Charlotte Jorst on Developing a Simple Change to Prepare for the International Ring

Written by Betsy LaBelle - In Training - Monday, May 25, 2015

Charlotte Jorst explains the use of the simple change to improve collection

By Charlotte Jorst with Betsy LaBelle

When it comes to working with horses, I love the challenge of figuring out how a horse ticks. Each one of my horses is so completely different and each teaches me something. And, in turn, I teach them.  For quite a few years now, I’ve been building a solid base in my knowledge, position and timing to prepare for the international ring. Through the business my husband, Henrik, and I have built for over two decades [22 years], I learned the importance of how to encourage others. Since, I come from the corporate world, a place where you want your employees to strive for success, be on your side, and work really hard together, it’s important to create an environment where they’re motivated and happy with their work. Because it’s such a similar dynamic, I want my horses to love their job, be motivated and be happy.

I love the chance to ride different kinds of horses. Each one is a huge challenge.  It’s like making sense out of a whole new company, leaping in to learn the strengths and weakness, then feeling inspired to see the business thrive.  It really is that entrepreneurial spirit. It’s so much fun trying to figure it out. I’m learning from each one and it’s become a whole new world on riding. What makes each horse develop confidence, strength; what makes them enjoy working as top athletes. It’s just a joy.  Having the opportunity to focus energy on a few leading horses for top competition, I have come to recognize one exercise essential to each day’s training. I call it the simple change.

The idea behind the simple change involves the Canter-Trot- Canter and Canter- Walk-Canter, which are the fundamental building blocks in communication from the seat of the rider to the horse and then the horse back to the rider. If the horse can easily maneuver these two movements with balance and relaxation, then all circuits are in order.Charlotte Jorst explains the use of the simple change to improve collection

My horses must be handy, a word I use to mean a horse’s understandings and quick hind-leg reactions to the tiniest aids I give them.

With the horses that have enormous gaits, whether walk, trot, or canter, the handier the horse the easier it is to inspire the horse to carry itself for the exercises or upcoming movements in the ring. The rider does that by making the horse be quick off its hind legs and lightness in the front.

I learned that in every single ride, it’s important to ride back to the basics. The more the rider can ride back to the basics day-to-day, the better the FEI Test. I resist the temptation in the ring to fix things with my aids because I know the test has to flow. You can only do fixes in the FEI ring when you’ve really worked on that communication from the most basic of exercises, such as the simple change. The many transitions from trot and canter, trot-walk, canter-trot-canter, canter-walk-canter, forward and back within the gaits all while utilizing the corners of the ring are the keys that unlock the door.

It’s also very important to warm the horse up in a loose and easy manner and also cool the horse down in a loose and easy manner. The rider must keep the rhythm steady (focus on the hind legs) while having control over the neck (focus on the keeping the shoulders up) in the warm-up.

The simple change allows the horse a smooth way to change direction while moving forward to a large and relaxed circle, or half-halting of the rider’s seat for rebalancing. Gymnasticising the horse through its body is essential.  The horse must be free in the shoulder, loose in its body and neck and pushing forward and easily from the hind legs.Charlotte Jorst explains the use of the simple change to improve collection

In the competition arena, a horse must become sharp and confident in the aids with the utmost understanding. It all must come from a positive foundation. The happier and more willing the horse, the better the scores will be. I want to be rewarded by the judges because it looks so easy and flows so wonderfully - from the work we did on the basics to make the horse hardy, in a good way. 

  • The half-halt from the seat must be utilized. The simple change allows the rider a starting place in order to narrow it down to a half-halt within the gait at the trot or in the canter. The simple change allows the rider to feel the straightness within their seat, a square box feeling, that the horse must carry him or herself in a straight way.
  • The simple change tests all the scales of training:
  • - the rhythm must be even, not hurried or lazy,
  • - the looseness must form with the horse coming over the back while reaching for the connection,
  • - the contact must be taken by the horse,
  • - the horse must be reminded to travel straight from hind legs to fore prints throughout the training sessions, and
  • - the impulsion must be easily acceptable as the horses leg speed must be in front of the rider with the horse going on its own (without a constant push by the rider).
  • The goal is to push the tempo or hold the tempo for collectability.

