When I was younger, I used to stay up all night writing in my journal, pondering my goals for the new year. My lists were very long! Then I would wake up the next day and try to have the "perfect day", ride all my horses, eat healthy, write in my journal, etc... Over the years I have realized that consistency is more important than striving for "perfect days". There will be many ups and downs, many goals that will be reached and some that need to be stored on the shelf for another day. I am very lucky to earn a living with horses and work with amazing students and professionals. It is my purpose to teach and inspire others to be creative with their horses and benefit from my experiences.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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 email@example.com. How do you keep motivated in the winter? Do you have any other ideas that might be helpful to others that are struggling?
Join Sandra's New Online Coaching Group!
I have dealt with show anxiety for many years and still feel the butterflies before each performance. I had MANY goals growing up, I wanted to be an Olympic rider and an Olympic judge! I put a LOT of pressure on myself and had high expectations. I was always riding for scores and focused on that particular percentage whether is was a 60% for a USDF Medal or a 65% for the USEF "r" Judges Program. That pressure caused me to CHOKE and FREEZE UP. I got very tight, held my breath, and was not in the moment with my horse. This caused my horses to be tense, resistant, and lose all the connection that I had schooling at home. After earning my scores for my USDF Silver Medal and the USEF "r" Judges Program I was burnt out.
When I bought Douwe in 2008 I decided to follow my heart and to focus on my horse, not myself. I went to shows that I thought would be fun and easy for him and showed below the level we were schooling. Douwe was undefeated at Training Level and earned many awards through the Northeast Friesian Horse Club. This experience helped boost my confidence and give me hope. With Douwe my aspirations are more artistic in nature, performing and training him in liberty and bridleless. I have found that performing is more natural to me than showing because I can make mistakes and the audience won't really know, as opposed to a judge that looks for every fault. Performing, to me, is based on the positive and showing is based on the negative.
Here are 10 strategies I have used to lessen my show and performance anxiety. I hope they will help you this show season!
1. Get Organized!
The stress of showing and performing really comes down to detailed preparation and last minute details. Usually, we are so wrapped up in our own lives that we forget to think ahead to all the things we could take care of ahead of time to make the showing experience go as smoothly as possible. I have multiple checklists that I use...one for early preparation (months in advance, hotels, trailer details-check tires, etc) the week before (packing, cleaning tack, preparing my music, etc), the night before (schooling at the venue, grooming, etc), and the day of. Planning out your day with a priority list is very helpful so you can stay on track.
It helps me to focus on ONE thing at a time when I am getting ready. Instead of letting your mind wander ahead to your test/routine and thinking of everything that could go wrong, try your best to focus on what is right in front of you. Braiding your horse, cleaning your tack, bathing, tacking up, etc. When something pops into your head that you may have forgotten just WRITE IT DOWN so you can get back to the job at hand. I used to keep a piece of paper and a pen in my pocket but now I use the notes app on my IPhone. I even included simple things like breakfast and hair/makeup which helped me plan my show day so I gave myself plenty of prep time in the morning.
3. Change Perspective:
Take a moment to visualize the show/performance experience from your horse's perspective. What do you think your horse will get upset, tense, or excited about? If you know the trailer ride will be full of stress you will want to put extra attention towards the morning preparation so your horse will not be waiting on the trailer while you finish packing. Think about the stall situation, are the stalls open to the other horses? Will you need a stall guard (or two!). If you have never been to the showgrounds make sure to email or call ahead to see what the stalls are like. You may arrive and find out that there are no eye hooks to put up your stall guard or that your horse will be stabled where he cannot see other horses. Do you have certain care routines that you do with your horse like carrot stretches or hand grazing? Try to fit those into your show day to help keep your horse relaxed. Make sure to pack your therapeutic products, Back on Track, ice boots, and liniment. I use Rescue Remedy (a Bach homeopathic remedy) to help minimize my stress and the horse (yes it works for both people and horses!). I also pack Arnica pills to help with muscle soreness from stress and physical exertion.
Most dressage shows will allow riders to hand walk or school in the show arena the day before but will block it off after they prepare and drag it at night. If there is an opportunity even just to lead your horse around the outside of the ring it will really help, especially with a spooky horse. Arrive early and take your time letting your horse look around and see the judge's booth, the flowers, and the gait to enter the ring. This will give you an indication as to how your horse might react the next day. If the showgrounds has a long walk between the stabling, the warm-up ring, and the show ring you will want to time yourself the day before so you can time your preparation just right.
