Training Tips and Takeaways from World Pony Driving Champion Bram Chardon’s First Teaching Tour in US

Bram Chardon at The Hermitage Classic CDE

The three week visit to the USA for the first Bram Chardon training days culminated at The Hermitage Classic CDE, where Chardon competed Mary Phelps's pony pair, Al Capony and Bugsy Maloney to win the overall Intermediate Championship.

A seventeen-year-old Bram Chardon came to the Kentucky Horse Park for the 2010 Alltech/FEI World Equestrian Games where he was navigator for his father Ijsbrand Chardon’s (NED) Team of Horses winning the individual Silver Medal, and Team Gold. The following year Bram won his first Pony Driving World Championships with his team of white welsh ponies, repeating the victory in 2013, and in 2015. Just one month after his record breaking win with his pony team in Ermelo, Netherlands, Chardon, now 22 year old returned to the Kentucky Horse Park, for the first of a three week visit hosted by HorsesDaily.com, and Mary Phelps, Markel Equine and Farm Insurance.

Bram Chardon will be returning to the USA, Florida January 18-24, where we will be booking lessons at two locations, Margaret Mayer’s Cranewood South, 710 NW 117th St. Ocala FL 34475, in the morning, and the Black Prong Equestrian Center,  450 S.E. CR 337.  Bronson, FL 32621. For more information contact mary@horsesdaily.com

“For me was a special feeling to be back at the Kentucky Horse Park after being there for the WEG 2010,” said Chardon who admittedly did not get to see much more of Lexington that the marathon course.

October is a big month every year for the sport of combined driving in Kentucky. The Kentucky Classic CDE, The National Drive, The USEF Developing Driver Clinic at Hillcroft Farm, and the Hermitage Classic CDE, where Chardon drove Mary Phelps’s pony pair to win the all round Intermediate Championship. “I’ve seen many European driving shows,” said Chardon, “ but the two CDE's I experienced in Kentucky belong to the most beautiful ones. There is so much land and beautiful world class set up at the shows for dressage and cones. Combining nature and art in the design of the marathon obstacles was what really impressed me at The Hermitage. It was a blast driving Mary’s ponies on this course.”

Bram Chardon coaching Karen Smith and Blair

Bram Chardon coaching Karen Smith and Blair at the Gayla Driving Center, Georgeton, Kentucky.

The beautiful Gayla Driving Center in Georgetown, Kentucky  became available in the midst of all the driving activity and commitments during the time of Chardons’s visit. Even so a clinic was organized and quickly filled. “Mostly every driver I worked with is aware of what happens in driving in Europe, and the latest developments in driving sport,” noted Chardon. “I worked with some very nice horses and ponies which could easily compete in Europe. What I liked the most while working with my students is that all drivers tried to give every they can during my lessons.”

Marcie Quist

Marcie Quist at the Hermitage Classic CDE

Advanced driver, judge and clinician Marcie Quist was able to participate in the first clinic in the USA with three time Pony Driving World Champion, Bram Chardon (NED) and is already signed up to return to Florida for his next visit, January 18-24. “He is a wonderful teacher because although he is only 22 years of age, his knowledge is extraordinary and diverse,” said Quist. “Moreover, his confidence and delivery is so smooth and reassuring, he never appears discourteous or overpowering. Rather, he builds confidence in the driver and animal. I was able to achieve results I never thought possible in such a short time of training and learning. I really learned a lot, built my confidence and went on to have a great marathon and the only double clear round in FEI cones at The Hermitage Classic CDE in the Advanced Single Horse Championships because he showed me I had the ability to do it.”

Emma Roberts and Mammoth Rock MMS

Emma Roberts and Mammoth Rock MMS

Bram Chardon drives Emma Roberts's and Mammoth Rock MMS through the cones course.

“For me the biggest "take home" lesson was a better understanding of my pony's capabilities across the board,” said Emma Roberts who commuted each day from her farm one hour south of Gayla with her Haflinger pony  Mammoth Rock MMS “Rocky”. “In dressage that translated into a more realistic expectation for self-carriage and how to achieve it. Marathon and cones it was an eye-opening experience of just how fast my pony and I can be with the right route and a bit more confidence driving at speed.

Emma Roberts and Mammoth Rock MMS

Emma Roberts and Mammoth Rock MMS negotiate the water at Gayla Driving Center shaving seconds after their time after Bram does it.

Bram helped me get "unstuck" from the concept that my pony should always be in a frame during dressage training. He emphasized that getting my pony balanced was the key and that won't happen if I am holding him in frame. He showed me some great warm-up exercises working on circles that really helped develop my pony's balance and self-carriage interspersed with short periods of forward impulsion to help him stay engaged. We also worked on asking for short periods of "frame" while emphasizing that my pony stayed light and didn't start losing balance and leaning (i.e. truly on the bit).  Bram pointed out the initial goal is to strengthen my pony so he can give 10 minutes of light, balanced self-carriage in a beautiful frame for a dressage test. My take home lesson here is that balance, lightness and rhythm are a lot more important than a pretty frame. It doesn't take a pretty frame to develop them, rather it comes after they are established. I knew this intellectually but wasn't putting it into practice.

