Monday, October 30, 2017

More Dressage Training Tips From Charlotte Dujardin: For the Rider

(This blog was originally posted on October 3, 2016)

Photo by Sara Fogan

On March 8, 2014 and March 9, 2014, I audited a dressage symposium at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Burbank, California. Charlotte Dujardin, the Olympic 2012 and 2016 Olympic British individual gold medalist in dressage and reigning world champion in the sport, was the featured clinician. She and her former trainer, International Grand Prix champion Judy Harvey, shared their expertise with six accomplished equestrians and their equally impressive horses to work through specific training issues. Following are more tips and training insights about what to look for in a young horse/competitive dressage prospect that Ms. Dujardin shared during these clinics, which you might find helpful too.

  • There is a saying that practice makes perfect, but the truth is that perfect practice makes perfect performance. Bad habits form very easily, so it is important to do and teach your horse to do the movement right in the first place. Moral of the story: “Nine times out of 10, riders who do bad transitions at home will do bad transitions in a competition. Always practice doing good transitions,” Ms. Dujardin cautioned. “Do good transitions as if your life depended on it.”
  • The Olympic champion emphasized the importance of using clear and natural aids when teaching transitions. “Lose the whip! The horse must know to go off the leg,” she said. “Soften your hands. You’ve got to let go and then press to get the other gears.”
  •  A common error/reaction when asking for a bigger stride or an up transition is to inadvertently shut down this process. “When you ask a horse to go [forward], let him go!” the Olympian encouraged. Whether you are doing up or down transitions, the horse must always be waiting for the rider’s instructions what to do next,
  • If you hold the reins too tightly you are likely to make your horse tight and nervous, Ms. Dujardin said. “You should be able to relax your hands and the horse should be able to continue the movement without you holding her in,” You hold the horse with your seat and legs, not the reins, she said. Riders must also be careful not to shorten the neck too much when rounding the horse, she added. “He needs his neck for balance.”
  • Keep your horse interested in his training by including hacks (trail rides) and a day completely off in a pasture. “It is very important for the horse to have time off/switch-off periods.” For example, the Grand Prix horses that Charlotte Dujardin trains typically go on 20-minute trail rides before spending 15 to 20 minutes warming up, followed by a schooling session. While older horses work for 40-45 minutes schooling session, the training repertoire for younger horses is considerably shorter: they work for a maximum of 30 minutes with plenty of walk breaks, she said.
  • No matter what level you are training, always reward your horse for doing good work during his training. The reward for good collection work is a long rein so he can stretch his neck. “Be sure to reward the horse when he does something right or you will get a sour/unwilling horse,” she warned.
  • If your horse is spooky, don’t make an issue about what is setting him off, Ms. Dujardin advised. Instead, “Ignore it and use leg-yielding into the object rather than away. If you beat the horse up for spooking at something, you give him more reason to avoid it.” Continue to practice riding a line toward the object that is acceptable to the horse so he can get used to what scared him until it is no longer an issue. “Over time, you build a bond with the horse and give him confidence to deal with whatever until eventually he will walk through fire for you. You know you have a real connection with your horse when you feel him relax under you when he was scared of something.”
  • The horse needs to be in front of your leg to maintain suspension in the gait. “Rhythm and balance makes good movement,” she said.
  • “Don’t punish a good horse by making him practice one movement over and over.”
  • Think of the walk as a movement. It has a double co-efficient, after all! “It is equally important to work on the walk as any other gait. It is not a chance to goof off,” Ms. Dujardin said.

I will share more of her horse-training and riding suggestions in future blogs.

Sara R. Fogan, C.Ht. is a certified hypnotherapist based in Southern California. She graduated with honors from the Hypnosis Motivation Institute in 2005. For more information about Calminsense Hypnotherapy® and to set up an appointment, please visit
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