The handiness must be available in the competition arena. It’s paramount. The international arena is not an easy arena to fix things, though in a very small way it must still take place for the horse to understand. In order to narrow the horse down to that handiness, a rider must go back to the basics.  Those basics involve transitions and changes in the gaits in straightness, also within the lateral work. 

The rider must know all the fundamentals that connect correctly between the aids.   A horse with a bit of strength and understanding will become a willing dance partner. 

Canter-Walk-Canter:

If the horse is handy, then it’s easy to ask the horse to collect for three strides, I count 1-2-3 to the walk. If the horse is not handy, then we work our best to collect the canter in three short strides before the walk. It depends on the strength and understanding from the horse. With a horse that’s fit and strong, the half-halts from the seat are quiet. In other words, the rider slows their seat down which, in turn, tells the horse to gather the strides in a very collected canter for the walk transition.Charlotte Jorst and Fraktura explain the use of the simple change to improve collection

 You don’t want to push your seat so hard to your hands that the stride get short. It must be a smooth, effortless transition without a single rhythm change. You really want the horse to jump under three times from a soft but holding seat, really allowing the hind legs a place to go. If you push your seat too hard, the hind end will stay out behind.  You can almost feel it in your seat, but you must remember to have a giving hand once the horse understands. It’s a balance that the rider strives for each and every day. The seat really is the key here. 

It’s easy for the horse to get short behind or to change the rhythm. It doesn’t want to take the harder route and bring the hind legs all the way underneath. It’s the responsibility of the rider to not teach the horse to carry its end out behind, almost choppy, in the downward transitions.  It’s so important to keep them stepping under. 

The upward transition includes the rider placing the outside leg back to ask for the canter.

Canter-Trot-Canter:

There’s a subtle difference in that you do not ask the horse to shorten for three strides, but each horse must understand when we are working Canter-Walk-Canter and when we are working on Canter-Trot-Canter.  A subtle outside rein with a smaller use of the seat with a slight squeeze with the knees usually communicates the correct desired change of gait. The aids directing the simple change from canter to trot are to slow my seat and core down a little bit, hold my hands and place my knees in a little bit to help the horse rebalance its weight and move into the down-ward transition. It’s important to find that rhythm from the hind legs coming underneath while keeping the shoulder from falling but balancing them uphill in downward the transition.Charlotte Jorst and Fraktura explain the use of the simple change to improve collection

And, then, the upward transition from trot to canter includes placing the outside leg back to ask for the canter.

Changes of Tempo within the Gait: 

The objective is to get softness in the front of the horse and a carry in the back. There are a lot transitions within the gait to make sure those two objectives are made. The rider has to work at it until they have the balance they like. The horse has to do the majority of the work and carry its frame.

It can take the horse some trying and when the rider feels the horse come underneath, the rider can praise the horse. The rider must have a giving hand. All the sudden you will feel the understanding from the horse. My horse, Kastel’s Adventure, in two months in Florida went from being on the forehand to really being able to sit. It’s been so much fun.

It’s going back to the basics and through a lot of trial and error just figuring out how to praise him. Those opportunities are the greatest. With Kastel’s Adventure I’ve learned how to get control over his neck in the warmup. It’s amazing how much control I have over his whole body now. 

The key to our success is the importance in making a tempo change at least every six steps in the trot and every six strides in the canter. It’s like changing gears; the horse must carry the weight on the hind legs and many transitions within the gait makes for great discipline. Collecting the horse before the corners is not enough.  If a tempo change is made more often, the horse stays straighter, fully comprehends, and listens fully for the next one.

Evenness in the Rider’s Seat:

It’s essential to accept that a horse always wants to push you over to one side. With Adventure, he wants to push me over to the right. Every day, that’s the first thing I feel. A square, even seat is of utmost importance. How the hind legs connect any given day is extremely important. You feel that evenness connection in your seat by how square the horse lets you sit. For a long while, I had to adjust one stirrup a little longer to find my square seat. But, now, he’s even in my seat.

Some days, you’ll feel that a horse just won’t connect to your seat. And, that’s okay. It’s important to see if you can figure it out. It’s necessary to remember that these horses are top athletes, very sensitive and really are willing. And, it’s also important to remember not to expect too much.Charlotte Jorst and Fraktura explain the use of the simple change to improve collection

Getting Through Problems:

Sometimes on Kastel’s Nintendo, the day before a show, I just can’t get the two tempi changes at all. I then have to put him back in the stall and just hope they come out all right in the FEI ring. Sometimes, it just scares me. But, almost every time, it works out fine in the FEI ring.

Our horses live in the now and we never want to give a horse a bad experience. I really want to get inside my horse’s mind and understand what it’s thinking so that we can work together. I want it to know I care. The communication must be understandable. I want all of my horses to be comfortable in their understanding, to really want to strive to do well. 

I never want to make a mess by getting upset or frustrated because in the days that follow, I just have to undue that mess. There’s no point in making more work for myself. 

If my horse does get to a misunderstanding place, I just walk because there’s never a reason to continue plowing through. Instead, I try to assure that he or she is my friend and means the world to me.

Riding Into Corners:

Some riders like to really slow the tempo and take the horses back to prepare for the corners, but I’ve found that it’s better not to disturb the balance too much and allow the horse to round the turn in a smooth, continuous, pretty way. I try to take them back some, but not in a stop-go manner.  It’s important to sometimes accelerate on the short side to prepare for the next movement, or for a place to encourage the horse forward. I especially love that in the canter. With a half-halt coming into the corner, it’s like you’re helping the horse to rebalance into the big uphill canter that it likes with the big strides and then a half-halt into the other corner in preparation for the next test movement. There are many ways to ride into the corners. The corners are important because you must feel like you could execute an exercise in a relaxed, rhythmical way.

About Charlotte Jorst: 

Born in Denmark and a US citizen, Charlotte Jorst works hard in her adventurous life. A super horsewoman, mother of two daughters, a business owner, rider and competitor, Charlotte continues her climb up the levels to the international stage. Jorst prepares for the international arena with Kastel’s Nintendo (Negro x Rodieni R / Monaco) at the Grand Prix level, Kastel’s Adventure (Special D x Sunette S x Mondriaan) for the small tour, as well as a couple of other horses like her mare Fraktura (Ferro x Canilla), Charlotte begins building into solid international athletes. She competed Vitalis (Vivaldi x D-Day) representing the USA at the FEI World Breeding Championships in Verden, Germany in 2014 scoring 82.6% in the FEI Young Horse for 6-Year-Olds Test warm-up class and 79% in the qualifier The Breakdown in scores in Verden were 8.24, including a 9 for the trot, an 8 for canter, an 8.7 for submission and an 8.5 for general impression.

Charlotte’s Kastel’s Adventure, a 9-year-old black Dutch Warmblood gelding by Ferro son Special D in the (Small Tour) Prix St. Georges/Intermediaire I competition scored impressively in the 70% range for quite a few wins at the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival and in the California Dreaming series.

Charlotte and her husband, Henrik, founded Skagen Designs, a small watch company which they turned into a superb brand in Reno, Nevada. After being acquired by the largest watch company in the world,   Charlotte has also been working hard to build her new company, Kastel’s Denmark, a fashion clothing line that she started from a fabric she discovered to protect her own skin from the harsh Nevada sun. She brings along a handful of up-and-coming international dressage equine superstars and prepares to compete on behalf of the US this summer in Europe.