5. Calming & Relaxing Exercises:
Deep breathing, yoga stretches, and simple loosening exercises during warm-up are very helpful. Play some calm music on your phone or listen to it while you are tacking up. Anything that helps slow down your mind and your heartbeat is helpful. I find that simple yoga stretches and warm-up exercises work best for me. If I sit still and try to focus on my breathing my mind gets racing. I used to try visualizing my dressage test in the morning but found that I became tense and anxious just thinking about it. Experiment with different techniques to find what works the best for you. I also give myself a solid 10 minutes to just get on my horse and walk, letting his movement loosen my hips and slowing down my breathing.
6. Focus on the Judge/Audience:
When you are performing the audience has no idea what you are planning to do. Use that to your advantage and when things go wrong just smile and pretend that was supposed to happen. Of course there are things the audience will know isn't mean to happen, like spooking, bucking, or resistance. However, the audience will usually sympathize with you as long as you don't get upset, use force, or make it look like you are having a hard time. That will make the audience tense and want to look away. During a competition the same advice doesn't apply but try to think of ways to make the judge's job easier and more enjoyable. Make a great first impression with good grooming and turnout, tell the judge "Good Morning!" or tell them your name and number to help the scribe check the test. Say something so the judge can hear your voice (be confident and cheerful) and feel your positive energy! The judge would love to see you perform your best so if something goes wrong it does not help to dwell on it. Think ahead to the next movement and forget about the moves that already happened. Instead of thinking that the judge is mean-spirited, imagine that she is your personal cheerleader, silently willing you to do your best. That is what I do when I am judging!
Just the simple act of smiling can change the chemicals in your brain. Even if you have to force it!! Just do it! Especially going down that centerline. Being a dressage judge I know the difference in how I judge a rider that looks highly stressed and one that looks like they are enjoying themselves. A smile puts the judge at ease and lets them focus on the other aspects of your ride. If your face is scrunched up or you look like you are about to cry it will only distract the judge, making them feel tense and negative and that could affect your scores. One cute thing my Mom used to do for me was put a smiley face sticker on the top of my horse's bridle, on the poll. I could see the smiley face when I looked at my horse's head and it reminded me to smile! Thanks Mom!
8. Expect Mistakes:
Please accept that your dressage test or performance routine will not be perfect. Perfect is not real. Obsessing over every little detail not being just right will take you out of the moment and the true enjoyment will be lost. Staying focused on your horse will help you move on from a mistake and enjoy the rest of your routine. Remember that EVERYONE makes many, many mistakes in every ride. I am sure every Olympic rider can recall an embarrassing experience where their horse left the dressage ring or bucked them off in front of an audience. S**t happens!!! That's life, what more can I say?
9. Healthy Diet:
This is very difficult to stick with at a horse show. I can relate! Every best intention usually goes down the drain on the second day. That cooler you packed with healthy food is now luke warm or completely gone! I have found that healthy snack bars (Kind Bars are my favorite!) and flavored seltzer waters (because it is more fun than plain water!) are the easiest things for me to stock up on before a show. When you start to feel shaky it could be low blood sugar. Watch out for heat exhaustion at shows as well, it is so easy to get over focused on your dressage test and forget to drink any water. Put on that show coat on a 90 degree day and I can guarantee you will have problems focusing in your dressage test! Avoid sugar and caffeine the best you can, particularly right before your ride. The caffeine will get your heart racing and the sugar will not sustain your energy.
10. Practice In Your Show Clothes/Costume:
This is a common mistake that I have fallen for many times, especially showing. For instance, I would save my fancy dressage boots for a show but they felt slippery when I rode because I was used to suede half chaps. Or my white show breeches were not full seat and I felt like I was sliding around in my saddle without my sheepskin seat cover. The same is true for your horse's tack, make sure you have ridden in your saddle pad at least once to be sure it fits well and won't slide back and make sure to ride in your show bridle the week before so your horse has a chance to adjust. All of these little details make a difference. You need to feel confident in your show clothes/costume to perform at your best!
Here is a helpful video on a common performance anxiety trait called Choking. He includes two additional strategies, "De-escalate the Situation" and how to use a "Holistic Cue Word".
If you have had problems with show and performance anxiety please let me know what strategies, tips and tricks you have used in the past. Please leave a comment below or you can email me with questions/comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for reading! Have fun at your next show or performance!
"Other dancers may be on the floor
Dear, but my eyes will see only you
Only you have that magic technique
When we sway I go weak
I go weak..."
