The Road Trip (of a life time)

To read the notes I took during the clinic, go to “Notes from the Charlotte Dujardin clinic“.

Post about how I got the tickets for the clinic: Once in a Lifetime

Although I only had one ticket for the clinic, my wonderful husband ended up going with me. Lucky for me he did!

Hubby was driving, and we had just pulled onto the off ramp when he casually says “We have no brakes”. Totally calm about it. I, of course, have 20 seconds of “What’d he just say?” followed immediately by extreme panic!

Hubby got us safely off the highway and coasted into a gas station. That man can seriously drive!  And then he was able to patch the brakes up enough to allow us to carry on with the road trip.


The awesome handy man!

Brake fluid trail

Plugging the leak

He was coated in brake fluid afterward. Poor guy. Head to toe covered. And he broke his favorite tool. Not a good trip for the poor hubby, but boy was I glad he came!

The entire drive there and back took much longer than we anticipated. We left the house before 10am Friday. Google maps said it was less than a five hour drive to the clinic. That should’ve put us there about 3pm. Clinic rides started at 4:00.

Plenty of time…

Well, even though the brake issue took up an unexpected 30 minutes of our time, it still took us 6 hours and 42 minutes to get there. That included one short bathroom break and the brake line fix.

It was such a loooonnnnggg drive!

Since my hubby is a night owl,  we headed home right after the clinic.  He can’t sleep at night anyway.  Plus,  I was antsy to get home.

The ride home wasn’t much shorter. We ended up getting home about 4am. Left the clinic around 9:30pm.

The other funny thing that came out of that trip… I had asked the next door neighbor (who also owns horses)  if she could feed mine Friday evening while I was gone.  I set all the food next to their doors so that all she had to do was dump each bucket in to the feeders (access from outside of the stall) and kick the hay in.  Quick and easy.

However,  I knew my neighbor’s boarder was also coming. Nice guy, but he loves to get in Ava’s stall and pet her.

If I’m there,  I can usually nip Ava’s evil side in the bud before she escalates. When I’m not there, Ava can be downright evil.  I didn’t want to come home and hear about how Ava kicked him,  or bit him,  or trampled him…  (all things she’s done with other people before). So I left instructions for the neighbors not to go in Ava’s stall, at all.

The other two horses? Knock yourself out. Hang on them, lay under them… do what ever you want. Those two are saints.

Ava? Nope. Kick the hay in, slam the door. Do not go in.

So… Of course they went in anyway.

I didn’t find any dead bodies when I got home  — as if i wouldn’t have immediately implemented the “Shovel and Shut Up”  protocol if I had!

Ironically, I only knew that they’d gone in to Ava’s stall because they made sure to specifically let me know they’d gone in Ava’s stall.

Oh, and they were offended that I’d asked them not to.




Horse people are freaking NUTS! 




Notes from the Charlotte Dujardin Clinic

Part one: Once in a Lifetime

“If you fall, it’s sand, you’ll bounce” – galloping a horse to create forward desire.

“Slap the rider, pat the horse”

Stages of training:

  • First – Leg Yield
  • Second – Shoulder-In
  • Third – Travers


  • Keep VERY straight.
  • When too bendy on one side – straighten. On side that is less bendy – bend more.
  • “He gets stuck because he’s not straight. The inside hind comes inside” (fix with shoulder-fore).


  • Forward/back in canter – allow the forward in the hand. Bring back enough to where the leg is on loose, the hand is on loose, and the rider just sits there without holding. SOFT.
  • When you get the forward, have a loose leg. No clamping. Take leg off.
  • Quality of canter improves just from forward. Create forward and use half-halts to re-balance.  Use forward/back transitions in gait.
  • You want the horse thinking forward.
  • If you have a lazy horse, legs off. A hot horse, legs on.
  • To start work, Charlotte said she starts in canter instead of trot. Then works in trot after that. She said it makes the trot work looser and more supple, and it’s easier to get the engagement.

Stretchy Trot:

  • Aid for stretching is low, wide rein. To pick the horse, hold hands higher and closer together.


