Inspiring Video of Sandra Beaulieu and her Horses created by Ash Equine Productions

Inspiring Video of Sandra Beaulieu and her Horses created by Ash Equine Productions

I hope you enjoy this creative video put together by my talented friend Ashley Mancuso of Ash Equine Productions. Everything in my life is intertwined, the dressage, liberty training, performing, and Art on Horseback. Each avenue offers a unique way for me to connect with my horses and explore my creativity. I hope that my journey can inspire others to pursue their dreams, no matter how different they might seem. Please connect with me (email at beginthedance@gmail.com or Facebook), I would love to hear how you are using creativity with your horses. Enjoy!

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Create Your Own Training Level Musical Freestyle! Sample Videos of Good Choreography & Music Selection

Create Your Own Training Level Musical Freestyle! Sample Videos of Good Choreography & Music Selection

Have you always wanted to ride a musical freestyle? Getting started at Training Level is a great way to get your feet wet and learn how the entire process works. 

In this post, I have shared some examples of Training Level musical freestyles and reasons why they are good, from a judge's perspective…

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How To Teach Your Horse To Stand On A Pedestal

 Elisha Harvey on her young horse Finn. He was a quick learner and loved the pedestal! This photo was taken only a few days after his first time standing on the pedestal.

Elisha Harvey on her young horse Finn. He was a quick learner and loved the pedestal! This photo was taken only a few days after his first time standing on the pedestal.

I taught a trick training clinic at Elysium Sport Ponies in Atkinson, ME and one of the popular exercises we did with each horse was to begin working with the pedestal. The pedestal can be a lot of fun and is a great exercise to work on throughout the winter months when it is too cold to ride. I learned how to work with the pedestal with help from the following trainers: Heidi Herriott, Cohn Livingston, and Allen Pogue (by video). As with all training methods there are slightly different ways to approach the process. If one approach isn't working for your horse try to think creatively, the best training happens when you listen to your horse and try out a variety of techniques.

What are the benefits of working with a pedestal?

  • Helps your horse learn to "step-up" which can greatly increase confidence for trailer loading.
  • Gives your horse more self-awareness and better sense of balance.
  • Gives the horse a target and a place to go where he feels more secure.
  • It can help you develop a better relationship with your horse, playing with the pedestal and using it as a reward in liberty work.
  • Helps desensitize the horse for agility, trail classes, and working equitation where they will need to cross a bridge and work with other obstacles.
  • It's fun!!! For both you and the horse!

What type of pedestal should you use?

I bought an aluminum pedestal with a round shape for performing. Douwe learned on this type of pedestal and it was easier to roll around and lighter to carry to shows. The wooden pedestals are much heavier but are more preferable to use at the beginning. A large, square pedestal (around 36" x 36") or a rectangular shape (around 24"x 42") works really well for a beginner horse. If you are interested in purchasing a pedestal please scroll to the bottom of this post for more information. You can also purchase instructions on how to make a pedestal at Allen Pogue's website. Click here: http://www.imagineahorse.com/store-shop-pay/pedestals/

How do you begin?

