank, CA – March 9, 2014 – Riders returned on Sunday for their second session with Charlotte Dujardin at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Burbank, CA, and Dujardin asked them to build on Saturday’s lessons. She kept riders on their toes and the audience laughing as she dished out cutting commentary.

“I’ll give you a little secret,” she told one rider. “Short reins win gold medals.”

On the final day of the symposium, organized by Glenda McElroy and Pam Lane, Dujardin got after riders to improve their transitions and get the little details right, saying, “See all those bad transitions you’ve done all those years? They’re going to haunt you now!”

But she and Judy Harvey, an FEI 4* judge and Grand Prix rider who coached Dujardin for several years, were equally quick to reward progress, pointing out areas in which the horse and rider pairs had made great strides since the first session.

And Dujardin took the heat as well, joking that she was scared to coach Hilda Gurney and was getting “the look of death” from the Olympic medalist, despite Gurney saying it was an honor to ride with Dujardin.

Hilda Gurney and Wintersnow

Dujardin’s Demo

As she did on the first day, Dujardin chose one horse to ride. This time, it was W.H. Roux, the only newcomer to the clinic on the second day. Vicki Rea rode her 11­year­ old Dutch Warmblood first, working on half­passes and collecting the canter on a circle.

After Dujardin mounted up, Harvey noted that Rea had owned the horse since he was 2.5 years old and had been his only rider to date. Dujardin worked on softening the horse’s neck and improving his self­carriage, riding through a half­pass exercise and asking him to bend.

Charlotte Dujardin and W.H. Roux

“When you can bend them and move them around, it’s a lot easier to stop them from spooking at something,” she explained. “You can bend them away from what they’re looking at.”

Once W.H. Roux felt softer in the bridle, she demonstrated piaffe/passage work, adjusting the tempo of the piaffe and complimenting the horse’s powerful “engine” and his energy from his hindquarters.

“I very much appreciated watching him because I don’t ever get to watch him,” Rea said. “He’s such a fun horse and he’s got such a big heart. It’s really an honor to have Charlotte ride him, and I can’t wait to get back on him afterward and see how he feels.”

Vicki Rea was all smiles on W.H. Roux

Learning to Enjoy

Kristina Harrison­Antell experimented with flying changes on the young horse Barnaby Wilde GCF, a coming 5­year­old Hanoverian gelding owned by Patricia Price. After beginning the session with some lateral work, transitions and counter canter, Dujardin encouraged the pair to give the changes a go without putting too much pressure on them, explaining her usual approach with a young horse.

“I will canter across the diagonal and give him the aids and if he gets it, I give him a pat,” she said. “If not, it doesn’t matter. I just play around with it. It doesn’t matter if he makes a mistake – don’t tell them off. Then they become really tense and worried about it. It’s all about repetition.”

Kristina Harrison­ Antell rewards Barnaby Wilde GCF

Harrison-Antell guided Barnaby Wilde GCF as he worked his way through his initial attempts at flying changes, and she rewarded him with plenty of praise for his effort.

“What’s important is that the young horse learns to enjoy the changes,” Harvey said. “He knew he was being clever – he pricked his ears. He’s done something he’s found exciting, and that’s exactly the result you want to achieve.”

Getting the Bounce

Dujardin worked on piaffe and passage with several combinations. She explained her approach to introducing piaffe.

“The first thing I want to do is teach the horses to jog,” she said. “Think of them having quick jog steps first. Then, I touch them on the top of the croup with a whip to teach them to start to bounce. Once they get the bounce, I can collect it and get the piaffe. But they have to learn to bounce first.”

She said she allows and even encourages horses to travel forward a bit in the learning stages, noting that it helps them develop an active piaffe. She also mixes up the tempo and asks the horses to make frequent transitions in and out of the movement.

“I train it so that we can go on, come back, go on, come back and be in control of those steps,” she explained. “Then when you want to close it and put 15 steps on the spot, you can keep it really active and not just have them get in there and get stuck.”

Dujardin noted that Mette Rosencrantz’ horse, Cenna, showed some tension in the piaffe. She advised Rosencrantz to keep a soft hand and only hold Cenna in the movement for short periods of time, moving the mare in and out of piaffe to keep her from getting stressed.

“You need to keep the piaffe really easy,” she said.

Dujardin stepped in to help Hilda Gurney’s Wintersnow improve the engagement of his hind end in piaffe. She walked alongside the pair with a whip and gave the horse little taps above the hocks to urge him to bring his hind end under and take active steps.

“He’s got a good technique, he’s just got to do it a little bit more through now,” she said.

Leslie Reid and Kobal perform a leg yield in passage

She gave Canadian Olympian Leslie Reid several exercises, including leg yield and small circles in passage and turning in piaffe, to engage Kobal’s hindquarters in those movements and encourage him to step under.

“That’s really lovely,” she said as Reid worked with Kobal. “You’ve got the height and suspension, and he’s pushing up and over.”

When working with Kristina Harrison­Antell and Arlo, Dujardin pointed out that the piaffe and passage test two different capabilities of the horse. “The piaffe is sitting and the passage is pushing,” she said. “Most horses find one or the other easier. A really talented horse can do both: it can sit and it can push.”

Kristina Harrison­Antell and Arlo

It’s a Discipline

Dujardin and Harvey closed the symposium with a second question and answer session, fielding questions about their riding technique, training approaches and personal lives. One inquirer praised Dujardin’s textbook riding position and asked if she had a mental checklist for it.

“It’s something I’ve definitely worked at,” she responded. “As a child, I always had the whip put behind my back – it’s an absolute killer. I’ve had Judy tie my feet to the girth. I think the way I sit now is through my core ability of having strength in my seat. The feeling I try to have is that I sit in the saddle and my legs aren’t gripping around the horse – they just hang. When I want to use my leg, I can, but when I don’t, the horse isn’t becoming numb to my legs.”

Harvey credited Dujardin with putting in the effort to perfect her position and urged audience members to do the same.

“She’s now strengthened her core and is so much straighter,” Harvey said. “It’s a discipline. It’s something you have to work at.”

After the symposium, Dujardin commented that she had enjoyed her time in the U.S.

“The crowd has been great,” she said. “Hopefully I’ve entertained them and given them a lot to go away with, think about and learn.”

“I hope [the riders] are going to take away some of the stuff I’ve done with them and work on it and improve it, so that when or if I come back, they feel that they’ve actually learned it and it’s given them more confidence,” she concluded.

For more from Dujardin and Harvey, read the report from the first day of the symposium: Taking Control of Each Step

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