Bryelle Steffen, or Bree, is a well known name on “eq anon island.” She is a dressage rider that hails from Canada, owns a super cute Trakehner/Quarter Horse named Phantom, and has a strong personality that sometimes rubs people the wrong way. Despite that, she has made a name for herself online, and she stays true to herself and her riding no matter what people say.
Now 21 years old, Bree started riding when she was 4 years old, but has been around horses since before that!
“My mom rode before I was born and continued until her horse passed away when I was 8 or 9. She has been taking me to the barn since weeks after I was born and would set me in my stroller by the ring while she rode. I have been extremely lucky to have been around horses since I was a baby,” she said.
Although she is a dressage rider now, she did dabble in the jumpers when she was younger. She said dressage keeps her focus and “every rider is something different.”
“Dressage comes down to every little detail and I love that. I love having something to always reach towards and knowing I will never be done trying to make myself better,” she said. “Dressage also provides you an opportunity to be so connected with your horse. There are moments when you ride a horse that is so responsive to the slightest aids and it’s a wonderful feeling.”
Bree is also an avid show rider, who trains with a local trainer from her town, Kingston. She also has another trainer she utilizes while she is away at school. She has shown every single summer since she was 7 – although she has taken one or two summers off. She also said she is currently on a break from showing because she is in university (something we totally support!) However, once done with school, she wants to get back into shape and ride second or third level dressage shows.
Bree feels that showing in dressage is less stressful than when she was doing another discipline. What is a typical dressage show day like?
“Your day layout would be the same, you have your time you’re showing and go in the ring at your allotted time, which is very specific down to the minute. You do your test for the judge and then exit the ring and wait for everyone else in your class to finish riding the same test, then you get your results and pick up ribbons if you won any. You receive your test back from the judge with number scores next to each movement followed by rider marks and any comments they have for you,” she explained.
Bree personally loves showing locally.
“…[E]veryone knows each other[,] and there are people who have been around and showing with me since I was little and showing my first pony.”
However, she also likes showing out of her general location.
“…[I]t’s also fun to go out of area to show because it’s more competitive,” she said.
So what about her horse Phantom, who arguably is also eq anon island famous?
“Phantom is an 11 year old Trakehner/QH gelding I’ve owned for almost 5 years. He’s my second ‘one in a million.’ He has dabbled in a little bit of everything[.] [H]e can jump a 4 foot course when in shape[;] he loves dressage because he loves to please[;] and he also has the greatest personality. Everyone who has spent time with him loves him because he’s so sweet, like a giant dog really,” Bree said.
Phantom loves bananas and watermelon, as well as spending time with people.
“Some of my favourite times with him have been just having him graze around me while I sit on the hill at my home barn and read a book. He’s very sane and level-headed but also has a sassy side that makes riding him really interesting and great for dressage because he has this presence in the ring that makes people want to sit and watch him.”
Bree said Phantom is very comfortable. His walk usually gets 9s from judges. Despite his comfort, Bree said it took two years for her to learn to ride his canter properly, and “some days I still can’t get it.”
She said she could talk about him all day, and in one sentence, she would describe him as an “amazing, kind soul that I consider myself extremely lucky to have.”
One thing I asked Bree about was the importance of dressage. Many hunter/jumper riders will agree that a dressage background, even if just lower level, does wonders for a horse.
“Your horse needs to have a solid foundation built on the flat before you can do anything else. The best way I’ve had it described to me is similar to the foundation of a house. Your flatwork is the foundation, and jumping or anything else are just the extra stories you build on top. A house with shaky foundation has a hard time staying steady, but also will have problems in the future,” she said. “A horse with solid dressage basics is the golden ticket for most other disciplines. Almost everything in dressage can be applied to hunter/jumpers; Collection, extension, stretchy work, being able to ride from your seat, and the list goes on.”
Bree said her favorite things about her discipline are that you never stop learning, though she acknowledged this is true for all disciplines. She also said she loves reading judges’ comments after she shows, and she also loves how dressage helps every single horse.