  • When too much hand, horse will be abrupt in transitions and fall on forehand.
  • Transitions should look super smooth from canter forward to walk.
  • Hind leg forward!
  • No hands. Hands make horse shut down in transitions. It’s the last step of the transition where the horse was always shutting down (stutter step, or stopped completely).
  • Transitions are so important. Need to be done right.
  • Do LOADS of transitions (correctly).
  • 1,000’s of transitions a ride. Not just a few, not a dozen, thousands a ride.

Leg Yield:

  • Push the rib cage into the other rein.
  • Can also do Leg Yield with counter flexion.
  • When the horse is straight in the leg yield then the horse has to “Push” using his hind to move over. If too bent, the horse falls over and doesn’t get the strength benefit from the exercise.

Leg Yield in Canter:

  • Good to teach horse to move away from leg sideways.
  • The zig zag starter – 6 strides leg yield and 6 strides leg yield back. (broken down its 4 strides over, 1 straight, one change)
    • Easier to do this in leg yield to work out ‘how’ to do it. I believe she meant so rider can learn how to ride the zig zag without complicating it with half-pass.


At 7 years old, the horse should be able to do canter/walk/canter transitions in order to develop the muscles that will help with the sitting work. Transitions will help develop him.

Canter/walk/canter on a circle:

  • Bad transitions: Gait too big for downward trans. Have to set the horse up. Canter has to be small and has to be on the hind leg and balanced.
  • Round with soft hands.
  • Keep energy
  • Allow him to step forward into the walk when transitioning from canter to walk (too much hand causes horse to jerk or not step forward into the walk).
  • Circle 10m helps collect the canter.
  • Exercise: For the canter/walk transition, do a 10m circle along the wall, when coming back toward the wall again, ask for the downward transition. The wall acts like a half-halt, makes the horse back off or shift back. Makes it easier to get correct transition to walk without pulling.
  • You need to have a really good canter/walk/canter transition, where horse is stepping forward into a walk, prior to teaching flying changes.



  • Active! Round and loose in hand. Want to see shoulders turn off the track.
  • Not bent in neck, but flexion in the poll. Move the shoulders not the head and neck.
  • When going to the right “Right Leg, Left Rein” mantra.
  • Should stay in the angle you put him in.
  • Do a test by counter flexing in Shoulder-in (should have a renvers feeling).
  • Mantra for shoulder-In: Inside Leg to Outside Rein. Repeat.
  • Shoulder-In is from the shoulders, not the rein.

Travers in Canter:

  • A test to determine if your horse is supple. If he really bends. Do this before teaching, trying Half-Pass.
  • Weight on inside
  • Inside leg by girth, outside leg pushes hindquarters in.
  • Do forward and back while IN travers (3 times down long side forward/back in HI).
    • Push hip in, then forward/back.
  • If you can collect in canter Travers then it’s getting ready for canter pirouette.
  • Do on 20 meter circle – round on outside. This is thinking pirouette without the massive strain. Way to build up to it.
  • Then move between travers and Shoulder-Fore on 20m circle. Push quarters in and out to teach how to ride between both legs.


Collected Canter:

  • Test it by pushing hands forward. Horse needs to stay in collected canter without rein. Push the hands straight forward, if horse speeds up or quits, then not right.
  • Ask for collection and expect the horse to hold it.
  • Don’t keep nagging/asking with each step.  Ask and expect the horse to hold it until asked for something else.
  • Need to get collection in a soft way.


Flying Changes:

  • Need to have a good quality canter/walk/canter BEFORE flying changes.
  • If you don’t have a good canter/walk transitions then you’ll never have a good canter/halt transition.
  • How to teach Flying Change:
    • Doesn’t teach in a wide open area (like diagonal)
    • Uses a figure 8 type exercise at one end.
    • Example of Figure 8
    • This exercise uses the turn off in the corners to keep the horse engaged.
    • Most issues are a straightness issue.


  • Keep the rhythm
  • Shoulders move.
  • Round and loose in the hand
  • Rider has to position the horses body from the body and 2 reins, NOT the inside rein.



  • If pirouette whips around then it’s because horse is not off the riders inside leg..
  • Exercise for pirouette:
    • Half-pass from the corner to X, X down center line in shoulder-fore  (to almost C) , then do 1/2 of a 10 m circle and half-pass back to X.
    • piroutte exercise
    • Make the half of a circle at the end smaller to increase difficulty (mimicking pirouette). Can get it to shoulder-fore down center, with large pirouette to end up at quarter line.
    • Always do different sizes so the horse can’t anticipate and rush.
    • Need to be able to come down the center line and not have the horse take over control in anticipation of pirouette.