- lyrics from Sway by the Pussycat Dolls
This video was taken at the Elysium Sport Ponies Open House November, 2015. I was SO happy with this routine! As some of you know, I was injured the week before and wasn't able to practice. I decided last minute to ride to the song "Sway", one of my favorite songs that I performed to with Rovandio at the Equine Affaire last year. I knew the transitions of the music inside and out, and it has a fun, playful vibe. Enjoy our dance routine and please share with anyone else that would appreciate it. Thanks!
Creating a competition freestyle is a lot of work but creating an exhibition freestyle is an entirely different challenge. I wanted to share my thought process behind our new routine to help give insight to other riders that want to create their own exhibition freestyle. There really is no particular way to put one together but my process might help spark some ideas for you.
Originally I was planning to perform with my friend Lydia Spencer dancing as we have done in the past. Unfortunately her schedule wasn't working out so I was left with two weeks to put together a new routine. At first I was disapointed but then I was excited at the thought of creating something new. The day of the performance was Douwe's 14th birthday so I wanted to dedicate the routine to our partnership together. I have considered him to be a "diamond in the rough" because of his background and thought diamonds would be a fitting theme. Click here to read Douwe's story.
This was perhaps the most frustrating piece of the process. I went through at least 5 edits of the music and spent at least 7 hours finding music online, downloading, editing, burning test cds and watching the music to videos of my horse. I love picking music but it was stressful for me because I was still editing music the day before the performance. I started with songs that I knew the audience would recognize, Diamonds by Rihanna, Chandelier by Sia and Lay Me Down by Sam Smith. I found acoustic piano versions of all three and practiced riding to them every day. It was tricky to edit them smoothly and I wasn't feeling the flow for the liberty work. I ended up purchasing some music from AudioJungle.net that was more dramatic with clear highs and lows. It wasn't long enough for my entire routine so I blended that with the Diamond song. Two days before the performance I practiced our routine to the music and found it wasn't inspiring me for the liberty work. Back to AudioJungle I went and found a romantic, inspiring song by the same composer that was easy to edit. However, I didn't want to lose my Diamond theme so I took the very beginning of Rihanna's song to set the tone for our routine.
Trying to choreograph a liberty routine can be considered very difficult or very easy depending on how you look at it. On the one hand I really can't have detailed choreography because I have no clue what we will end up doing at each moment on show day. All I can do is have specific markers in the music so I know when I would like to take off the bridle, dismount of the liberty work or perform specific movements. On the flip side it is extremely challenging because I need to have 1-2 backup moves in the back of my mind in case Douwe isn't at the right position of the arena, in the right balance or in the right mood for that particular movement. During the winter months I have been playing with new moves, having Douwe pick up the veil with his mouth, trot and canter beside me with the veil, follow me with veil, etc. Trying to blend these different movements together and make it look like a finished routine requires that I stay super focused and in the moment with my horse. The most important thing to remember is that the audience doesn't know what you are trying to do so just smile, even if you make a mistake!!! The audience wants to be entertained and if you looked frustrated it takes all the passion out of the performance. Performing exhibition routines has helped me overcome some show anxiety because I am forced to stay present in the moment, if I get tense or lose focus my horse will just leave me!
Putting together a costume is always fun...for this routine I didn't have the luxury of buying anything new because of the time crunch. I went through my collection of dance and riding costumes and came up with the black petal skirt from Moondancebellydance.com, my Art on Horseback corset from www.corset-story.com, and a wrap top I use for dancing. I did buy sequin trim and fabric from Jo-Ann Fabric to add to my corset, saddle pad, petal skirt and to use as a veil. My costume jewelry was a throw back to my days in the Isaac Royal Equestrian Theater in a Moulin Rouge routine I used to ride in. I used spray glitter to cover paint specks on my corset and on my plain black breeches. I added my diamond browband to Douwe's bitless bridle and we were ready to go!
I braided my hair the night before so that it would be wavy and I braided some sequin fabric into the front to keep it out of my face. Elisha Harvey helped me glitter Douwe's hooves, mane, tail, pretty much all over! For more details on how I get the glitter to stick check out my blog post on DIY Glitter Hooves, Mane and Tail. I painted a diamond on Douwe's forehead and swirls on his neck and hind end using a special trick we figured out years ago.....fabric paint! The fabric paint stays wet long enough for you to create the design and add the glitter. It takes about 30 minutes to dry and you have to be careful not to touch it or have your horse rub it off before it is done. Once it is fully dry it will stay on for days!
If you have any questions or comments please email me at email@example.com. I would love to hear your stories about performing or any ideas you might have about the creative process. Have fun dancing with your horse!
"So shine bright, tonight you and I
We're beautiful like diamonds in the sky
Eye to eye, so alive
We're beautiful like diamonds in the sky."