  • Safe Space: Make sure that you are in a safe training area, an indoor arena, a roundpen, or a paddock that has good fencing. If you have a horse that gets scared easily you will want to be in a safe, relaxing space. However, do not put the pedestal in a stall...you need to have enough space for the horse to move around and for you to move out of the way quickly if the horse spooks or loses his balance.
  • Exercise First: Work with your horse first so that he is calm (riding, lunging, free lunging).  It will be difficult to teach your horse to stand on the pedestal if they have been in a stall all day with no exercise!
  • De-Sensitize: Lead your horse near the pedestal and see how they react, if your horse is really spooky it may take a few days for them to adjust to this new object in their space. If you can leave the pedestal in the ring while you ride that is also helpful for them to adjust. If your horse is really confident and walks right up to it let them sniff it and touch it with their nose. Sometimes I will throw a treat onto the pedestal for the first time so the horse is encouraged to sniff it.
  • First Steps: When your horse is relaxed and interested in the pedestal you can attempt the first "step-up". Some horses will step onto it with no issues, just stay to the side as if you were leading the horse onto a trailer. Do Not Stand In Front of Them! The first time a horse stands on the pedestal they might lose their balance and fall towards you. Make sure to keep your space! When the horse steps onto the pedestal you will ask them to "whoa", using whatever cue you would normally use. If your horse is hesitant you can ask a helper to hold the lead line while you pick up one front foot and "place" it on the pedestal. Oftentimes just setting the toe onto the pedestal is enough to give them confidence. Once their toe is on the pedestal ask the horse to step forward using the lead line. Usually they will transfer weight into that foot on the pedestal and bring up the second foot. 
  • Straightness Using the Wall: If your horse tends to wiggle from side to side around the pedestal you can try placing it against the wall. This will help the horse stay straight, blocking the right shoulder from moving away. Just be careful that the horse doesn't push into you on the left side, make sure that you have determined boundaries with your horse so that they don't crowd into your space. I usually have a dressage whip to lightly touch the shoulder if they want to fall in. You will need the whip to help teach the hind legs to step up as the horse gets more advanced.
  • Always Back Off: You can allow your horse to walk off the pedestal by going forward but this can make it more difficult to get the horse up with all four feet. Every time I ask my horse to get off the pedestal I say "Back" and have him step off the pedestal going backwards. If you imagine that there is a wall in front of the pedestal this will help. However, be careful not to restrict your horse by holding tightly with the lead line, keep it loose and let him find his balance as much as you can. Practice getting off the pedestal multiple times so that the horse starts to anticipate backing off instead of going forwards. Having a verbal "back" cue is helpful when you are riding as well, especially if you are bridleless.
  • All Four Feet: Once your horse is relaxed and confident with the front feet you can start encouraging him/her to step closer to the pedestal with the hind feet using the whip. Lightly tickle the hind end and when they step closer to the pedestal reward them with your voice or a treat. It is important that they get their hind feet really close to the pedestal before they step onto it. This is where a larger pedestal comes in handy. If you have a large pedestal it will be easier for the horse to step onto it with all four feet. You will have the space to walk them up onto the pedestal and tell them to "whoa" once all four feet are up. Continue to back them off using your verbal "back" cue. When that is fairly easy you can decrease the size of the pedestal and the horse will have an easier time figuring it out. If you only have a smaller pedestal to work with it will take more timing and co-ordination on your part. You will be managing the forward energy of the hind end with your whip/voice while keeping the front legs in place with your body/voice/lead line. I would recommend that you seek professional help if your horse finds this part difficult.
 Working with Thor, a Haflinger cross at Elysium Sport Ponies in Atkinson, ME. He was proud of himself!

Working with Thor, a Haflinger cross at Elysium Sport Ponies in Atkinson, ME. He was proud of himself!

 Good boy! Elisha Harvey (owner/instructor/trainer at Elysium Sport Ponies in Atkinson, ME) having a successful training session with Finn.

Good boy! Elisha Harvey (owner/instructor/trainer at Elysium Sport Ponies in Atkinson, ME) having a successful training session with Finn.

 Yay! First day learning how to stand on the pedestal. Finn is very smart and well balanced so he was able to do all four feet on the first day!

Yay! First day learning how to stand on the pedestal. Finn is very smart and well balanced so he was able to do all four feet on the first day!

 Working with the younger girls and their school horses. Quigley found it easy to stand with his front feet but he has arthritis in the hind end so that was as far as he went for the day. 

Working with the younger girls and their school horses. Quigley found it easy to stand with his front feet but he has arthritis in the hind end so that was as far as he went for the day. 

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How to Stay Motivated to Ride in the Winter Time, Ideas & Online Resources

I have lived in Maine my entire life and can relate to everyone out there who struggles with motivation in the winter. The ice, the snow, the below freezing temperatures, the frozen bits, the frozen fingers and toes!!!! Riding in the winter is certainly not for the faint of heart! However, the winter training season can also be a great opportunity for you to take your riding to the next level. Here are some ideas and online resources that I have used over the years that I hope will keep you going on those 10 degree days (or colder!) where you really want to ride but are frustrated and tired of winter.

Education

The winter months are the PERFECT time for continuing your education. If there aren't any clinics in your area don't worry! I have included a few online resources that I have devoured in the past.

