September 27, 2015--I have been so privileged to watch Charlotte Dujardin in person at several competitions, including the 2012 Olympics (she won), the 2014 World Equestrian Games (she won) and this year's Reem Acra World Cup Finals (she won).
There's nothing like being ringside for the performances of a superstar, but I think I was more fascinated by her ability today, watching her dressed informally and riding a borrowed horse for a master class on her training techniques.
It was a great way to wrap up the second Rolex Central Park Horse Show. It's always fun to applaud winners, yet being able to watch and listen to a winner explain how she does it is a valuable learning experience that we can carry home.
The intricacies of piaffe and passage are probably beyond most of us and our horses (it's okay to admit it) but the precepts that Charlotte employs to help her reach her elevated destination are things we can all put to use.
Unlike some dressage trainers who never turn out their horses or take them on the trails, I was impressed to hear that "hacking out" (as the British say) is a part of the routine two days a week at the barn where Charlotte rides with her mentor, Carl Hester, who was winning in Saumur, France, and couldn't be with her. The horses train four days and always have Sunday off to loll in the pasture.
Renaissance Time, the horse Charlotte rode to great effect in the freestyle, was borrowed from Canadian Evi Strasser after it was determined her equine partner, Valegro, wouldn't be coming as planned after a strenuous outing in August's European Championships.
How lucky is Evi? She is going to Dressage at Devon this week on a horse schooled by the world's number one dressage rider.
I knew U.S. dressage coach Robert Dover had something to do with Charlotte getting the ride on this gray 12-year-old Oldenburg. Watch him recount how it happened.
Renaissance Tyme is not an easy ride. He's a high-energy horse, very strong. But while working him, Charlotte intimated that she might like to take him back to England. She obviously enjoys a challenge, though Renaissance Tyme met his match in her persistance.
There was a lively moment during the presentation when the horse couldn't contain himself and decided he'd try a few airs above the ground. Unruffled, Charlotte stuck with him and continued as if nothing had happened.
She did emphasize that if a horse makes a mistake, it's important to correct him and move on. Bad habits should not be allowed to linger.
"If they make a bad transition at home, they will make a bad transition in the arena," she pointed out.
And she doesn't like people who blame the horse for an error, saying "he did that." He did it, she said, "because you let him."
Charlotte also emphasized, "It's important you work with a horse, not against him." Think about that.
She had a lot of technical pointers, including schooling flying changes with Renaissance Tyme only along the wall of the arena (never across the diagonal) to keep him straight.
Dressage Today is planning a more in-depth story on Charlotte's master class. Keep an eye out for it in a few months.
Charlotte's program drew a pretty decent crowd for the afternoon, considering there was only a few weeks notice that she would be giving the class. This show is in the right place. The exhibitors love it and it had a good amount of spectators throughout its five-day run.
It persevered through the pope's presence in the park on Friday, with the attendant crowds, barricades and security. Happily, a big Beyonce concert in the park last night didn't affect the show at all, and her tunes didn't drift over and mess with the dressage riders' freestyle music.
For those of us leaving after the show, however, the United Nations General Assembly was another story. The traffic jams didn't cease when the Pope departed. The East Side in midtown was a total mess of wall-to-wall traffic and the police looked as if they'd been sent across town after the Pope detail to watch out for the delegations from across the globe. No point in getting a cab; you'd just pay to sit in traffic. And barricades along many sidewalks prompted pedestrian re-routing.
New York is a tough place to put on a horse show. I talked about that with Michael Stone, Mark Bellissimo's right-hand man and the president of Equestrian Sport Productions.
The organization seems to have thought of everything. In case of rain, they had covers all set to go over the stands, but due to space limitations, they kept them at the Central Park Zoo. This time, though, there was no need for them.
The show was blessed (don't forget, the Pope was visiting) with wonderful weather in a scenic location like no other. It's nice to have something different on the schedule. There are times when I think the season gets a little predictable, and we tend to do the same things every year, year after year.
It takes innovators like Mark and his crew to do something different and continue to grow the sport. Congratulations to them.
I'm headed to Dressage at Devon next weekend and I'll keep an eye on what Renaissance Tyme does there. Look for an update in my postcard. Meanwhile, be sure to go to facebook.com/practicalhorseman and facebook.com/dressagetoday for more photos of the show.