-Rihanna (lyrics to Diamond song)
This routine was performed at Safe Haven Farm in Durham, ME in 2015. They have an annual open house that I have performed at many times. This year was special because it was Douwe's birthday on the day of the show. He turned 14 and I wanted to honor the 6 years we have had together. I consider him my "diamond in the rough" so I decided to go all-out with glitter and sparkle! We did a bridleless and liberty routine, performing new liberty moves we have been working on. It will take time to perfect performing together, but I am having a blast thinking of creative new ways to dance with my horse. Please share this video if your horse shines bright like a diamond. Enjoy!
When I was young I always admired the other girls that just jumped up on their horses in the paddock and rode around without a care in the world (I've never been an incredibly brave rider). I was much more disciplined and just never played with my horses that way during my dressage training. There was a part of me that really wanted that relationship with a horse. The performances that would bring me to tears were always of horses and riders bareback and/or bridleless. The idea that "less is more" really inspired me. When I bought Douwe (my Friesian gelding), I let myself have an open mind and no expectations. It turned out, he LOVES to be ridden bridleless and to work at liberty and he has taught me so much that I would love to share my experiences with you.
For those of you who are like me, cautious and not overly risky, you will definitely need to prepare your horse, yourself, and your surroundings to start working bridleless. Make sure to wear a helmet and ride in a smaller, fully-enclosed space like a round pen. There are a few KEY things that need to be in place before you attempt your first ride without a bridle. They are:
- Independent Balance! To communicate clearly and effectively with your horse (with or without a bridle) you need to have good balance. You should be comfortable and confident at the walk, trot, and canter with NO STIRRUPS and with NO HANDS.
- A Trusting Relationship: I do not recommend riding an unfamiliar horse without a bridle or even your own horse if you do not already have a deep, long-standing relationship with them. If there have been circumstances in your past where your horse bolted, bucked, or reared and the two of you have not fully worked through those issues, I suggest you put more time into your relationship before beginning the bridleless process.
- A Solid WHOA! Make sure you practice the halt, a lot! Your horse needs to be responsive to your voice/seat cue (there is that clear communication) so that you can feel confident that your horse will stop whenever you ask. That is why I use treats when I ask Douwe to halt (he is a food-oriented fellow). I use my voice in the rolling r noise and he halts and gets a treat. This method is similar to clicker training except I am using my voice for the cue.
- Bitless or Halter: See if you can ride in a bitless bridle or just a halter before you take the bridle off completely. Take as much time as you need to feel comfortable with these other options.
What techniques can you use?
I have learned a few different ways to ride a horse bridleless. You will probably know right away which method will work for your horse depending on his individual reactions.
Whip Steering: This is the method I used with Douwe. He seems most responsive having a visual guide for the turns. I have been using two whips and recently dropped down to just one. This technique will not work if your horse is scared/nervous of whips. Here is a video of Douwe performing bridleless in our "Wings of Isis" routine. You can see how I use the wings to help him steer. I was so pleased with his overall performance! He was a good boy!
Neckrope: You can teach your horse to "whoa" from the pressure of a neck rope. I have begun riding Rovandio bridleless using a neckrope because he prefers more input from me to help with his balance. Douwe would prefer that I just left him alone and not use anything related to pressure. To begin, I started riding Rovandio with a stirrup leather attached around his neck at the same time I was riding with the bridle. I incorporated halts from my voice/seat and added the pressure on the neck rope. Once he halted, I released the pressure and gave him a treat. You can use a variety of different "ropes", some horses react better to a stiffer rope and others something softer. This rider, Alizee Froment, is absolutely amazing! She is my current inspiration and when you watch this video you will see why. She starts off with a bitless bridle and then takes it off and does all the Grand Prix movements bridleless. She uses a simple neck rope. You will love this video!
Hand Signals: If you have an exceptionally obedient, sensitive horse you can teach them to move away from hand pressure. For example, you would rub/push your right hand forward onto the right side of the neck to ask him to turn left and vice versa. If your horse easily moves away from pressure this can be a good cue. Karen Rohlf uses some hand signals in this video with her wonderful horse, Monty. You will enjoy watching this video because it shows the horse doing the same movements at liberty, under saddle and bridleless.
Seat & Leg: If your horse is completely tuned into your seat and legs (communication!) you can use these cues, along with your voice if needed. Some horses turn beautifully off the leg and weight aids, especially if they are well-balanced and highly trained. Douwe needs the visual motivation and Rovy needs more half-halts with the neck rope. This video of Stacy Westfall is a great example of just seat and leg aids. She performs their reining freestyle bareback and bridleless! Awesome job!