  • The short side and the corner set up the next movement. A bad short side and corner leads to a bad movement.
  • Short side is used to collect, activate, re-balance the horse.
  • A horse at PSG should be able to collect on the spot. Shouldn’t need several strides to achieve it.
  • Working Pirouette:
    • Hip in and do smaller and larger circles in traverse
  • Rider hips to rider hands
  • Keep the energy. Keep the work easy in order to keep the horse keen.
  • ALWAYS outside straighter.
  • Always do hard side first. Otherwise, have to do hard side after horse is already a bit more tired if doing it second.
  • The leg is NOT there to keep him going. That’s the horse’s job.
  • Activate the canter. Have to go forward in order to be able to collect.
  • When the horse is strong, make that correction and then SOFTEN.
  • Charlotte does stretch work and transitions dedicated days.


  • Charlotte said she thinks all lazy horses should be police horses.
  • Short  reins.
  • Bum down – horse has to be in front of leg.
  • Keep the rider’s upper body soft. The movement flows through the upper body.
  • Let the horse make mistakes and then correct. Pat the horse for effort.
  • Difference in what it takes for a horse to “sit” or to “push” i.e. passage is push. Horse is usually better in one than the other.
  • The horse was jumping into a canter when asked for a more forward trot. Charlotte said “she canters because she’s on the forehand”. The horse couldn’t go forward, so broke into canter which is easier than actually pushing from behind to go forward.

Once in a Lifetime

I do occasional volunteer work for the USDF Region 2 Director (few hours a month, not much).  It makes me feel like I’m still a part of the dressage community. Makes me feel like I’m contributing in some small way.

Anyway, a month or so ago the organizer for the Charlotte Dujardin clinic approached the Region 2 Director about advertising for the clinic at the end of September.  I happened to see that the organizer was offering free tickets in exchange, so I may have pressured the Director to follow up on that.

Totally altruistic! 😉

No really, I had good intentions. The plan was to give them away to the people who volunteered to help out at the Region 2 Championship show. Unfortunately we didn’t get the tickets in time.

Then we tried to give them away to people who would volunteer to work the Annual Convention.

No takers.

So there we were… sitting on four free tickets, for an event in just a few days.




The Region 2 Director asked if I wanted two of the tickets.




But I’m broke. Capital B – Broke.

I don’t think I can afford the gas down there. It’s a 5 hour drive. The clinic doesn’t end until after 9pm. It’s a 5 hour drive back. I can’t afford lodging. I can’t afford gas… I can’t afford this. I shouldn’t go! 

I decided instead that I would ask one of the up-and-coming, local, dressage trainers that I really admire if she’d like the tickets. I emailed her and waited.

As SOON as I hit send.. my heart sank. I immediately regretted it. I was depressed. The whole world sucked. My life sucked. I hated everyone.  [insert extreme self-pity here]

Ha! I didn’t realize how badly I had wanted to go until I realized I couldn’t go…

And of course, the lady responded in less than an hour. Yes, she’d love to go. She’s thrilled. Great opportunity, etc…

Of course she wanted them.

I couldn’t go…

[extreme sad face]



BUT, she only needed one ticket. Not two….


No way!!!!

Now the whole world is a magical place! I’m ecstatic! There are rainbows and unicorns dotting the fields. I’m on cloud nine!!

Yeah… I guess it meant more to me then I thought it did.

So, I’m going. It’s still a 10 hour round trip drive for basically a 4 hour clinic. It still means I’ll have to sleep in my car or drive home through the night. It still means we probably won’t be able to eat for a month (I could stand to lose weight anyway). But….

I GET TO GO TO THE Charlotte Dujardin clinic on Friday!!

Something like this is once in a lifetime for me.

[Eminem’s Lose Yourself theme music  playing in the background]

Free tickets, a location I can drive to within a day, AND I already had the day off from work.  It’s fate! Haha

So, Yay! Woo Hoo!





I went to two different clinics this weekend.  

