USEF Developing and Youth Dressage Clinic Lessons Learned With NAJYRC Gold Medallist Catherine Chamberlain

Catherine Rose Chamberlain arrives at Epona Farms with Verdicci and Avesto van Weltevreden
Catherine Rose Chamberlain arrives at Epona Farms with Verdicci and Avesto van Weltevreden

Recently named U.S. Team for CDIO-Y Hagen, in Hagen, Germany, June 16-21, 2015, Catherine Rose Chamberlain is the number one ranked Young Rider in the USA. At the 2015 Del Mar National CDI, 21-year-old Catherine Rose Chamberlain has a successful show with her 2014 North American Young Rider Gold Medal mount 12-year-old KWPN gelding, Verdicci (by Krack C), or “Chance” as he is known in the barn, winning the Young Rider individual test. But it was with Kim Pribble’s “Vito” she beat her own horse in the Young Riders’ Team Test with a 70.219 and the YR Freestyle with a 72. 045. And that’s not all. Debuting Adventure Farms’ 5-year-old Bling AF, Oldenburg (Brentano II x Ferro) she earned a 71%in First Level. Chamberlain joined David Wightman and Kathleen Raine’s Adventure Farms in November 2013. The skills developed in USEF Developing and Youth Clinic in April were a contributing factor to her success. In this article Chamberlain shares some of the valuable tools and exercises she learned program directors Debbie McDonald and Charlotte Bredahl-Baker.

Catherine Rose Chamberlain and Verdicci winning the Young Rider Individual test at Del Mar. Photo: Kristine Anderson
Catherine Rose Chamberlain and Verdicci winning the Young Rider Individual test at Del Mar. Photo: Kristine Anderson

I was honoured to be invited to participate in both the USEF Developing and Youth Clinics at the beautiful Epona Farms, Thousand Oaks, California on April 9-12th, 2015. On Wednesday, April 8th, I made my way to Epona Farms with two horses from my base at Adventure Farms, Murietta, California. I would be riding my own Verdicci, or Chance as we call him around the barn, in the USEF Developing Clinic with Debbie McDonald during the first two days. Chance is a thirteen-year-old KWPN gelding by Krack C. We’ve been partners for the last eight years. On the last two days I would be riding Kimberly Pribble’s Avesto van Weltevreden, known as Vito around the barn, in the Youth clinic with US Assistant Youth Coach, Charlotte Bredahl-Baker. Vito is a ten-year-old KWPN gelding by Gribaldi X Krack C. My trainer David Wightman and I have been working with him for a year and a half.

Epona Farms is a gorgeous facility located in Thousand Oaks, CA. I would like to thank the owners for allowing us to use their facility, the barn manager Button Baker for kindness and generosity and all of the barn staff for maintaining the immaculate facility. The horses settled in nicely. I had a one on one meeting with a fitness coach from the USOC Brandon Siake. It was a great opportunity to get individual tips and set goals for myself with the input of someone so knowledgeable.

On Thursday morning the riders in the USEF Developing Dressage Riders’ Clinic were able to participate in a fitness session with the coach from the USOC. It was fun working on new and effective exercises.  He made sure to show us all things that would help with our own individual issues that we had talked about the day before.

Soon it was time to get Chance ready for our ride. We were the first of the day and got to kick off the clinic. I had worked with Debbie once before during a USEF Dressage Pipeline Clinic held last October. I love her kind and wise approach to everything so I was excited to see what she thought about our progress over the last six months.

Chance and I made the move up to the Under 25 Grand Prix division this year. I am very happy with the start we made and felt that we were consistent in the quality of our tests, but there was still much to improve upon.

The main things that Chance and I need to become stronger with are the piaffe, passage and pirouettes. With those goals in the back of our minds, Debbie first had me work on the basic quality of my gaits, the contact and Chance’s response to the aids. He was feeling great and soon we moved on to canter half passes where we worked on correct bend and maintaining the jump in the canter.

Afterwards we began working on the pirouettes. Debbie just wanted me to first find a collected canter where Chance was connected through his back and kept a good quality canter. She reminded me that if you can have a great collected canter on the spot and the horse is honest to the aids, then the turn that makes the pirouette is not too complicated.

She then had me practice working pirouettes around her so she critiqued my bend and use of the inner leg. Chance started to feel more relaxed and confident with the pirouettes after this exercise so after we achieved good work we moved on to the trot. We began working on the piaffe/passage and immediately Debbie made me aware of being more concise with my leg aids. In the passage I need to keep my calf on the girth and work on refreshing him to my aid by squeezing and releasing if he gets dull.

In the piaffe, I only need to move my leg back slightly and continue to focus on the honesty to my leg. Sometimes we get a little stuck in the piaffe and have a hard time transitioning back out to passage. To help with this Debbie kept making corrections about the placement of my leg and specified that the clearer my aid is the better Chance will be able to respond and navigate the transitions. I felt like I really improved in that area, so after a few minutes of lateral work we called it a day.

I was able to watch most of the other riders and it was a great learning experience. I took away some great exercises and tips.

For example, a lot of the riders practiced their pirouettes in the canter by being able to leg yield in and out of a working pirouette to keep the horse honest to the turning aids.
After a fun day of lessons, we all went out to dinner and had a great time talking about all things horse related.

