by Cassidy Nunn –
Brittney Eastgate wears many hats, or helmets, if you will. This working mom is a full-time business advisor, who also runs her own stable, rides and trains horses in the sport of dressage, and oversees her coaching program, Eastgate Dressage, of close to 70 students and one additional instructor.
Like many a horse person, her days start early, 4:30 a.m., and often run late while she finishes up teaching students and doing night check on the horses and ponies who call her Peninsula farm home. She’s created a special place for young dressage riders to be involved in an equestrian discipline that is largely dominated by adult equestrians.
Dressage, which means “training” in French, dates back thousands of years – it was how horses were trained (often called “schooled” in the horse world) and prepared for war times. Some describe dressage as horse ballet, with modern upper level dressage being performed to music so it can appear at times that the horse is dancing along in rhythm. Dressage riders compete by performing a “test” in varying levels in front of a judge; one of the goals is to execute the precise movements of the test while making it look as though the rider is doing very little. It’s a challenging sport, and one that doesn’t always attract the junior riders.
Brittney began riding at a young age but it wasn’t until the she was 18 that she immersed herself in the sport of dressage and competed when she was 20 in the FEI Young Riders at the Canadian Nationals competition. At 21 she started her coaching career and while over the years she always had a few younger students, in the last two years her young rider program has exploded in popularity with students as young as four years old.
Jessica Kwasnica-Rechsteiner signed her daughter Olivia up for riding lessons with Brittney less than two years ago and was amazed when Olivia was off to her first show within seven weeks of riding. Jessica credits Brittney’s ability to instill confidence in the kids with helping her daughter to continue to improve in her riding. “Now we’re at the barn every day!” says Jessica with a laugh, as she too has been bitten by the dressage bug and taken up lessons herself.
“At my barn, every rider’s in a program,” says Brittney. Having good, safe ponies to learn on is a key component of her program, as ponies tend to have a reputation in the horse world for being rather cheeky, sometimes naughty and not always much fun to ride. Brittney often buys the ponies young and trains them so they learn the more advanced dressage movements. Having ponies that are trained to do the advanced movements gives students the opportunity to get a feeling for how a schooled dressage horse (or pony!) should move. “When kids start to learn the higher-level movements, they kind of crave that feeling,” she says. One of her ponies, Huckleberry, “literally teaches kids from four and up how to walk, trot and canter in 30 days.”
Brittney encourages her students to compete in horse shows, whether it’s a local Vancouver Island competition (where last year her students made up close to half the entries in some of the shows!) or one of the bigger off-Island shows. “My students don’t have to lease or own a horse to go showing,” she says. She’s fostered a positive team environment amongst her junior riders, even though it’s considered an individual sport since they may compete against each other in the same level. Still, they help each other out, whether that’s at the barn or away at a clinic or competition.
One of Brittney’s main goals is to promote youth in the sport of dressage and recently she’s teamed up with other dressage coaches to create the non-profit Vancouver Island Youth Development Dressage Society, which will offer clinics, horsemanship lessons and shows geared at the junior riders in the community. With 10 of her students all vying for a place on the BC Summer Games Dressage team and two riders declaring for the North American Junior Young Rider Championships, she’ll be spending much of her winter days bundled up coaching in her arena, inspiring and encouraging the next generation of dressage riders.
For more information visit www.eastgatedressage.com.
Photos by Nunn Other Photography