-- Text and Photos © Olivia Airhart/Phelps Media Group
“One. Two. Three. Four. One. Two. Three. Four. Good!” Laudrup-Dufour encouraged, “Reward him! One. Two. Three. Four. Keep The Rhythm. One. Two. Three. Four.” Of all the incredible teachings Cathrine Laudrup-Dufour shared with participants and spectators during the NorCordia Dressage at Devon 2023 Masterclass – inspiration, patience, kindness, rhythm, recognition, and reward were at the heart of everything Laudrup-Dufour shared tonight.
A Danish Olympian and World No. 2 ranked dressage rider, Laudrup-Dufour traveled all the way to the US from Denmark to give her first Masterclass outside of Europe at Dressage at Devon presented by Kingsview Partners. From beginning to end, it was abundantly obvious that Laudrup-Dufour is not only a spectacular rider, but also an incredible horsewoman whose ability to understand, relate to, and inspire the best in horses and riders is both a rarity and a gift.
"The Magic of Inspiration"
As Laudrup-Dufour helped each horse and rider combination, the live audience and participants alike had a unique opportunity to learn from one of the best in the world. Throughout the Master Class, Laudrup-Dufour’s horsemanship, expertise, wisdom, and perhaps most of all, empathy, for both horse and rider, were front and center at every turn, literally, every turn. The transformation and blossoming of these horses and riders under the tutelage of Laudrup-Dufour – to say it was mesmerizing would be an understatement. If there was one thing to take away from this Master Class, as many of the participating demo riders later touched on themselves after the class, it was to remember the basics and to recognize that horses perform their best when calm, confident, and inspired. Simple, yet profound.
As Laudrup-Dufour put it, you could have a horse with the most spectacular movement, but if they do not want to try for you, it does not matter. Laudrup-Dufour demonstrated unparalleled understanding of what each horse and rider needed to perform at their best. She then relayed numerous simple tips and tricks, tailored to each pair’s needs, that were extremely effective in creating effortless communication between horse and rider. That communication resulted in remarkable quality and consistency of the expression and rhythm of each gait, as well as the progressive evolution of whichever movement that particular horse and rider session focused on. Whether piaffe, passage, tempi changes, half pass, transitions or anything in between, everyone in attendance had the opportunity to see first hand the profound effect confidence and inspiration can have on performance.
Using a variety of epically on point analogies and visuals to depict what could easily be made overly complex, Laudrup-Dufour explained exactly what each rider needed to hear in the utmost concise and simple way such that the riders were then able to relay the message to their horses. Dribbling a basketball, sitting on a see saw, and going through a tunnel were all related to riding a horse. and how they all relate to riding a horse, Laudrup-Dufour’s lessons and creative examples throughout the evening demonstrated what it truly means to inspire a horse to greatness, and to inspire riders just the same. Following the Master Class, each rider spoke into the confidence Laudrup-Dufour gave them, the space to, as Laudrup-Dufour said many times throughout the evening, “make a mistake, take a risk,” and the calm, kind, patient training philosophy that got them and their horses through the tense, spooky, fresh, or otherwise less than perfect moments in their sessions to the greatness that awaited on the other side.
Hope Beerling on Marokko
The first rider tonight was Hope Beerling and NorCordia USA’s six-year-old gelding Marokko (Morricone x Laurentio). In 2019, Hope traveled to the USA to try out for a job with Team Haddad Staller. Always with an eye out for new talent, Haddad offered her a full time job riding, training and competing for the stable. Paired with Vianne, Alpha HM, Uno Elando, Marokko and Belougi, Beerling has secured wins and top placings in young horse classes and classes up to Small Tour for Haddad’s stable. She represented Australia in the CDI arena in the winter of 2021 and 2023 at the Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, FL as well as the World Young Horse Championships in Ermelo, NL under Haddad’s tutelage.
Using the example of dribbling a basketball, Laudrup-Dufour impressed upon Beerling and the audience the importance of switching it up between sitting and rising trot, “If you dribble with the basketball and you just hold, then its not bouncing back,” Laudrup-Dufour said, “so when you want to get the trot or canter more bouncy, allow the horse to bounce you back, relax and try to get him to bounce. If you want to get the most out of the horse, to ask and then relax let them take a breath and then ask a bit more again.” Speaking highly of both Beerling and Marokko’s open mindedness and willingness to learn, Laudrup-Dufour said, “You can have the fanciest horse with the biggest movement, but if they don’t want to cooperate with you it doesn’t matter. It is really fun to be able to show the horse something new and watch them learn.”