Day Two of the USEF Developing Clinic at Epona Farms With Catherine Chamberlain
The next day Chance and I were able to pick up right where we left off the other day. We began working on the tempi changes first. Chance really enjoys the changes and they are fairly easy for him so sometimes I don’t work on them as much because they are very solid.

However, Debbie pushed me to go for the utmost quality and not settle for mediocre.
We went for big, expressive changes and Chance responded really well as I think he enjoys doing something he feels like he’s really good at. After a bit more canter work we came back to the piaffe/passage.

It already felt so much better than the day before and once again Debbie pushed me to go for more brilliance and to step out of my comfort zone. It was really fun and I feel like it was some of the best piaffe/passage work we’ve done.
To help me know how much to push in the passage, Debbie walked in front of us with a stick held in front of Chance’s shoulders.

I had to keep up with the stick and aim to get Chance engaged enough so that his knees came up to meet it. It was very helpful to have a visual and once we figured it out everything felt super.

Our transitions were also much better out of the piaffe and I felt my leg aids were much more solid. We finished up with some lateral work in the trot again and worked on the correct bend and keeping a powerful trot throughout.

I was very happy with Chance and so grateful to be able to work with such an amazing trainer as Debbie!

She always gives very enlightening lessons and I walk away inspired and hungry for more.

That night we kicked off the Youth clinic with a group dinner. It was fun getting to know the other youth riders I hadn’t met yet. There aren’t many of us in dressage so it’s great to meet others my age with the same passion.

Day Three of the USEF Developing Clinic at Epona Farms With Catherine Chamberlain

Catherine Rose Chamberlain and Avesto van Weltevreden doing her leg vields
Catherine Rose Chamberlain and Avesto van Weltevreden doing her leg vields

The next day I started off the clinic again with “Vito”, Kimberly Pribble’s, Avesto van Weltevreden a 10-year-old KWPN by Gribaldi. We’ve been showing in the Young Rider CDI division and he’s been doing very well. It’s his first season out at Prix St. Georges and I’m really happy with how consistent he’s been. My goal for the clinic with him was to polish up our test movements and to make everything as crisp and concise as possible.
Charlotte Bredahl-Baker, Assistant USEF Dressage Youth Coach is a well-known trainer and FEI judge. She has a great eye for all of the details and I was very thankful to be able to take advantage of it.

The biggest things we worked on were the bend in the lateral work and the engagement and sitting of the hindquarters in the pirouettes. To work on the bend we did lots of shoulder-ins to half pass, back to shoulder in, etc. Just constantly changing it up to make sure I had control over his body and that my aids were being effective.

To work on the pirouettes we did lots of quarter pirouettes, focusing on maintaining the bend off of my inside leg and not letting him fall in. It was great as Vito is still green in at this level and I felt like he really developed some confidence.

During lunch, we all got to watch video of our rides and critique ourselves. It was really helpful to get a visual of everything and seeing what areas looked solid and what areas needed improvement.

Charlotte also kept us engaged all day during each other’s rides but asking for our input and asking what we saw. It kept us all on our toes and we all learned a lot by doing it this way.

Day Four of the USEF Developing Clinic at Epona Farms With Catherine Chamberlain

Catherine Rose Chamberlain and Avesto van Weltevreden winning the Young Rider Team Test at Del Mar Photo: Kristine Anderson
Catherine Rose Chamberlain and Avesto van Weltevreden winning the Young Rider Team Test at Del Mar Photo: Kristine Anderson

The second day with Vito, we ran through the YR Individual test. It went really well and I thought it was one of the best tests we’ve done. We ran through a few of the movements again, especially the trot work at the beginning to work once again on proper bend and positioning.

Vito has a great walk so Charlotte actually had to remind me not to push it and rush the rhythm, not something one gets to do often!

In the canter we worked on the zigzag half pass and making sure that the change in between the two half passes was controlled and very straight.

We did this by half passing, going into shoulder fore for the new lead, completing the change, going straight for a few meters and then starting the next half pass. It worked very well and his last half passes felt nicely controlled.

His tempi changes were very solid and expressive so we only had to do those once. The pirouettes were better, but I still had to make sure he didn’t spin around my inside leg to fast. To correct this, I would go on the diagonal, do a quarter pirouette instead of a half, canter on and do another quarter and repeat until I had better control over the speed of the turn.

Participants at the USEF Developing and Youth Clinic - Ariel Thomas, Eva Larson, Francesca Sheld, Charlotte Bredahl, Veronica West, Catherine Chamberlain, Stella Leitner and Danielle Bonovito
Participants at the USEF Developing and Youth Clinic - Ariel Thomas, Eva Larson, Francesca Sheld, Charlotte Bredahl, Veronica West, Catherine Chamberlain, Stella Leitner and Danielle Bonovito

He came back really nicely from his trot and canter extensions and his halt were nice once we took care for the straightness and collection coming into them.

Overall it was a super ride and I’m very thankful to Charlotte for spending her time with us.

I also want to say a special thank you to all of the USEF staff, particularly Hallye Griffin. Your work and dedication is greatly appreciated.

I can’t wait for the next USEF clinic. If you have the opportunity to ride in one I highly recommend you take advantage of these amazing opportunities to work with the best!




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