Additionally, she “love[s] the connection that’s required between a good horse/rider pair and I love to watch (and hope I can be) one of those pairs where you just sit there in awe and wonder how they do it. There are these moments during collection work and beyond where you feel your entire horse right beneath you and every movement they do is controlled by your body, to be able to feel that level of connection is unreal.”
Many of you are aware of the “in” items for the hunter/jumper world. I asked for her insight into what’s “in” for the dressage world right now.
“One of the great things of dressage (at least what I’ve observed) is there’s less pressure put on people to have certain things. Dressage is simplistic in the sense that if you have a saddle, bridle and boots [or] polos, you’re good. Some of my favourite things I have … include my saddle and bridle, which are both Schleese, and Ogilvy dressage pads. I also hoard DSB boots … As for rider, a lot of dressage riders have taken to the look of the Samshield helmets[,] and I see a lot more of those, I want one really bad actually,” she said.
According to Bree, a good dressage horse has a natural ability to move through their body, over their back, and has “semi-good” conformation in order to be able to sit and collect. She said being able to move, for a good dressage horse, is like being an “elastic band.” She also said “willing to be worked” and being pushed out of the horse’s comfort zone is a plus, personality-wise.
As for a good dressage rider? Bree said “a lot of patience.” She also said a good dressage rider can move their entire body separately and together, which took her about 10 years to figure out. Timing was another trait she cited as well.
We asked Bree who she would clinic with, if possible. She said: Anky Van Grunsven, Charlotte Dujardin, Kristina Bröring-Sprehe, Andrea Bresee, and Belinda Trussell.
Her favorite dressage horses are Desperados, ridden by Kristina Bröring-Sprehe; Salinero, ridden by Anky Van Grunsven; Blue Hors Matine and Anton, ridden by Belinda Trussell; and of course, Valegro, ridden by Charlotte Dujardin.
One thing Bree experiences a lot of is hate on social media. While this may come with her popularity (there are always the haters when you’re super well-known and popular online), she also acknowledges it could be due to her “strong personality.” She’s experienced hate due to her eyebrows, weight, economic status, and her riding.
How does Bree deal with the hate? One thing is putting things into perspective.
“I ask myself, really.. does it matter that these people hate me? How does it effect [sic] my life? When I thought about it I realized it really doesn’t effect [sic] me at all. These people don’t know me nor do they know what I’m capable of. They’ve never met me nor have ridden my horse, so their opinions of me shouldn’t cloud my view of myself. You can’t make people like you, you just learn to swing with the fact that people dislike you and there’s nothing you can do to change it. Some people are bitter with their own lives and project their dislike on other people, that looks worse on them than it does on me!”
Though she stays authentic online and tries to give people something good to talk about, she also tries not to fuel any fires and tries to follow the “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all” rule. However, she said she does not put on a “fake front” because she wants to be a rider that is genuinely looked up to by others.
Finally, we asked her what one thing she thinks needs to change about the equestrian community is.
“I think there needs to be a major attitude change. There are so many people who are so hostile and judgemental [sic] based on such trivial things. People are judged on what they have in terms of money and material things instead of focusing on what they have to offer like talent or hard work. I think as riders we need to work on encouraging each other and building each other up instead of constantly tearing each other down.”
“Another thing that I personally feel is really important is body positivity in this sport. As someone who has been ridiculed since I was young about my weight, I was always under the impression that I was less of a rider because of it. My coach always reminded me that it’s not about your body but it’s about how you use it and I always like to remember that and try to pass on that message. It makes me really upset to see riders evaluated on how they look instead of the talent they have and I think that is something huge that needs to be changed. If I myself can spread that message and can inspire other people to believe in themselves I will feel like I’ve done something positive so other people can feel confident in themselves too.”
Overall, Bree is on a mission to become the best dressage rider she can. She also feels there’s only one her in the world, and she wants to be liked for her – not being someone she isn’t.