Lauren Sammis on Heiline's Oh Land
Following Beerling, it was Lauren Sammis and Peggy Gordon’s eight-year-old mare Heiline’s Oh Land (Goldfinger x Diamond Hit) to go next, Sammis’ many accolades include a Gold and Silver Medal at the Pan American Games in 2007 with Sagacious. “We can’t all have lessons every day and we do a lot of things on auto pilot,” Laudrup-Dufour tells the audience, as she instructed Lauren to put four fingers between the snaffle and curb reins, “when you change something, for example the way you hold the reins, then it makes you aware of what rein you are pulling and why are you doing that. Riding with four fingers in between the two reins allows you to be really clear with your hands.
Likening it to doing squats in the gym, Laudrup-Dufour shared how feeling what it is like in her own body when she is at the gym on the 15th rep of a squat set, she said, “it’s not that you don’t want to do, it’s that you can’t, horses are the same, let them rest their legs, pick it up and go again.” Instead of doing too many corrections inside piaffe and passage,” Laudrup-Dufourtells Sammis, “Instead do the corrections outside of those movements, give them a break, and then go back to it. Play with the way you approach it with the leg.”
Speaking on the valuable lessons Sammis learned tonight with Laudrup-Dufour, Sammis said, “I would like to thank Cathrine because it was an amazing event. The style of communication and the ease with which she explains things, and the simplicity that she says something, as opposed to having it be really complex, such as – ‘the timing on the sixth time leg doing this, etc.,’ She has a way of explaining things that is very, very clear and concise and little suggestions which can improve you. For me, holding your reins like that is foreignwith a horse that is light and I am glad that I tried it because I do not think that I would have gone there otherwise, and it created a connection that was almost like holding a piece of paper in your hand – it was a wonderful feeling that I don’t think that I would have experienced without somebody saying, ‘try this.’ The reminders of, remember the basics, remember the connection, remember the rhythm – it was really super. The takeaways for me were the connection and just going for the real quality of things.”
Boyd Martin on Commando 3
Eventing super star Boyd Martin was not going to miss this event, finding his way to the Dixon Oval just one day after he and his wife Silva welcomed their third son into the world. Martin brought Commando 3, a ten-year-old Holstein gelding by Connor x R-Adelgunde owned by Yankee Creek Ranch, for tonight’s Master Class.
“The eventing horses are so incredibly fit,” Laudrup-Dufour commented, “the dressage horses are fit as well, but these eventing horses come in on a different level of energy, so sometimes it can be quite hard to relax the horse to come in here to a ring like this. I can relate a little bit myself because I have had a few ‘dragons’ myself, and I have found that if I just walk around the edge, to just get the adrenaline a little bit lower it makes a big difference. What I prefer to do with a tense horse is to talk about the neck, if the neck goes up, you feel like the adrenaline is pumping.” To start off, Laudrup-Dufour emphasizes again the importance of not riding on auto pilot and has Martin start off with one of her favorite exercises, simple but effective, trot, walk, trot transitions. “It’s harder than it looks, transitions,” Laudrup-Dufour said, “you want to start in a new ring with transitions, something simple to build up the confidence of the horse.”
Continuing with a similar exercise, Laudrup-Dufour has Boyd go from collected trot to a working trot, first giving him a strap for the front of the saddle saying, “When doing the sitting trot and the horse gets a bit quick, I like to grab the strap with the left or right hand to hold yourself deeper in the saddle, because when a horse gets a little quick at the sitting trot he pops you out of the saddle, and by pulling yourself into the saddle you can then melt into the horse, and then you can go with him a bit. Checking in with Boyd, Laudrup-Dufour says, “Do you feel that?” “Yep!” Boyd says.
On the left lead, Laudrup-Dufour had Martin experiment with adjusting the height of Commando 3’s neck by raising and lowering his inside hand. Laudrup-Dufour reminded Martin to “keep the rhythm,” counting, “One, Two, Three, Four. Good. One, Two, Three, Four. Good! By counting the rhythm aloud you can keep the timing of the change where you want it. Wait until he feels good and then ask.”