Bram with Emma Roberts and Mammoth Rock MMS

Bram Chardon with Emma Roberts and Mammoth Rock MMS

For marathon and cones it was all about the right route and the confidence to drive fast.  Bram drove my pony to show what he really is capable of (turns out he is a fast little haflinger)! This helped me push myself to drive with more confidence and speed. This, coupled with some great advice on route options, allowed me to shave up to 7 seconds off my hazard times! In cones I was able to complete a very challenging intermediate course within intermediate time despite having just moved up to preliminary this year.  I finished the clinic with a lot more confidence in my ability to drive hazards and cones competitively, especially knowing my pony more than has it in him and just needs me to step up my game to let him shine!”

Margaret Ross and Hurricane Grand Marquis

Barm Chardon and Margaret Ross

Barm Chardon shows Margaret Ross how to get "the feel" with the reins.

Margaret Ross and her husband Tom drove 10 hours from Charleston south Carolina with their big saddlebred “Corky” to take advantage of the opportunity to work with Chardon. “After a day of rest with about 30 minute of longlining, Thursday, Friday we worked on Dressage and Bram drove  my horse. He worked him really deep into the corners. My husband said, “Corky really looked good when Bram drove him, he didn’t look like the same horse when you drove him. “I had to laugh and said,” well, Bram is a World Champion!” All went well with the rest of the lesson but he did say you have to do EXACTLY as the test reads. In other words, if you are suppose to turn at E don’t take a short cut and turn 5 meters from E. He was kind, patient, and quiet, never getting me nervous or rattled and was very precise with his directions.

Dressage was on Friday and  Bram drove  my horse. He worked him really deep into the corners.  My husband said, “Corky really looked good when Bram drove him, he didn’t look like the same horse when you drove him. “I had to laugh and said,” well, Bram is a World Champion!” All went well with the rest of the lesson but he did say you have to do EXACTLY as the test reads. In other words, if you are suppose to turn at E don’t take a short cut and turn 5 meters from E. His manor was kind, patient, and quiet, never getting me nervous or rattled and very precise with his directions.

On marathon day we worked three obstacles on the beautiful Gayla course. The first hazard, the tepees, was a challenging set of large real looking tepees and very fun to drive. Bram drove it first and I navigated. He was very fast in fact he was so fast I could barely hold on! Then, he got down,I drove it once and then he challenged me, do it five seconds faster. I gave it everything I had but he said, “That was three seconds and next time don’t swing way out just stay close to the trees.” I thought “ok I get it now.”

The Water hazard was next, with letters ABCDE. After letter D there was a steep drop down to the water. He said, “I see you were very afraid of the hill, so make it easy on yourself and just drive straight don’t’ take the short cut.” He explained too that with a big horse it usually is better to take the longer straighter routes, which he always seemed to find. That really amazed me about Bram, he was so creative finding alternate routes. He said, “you should always know your route but know alternate routes too just in case you have to make a change.”

The last hazard was a wooden fence type with some sharp turns and situated on a hill. Again Bram drove my horse and whipped around like it was nothing and found instead of sharp turns, long flowing routes.

On Sunday we worked on cones a course Bram built based on the World Pony Championships in Breda, last summer, where he went double clean with his team of ponies. He worked us on just a few cones at a time and getting that perfect before we moved on to the next set. The wave and the slalom were the most difficult and I knocked down balls several times but he kept saying “do it again,…again…again…again.” Bram reminded me to keep my focus.”Don’t’ take 20 for granted, because in Breda, I saw a girl going clean all the way until the last cone when she lost  her focus thinking about the finish line and hit it.” Bram explained that, “Cones are a matter a feel.”

Mary Ann Carter and Coyote

Mary Ann Carter and Bram Chardon

Mary Ann Carter and Bram Chardon

Mary Ann Carter also made a long trip from near Chicago, with her Welsh pony Coyote to stay at Gayla and then move on to The Hermitage Classic CDE where she was entered to compete at Preliminary. Taking full advantage of the week, Mary Ann audited as many of the other session as she could, making interesting observations.

“On dressage day, the mantra was “Be patient.”  My pony hadn’t settled in yet, so he was a little over zealous and falling in on the corners. Bram said his first priority, before settling down to work, is to make sure the horse is relaxed, and also that horse is listening and responding to forward and slowing aids.  

Once the pony was listening, he counterbent him as soon as he started to fall in on his shoulder, to shift the balance to the outside, then corrected the bend.  When he lost his balance, Bram would counter bend again.