The first clinic was a western dressage clinic. Quite interesting to hear about the differences in tack and attire.  There was a lecture by an r judge (I think little r). The fundamentals stressed were similar to regular dressage.  They had demo rides of the tests while the judge explained what they were looking for and what we were looking at.  There were some astonishingly great movers in that clinic. 

The whole atmosphere was laid back.  People laughed and clapped,  and there was an overall sense of comradery. I was almost a convert by the end.  If only I didn’t hate western saddles so much. 

It was very well run and I had a lot of fun,  even if I did freeze solid. 

Oh,  did you know bitless is allowed in western dressage?  Now my neighbor has no excuse not to try it.  Haha  

The second clinic I went to was a normal dressage clinic.  I had asked the owner a month ago if I could audit. She had sent me “all” the  info,  but neglected to mention that there was a cost to audit.  They approached me two rides in and said it was $20 for all day,  or $5 per ride.  I was already on the hook for $10 by then,  so i paid for the whole day.   I was a little taken aback by the situation. Nothing posted anywhere.  No one by the door. They acted like I snuck in and tried to “steal”  something from them. Why is it so difficult for people to post/share this information up front? 

The ladies sitting next to me were friendly.  The clinician was good.  I was freezing.  Several riders appeared to have never heard of the idea of moving away from leg pressure.  It was interesting to see how the clinician helped the rider and horse without the rider ever needing to actually move the horse off an inside leg aid.  Some really nice moving horses.  Appeared to be mainly students of the barn owner riding in the clinic. 

I got some great ideas for Joy’s training that I think will help her with her tension.  A lot of hot,  nervous horses in the clinic,  which is what I expect joy will be like when I take her somewhere.  So hopefully this gives me a few more tools to use. 

There was a heavy draft horse working toward flying changes,  and it was quite interesting to see how different the horse looked when truly energized and rider controlled the energy.  It went from plow horse to more of a second level looking horse in seconds.  Quite neat.  

During a break,  I walked up to the barn owner and clinician and asked if they were going to have any more clinics this year. The barn is near my house and I thought he’d be a great clinician to take Joy to.  But when I asked if they would be having another clinic this year all they did was shrug.  Literally shrugged. And then they ignored me.  So I walked away.

Screw it. I’ll find someone else to ride with. 

Maybe these clinics are only for her students.  Apparently the details are hush hush,  because no one except the Arab people sitting next to me would talk to me (they didn’t know either). 

I found it ironic the difference in atmosphere between the two clinics though.  I’m normally the first person trying to sell the “dressage people are friendly! ” speil,  but that second clinic sure didn’t feel like it to me.  I felt like an interloper who got caught stealing the tip jar or soemthing.  

USDF Platinum Performance JR/Yg Clinic

I audited the USDF Platinum Performance Jr/YG Clinic yesterday. I had high expectations for the level or riding and quality of the horses, but this blew my mind. These were fantastic riders! The horses were the best I’ve seen in MI in a long time (granted, I don’t get out much).  But… Wow. I wish I rode as well as those young riders rode.

The clinician, Charlotte Bredahl-Baker, focused on the basics for every rider/horse. I watched 6 rides, and the overall theme was developing more bend through the body. That seemed to be a consistent problem with each horse/rider pair.

I thought it was ironic (and timely), because the last year Ava was competing that was my focus, and with Joy that’s been my main focus <– since I got it wrong on Ava until the last 6 months of training.  So to see how developing more bend increased the quality of the gaits in these horses was really eye-opening to me.  It was also really educational to see the nuances of really good bend versus decent bend. It was very apparent in the half-pass, because you could see the horse struggle to bend around the riders leg . I could also see it in varying degree’s in the shoulder-in and haunches-in, but at first what I first thought was “enough bend” became “not good bend” as soon as Charlotte had the rider supple the horse up enough for “Good Bend”.   Which ultimately made a HUGE difference in the quality and bend of the half-pass. You could see the overall quality of the gaits and the movements increase significantly. It was really neat to see.

I also picked up a good exercise for the very start of introducing the idea of counter-canter to a young/green horse. Mainly, it’s used to get the horse to think about re-balancing itself in the canter when crossing the diagonal. You don’t actually counter-canter at all at this point, but it makes the horse assume that a diagonal means “re-balance”. Which was an area I had significant issues with Ava when I first introduced counter-canter, because Ava would get so nervous about making it around the corner in counter-canter that she’d rush the diagonal and lose her balance. Anyway, the whole point was to canter (say left lead) on the correct lead around the short side and then start across the diagonal. At the first quarter line, do a 15m circle and once you were back at the quarter line (where you started) go back to the wall on your right.