“I had a discussion with Cathrine and asked her to talk me through your first ride when you get to a show, and I feel like all the spectators and riders can relate to when you pull your horse off the trailer at a show, and they get to a new environment and they are tense and nervous,” Martin said, “I was just intrigued to see what Cathrine’s method and game plan was. Obviously she is an amazing horsewoman trainer, and I wanted to learn what sort of system she used and it was awesome, non aggressive, calm, patient, and trying to get the horse in a frame where he can really let go of his back.I felt like for my horse, Commando, he really clicked with her. I think my strategy has been a bit off, where I’ve sort of gone hard and fast and the more tense he was the more sort of aggressive I was ,and you know we were both in a lather of sweat after our first ride. It was awesome hearing Cathrine’s plan of just taking my time and doing lots of transitions and really trying to think of actually slowing the horse down rather than fighting through those nerves and that energy. It was just an unbelievable experience to get a session off of one of the greatest dressage riders in the world.”
Continuing on to express his gratitude for what he learned here tonight, Boyd said, “What an honor and privilege to be asked to ride in front of such a huge crowd, and more importantly, Cathrine, I mean, she’s been an idol of mine, and I’ve stalked her throughout her career. She’s just an unbelievable horsewoman, rider, competitor, trainer, and I couldn’t believe it when they asked me to ride here. I was very nervous coming into it, to be honest, but Cathrine is just so nice, and in the lesson, she was so positive. Within a second she had an understanding of my horse, Commando, “Conner,” and I really felt like we got some good work out of him out there. Connor is a new horse for me, and he is just unbelievable quality. I was desperate to get Cathrine’s thoughts on the horse and it was amazing the work that she did – with lowering his frame, and some of the half halts into the corners – just made perfect sense. Conner responded fantastically, “I could not believe the feeling I got after just 20 minutes of working with Cathrine.”
Lindsay Kellock on EFE's Goldorijke
Pan American Games Team Gold Medalist, Lindsay Kellock Duckworth and the seven-year-old KWPN gelding EFE’s Goldorijke by Governor out of Lanciano, owned by Enterprise Farm Equestrian, LLC, were next up. Kellock Duckworth just had a baby a few months ago, and Laudrup-Dufour acknowledged how difficult it is to have a baby and get right back in the saddle, commending Kellock Duckworth for being here tonight. Equally, Kellock Duckworth acknowledged Laudrup-Dufour’s understanding, saying “Thank you so much Cathrine for being here it’s amazing to be here at Dressage at Devon, I have been coming here since I was junior rider and it’s my favorite show so to have you here is super special, thank you. Also, thank you for not making me trot, I really appreciate that!”
To practice the changes without having the horse get anxious, Laudrup-Dufourshared an exercise with her, “When you’re on the long side you can build up tension, but this exercise creates a line that the horse doesn’t know. If you go down the long side and make a steep turn between E & S back towards F, and as you practice straightness on the way to F, ask for a change to the counter lead.”
“For me, I came into this with a green horse and the flying changes,” Kellock Duckworth said, “The exercise that you gave me doing the really quick quarter turn off my outside leg into the diagonal there really helped him so much with the changes I mean he did every change clean tonight. So, you know, that was super helpful so thank you so much.”
Hope Cooper on Destar
Up and coming star Hope Cooper and her magnificent black 9 yo German Sporthorse (DSP) gelding, Destar (Descolari x Quarterback) owned by Jane Karol joined Laudrup-Dufour in the Dixon Oval next. Seeing that Cooper’s horse was a bit up, Laudrup-Dufour said, “I actually really like a bit of a dragon that comes out going, ‘Rahhh, yes,’ that energy requires a little more management, it also makes things a little more exciting.”
The focus of Cooper’s session was to not let the horse get too far away from her, and to create distractions, such as doing small circles off the diagonal when practicing tempi changes so as to avoid the horse coming around the turn to the diagonal trying to attack it with anticipation. “When you feel that he starts to drift away, try to keep the step of the front legs from getting away, try to avoid holding him,” Laudrup-Dufour said, “you can half halt him and then walk forward again. Just like you give the horse time enough to think, give yourself time enough to do. We really want to start with one, two, three, four and get your quality there, take the time to support him. Try to think that you are riding in a tunnel, stay straight and play with the rhythm – you still want to maintain the basic canter, you only do the number of tempi changes where you can keep the quality of the canter. It is easy to be rushed, so take the time and breathe. We all know the feeling of them coming across the diagonal and attacking the diagonal, so go on the diagonal do one change and then a circle, go back on the diagonal, and then one change, and a circle – this keeps them on the aids and listening rather than attacking the diagonal line. And then, try the tempis again.”
