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Brand Ambassador Journal: Ashley Madison at the Charlotte Dujardin Masterclass

By Ashley Madison, Enviro Equine Brand Ambassador

Just three months after riding with Carl Hester in Maine, I was selected to ride in the Charlotte Dujardin Masterclass in Lexington, Kentucky. It seemed unlikely when I mailed my entry that I could be chosen to participate in both of these incredible clinics, but just a couple weeks before the date I got the news we made it in. My folks always said, nothing ventured nothing gained! With Carl I rode my own Grand Prix horse Lugano and had such an awesome experience, but I was excited to ride a young horse for Charlotte. I entered with Erdstern (Eddie), a lovely and talented four-year-old gelding I have had in training since May of 2017. Eddie is a big guy and has been going through a growth spurt (he just turned four in August) so I only kept him in very light work through the fall and took him completely out of work for the month of December to let him grow up a bit. I figured, even if we made it into the clinic I could start him back just after Christmas and still have a month before Charlotte to get him going again.  Unfortunately, mother nature didn’t cooperate… the first part of January was like Antarctica where I live and I was unable to train those first few weeks due to the cold. When I found out we made it in, I put Eddie back to work for about two weeks before the big day… nothing like feeling prepared when riding with the top rider in the world! He got the royal treatment leading up to the clinic with visits from the chiropractor and masseuse as well as a new set of shoes. As an important part of our nutrition routine before a long trip, I always increase the amount of Enviro Equine OmegaBalance oil my horses are getting. This oil is an important part of my horse’s health plan, including Vitamin E to help with free radicals and muscle soreness, natural anti-inflammatory omega fatty acids, and gastrointestinal support.  As an added bonus, it makes Eddie’s coat shine and feet super healthy as well! Thanks to my fabulous support team at home we left Pennsylvania in good shape for the Bluegrass State!

My mum and friend were able to come with me on the trip as well as my two dogs who always accompany me on my adventures. After twelve hours on the road, we were greeted at the Horse Park by Eddie’s owners, who flew in from Maine. I could not be more thankful for their support throughout the weekend and all year long! Eddie traveled super well and was quite content once we got him all tucked in for the night. We had a nice dinner and all had a good rest that evening!

Photo © Meg McGuire

Friday morning I brought Eddie down to the arena for a light lunge and to hop on to get the ya-yas out before our official observation session that evening. Eddie was awesome and we had a big fun canter around the whole ring before everything was set up. He felt super and happy to stretch his legs! We made it to the observation session and did just a few minutes of walk, trot, and canter with all of the other riders in the ring. Charlotte was there watching and even coaching some of the riders.  She asked me if there was anything I wanted to work on and I was able to share with her a few things I knew would be helpful to have her support with. She seemed happy with my work and didn’t ask to see anything else from us so I was glad to not have to do too much with him.

Day One

Eddie was the first ride and it was his first time in a big arena with a crowd! I gave him a light lunge to loosen up his back and hopped on… boy do I love this horse! His owner was able to walk me around a few times so he could take a look at everyone before cutting me loose. He was totally with me and we had plenty of time to walk around while Charlotte gave her introduction. Once we got going, Charlotte wanted Eddie forward, responsive and in a consistent frame. She was extremely complimentary of his type, ability, temperament, and athleticism, stating that he was an excellent example of what to look for in a young horse. She talked about each of his gaits and what about his gaits were desirable.

In the walk, she wanted to see a good walk like Eddie’s that wasn’t so big it became difficult to collect. She commented on his “punchy” knee in the trot and felt that because of his good mechanics he would be able to develop a lot more expression in the trot over time and with training. She thought the canter was a highlight and overall really liked his type. She was impressed at his ability to stretch right away in the trot and said that many young horses aren’t able to do this until the end of the ride. She started right away on work with transitions from trot to walk to trot, focusing on keeping Eddie forward and balanced through the transition by making the trot smaller before the walk transition. This allowed Eddie to gradually take more weight behind before coming to the walk instead of collapsing behind and coming too quickly to the walk. In the canter, she wanted me to send Eddie forward on a twenty meter circle… and I mean forward!!! Eddie was going so fast it felt like he was going to tip over at first! At home, Eddie has gone to Fair Hill cross country course and gone forward in a big field but it was totally different to send him this forward on a circle. Charlotte wanted to keep him on the circle so that he would learn to balance himself in the bigger canter through the turns.

After a few times pushing him forward, Eddie started to figure out how to balance the forward with the turn and the canter became more expressive and uphill. As Eddie got tired, he did become a bit strong in the bridle as he looked to me for balance. Even though he felt exhausted, he never stopped trying and he answered me every single time I asked him a question. It was amazing to feel his incredible will to work for me even though he was so tired. The heart this horse has is exceptional and I could not be prouder of how much he stepped up for me. At the end of the ride everyone clapped and Eddie handled it perfectly… Charlotte said to him, “Good boy, see, you’re going to be a winner! Winners have to get used to clapping don’t they? Good boy, well done!”  We finished the first day feeling a bit exhausted but very accomplished! Eddie got lots of carrots after his ride!

Day Two

Sunday I knew what to expect and didn’t lunge before getting on. For being young with no turnout in a new place and hard work on Saturday, I was super happy that he felt really good in his body. We worked on developing a medium trot and touched on some of the same trot-walk-trot transitions from day one.  We also worked on changing the bend smoothly while maintaining the balance on serpentine lines.  Charlotte said, “He does everything so easily… nothing looks stressful about what he does. He does it in such an easy relaxed way, and I think its a real joy to see a young horse being able to work in this way.”

We played a little more in the canter with some shallow leg yields to help his balance and introducing the counter-canter. I have only just started doing a shallow loop of counter-canter at home so this was a really new thing for Eddie. She had me counter-canter through the whole short side which was a real challenge for Eddie’s big canter. A few times he threw in some flying changes and once he broke to trot… Charlotte said “no big deal, it’s all part of the learning process” and coached me to support him better with my leg. Eddie was able to counter canter all the way around in both directions!! I was able to have a nice stretching trot to finish up and Eddie kept working all the way to the last step. Charlotte said at the conclusion of our ride, “A great example of how a four-year-old should be and a very, very nice horse.  Well done, very good!”  I could not be more proud of this special horse!

Overall I had a fabulous experience and walked away feeling super positive about this great young horse.  I am so thankful to be able to take part in these events and want to take a moment to thank my support team at home – my assistant Allie, and my partner Ben, my barn workers, clients, and owners who make it possible for me to travel and continue my education through these opportunities. Additionally, my team of awesome practitioners that keep my horses feeling their best, and my sponsors Enviro Equine, Theraplate Revolution, Custom Saddlery, Neue Schule Bits and The Kneaded Edge who generously support my horses and I. I am looking forward to an exciting 2018 season with some super horses and developing my teaching schedule to continue to share all I have learned by participating in these awesome events!

Ashley and Eddie’s program include:

Top Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Madison