"Something tells me that Charlotte Dujardin is very much a 'get it done' kind of a lady!" Terri Rocovich laughed as she recounted her clinic with the renowned dressage rider last month. In April, Rocovich who is a Grand Prix rider and trainer, snagged the golden ticket when she was invited to ride in clinics with both Charlotte Dujardin AND Carl Hester. Rocovich and her sixteen year old Dutch Warmblood Gelding, Uiver, participated first in a two day symposium with Carl where she rode before a crowd of 1,500, followed ten days later by a private clinic with Charlotte. The San Diego based rider considered the two environments to be "a little bit of an apples and oranges comparison" but found both scenarios to provide "incredibly helpful" training guidance. In her own words, here are Rocovich's biggest takeaways from her lessons with dressage's number one duo:
(Rocovich pictured on Uiver in a clinic with Carl Hester. Photo by Cara Grimshaw)
Break It Down - Make Things Simple and Achievable
"I told Carl my weakest movement is the Zig Zag. It's my mental block, not my horse's. So what he had us do with the Zig Zag was to work on the wall, and not on the centerline. He asked us to break it down into something that was simpler and more attainable, and then told us to build from there. So instead of doing canter work and half passes, we did canter work and leg yield, just to get Uiver listening to my leg and respecting my leg. Then we did six strides in each direction in leg yield, but Uiver was getting a little sucked behind my leg and I wasn't getting the count so he said 'Ok well let's break it down even further'. He explained that riders need to give the horse opportunities to be successful."
Stop "Scrubbing" - No More Over-Aiding
"The one thing that really resonated with me is that less is more. Especially with the piaffe. The horse has to understand what his job is and want to do it on its own. Charlotte said 'You stand on the wall, you click, and that horse should immediately piaffe. And he doesn't always do it.' Charlotte told me to just sit there. She said 'You keep scrubbing away up there! You need to stop doing that.' She grabbed this long whip that has a thick end and really makes more noise than it does anything, she then asked if he was OK with whips and I said 'yes'. So she told me to sit there really quietly and ask for piaffe. Uiver sort of started to piaffe, but it was a ten percent effort and Charlotte went "whack, whack, whack" making some noise behind him and he jumped to and answered 'OK I'LL GIVE YOU 100%!'. Basically, the horse has to respond to the aid and then you need to take the aid off. And as Charlotte says - "Don't be scrubbing away up there working more than the horse is!"
"At the symposium, Carl echoed the same message as Charlotte saying, "when the horse does as you ask, you need to take the pressure off." Because if the pressure is always there, then the horse won't understand what you want them to do."
Be A Considerate Rider -
"Everything that they (Charlotte and Carl) do is making the horse accountable, but in a very productive, supportive way - never in a harsh way. When you watch Carl with Nip Tuck or Charlotte with Valegro it all looks effortless and like the horse is eager to do the work. After riding with both of them it's no surprise to me as to why, because they both get that it's not ever about forcing a horse to do something. It's about making the horse want to do it and giving them the education so that they do it almost on their own."
"Both Carl and Charlotte don't make a big deal out of mistakes made during their lessons, and they don't make a big deal out of it with the horse either. You simply make a polite correction and you go do it again. I've ridden with clinicians in the past where they say "oh get after them!", and Uiver wouldn't respond well to that approach anyway. Carl and Charlotte were very to the point and very productive, but considerate to the horses."
Leave The Sandbox -
"Don't do everything in the dressage arena! Get out of the ring. Carl talked about this at great length. Go out and get in the field. However, in Southern California it's a little tough! We don't have these big green beautiful fields that we can go riding through. We've got idiots driving motorcycles down these roads at 70 miles an hour and they couldn't care less if they get you dumped! But the horses get tired of being in the sandbox. When five or six of your work days a week are in a big rectangle - I can understand how that gets boring!"
Focus - Don't Practice The Whole Test At Once
"You work on the movements and the quality but you don't normally do it in a test like scenario. I had ridden briefly with Carl the day before the clinic and he's so funny because he said (about Uiver)"His trot is a little dwelly". And I said, "Ok, I'm going to need you to translate!" He was talking about how Uiver's trot tends to be a bit passagey. So we had a game plan going into Saturday for what we wanted to focus on.(Focusing is essential because) You can't grill every single movement every time you get on them because A - you're going to break them, and B - they're not going to like you very much."
(Terri Rocovich on Dutch Warmblood Gelding, Uiver. Photo by Cara Grimshaw)
Be Patient -
"When we finished with Charlotte after the second day she told me 'This is how you need to consistently need to ride him at home. You can't be doing so many things at one time - sitting and moving your feet and squeezing your leg, and kicking him with the spur. He will learn this and get better and better with repetition.' We talked about the fact that the Del Mar National was going to be literally a week after this clinic and she told me not to expect him to be dramatically better - although frankly he was! She said this training comes from 'time and consistency'."
As it turned out, the theories and strategies utilized by Carl and Charlotte weren't earth shatteringly different from those Rocovich had witnessed before. However, what made their training approach special was the Brits' ability to create a positive environment for the horse that naturally fostered success. Rocovich walked away with a clearer sense of how to use basics to educate the horse, as well as an elevated set of expectations that included giving up "scrubbing" for good. If riding with Carl and Charlotte wasn't enough inspiration, Rocovich was equally motivated by a compliment from Charlotte about Uiver's star-quality potential. Charlotte went as far as to say that even at sixteen Uiver showed no signs of slowing and that piaffe and passage were the gelding's greatest strengths, validating both Rocovich's faith in her training and belief in the horse. "When literally the best dressage rider in the world is telling you that your horse is talented you think - Well I better get my act in gear!"