On marathon day, we worked in 3 of the Gayla obstacles. Each round was timed.  All of the drivers had planned their routes ahead of time, A through E. “We aren’t here to do what we know/have already done.” was an expression Bram repeated over and over throughout the clinic. The second round at each obstacle was driven by Bram, with the owner/driver on the back step. What a ride! He said that he didn’t expect the driver to drive like HE drove, but to know that their horse was capable of what he was asking. This meant that Emma, with her Haflinger, finally had a trainer tell her that yes, her pony IS capable of going to Intermediate.  

Mary Ann Carter and Coyote

Mary Ann Carter and Coyote

Bram advocated the forward, open/outside routes over tight, slow routes.  He also admonished us to not let our horses’ momentum take the turns wide and cover “extra real estate”. After Bram drove, he handed the reins back to the driver, and set a goal of X seconds faster using his route.  All were able to go faster.

The cones course was the Pony World Championship course from Breda, Holland.  A very tight, tough course, even for a single. This is the course Bram took his pony four-in-hand through.  We practiced each section of the course until we were able to make the turns. Then finally put it all together.  He timed our rounds, and pushed us to achieve the times of a level up from our current levels.

How It All Began

Mary Phelps and Bram Chardon

Mary Phelps and Bram Chardon with Al Capony and Bugsy Maloney at The Kentucky Classic CDE. Photo: PicsofYou.com

Horsesdaily’s Mary Phelps invited longtime friend and her winter Ocala neighbor Lynn Palm to meet her driving pony pair and retired Pony Driving World Champion Cefnoakpark Bouncer at Margaret Mayer’s Crane Wood South Farm. Taking the world renowned clinician and trainer for a drive around the neighborhood, Bouncer’s owner, Wayne Humphreys let her take the reins and negotiate one of the training hazards on the property. Palm was hooked, and ready to add combined driving to her multi disciplined repetoire of horsemanship. The following fall, Palm a popular clinician participated at Equitana, Melbourne, Australia, along with now 3 time Pony Driving World Champion, Bram Chardon (NED).  Chardon in his early 20’s had captivated the crowds attending the sessions, and became an Australian favorite, where he returns each year to do clinics across the country.

Phelps who had photographed Chardon’s big win in 2015 in Pau, France, and friended Chardon of Facebook, sent him a message asking if he would be interested in coming to the US, and the wheels were in motion.

“I got an instant response,” said Phelps. “ Bram and I were in touch regarding the details, and what could have been a monster project, all fell into place easily. That’s how I know when things are meant to be.”
When Bram arrived it was the day before the start of the Kentucky Classic CDE. We had one lesson together with my pony pair at Gayla before heading to the Kentucky Horse Park. My ponies are hot, and not easy, especially in dressage.

He taught me right away to be more in charge. “Don’t let your ponies tell you what to do, you tell them.” In working in the arena he drove them straight to the fence, making them wait to be told what direction to turn. Clear communication with the hands as they began to rush, and they developed a true respect at the end of just one hour.

Two days later, my dressage score was 20 points lower.

Bram understands ponies, and appreciates them. A similar challenge, in getting the judges to recognize that small ponies may not have the big movement of a German Riding Pony in the lengthening, but that does not mean it is not correct. Accuracy makes all the difference.

Then Bram was my navigator on the marathon. The only training I get on marathon is when I compete, so I am still learning how to regulate speed and where. Speed with my ponies is not a problem. What a treat to experience this event with Bram Chardon as a guide.

As much as I would have loved the glory (and the points) for competing my ponies at The Hermitage, having Bram drive them showed me what they could do, how fast they can really go. My assistant Kate McIntyre had never navigated on the back of a carriage before, so why not start her out on the back of the fastest marathon driver in the world! She did great, but complained about sore thighs for a few days after.

The best result is I have better ponies, and I am more relaxed and confident. I messaged Bram a few weeks ago and asked him if he had sprinkled magic dust on my reins after an amazing drive. He replied “No you are becoming a better driver, this makes me happy.”

Bram Chardon Training Tip Takeways

  • Faults should happen during lessons to find a solution
  • Doing things you already can won't make you a better driver
  • In a positive way we will find the maximum of driver and horse, but also respect the limit of your horse
  • The best for me is to make drivers do things they would never think they could.
  • Rise above yourself, I say this often.
  • There are many systems, find a systems which fit in your idea about driving! If you don't drive with 100% confidence you can't win! My students really want to learn! They were open for new ideas, which was great to work with!
  • Only with the right motivation can you get the result you want.
  • As a driver, don't just do something because your trainer said to. Think about it, try it and most important understand it.
  • As a trainer, I don't know everything. I have a system, which for me is one goal, a gold medal. Only not every horse fits in the same system, which makes it a challenge every day.

Bram Chardon will be returning to the USA, Florida January 18-24, where we will be booking lessons at two locations, Margaret Mayer’s Cranewood South, 710 NW 117th St. Ocala FL 34475, in the morning, and the Black Prong Equestrian Center,  450 S.E. CR 337  .  Bronson, FL 32621. For more information contact mary@horsesdaily.com




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