I’m excited about this because this is something I can start with Joy long before I even need to think about introducing the counter-canter. And this exercise is adaptable.  You could ease into the shallow canter serpentine once the horse is easily doing this exercise, or you could up the difficulty level of this exercise by placing the circle at X instead of the quarter line, or you could add in transitions or leg yields to solve different problems, or pretty much mix and match whatever is needed prior to ever asking for a single step of counter-canter. And by the time you do ask for counter-canter the rider will have the ability to regulate the horse’s tempo/speed, and the horse will have the balance needed to be successful at it.

Another thing that Charlotte had the riders work on is lengthening the frame prior to asking for the lengthen, or medium, with the horse. She stressed you wouldn’t do this in competition, but for training purposes it puts the horse in the correct frame prior to the lengthen/medium. Of course not a single rider had an issue with achieving this (because they’re freaking talented), so I don’t think I can replicate this on my own at home. I’ll have to see if my trainer can help me with this next year.  Hopefully we’ll be ready for lengthening’s by next spring.

Overall, it was a neat clinic. Charlotte talked a bit about her background, and the horses that she’s trained. She’s a very likable person, down to earth with a good sense of humor.  She’s one I would definitely ride with if the opportunity ever came up.

Oh, one last thought. The last rider I watched had this cute grey horse. It wasn’t a horse you’d normally go “Wow” over, but this girl rode him so beautifully, and so tactfully, that it was poetry in motion.  It was really neat to see.

Watching the Catherine Haddad Staller Clinic

I went to watch the Catherine Haddad Staller clinic this morning. I had desperately wanted to ride in it, but in hind-sight I’m very glad they didn’t pick me. It sounded as if the riders had all ridden with Catherine at least twice in the past, so at this point they were simply fine tuning their riding.  In that situation it’s sometimes hard to be the newcomer who is picked apart with that first ride under a new clinician.

Anyway, I was surprised by how funny  Ms. Haddad-Staller was.  It was usually a subtle humor, but enough to send a ripple of laughter through the crowd. However, at one point one of the barn dogs made it into the center of the arena and was excitedly staring at Catherine. Mid-instruction Catherine bent down and said, “What is it boy? Did little Timmy fall in the well?”  Then immediately carried on with the instruction.

Catherine has a very clear way of explaining concepts and is a fantastic instructor. She is definitely a good clinician to audit if you ever get a chance.

I watched one rider who was struggling with changes in some combination of strides (Either 3’s or 4’s). They worked a bit on single changes, a few 3’s, but the horse looked hollow/braced. After a bit, Catherine got on and  schooled the horse for a bit. It was quite the lovely picture when Catherine was finished. Very round, over the back, and flowing. Such a transformation. It was neat to watch.  Catherine had explained that the main issue had been the horse was allowed to move his head/neck too much randomly and it was not only throwing the horse off balance some, but also allowing the horse to escape using itself correctly. So as soon as the head/neck became a fixed point, and the horse was ridden from behind, everything fell into place. The before picture was a flabby, short-strided, lateral mover with some meh gaits. The end result was a round power house with huge, ground covering gaits.

One of the big things Catherine was stating was to ride the hind legs. That the riders job was to ride the back end. She was saying that being able to feel what’s behind the saddle was what separated the men from the boys.  She repeated it several times, “Ride what you can’t see” (meaning everything behind the saddle).20141003_094431

The other thing she said was “ride them expressively forward. The horse should be allowed to express themselves through movement. Teach them from the start that this is where they can move freely forward with joy”. I liked that idea a lot.

And last, riders were having issues with going from rising trot to sitting trot. The horse would be beautifully forward and round, but the second they started to sit the trot the back would hollow and the head would come up. Catherine was saying that you have to sit on him with a “going” seat. The horse shouldn’t change frame or speed when you sit the trot. You should have absolutely no change.

This is just a short clip of one rider at the clinic. This is just to give an idea of the quality of horse/rider and the instruction. All of the horses were amazing movers.