Clinics: Look at your region and find out if there are any dressage instructors that will be teaching nearby. You can learn just as much or more auditing a clinic than even riding in one. By watching all the different riders and horses you can take away volumes of information to apply to your horse. Remember to bring your notebook to take notes and have a comfortable chair!

Online Training:
DressageClinic.com: This website is perfect if you don't want to miss all the big events happening in the dressage world. They post full videos of national symposiums and events like the USDF Convention, Global Dressage Forum and the NEDA Symposium. Watch clinics with all the top trainers and Olympic riders like Ashley Holzer, Ingrid Klimke and many more. Their monthly membership is $39.95 but if you pay for 3, 6, or 12 months at a time you can get that price down to $24.95 a month. Click here to visit their website: www.dressageclinic.com

DressageTrainingOnline.com: Imagine if you could visit the barns of Olympic riders and watch them school their horses and teach lessons.......this website lets you do just that! They have over a 1,000 videos to browse through and add 10 new videos every month. Their membership fee is currently $28.80 a month and it is certainly worth it to watch world class riders and their horses. They have also added an Evaluate My Ride feature where you can submit your own video and have it critiqued by the trainer or judge of your choice. Click here to visit their website: www.dressagetrainingonline.com

Working Student or Riding Vacation: If you can take off a few weeks or a few months why not try a working student opportunity somewhere warm! I have been a working student in Wellington, Fl for international dressage judge Gabriel Armando and I have also taken a dressage riding vacation in Portugal before under George Malleroni. Both experiences were incredibly valuable in shaping the rider I am today. My visit to Portugal boosted my work ethic and showed me what it took to become a great rider (riding over 7 horses a day!) and my experience in Wellington opened my eyes to the behind the scenes. I was able to visit training barns of Olympic riders and watch them train and teach.

Work with Me (Sandra Beaulieu): I have a new (December 2017) coaching group online where you can learn how to improve your dressage, teach your horse tricks, learn liberty and in-hand exercises, and upload short video clips of you and your horse for review. Behind-the-scenes access to schooling sessions, lessons, and performances. This opportunity is $9.99/month, with three new videos added weekly! Click here to learn more about my positive, creative style of training. 

Playtime

The winter months are a great time to relax and play with your horse. Have you been wanting to try some liberty training or teach your horse tricks? I first began riding Rovandio with Douwe at liberty because of the weather. It was too cold outside to take the time to ride both so I just put them in the ring together and started experimenting. That blossomed into a new performance routine for us and a new language between me and my horse. Here are some trick training resources I have used to help me get started:

Allen Pogue: Allen has a variety of trick and liberty training videos that can help you teach your horse how to lay down, bow, work on the pedestal and much more. He also sells props like bean bags to teach your horse to sit, pedestals, and balls for your horse to play with. Click here to check out his website: www.imagineahorse.com

Heidi Herriott I met Heidi when I was teaching at Southern Oaks Equestrian Center in Tallahassee, FL. She has been the head trainer at Arabian Nights and has her own tv show called Horse Trix TV. She showed me how to teach Douwe to smile, pick up objects and we also worked on spanish walk and rear. She has a variety of YouTube videos to help you get started and she also teaches clinics. Click here to visit her website: www.heidiharriott.com
 

Photoshoot

 Photograph taken by Lydia Rose Spencer

Photograph taken by Lydia Rose Spencer

Have you ever wanted to do a winter photo shoot? It can be challenging but well worth it! I have done a few winter photo shoots over the years and my best advice is to LAYER! You have to get creative with layering so that you can wear a fun costume but not freeze to death! Using hand and toe warmers and bringing spare blankets and large jackets out to the site will help you enjoy the photo shoot and have fun. Waiting for the perfect snowfall can be frustrating and you have to be sure there is no ice under the snow. If you want to read more about photo shoot I did last year with a beautiful red cape click here.

I hope these ideas and resources help inspire you to stay motivated this winter. I would love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below or email me any questions at beginthedance@gmail.com. How do you keep motivated in the winter? Do you have any other ideas that might be helpful to others that are struggling?

