Charlotte’s demo was hugely insightful and the one I probably enjoyed the most. It was quite a technical session. I think Your Horse Live is probably quite a tough audience to pitch because it is such a varied audience from pony mad ten year kids to those who have probably forgotten more than they know and you can either choose the Ben Hobday and Paul Tapner route of light on content and heavy on fun or the Charlotte route which was wry humour injected with a lot of content.
Charlotte was teaching Alice Oppenheimer on her Grand Prix horse Headley Delegate known as Del. Alice is 25yo and competed her second season at GP last year. Del is a 12 year old homebred who Charlotte described Alice as having a love/hate relationship with. Charlotte said Del has been ‘a little devil and tried everything in the book, but what he has taught Alice is patience.’ Alice was described as a rider who wants things now. Alice has trained with Charlotte for around six years.
Charlotte watched Del warm up and said that ‘some horses are naturally loose and supple but Del is a stiff horse. Valegro was the same and they do not want to stretch’. This means that Alice has had to work hard at getting Del to stretch and flex. Charlotte said she did not mind bending the neck left or right but that she did not encourage a swinging neck like Show jumpers.
Charlotte explained how it was good experience for a horse to come into an arena like this. Del never found the work hard physically for dressage but he did mentally and this is why Alice has had to be patient with him. It has taken a while to convince Del that he wanted to be a dressage horse but that he is getting better each year.
‘We have to watch that Alice does not ride on little contact. It must be into two reins. Leg yield to put the horse into the contact warming up.’
Charlotte said that when looking at horses there are a few considerations the ‘Front end and hind end must match. The horse should have a great hind leg that comes underneath him. You look at the canter and wonder what it will look like doing a flying change. Most of the GP test is done in canter.’
Charlotte described Alice as having ‘piano hands’ where her fingers are more open so Charlotte is forever shouting at her to have thumbs on top. Charlotte then went onto explain that everyone gets into bad habits but video can really help correct this. It adds to rider awareness. Alice’s other habit is looking down to one side and watching the video really helped her to see the extent of this issue.
Charlotte went onto describe her horses work schedules which comprises of Mon/Tues in the school, hack on Wednesdays, school on Thurs/Fri , hack on Saturdays and a day off on Sunday. The 3/4yos sit in a field together until the weather becomes too bad and they need to come in. The older horses are out during the day and in at night. Before a big competition the schooling gets upped to five days a week because at a championship the horses are doing three days of tests so the horse has to be fit to travel and fit to compete. Charlotte and Carl both use a water treadmill to really help with the fitness and it helps the horse become physically stronger.
After the warm up the frame of the horse is picked up into a higher frame. The rider should be thinking about on and back. At this level the horse should almost be able to canter on the spot and the hind leg should take the weight. The horse must not get tight in the frame when it is asked to collect and this rule should apply to every level.
The horse should react. Whether this is in the half halt, or a touch of the leg. There must be a reaction.
‘Use a lot of leg yield in canter. You use it to open up the horses stride and make sure it moves away from the leg. Sometimes in half pass the horse might rock so instead use leg yield. There you can make the stride bigger without the horse becoming tight in the neck.’
‘The biggest thing about test riding is corners and short sides as these set you up for the movement.’
‘Can the horse collect and move across in leg yield? It’s all about transitions within the pace so you can test if the horse is waiting.’
‘Don’t go round in the same pace.’
Charlotte moved Alice onto doing an exercise which was leg yield into half pass into leg yield. Charlotte explained that the movement should stay the same; the only thing which should change is the neck bend.
‘A lot of riders move their weight the wrong way in the half pass. If going left the rider should weight the inside stirrup.’
Charlotte explained that Alice has legs of steel and that as a rider she now needs a stronger core to stop her gripping. ‘Alice’s legs need to hang looser and she needs to think about pushing her belly button forwards to help open her frame.’
Charlotte moved onto canter zig zags and talked the audience through how hard they are as a test of the horse and rider. To start with moving towards doing this Charlotte had Alice doing it in leg yield. The exercise was 4 strides of leg yield, 1 stride straight with a flying change and repeat. Charlotte highlighted that Alice looks down in the flying change and she must look up. ‘Think of making the change bigger than the canter stride.’
Charlotte pointed out that Alice’s last change was twisted because she pulled the horse. The zigzags are worth double marks so it’s absolutely vital not to make mistakes.
The zigzags in the grand prix test are 3-6-6-3 in half pass and you must ride the corner well as they are done on the centre line. Charlotte was very hot on the zigzags being parallel. She pulled Alice up on the fact her zigzags were not parallel (equal distance either side of the centre line) and that the horses quarters were leading. In answer to this Charlotte said they needed to get the horse more active. Each side of the centre line must be parallel and uphill.
Commenting on Alice’s zigzags ‘she does it well but it’s not worth an 8. To get an 8 she needs to be straighter in the last change and be more parallel. As a rider it’s so hard to think about it all at the same time.’
Charlotte talked about her learning process and how she would watch Carl and that he would make it look easy. ‘It takes time and practice.’ Charlotte highlighted repetition as being a key factor. Charlotte would sit and watch Carl for hours. Mirrors were highlighted as a great aid to riders because they help the rider to see how straight they are and how they are starting and finishing each movement. If riders don’t have mirrors then videoing yourself was highly recommended.
From this Charlotte moved onto pirouettes. These are worth double scores in canter.
The working pirouette was used to start with. This is effectively riding travers on a 10m circle. The hind should be on an 8m circle while the front end is on a 10m circle.
Charlotte pointed out that Alice was hanging left so she must put her weight to the inside and push her hip in.
‘If you have too much bend in the pirouette then the horse will fall out.’
Charlotte then asked Alice to go into shoulder fore. ‘These are the steps you need to move towards the pirouette.’
‘Shoulder fore pushes the horse away from the left leg. The left leg keeps the horse forwards and the right leg keeps the horse in. By pushing the horse in and out on this exercise, you know you are in control.’
‘Make a big pirouette and then a little pirouette so the horse does not learn that by doing the small pirouette he has finished.’
‘As Alice looks left she is correct on the left pirouette but is pushed out on the right pirouette. Now make it quicker again.’ With this Charlotte was referring to making the horse more active.
Charlotte said riders should work on all the things they cannot do. Coming down a centre line riders should have a shoulder fore feeling.
‘Collect, half halt, look up on the line and ask. Now he is doing something good let him stretch and relax.’
‘A lot of people make a big start and so it becomes all on the left side and not enough on the right side of the circle. Instead riders need to think about starting the pirouette small and finish bigger.’ Charlotte used the example of 3 strides on the left of the circle and then 4 strides on the right side.
Charlotte then moved onto tempi changes.
‘First of all ride small changes against the wall. 90% of flying changes are done at home against the wall. The wall does the work and keeps the horse straight.’ Charlotte hardly does any changes on a diagonal.
‘Horses always have a good side and a bad side where they are less straight. On this horse it is the right side so we ride on the right against the wall. Keep going until the horse is confident if they are worried about the wall.’
‘Alice let the horse get too long and twisted through the body hence it was not such a good change.’ Charlotte talked about the rider needing to flick the horse with their heel and that the rider must stay straight. If the rider has their hips forward, this will rush the horse so hence using the heel. At this point Charlotte admonished Alice for looking down.
‘When teaching one time changes you must not wait for the horse. You must just keep moving your legs.’
‘Half halt and use legs for the two time changes. You lost a little impulsion at the end. Now into the one time changes, have the horse a little rounder and push, push – they were good and straight.’
‘In the grand prix special we have one time changes on the centre line so you cannot dart from side to side. This horse really used to swing in his changes so the wall has really helped this horse.’
Charlotte then moved onto the trot. It’s always surprising to see how average the trot is in a working trot until the rider started to add the expression and then Del started to look more special. We are probably so used to seeing these over flashy trots on young horses but the reality is in a grand prix horse it can be manufactured.
‘See how much lift and how expressive he is now but there is not enough into the bit. He needs to be rounder and looser so he stays connected. Think round and loose in the hand.’
Moving into passage ‘you are slowing the front and lifting it.’
‘Now you can do transitions in passage and you can make it quicker or slower, shorter or quicker. Short and quick is a test passage but it’s very easy to for horses to get irregular in passage and get a little stuck. Riding backwards and forwards within passage really helps this.’
‘Now moving into a forward piaffe. It’s a training exercise. We never teach piaffe on the spot because otherwise the horse takes over and gets stuck.’
There is a mark for the transition into and out of both piaffe and passage so it was highlighted how important starting and finishing the movement was.
‘If you train piaffe on the spot you would not get out of it. So teaching a forward piaffe helps the horse in and out of the movement. The rhythm does not change into the piaffe or out of it.’
‘If we did not train this way it would not be as clear.’
Finally onto the extended trot – ‘there should be good expression all the way through. Too many have no over track. It’s all front end. No ground cover is a poor mark. This horse all matches.’
To finish off Charlotte had Alice letting Del relax and stretch.
The demo was fascinating to watch. Though I will never ride at grand prix level there are many things that riders could take away into their own schooling. Transitions within a pace, how vital rider position is and above all that you should be aiming for perfection in your training. A poor transition has to keep being repeated until it’s a good one. Half measures are not enough.