I was a little disappointed in that my body sabotaged me by making my back hurt immensely soon after arriving at the clinic. It got so bad that I left after only 3 hours. I had tried standing for a while, but whether I sat or stood it hurt terribly. So I quietly snuck out the back and went home before the lunch break.

Oh, interesting conversation with a fellow auditor though. Apparently she rode with Catherine last year, and Catherine had suggested she ride without stirrups to improve her seat.  My fellow auditor was saying that she’d been told it would take one full year to improve her seat with no stirrups. She said the first month was terrible and she wanted to quit. By the second month it was better. She said it’s been one year now and she rides like she’s glued on the horse.  I was impressed. I’ve made it three days with no stirrups before and given up. A full month?!  And here was this regular, normal looking (she didn’t appear to look crazy), woman who’s been riding stirrup-less for a full year now. She’s my new hero. The sheer will power and perseverance that must’ve taken is mind-boggling.

** I’m tempted to try it… my seat could really use a lot of work. Anyone want to try it with me?

Dreading a Clinic, or Watch as I Make a Fool of Myself

I’m riding in a clinic today and tomorrow with a trainer from another state.

I don’t know his training style or really much about him other than he labled himself classical. The irony of the situation is not lost on me.

I haven’t had a lesson in 6 months. I’m pretty sure I’m going to end up embarresed at some point. I would’ve liked a couple lessons first, so I could at least work on something more than “sit up” and “stop curling into the fetal position!”.

Plus, I’m out of shape so I’m a bit worried how long I’ll last. $150 for one stupid lesson. I better be in shape enough to at least get a solid 30 minutes of work in. Otherwise I’ll be kicking my own behind afterward.

I’m not ready for show season, clinics, etc. I was rather enjoying the winter break. Summer kind of snuck up on me. Although, it’s only 45 degree’s so I’ not quite sure that qualifies as summer yet.

I’ll update you on how this clinic went afterward. At the moment I’m concerned my horse will kick the clinician. My main goal is to not let that happen. My secondary goal is to get the horse loaded with the least amount of fuss. We’ll see…

Pam Goodrich Clinic – What I Learned Riding

I’m not sure how to condense what I learned from the Pam Goodrich clinic last weekend. In blurb format it’s all the same rhetoric dressage riders always hear, but in practice it was really deep and complex. Part of it was learning a new feel.  The bigger part was understanding the mechanics of why the horse moved the way it moved, how riders attempt to fix the issue, and how the problem should really be fixed.

Gosh, I honestly don’t know how to explain what I learned yet… I’m still processing it all. I think the biggest thing, the most important thing, is that when the horse is heavy, stuck, leaning on one or both reins, it’s a body issue. It’s not a mouth issue. And you can’t really fix the problem by fixing the mouth. That’s the main thing I took away from the clinic. We all know this (it’s the body not the head), but now we’re getting down to where the horse is bracing, how to fix that, and how to re-develop the horse so that both sides of the body are equally limber and strong.

Watch the video (here or below).

I tired to condense the video of the second lesson down to just the main parts where I felt something valuable was shown or talked about. Hopefully you can hear it okay. I’ll work on condensing the first lesson down to a more watchable video when I have time. Otherwise, you can watch the full unedited version of Day 1 at

I’ll write more later. I’m still recovering from the clinic. That was grueling!

Side note: I went out to see Ava Tuesday and she glared at me when I went to put her halter on. I think she’s a little sore too (poor girl). I had gone out to feed her some apples and check that she was okay after such a vigorous weekend.  Ava seemed happier after the apples and grazing.

Sue Hughes Clinic

Back to the Sue Hughes clinic…

The main point of the whole lesson was to stop using every aid simultaneously! And voilà, horse could decipher what was required of her. Amazing how that simplified things.

I find this difficult though. I am an “Oh crap” rider. Things are moving along, and “Oh crap, a circle!” Instead of preparing, planning, applying one aid then another as needed for each stride of the circle… I’m in full reactionary mode of applying all aids at once!

Not a successful way to ride.

So keep in mind, when you’re riding… When asking for a circle, only apply the aid you need for each step. More flexion? A little inside rein and release. Horse popping out her shoulder? A little outside rein and release. Losing engagement? A little inside leg and release.

Not this: Inside rein while pulling on outside rein, and kicking inside leg frantically. <– that's me.