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Natural, Alternative Treatment for Horse Scratches...aka Dew Poisoning

Natural, Alternative Treatment for Horse Scratches...aka Dew Poisoning

​​​​​​​It has been many, many years since I have needed to treat a horse for scratches so I went online to find the best treatment, natural if possible. I was amazed at all the different options and concoctions that people have used to treat scratches. We experimented with Vitamin E oil, pure Aloe Vera, pure Silver Spray, and even pure Coconut Oil before figuring out a system that cleared his scratches up within a week. I wanted to share this with you in case you are looking for a natural alternative to the harsh creams and sprays.

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Improve Your Dressage Position with Better Posture- 12 Tips & Exercises

It is a beautiful to watch an elegant rider on a balanced horse. What is the key ingredient to creating that elegant picture? Great posture of course! There is an immediate, 100% improvement in the overall picture of you and your horse if you correct your alignment.

A slouched, hunched over, "sloppy" rider can transform into a tall, straight, elegant rider quickly with consistent practice. Some of the causes of incorrect alignment include: physical problems, tension, and lack of confidence.

My improved posture came from years of practice. At the Isaac Royal Academy of Equestrian Arts I spent the first 6 months of my training on a lunge line riding without stirrups and reins. My instructor, Carolyn Rose, had me continue to ride without stirrups for years to instill independent balance. I also love to dance and practice yoga so that helps me with core strength and being open in the shoulders and chest.  Here are some exercises to try on and off your horse to help improve your posture.

Exercises to Practice Correct Posture On Your Horse:

  • Ride with one hand held above your head. Place your reins in one hand and stretch your other hand high to the sky. This will lift and stretch your torso, helping you to stay balanced and straight. This is also an excellent exercise if you tend to drop one shoulder more then the other. Try it at the walk, trot, and canter if it's available to you.
  • Start with warm-up exercises for your chest and shoulders. Try stretching your arms up high as you look up at the sky to open up your chest. While your horse is halted you can put one hand on the pommel and reach the other one back to the cantle to add a gentle twist with your upper body to help release tension in the back.
  • Lift your chin like you're balancing something on your head. Looking down at your horse too much will cause you to tip forward and round the shoulders. By keeping your chin up, you cannot help but lift and open your chest. Remember to look between your horse's ears or even higher to help keep your chin level.
  • Imagine that you are drinking tea! I really like this one because it also helps riders feel elegant and still in their upper body.
  • Try to pinch your shoulder blades together. Imagine there is a pencil in that space and you're trying to crush it with your shoulder blades. This will help you to open your chest.
  • Take a lunge lesson and hold the pommel with one or both hands. Use your hands pressing against the pommel to help you lift your chest.
  • Place a whip behind your back and wrap your elbows around it. Do this in your warm-up at the walk on a safe horse. This may over-arch your back but it can help open your chest and shoulders if you are really rounded in your upper back.

Usually, a person with poor posture when they ride will also have poor posture on the ground (and vice versa). This may or may not be true for you, but try to imagine that you are a King or Queen when you're home, or wherever you are, and that is what you should feel like on the horse! Proud, confident, and strong!

Noble and great. Courageous and determined. Faithful and fearless. That is who you are and who you have always been. And understanding it can change your life, because this knowledge carries a confidence that cannot be duplicated any other way.
— Sheri L. Dew

Exercises to Practice Correct Posture On the Ground:

  • Take dance classes. There are so many to choose from! Try tango, ballet, belly dance (see video below), salsa, or ballroom!
  • Practice yoga(check out THIS POST for yoga videos sorted by "target" areas of the body and choose a video by the amount of time you have to practice) or tai chi.
  • Try a pilates or cross-fit class for core strength.
  • Try sitting on an exercise ball while you are on the computer to help bring awareness to your seat and spine.
  • Wear a shoulder brace that helps remind you to stay in correct posture. There are many different styles to choose from online.

Belly Dance Video To Help With Your Posture:

If you live near Dover-Foxcroft, ME you should check out the Color of Life Yoga Studio.

For yoga videos to improve your strength, flexibility, and balance (from the comfort of your own home!) and to target your "stuck" areas, CLICK HERE.

If you have any pain or discomfort in your back, neck, or shoulders, you should seek therapy to help correct the issue. I have been to many massage therapists, osteopathic doctors, and alternative physical therapists to keep my body in order so that I can ride to the best of my body's capability.

Regular exercise and stretching is important to prevent injury and increase flexibility, strength, and balance. To ride a horse is the ultimate form of dance, involving the body, mind, and spirit of both partners. So treat yourself like a professional dancer, because that is what you are!

