The Charles Lessons

I know this site is dedicated to all things Andrew, but I figured that as it’s Charles de Kunffy we’re talking about, I could make an exception. The TTT don’t allow for publication of images taken there (trolls ruin everything. Everything.) so we are once again image free.

Lesson 1

After the lean back lesson with Andrew the previous weekend, I thought that I knew what Charles was going to say about Otis. After a week of what I can, without being a self-aggrandising knob, call revolutionary progress, I no longer had any idea what Charles was going to say.

We got there, the horse warmed up really well, and then it was time to go in. Otis wasn’t keen at first so I had to shovel a bit. This caused my toes to point outward slightly, and Charles told me to halt so that he could correct my position; by the time he came down from the box I’d corrected myself, so he went back up again. We didn’t spend long at the walk, and the only correction was that it wasn’t forward enough – a dropped ball from me, but so far so good.

We went to the trot, and the crookedness emerged fairly quickly. I’d be tempted to blame it on Otis being wary of the walls in this new arena, but I know that wouldn’t pass muster with any of you, and it certainly wouldn’t with Charles. It was also noted that Otis doesn’t track up with his left hind. Charles went on to state that the horse has a good topline and mobility over his back (silent cheering) but that Charles has no idea why this is (silent crying).

He then told me to start with some leg yield in from the track and back out, which highlighted that Otis didn’t want to cross his left hind either. To remedy this we had to do shoulder-in on the centre line, which was good to the right, but to the left curled around my leg and ended up in a strange quarters-in type waddle. The answer to this, said Charles, was to alternate between shoulder-in and leg yield from the centre line back to the track, to help him cross the hind leg and straighten out his body. This did a significant amount of good, and we began to see the makings of a correct inside bend, and a few strides at a time of a very proper shoulder-in.

Then I heard those fateful words:

“Go to the wall, and halt at A.”

You who were there know what’s coming next. I had to give away the outside rein until Otis chewed down to the inside.

“Now depart the canter.’

Bless the horse. To both our surprise (Otis’ and mine, Charles is clairvoyant) we made it. I don’t think Charles appreciated my yelp of glee, but that’s tough. He told me to keep my inside hand low, and to lean back, which produced a through if still rather speedy horse, although Charles made no bones about this, presumably knowing when to pick his battles. We repeated this on both reins, and despite several wrong strike offs, the canter got steadily slower and more rhythmical. Either I was getting better or the horse was shattered. I’m choosing to believe the former.

Charles wasn’t done. It was back to the shoulder-in, but this time on a 10m circle, following by another leg yield, then back on the circle. Wash, rinse, repeat, until finally a perfect shoulder-in appeared. Now, the shoulder-in wasn’t really the point. the point was that I (ok, Charles) had managed to solve the horse’s crookedness and make him functional, so that he was able to do shoulder-in and all the other lovely things. We went back to the canter, and it was better again, so we didn’t hang around in it, finishing off with some lengthened trot strides. Lesson one was concluded; I was puce, but I had a straight, functional horse who could track up, and even if Charles wasn’t about to credit me with his swinging back, I was pleased as punch.

Lesson 2

On the second day I was the first in, so I thought I’d be clever and warm up inside. To my dismay Charles was already sitting in attendance, so my 15 minutes of quiet warm up turned into 15 minutes of Charles-led warm up (which is better by far, but not restful).

We spent longer in the walk at the beginning, for which Otis and myself were very grateful, and began with the same exercise of leg yield in from the track and back out. The bend was markedly better already, and although he didn’t want to completely cross at first, he was easier to maneouvre. Charles then asked for rising trot with lots of changes of direction – it was easier to change the bend than yesterday and the throughness was also very reliable, with not a trademark head toss in sight. We then went back to the shoulder-in; which, to my dismay, didn’t happen. Not a whiff of it. This time I was aware of the quaters curling around my left leg, but I have to say it was fairly heartbreaking after the previous day’s hard work.

Charles had another solution. We came back to the walk, and I had to do a turn around the forehand, which Charles calls a pivot. Otis reacted as though I’d suggested a hack down to the horse meat factory, and I got told off for moving my hands. After a couple of bizarre looking rotations we managed to settle into the pivot, and got some good crossing behind, so we went back to the trot and tried the shoulder-in again. Still no good, so it was back to the turn around the forehand. This time the shoulder-in was better, but still not quite up to snuff, so we had to do the turn around the pivot again. The third time really is the charm, because the next time we tried the shoulder-in, we nailed it.

We repeated the shouler-in on both reins what felt like 375 times, but in reality was probably about six, before I was cordially invited to demonstrate the halt to canter. Otis struck off wrong a few times, and I got internally pissy at Charles because I felt defensive of Otis, who always does his best and never gets asked anything like this, but then realised that the point of doing it is to highlight the things that need fixing. It also helps to fix them, because when the rider lines the horse up correctly and asks correctly, the horse can canter from halt just fine. Sorry Charles, I thought as Otis floated away up the long side after an excellent transition.

It was canter plie time. For those who are new to all this mumbo jumbo, a canter plie is a leg yield in canter from the three quarter line or centre line to the track. It doesn’t get called a leg yield because the horse can’t cross the hind legs in canter. It straightens the horse and acts as a natural half halt, making the strides more suspended and helps the horse to move more through the back. We did the plies in both directions, and everything was fairly heavenly by now. Then it was back to trot, and another shoulder-in each way to prove that I wasn’t fluking it, before the important final phase of amplifying the gaits.

It turns out that Otis’ medium trot is pretty fantastic. We threw in a couple more canters with the horse nearly on the buckle, followed by another stupendously free moving trot, and called it a day.

Charles is a phenomenal trainer. However I also have to credit Otis’ excellent mind and capacity for the work for the result that we got. Charles commented on the horse’s good temperament and brain almost the moment he walked into the arena. It was a very proud weekend – thanks to all those who made it possible.


Next time, on Equinerds…

A transcript of Andrew talking through his methodology live whilst schooling a horse. There may even be pictures!

4 Comments on “The Charles Lessons

  1. Thank you for this precisely worded resume of your lesson and well done you! You are justifiably proud. Having watched Charles teach for many years I never cease to be amazed by his creativity and expertise, always delivered in a relaxed and charming manner.
    Your remarkably vivid recollection of the lessons is so helpful, as I now live too far away to see him on a regular basis. This brought back so many happy memories of TTT.


    • Hi Janet,

      Thank you for your kind comment. I’m glad you found the article helpful, and even more glad to hear about your happy memories of watching Charles teach.
      Best wishes.


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