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A lesson with Briana Burgess

This article is from the January 2020 Horse Deals magazine.

Australian Grand Prix rider, Briana Burgess has recently returned to Australian shores after living in Germany for the past 12 years. Briana’s journey began in Europe at the age of 18 as a working student under the now Dutch team coach, Johan Rockx, at their barn in Essen on the Belgian/Dutch border. Briana then moved on to work for four years under German Dressage Olympian and Gold Medallist Monica Theodorescu, who also acts as the current German Team trainer.

During the 12 years in Germany, Briana developed her own business training and selling International quality Dressage horses and at the same time continued to train under the world’s best including Patrik Kittel, Helen Langehanenberg and Christoph Koschel. Briana competed in the World Dressage Masters 5* tour, was shortlisted at the age of 26 for the World Equestrian Games in Normandy, was top ten in the World at the 2017 World Young Horse Championships aboard Mary Hanna’s Jazz son Gerion and was long-listed on Grand Prix mare Sissi for the 2018 World Equestrian Games in Tryon.

Briana has since decided in early 2019 to return to Australia with coaching being the current focus. Briana has coached all over the world this year including Germany, South Africa, USA and now Australia with this weekends clinic being held at Lisa Woods’ W Park Equestrian in Victoria.

Our pupil was twenty-one-year-old Louisa Smith. “After I finished school, I spent about a year with Briana in Germany as a working student. It was the best experience of my life. I am so grateful that she can now come out here and help me because it was so hard when I came home; I really missed having the training every day. I bought AEA Flaminio when I came back to Australia and I would really like to get him to the Under 25 Grand Prix eventually. He is a very sweet horse and I am very lucky to have him.” The 15-year-old, 17hh plus gelding is affectionately known as Mini.

Briana, with pupil Louisa riding AEA Flaminio

Briana, with pupil Louisa riding AEA Flaminio

Position

“Position is a fundamental part of riding. A correct position is critical, we like to say ‘the horse mirrors the rider’. The rider must learn to be balanced in the saddle with an independent seat so that they are able to positively affect, influence and educate the horse without disturbing his balance. For example, sitting in the saddle on your seat bones, elbows next to your body by your hip bones and your hands in front of your hip. The rider’s legs should be long and not grip on the sides of the horse. This correct position encourages the horse to work and establish the connection from the hind legs over the back to the contact.

“The rider needs to be aware that they need to work on developing their own core strength. I think one of the most beneficial exercises to help achieve this is riding without stirrups. This helps the rider to attain an independent seat and strengthen their core and their back — it is nice for the riders to be slim but they also need to have the correct muscles!

“The rider’s legs must be used effectively and independently, this is impossible without a correct, strong body position on the horse. Constant nagging of the leg and the spur by the rider is not only an indication of an error in the rider’s position but also has the effect that the horse becomes numb to the rider and the leg aids. When a rider has adequate core strength he is able to drop the leg long and use the leg with control, like a sponge on the horse’s sides and being able to use the leg when needed. The correct position of the rider is key to allowing horses (regardless of age and level of training) to establish balance, contact, straightness and swing through the body.”

Get The Swing

“When Louisa and I first started working together with Mini he had a tendency to run from the rider’s aids and onto the forehand. This resulted in tension developing in the back and a shortening of the basic gait as well as pulling Louisa out of balance in the saddle. As a trainer, it is our job to look at what each individual horse needs. Look at his strong points, his weaknesses, his character and how he interacts with the rider and vice versa. We need to see the horse and rider as a partnership and find the best way to work through weak points together in a logical way.

“For Mini, we have gone back to address the basic work. I have asked Louisa to ride the trot work in rising trot to encourage him to stay forward, straight and taking longer, bigger strides in an uphill frame. The half-halt is essential in re-establishing the balance, asking him to take more weight on the haunches. In doing so the horse begins to learn to carry himself and swing through his body without looking for constant support from the rider. Once he understands this Louisa can go sitting again when the back is swinging and there is no longer tension.”

“Ride forward and keep the contact. The shoulder in (at trot and canter) will keep him more on the hind legs. Inside leg to outside rein.”

“Ride forward and keep the contact. The shoulder in (at trot and canter) will keep him more on the hind legs. Inside leg to outside rein.”

“Keep him up on the outside rein. He must accept your inside leg and bend the ribcage. Wait for the steady contact and then reward him with your inside hand with a small pat when he gives for you. Encourage him, be positive and show him it’s the right way.”

“Keep him up on the outside rein. He must accept your inside leg and bend the ribcage. Wait for the steady contact and then reward him with your inside hand with a small pat when he gives for you. Encourage him, be positive and show him it’s the right way.”

Bridging The Reins

“I have asked Louisa to bridge her reins in moments where Mini begins to lose the connection and balance from the hind legs to the bit. In the moment when the rider bridges the reins, they immediately sit heavier in the saddle, the seat and leg are securely affirmed as the driving aids. The bridging of the reins means that the rider no longer has the ability to disturb the horse in the contact. It, therefore, remains even, steady and consistent, allowing the horse to find his balance and the confidence to push correctly from the hindleg, over the back and into the bridle.”

“I have asked Louisa to bridge her reins in moments where Mini begins to lose the connection and balance from the hind legs to the bit. In the moment when the rider bridges the reins, they immediately sit heavier in the saddle, the seat and leg are securely affirmed as the driving aids. The bridging of the reins means that the rider no longer has the ability to disturb the horse in the contact. It, therefore, remains even, steady and consistent, allowing the horse to find his balance and the confidence to push correctly from the hindleg, over the back and into the bridle.”

“Bridge your reins; it is an excellent technique to keep horses straight. When you bridge the reins you automatically sit, so the horse leans to go from your seat and leg.”

“Bridge your reins; it is an excellent technique to keep horses straight. When you bridge the reins you automatically sit, so the horse leans to go from your seat and leg.”

“It is very important to allow the horses to stretch in between the intense phases of work during a training session.”

“It is very important to allow the horses to stretch in between the intense phases of work during a training session.”

“Wait until you have the connection in the walk before you ask for piaffe. Quicker with the leg, he has to work. Sit a bit more on your seat bones before you ask for piaffe. Wait and ask. That’s good, but don’t ask for too much. He is a generous, willing horse despite his age and he is not at his limit. He has to be proud and happy with what he is doing.”

“Wait until you have the connection in the walk before you ask for piaffe. Quicker with the leg, he has to work. Sit a bit more on your seat bones before you ask for piaffe. Wait and ask. That’s good, but don’t ask for too much. He is a generous, willing horse despite his age and he is not at his limit. He has to be proud and happy with what he is doing.”

“For passage, when you take the reins make him wait on your seat bones. He must be straight, over the back and going forward in to a stable contact, without that it is impossible to get collection. He has to stay round.”

“For passage, when you take the reins make him wait on your seat bones. He must be straight, over the back and going forward in to a stable contact, without that it is impossible to get collection. He has to stay round.”

Patience and Feel

During the lesson, Briana asked Louisa to WAIT often enough that it became an integral part of the lesson. “Contact and balance; make him wait and keep him in the contact before you ask for a flying change.” It really brought home how much patience and feel have to do with good riding.

During the lesson, Briana asked Louisa to WAIT often enough that it became an integral part of the lesson. “Contact and balance; make him wait and keep him in the contact before you ask for a flying change.” It really brought home how much patience and feel have to do with good riding.

“We want him to wait in the change and not take over.”

Article by Anna Sharply, Photos by Julie Wilson


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