As Cooper concluded, rewarding Destar with lots of pats, Laudrup-Dufour shared with the audience, “I have a spot in my heart for the young riders because I see the talent in these young boys and girls and I know how difficult it is to get to the top, but I also know that it is possible.” Cooper said her two main takeaways were, “In the piaffe and passage, to get the transition really snappy, which is something that’s been hard for my horse since he’s learning. Once you can get the transition into the passage snappy, then the rest of the passage stays in the consistency. In the piaffe the analogy that she gave with bouncing the basketball and not allowing yourself to hold and drive only and instead having the horse learn in the rising trot, so that you have this, like, bouncing feeling.” Expressing her gratitude for the experience, Cooper said, “I am just so grateful to have had the opportunity to let my horse have the opportunity, Cathrine is a wonderful teacher and there are honestly just not that many people in the world like that. I felt like my horse was a little bit up, and she really walked me through each moment, and each part of developing the Grand Prix got better within the last two days of being able to work with her. I’m 26, I’ve followed her on Instagram for, like, since I’ve had Instagram! She is the real deal and she is a true horse person. She really pays attention to the internal world of the horses, which also is rare. I was just so happy to be there and to learn from her.”
Catherine Haddad on Sola Diva
The final demo rider of the evening was Catherine Haddad Staller and NorCordia USA’s eight-year-old Hanoverian Sola Diva by Sarotti Mokka Sahne x De Niro.
Laudrup-Dufour started off by commending Haddad Stallersaying, “You have the best seat in the world, you just sit.” As Haddad Staller and Sola Diva trotted around Dixon Oval, Laudrup-Dufour said, “When you take the half halt from your seat don’t go any higher than can move your horse forward,” pausing to say, “Wow, it’s like she is floating on a cloud here.” Continuing, Laudrup-Dufour says to Haddad Staller, “when you bring her back a little tap tap with the leg but try to create the ‘passagey’ feeling by lifting up the shoulders and opening up the front, it’s not necessary the poll you want to make higher, you want to open the front through the shoulder. She has so much movement, if she sits too hard, do a couple of rising trot steps.”
Speaking about what it takes to produce a Grand Prix horse, Laudrup-Dufour shares with the audience that, “The thing that takes the most time to develop is putting all the things together, doing the separate things at a certain time in a certain order that requires so much strength, power, and control.” Speaking highly of both Haddad Staller and Sola Diva, Laudrup-Dufour said, “This mare is so sensitive to even the smallest thing, and that is what you need. The queen is in the house!”
“It was thrilling,” Haddad Staller said, “it was quite an opportunity, I think for all of us. Cathrine is a phenomenal teacher and she really creates a really confident, positive learning space in the arena. So with the younger horses, which all three of us had younger, not so experienced horses – I felt really confident riding with her because I knew she was not going to ask me to do something that would cause my horse to explode or do something wrong. I think to be able to get those horses in that arena, in that stadium, in that atmosphere, without having to compete with them is a wonderful thing. I just can’t believe that we actually got Cathrine Laudrup-Dufour to come to Pennsylvania and do a Master Class for us, I think that is phenomenal.”
Speaking into her main takeaways, Haddad Staller shared, “My main takeaway was when you get the engagement that you ask for behind the saddle, to make sure you given an outlet in front to allow the shoulders come up and allow the horse to express, it is always a good reminder to hear that.”
Concluding the evening, Laudrup-Dufour said, “Outstanding riding tonight, thank you all so much, it has been so much fun! I hope you get to go home and try some of these things. It has been a dream come true to work with all of these horses and riders, I am humble and thankful.”
Throughout the evening, Laudrup-Dufour demonstrated every reason as to why she is the World No. 2 ranked rider and highly-sought after for her unique training methods, nothing was done with too much pressure, the horses were only asked to do what they were capable of, nothing was done too fast or too soon, and it was impossible not to see the profound difference Laudrup-Dufour’s insight and inspiration made for each of the demo riders and their horses this evening under the lights of the Dixon Oval.
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