April 2018 - Riding With Charlotte

Chance to ride with dressage living legend is instructive, exciting and a tad terrifying at first!

by Lehua Custer • photo: www.BiancaMcCartyEquinePhoto.com

The inaugural Adequan® West Coast Dressage Festival came to a close a few weeks ago and the main headline was a Masterclass with Charlotte Dujardin on Feb. 16. I am a huge fan and was so excited to have a chance to watch her in action. Our barn bought a few VIP tables and we brought a few horses to the show to support the series.

This show series is a much-needed addition to our season on the West Coast and organizer Scott Hayes and his team did a fantastic job making each week very special. About a week before the show, Scott asked if I wanted to do a demo at the last show and, of course, I said yes. I later realized it was a ride with Charlotte and I walked on air until we arrived at the show.

Charlotte came to watch our Prix St Georges test the day before the Masterclass, which was beyond exciting but so terrifying, too! After my test, we had a chance to chat a bit to discuss a riding plan for the next evening. Charlotte is very much a Brit with her quick wit and dry humor, but she was also so incredibly kind. I was in awe and couldn’t wait for the following evening.

I was asked to ride Wendy Sasser’s horse, F.J. Ramzes, in the Masterclass and I knew he would love the crowd. Ramzes is an 8 year old KWPN gelding by Juventus and was bred at Cornell University. He is a very hot horse but loves to show off and is very confident when he’s working. We rode in the second slot of the evening and I was able to watch the very end of Rebecca Rigdon’s ride on her incredible young mare. It is so inspiring to watch other trainers ride so well.

Demanding & Possible

Charlotte is a very interesting teacher because she is extremely demanding without making you feel like something is impossible. We began our ride with just basic walk, trot and canter work. As we warmed up, Charlotte had us work on the “rubber band” exercises. On a circle you ask the horse to move forward off the leg for a few strides and then bring them into collection with a half-halt for a few strides. The exercise was more challenging on the left canter lead so she focused on straightness while bringing Ramzes forward and back.

We also worked a bit on shoulder-in and haunches-in on the long sides in trot and canter. It helped to supple Ramzes and increased ease of collection.

We built on that pattern by performing a canter half-pass from the rail to the centerline and then riding straight on centerline. From there, Charlotte had us ride a 10-meter half-circle in haunches-in, then back into another half-pass. This exercise helped Ramzes to stay balanced in the pirouette work and emphasized coming out of the pirouette with the horse in alignment, instead of with the haunches leading. Charlotte was so funny with her little jokes if we missed an aspect of the exercise or needed to adjust alignment.

After a walk break, she had us move on to trot work. She knew that Ramzes had a great ability to sit and could show off a very expressive trot so she had us show our normal working trot first and then had me pick Ramzes up into his collected trot. We went from the collected trot to passage and the crowd began to clap. It was good, Charlotte stated, to see just how much a trot can change with work. Looking for correct gaits and good work ethic should be emphasized.

We played around with bigger and smaller trots to adjust the balance and worked on shoulder-in and haunches-in. Charlotte made a point to say that shoulder-in should be pretty straight and just some flexion at the poll. Shoulder-in should help collect a horse, so straightness is crucial.

I left with some wonderful training tips and was so pleased to hear how much Charlotte liked Ramzes. She spoke about how he’s equally talented for engagement and the pushing required for Grand Prix. We will use her straight-forward training tools and demand for excellence in our daily training.

I have to thank Scott Hayes and everyone else connected with the Adequan West Coast Dressage Festival for putting in so much work to make this season a huge success. We can’t wait for next year!

Author Lehua Custer operates her dressage training business at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Burbank. For more information, visit www.lehuacusterdressage.com.