What does dance do for us? First and foremost, it inculcates the sense of rhythm and enhances our response to rhythm. This is really a response to life. It makes us more living, which is to say, more spiritual. It brings out beauty of form and movement, and envelops our personalities in the enjoyment of them. It takes us beyond ourselves, bringing an initial taste of the state of non-being, which is really a balm for the soul.
— Samuel Lewis

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How to Develop Soft Elbows - Seven Tips for Horseback Riders

I'd like to start this post with quotes from Nuno Oliveira, as I believe he says it best:

"In the trot, the hip has to trot, not the hand."

"One has to have an immobile hand with mobile fingers."

"Every rein aid must be preceded by an action of the torso. Otherwise you only address the horse's head."

"The hand should be a filter, not a plug or an open faucet."

-(Vol 3. 1998. "Notizen zum Unterricht von Nuno Oliveira"-  a compilation of notes that several of his students took after lessons and conversations with him.)

For more about Nuno Oliveria, CLICK HERE.


I believe the most important element of having a soft connection between your hand and the horse's mouth is the elbows. The rider's hands should be soft, the forearms relaxed, and the elbows bent and moving forward and backward in a fluid motion. 

Common Faults:

  • Moving the hands up and down instead of receiving the energy back into the elbow.
  • Pulling the hands towards the belly and rounding the upper back.
  • Holding the forearm muscles tightly with clenched hands.

Any of the common faults listed above will create resistance in the horse's mouth. All of these habits reveal an inefficiency in the use of the elbows. If you brace, the horse will brace. If you break the connection to the elbow, the horse will break his connection and come above or behind the vertical. I also find that the hands coming towards the belly creates a mental and physical block where, instead of keeping their seat moving within the horse's center of balance, the rider ends up pulling the seat towards the back of the saddle.

A simple solution is to practice riding with the hands approximately hip-width apart and keeping the elbows bent. This opens up a space for the seat to "go through" your hands and keep a correct position. Sometimes just changing your mind and imagining that the horse's top-line is a channel will help keep your hands in the correct position ("mind over matter").

 Sandra Beaulieu and Rovandio showing a Second Level Musical Freestyle.   Photo taken by Spotted Vision Photography. 

Sandra Beaulieu and Rovandio showing a Second Level Musical Freestyle. 
Photo taken by Spotted Vision Photography. 

I know how hard it is to have soft hands! For years I wanted to keep a tight, steady contact on the horse's mouth.  I would finish riding and my arms would be tired and sore from holding them tense throughout my ride.  It has taken over a decade of riding to develop softness and the feeling of lightness in my hands. Mentally I was trying too hard and the tension came from frustration. When I became more confident and relaxed in my riding I was able to feel softness in my reins. Our arms will also reveal a lot about our security and confidence as a rider. If you are tight on the reins that typically means that there is some insecurity or fear related to being out of control. Other times it just has to do with a lack of balance, and the arms will bounce or tighten up as a result.  Quiet hands will come from a quiet seat, quiet mind and relaxed elbows.

7 Tips to improve your elbows:

  1. Have a friend hold your rein so you can practice gently pulling and giving, focusing on the bend in your elbows.
  2. Take a lunge lesson so you can ride without holding the reins. Practice keeping your elbows bent and mimic the actions of the reins, pulling and giving, keeping the motion smooth and relaxed.
  3. Keep space between your hands, generally hip-width works the best. This will help keep your elbows by your side.
  4. Have someone place a hand on the back of your elbow so you can practice pushing back against them. This will help if you tend to lock your elbows.
  5. Record your ride and review photos and/or video, focusing on the use of your arms. Watch for negative habits and tension. Try different arm positions in the video so you can make a connection between what you feel and what you see.
  6. Imagine your elbows weigh 100 pounds but your hands are light, this will help them to stay bent correctly.
  7. Gently wrap an elastic band around your elbows behind your back. One of the fitness bands you would use at the gym works really well. When your elbows drift too far away from your body you will feel the resistance.

I hope this information helps bring more awareness to your riding and improves the connection you have with your horse. If you would like to work with me to improve your riding join my new coaching group online. 

Join Sandra's New Online Coaching Group!

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