Brianne Goutal WIHS Clinic

Winners of the 2015 WIHS Barn Night Spirit Contest learn from clinician and grand-prix jumper Brianne Goutal.
Brianne Goutal watches as Rachel Mentzer and Congo trot through the ground-pole line | © Sandy Oliynyk

Soft-spoken but exacting, Brianne began all three sessions with lots of transitions. “I like to do a lot of transitions because it’s a nice way to see if your horse is responsive to your aids,” she explained. “Transitions are a simple exercise and anyone can do them. They don’t have to rough; the horses understand what is being asked.”

Brianne began each session by asking riders to lengthen the trot down the long side of the ring and then sit and collect the trot on the short side. “There should be a definite change between the long and short stride,” she called. She insisted the riders focus on their horse’s speed and spacing themselves out equally around the ring.

Satisfied with the trot work, Brianne had the riders canter and work on canter–trot transitions. In the more advanced group, she also asked riders to lengthen and collect the canter. “Be careful not to rush into the transitions. Work on staying calm and keeping him slow,” Brianne called to Marilyn Walker on Cruz, who was becoming quick in the exercise. “You can sit the trot, whatever you need to do to slow him down.”

Brianne Goutal with clinic participants Robert Queen and Phillip | © Sandy Oliynyk

After riders worked in canter in both directions, Brianne had riders trot two ground poles, about 48 feet apart, insisting they keep the horses straight through the line and over the center of each pole. “First you worry about the first pole, and then the second pole,” called Brianne to a rider who seemed to lose focus. “You have to maintain the rhythm that you want and concentrate on each pole.”

Once the horses were trotting through calmly, Brianne had the students canter through the same exercise in four strides, adjusting the space between the poles for different horses’ stride lengths. When Cruz was quick through the line, Brianne gently corrected Marilyn. “Don’t let him take over and pull you down the line. You’re in charge.” Brianne had her ask Cruz to walk, calm down and start over. She instructed Marilyn to revisit their trot-canter transitions on a circle. Once Cruz was quiet, Brianne asked her to take him through the pole exercise again. “It’s a matter of him understanding what you want,” said Brianne, “And when you have him in proper connection and balance, he does it all.”

Brianne added elements to the ground-pole exercise one at a time, building on a progression. She had the participants canter on the left lead over the ground-pole line on the long side in four strides, then continue around the short side of the arena to a small crossrail set at the end of a diagonal. They then cantered on the right lead all the way around the ring and down the opposite diagonal over a vertical, turning left afterward and halting on the short side.

Once riders were successfully cantering this exercise, after the halt Brianne had them pick up their left lead canter and canter halfway around the ring and ride a wide roll back turn to an oxer on the centerline. “Stay focused on where the next jump is and what you’re doing next,” Brianne reminded the riders. Lastly riders completed the whole exercise without stopping on the short side of the ring.

“This exercise and slight variations of this exercise are what I like to do myself,” explained Brianne. “The flatwork we focused on really applies to the jumping.”

In the second group, Brianne made the exercise slightly more difficult by asking the riders to canter the crossrail on the left lead around the turn on the short side of the arena on the right lead and directly to the vertical, without cantering all the way around the ring first. Rachel Mentzer’s Congo became quick in the exercise, and much like what Brianne did with Marilyn and Cruz in the first group, she had Rachel bring Congo back to halt after each element to help keep him quiet, calm and focused. Rachel understood the importance of keeping it simple and straightforward. “Going back to the basics doesn’t make you less of a rider,” Rachel explained after the clinic. “The building blocks are so important.”

Riders left the clinic understanding the importance of focusing on the task at hand, building confidence through progressive exercises and making sure the horses understood what was being asked. It was evident that Brianne set the horses and riders up to succeed by breaking down each piece of the exercise, adding in transitions when necessary to make them stop and think. “I like to keep things uncomplicated,” she explained. “I don’t believe in forcing the horses. I always start small and build up. There’s no need to over-complicate.”

Last October, Nothing Fancy Farm (NFF), along with 42 other groups from Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia headed into downtown Washington D.C. for the Washington International Horse Show’s Barn Night. A favorite among young riders, Barn Night at WIHS gives horse lovers the chance to enjoy a fun-filled evening, enter contests and win prizes.

NFF came away as the champions in the best spirit category, winning the grand prize—a clinic with top international show jumper Brianne Goutal. Based in Poolesville, Maryland, NFF is a boarding and riding facility co-owned by Amy Wakasien and Sandy Waterman. Led by head trainer Jennifer Queen, NFF offers lessons for all riding levels and also has a show team which attends local and rated shows in the region.

For more information on the 2016 WIHS Barn Night, taking place Thursday, October 27, visit and check back in mid-June for contest applications.

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