From Endurance to Dressage
Another Barbi Breen-Gurley Clinic
On Sunday, Izzy and I participated in another clinic with Barbi Breen-Gurley. Barbi hails from the central coast where she runs her training and boarding facility, Sea Horse Ranch. Barbi is an active competitor, trainer, and "S" judge. She earned her USDF Bronze Medal in 1977, just four years after it was offered by USDF. She earned her Gold Medal in 1982, but then went back to earn her Silver in 1985. She's been in the dressage world since USDF's very beginning.
I rode with Barbi last month, so I felt a particular sense of commitment to apply her suggestions since I knew I'd be riding with her again. For me, it's embarrassing to have to repeat a lesson. As hard as I tried though, one of the things that I had worked on still needed (and needs) to be improved. My bend was much more correct, and I was following with my elbows at the walk. Both were things that Barbi had pointed out last month, and both were things I have since "fixed."
Before we started to work, Barbi asked what I would like to work on this time. I explained that I had been focusing on her previous feedback, but the one thing that I am truly struggling with is how to follow with my elbows in the canter. The problem is that Izzy is so short and stiff in his neck that there's nothing to follow. Of course, it's likely that me not following is the reason he's so tight, but simply dropping the contact doesn't fix the problem either. We both need to change something. Barbi was completely on board.
My favorite thing about this clinic was that none of it was about "fixing" Izzy. Instead, Barbi focused on fixing me which then had the immediate effect of softening Izzy's neck and lengthening his stride. Near the end of the lesson, Barbi yelled out Do it for him! as a way to help me buy in to the correction she was asking my body to make. Those words really resonated with me because they proved to me that fixing my body wasn't about looking good, it was about changing my body so that Izzy will be be more comfortable in his work.
The hardest thing we did was to put my left arm behind my back and grab my shirt as close to my right armpit as I could mange. My entire left side wants to turn be forward no matter which direction I ride. Or walk. Or sit. Or drive. It's a problem for sure. To help me really feel how twisted I am, Barbi had me grab my shirt and ride with one hand while spiraling in to the left. If your seat says right, it's awfully hard to turn left.
I can steer with my seat, honestly I can, but forcing me to do it one-handed really pointed out my weaknesses. Barbi was merciless though. There was no cheating. She peppered me with commands: neck rein him; spiral in; turn sharply NOW; don't let him look outside; turn him with your shoulders, and on and on. That one though - turn him with your shoulders, that one started to connect some dots for me. It wasn't really about my shoulders; it was about my whole torso and down.
What it came down to was this: Izzy wants me to turn my torso and lower body in the same direction that he's traveling. That means my shoulders, my seat, and even my inside leg. If any of those elements are not turning with him, he braces. Once my left shoulder was "back," Barbi found that my left leg wants to come forward which negates the whole thing. If my left shoulder is back, my left leg needs to drop down, not push forward.
Once my position was better, Barbi also had a way to help Izzy. When I am following with my elbows, particularly at the canter, her exercise went like this: one in, one out, one down if he'll take it. What she meant was a flexion to the inside, a flexion to the outside, and then give him a moment to ask to stretch down. If he doesn't, then we do it again. When I could keep myself together, when I could keep my hands in front of the saddle, and when I could allow with the outside rein, Izzy took the stretch every time.
For the canter, Barbi left me with a few thoughts:
Here's a short clip where I am trying to put it all together.
It was a great experience to finally be able to work on what's wrong with me without also trying to control a rocket on a string. When I got myself together, Izzy was happy to listen. We're definitely making quick progress.
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About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
2023 Completed …
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: