From Endurance to Dressage
With COVID-19 keeping most of California on lockdown, my small chapter of CDS, the Tehachapi Mountain Chapter, has been forced to cancel at least five of our six shows. The October show is still hanging on by a thread. Determined to meet our members' needs, we turned our show series into a clinic series. This past weekend, we offered a two-day clinic with "S" Judge, Barbi Breen-Gurley, and both days were full! Barbi hails from the central coast where she runs her training and boarding facility, Sea Horse Ranch.
I am prepping Speedy for the Regional Adult Amateur Competition, so he doesn't really need a clinic opportunity, but Izzy sure did! He was a total rock star at our clinic in June with Ulf Wadeborn, so my fingers were crossed that we could build on that success. I was not disappointed. He was absolutely perfect!
Before beginning my ride, I stopped in front of Barbi to "prepare" her for the possibility of the wheels hurtling off our little struggle bus. Izzy stood politely listening, ears flopping to the side. Taking me at my word, Barbi instructed me to start walking Izzy in a small circle in the corner while asking him to flex his neck. Her thinking was to give him a job right away before he could get tense. And then suddenly, it wasn't about soothing Izzy's tension, it was about addressing my position and riding.
You see, over the past few years, an amazing thing has happened. My tough customer has turned into a reliable and very rideable dressage horse. Right away Barbi realized that Izzy wasn't the rocket on a string that I had prepared her for. Instead, she saw some things in my own position that if changed, would help Izzy perform better.
Once Barbi ascertained that I was under-selling my horse, she peppered me with corrections. The first thing she worked on was my left shoulder; it wants to push forward all the time. This is a big issue as we track left. If my left shoulder is forward, my left hip is forward which has the effect of creating a very crooked horse. Over and over, Barbi insisted that I push that shoulder back. Since my feeble attempts weren't having the desired effect, I instead started thinking about pushing the right shoulder forward. That got my body moving.
There was more however. Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, has finally convinced me to actually look where I am going, but Barbi insisted that I also get my horse to look that direction as well. One way she helped me establish the correct bend was to insist that I look between Izzy's ears. Why that is so difficult to do, I do not know, but it is. I tend to be looking far in advance of where we're heading which means I'm looking, but I am not asking my horse to look which means I am not getting the correct bend for the figure.
The lesson started to sound a little like this: get your left shoulder back. Where are you looking? Where is your horse looking. Left shoulder! And then, she threw even more at me. Not only was my left shoulder a problem, but my arms weren't following at the walk and canter. Her next instruction was to look down at my hands. Where they following forward and back, forward and back? No, they weren't which meant Izzy couldn't get soft and forward in the canter.
So then Barbi's list of corrections included left shoulder back. Look up! Look down at your hands. Left shoulder!!!!! Look up! At one point, I burst out laughing. I felt like the world's most idiotic rider. As a "bronze medalist," I should be able to better coordinate my aids. Sheesh. Barbi apologized for being so "tough" on me, but I told her that I am not easily offended, so bring it! She took me at my word. And the truth is, her corrections were done kindly and never made me feel inadequate. Her praise for things done well came quickly and frequently.
At the end of the lesson, we talked about what I had learned, which I just shared. It was the conversation we had after that that turned out to be more meaningful for me. Barbi wanted to talk to me about introducing Izzy as such a difficult horse to ride. She explained that while he might have had his moments in the past, I should really let go of that image of him as he is a wonderful horse. She really and truly loved him.
I have such a hard time "owning" my successes - whether they be in my own riding or in how my horses behave, because I don't want people to think that I think that I am better than I am. Any judge or trainer will know what kind of rider I am the second we walk in the ring. They'll also be able to see what kind of horse I have as well. Barbi appreciated that attitude, but I think she wanted me to think more of myself and of my horse than I do. She very kindly told me that she enjoyed teaching me, and that I had done a great job applying her "demands." My step-mom recently made me promise to eliminate "it was just" from my vocabulary. To hear Barbi say something so similar really gave me a lot about which to think.
If you ever have a chance to take a lesson with Barbi Breen-Gurley, I would highly recommend it. In fact, all of the riders at the clinic liked her so well that we're bringing her back for our August date. If you're local and want to join in, reach out to me on our Facebook page or message me directly.
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%: