“I wasn’t thinking of taking on a four-year-old horse at age 70,” exclaims Barbi Breen-Gurley who is successfully training and showing dressage horses as a senior, plus coaching students. Barbi, who lives in Los Osos, went on to explain her decision to take on a young prospect: “I no sooner mounted him and I knew he was the right horse for me….so willing, focused, and connected to me.”
Come ride along with me! Get your riding the SLO County Trails Hotsheet to get started and join the SLO Horse News Herd!
Although she’s in her senior years, Barbi is a great example of staying the course and keeping herself in the saddle. Barbi is no stranger to bringing up horses to the Grand Prix level as she has completed eight horses prior to her current ride, Happy M, a KWPN Dutch bred gelding she purchased seven years ago from DGBar Ranch in Fresno. So, this is not her first rodeo . . . er . . . journey to Grand Prix with a horse she has trained. This training process takes at least five years.
Hard Work, Focus, Determination and Connection Breeds Success
Her hard work, focus, determination and connection with Happy led the pair to a very successful 2022 musical freestyle season. The pair received The Adequan USDF Musical Freestyle award as the 2022 Intermediare I National Champions. They had the highest accumulative national scores for that division for the 2022 show season. Not only is Barbi continuing to train, show and coach into her later years, she’s rocking it! The plaque received in honor of the achievement was presented in December of 2022.
A musical freestyle is dressage movements set to music. Riders mark out the timing of their horse’s gaits and plan music that fits the horse’s gaits and movements when ridden in a freestyle test. Barbi says, “All his music has Happy in the lyrics or name. He loves his music and so do I. We are both really having fun every time we ride it! Every time we scored well in the 70’s.”
Happily Training and Showing Dressage Horses Successfully as a Senior
“Training Happy up through the dressage levels (nine levels) to this point has been quite straight forward for the most part,’ describes Barbi. “He had a little trouble figuring out a single flying change but now he is confidently learning the one-time changes.” One-time changes horse is where the horse switches canter leads each stride. There are 15 changes in the Grand Prix test.
Barbi’s present goal with Happy is to finish his training to the Grand Prix. “He will be my 9th horse to personally train up to this level. I hope to debut his first time competing at the Grand Prix level at the end of this, his 11th year.”
Her main work is now coaching riders and training dressage horses full-time at her home in Los Osos, Sea Horse Ranch. Barbi retired from practicing Dental Hygiene after 43 years.
Senior Years Bring Additional Challenges
“I have personally been under major stress the past 21 months as my husband and I are adjusting to a health challenge he has now,” explains Barbi. “This has significantly changed our lives.” However, Barbi finds an escape in the joy of riding. “The stability of working with such a talented equine partner, especially at this time, has given me much stability, focus, and relief from our present situation.”
“I am so grateful to be able to train and compete with Happy and receive recognition and fulfillment in my passion.” Barbi’s wisdom and experience shows up in her teaching. “In my teaching, I find myself offering nuggets of self-growth and life lessons pertinent to dressage and living life as well!”
Cover photo: Geof Gurley
Get going! Looking for trails to ride in SLO County? This hotsheet will get you going on a few of the top rides. Get this delivered to your e-mail and join the SLO Horse News herd to stay up-to-date on herd happenings. Click here > SLO County Trails Hot Sheet to get going!