Please be safe and make sure you are not riding alone! If you have any questions or comments about riding bridleless please leave a comment below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear your stories about riding bridleless and if you have photos or videos, feel free to share!
Wearing this special shirt tells the world that you LOVE horses and you BELIEVE that riding is a Dance, not a push/pull sport that views the horse as a machine. YOU are a dancer at heart and wearing this shirt will INSPIRE others and remind you why you love the dance.
I have had a blast teaching Douwe and Rovandio to smile and "talk". Douwe absolutely loves it and offers to talk all the time. I think his ideal job would be to play a modern-day Mr. Ed, where he gets to stand around and smile all day! Trick trainer Heidi Herriott showed me how to teach Douwe and it is a fun, easy trick to teach any horse.
Why did I teach my horse to smile?
Douwe used to hold his ears back when he asked for attention. He is a big horse, so that made him look a little scary to new people (even though he wasn't being mean at all). I thought that the smile would make him appear more friendly (and also keep his lips busy so that he wasn't nibbling for treats!) It worked really well and he greets everyone with a smile and will also give gentle kisses.
Here are the Simple Steps to Teach Your Horse to Smile:
You only need a halter and a treat!
Make sure your treat is really yummy and smelly, like a peppermint or something with molasses.
With your left hand, hold the horse's head up slightly so they will think "up" when you do the trick.
With the treat in your right hand, hold the treat right above their lip and rub or flick the lip upwards with your finger (to encourage the lip to curl up).
As you use the treat, make sure to use a vocal command. I use "smile".
When the horse gives you a slight lift of the lip, reward them with the treat. You need to reward the smallest try so that they will want to do it again and offer more.
Continue to hold the treat above the lip and wiggle/play with it to help encourage more lip movement.
Once the horse is consistent at lifting the lip, you can start to raise and wiggle your finger along with your voice command instead of using the treat.
Here is a silly video clip of Douwe "singing" Happy Birthday to my Grandfather. I was able to get him to stop "singing" by lowering my hand and then lifting it again when I wanted him to start again. This is a fun, silly trick to teach your horse and certainly entertaining, especially to people who don't know a lot about horses!
I am a huge supporter of using praise and treats when I am training my horse. I think that a well-timed treat can greatly enhance your horse's desire to learn and perform. However, if treats are given when the horse did not earn them they can definitely make a horse mouthy or sour, so timing is essential. I will be the first one to admit that I give a LOT of treats, probably too many but that is my own choice. I always use them when I teach new movements and regularly with the piaffe in-hand, trick and liberty work.
I like to think of treats as a way to activate the horse's brain. If he is really food motivated then he will use his brain to anticipate what you might ask for, thus resulting in less aids on your part because he is listening. Once the horse has learned a new movement I wean them off the treats and only use them sporadically for that specific movement. For example, in training the Spanish Walk on the ground, I started by giving my horse a treat each time he raised his leg. It was tedious, patient work because he was not naturally talented for this movement and wanted to "hang" his leg back under the body rather than reach out from the shoulder. But fast forward a few years later and we can perform an expressive Spanish Walk around the arena before he earns any treats. He loves to do the Spanish Walk and I have to be careful that I do not aid him by mistake since he likes to earn his rewards. I do not think I could have motivated him to do the Spanish Walk without treats because he found it difficult in the beginning. Some horses find the Spanish Walk very easy and a nice pat or "good boy" will work really well as their reward.
Using the Voice: The voice is definitely an instrumental tool in training. Try to use your voice with as much timing and precision as your other aids. If my horse is tense I try to talk to him, telling him what a good boy he is to give him confidence. Your voice can also be the quickest way to reward your horse when he is learning something new. If he gives you one step of piaffe or yields nicely to your leg then tell him right at that moment. Positive reinforcement is the best way to train a horse, they will want to perform for you because you make them feel confident and appreciated.
A Well Timed Pat: To reward your horse "on the go" try to stroke the neck with your inside hand during your ride at the right moment. This will help you, the rider, release the inside rein which is also an added benefit. It is also helpful in training to transition to the walk, give a long rein and a pat on the neck (along with voice) when the horse has done something really spectacular. The horse then associates a huge reward for a job well done...walk on a long rein, voice, and a pat. I do this a lot for training flying changes. After my horse does the change I reward with my voice, transition to the walk/halt, give a pat or treat and let them walk. This helps for a horse that gets nervous with changes and tries to rush or run after the change. Eventually they become calmer and more confident, wanting to do a flying change for fun! Be careful not to slap your horse too hard on the neck, this could be a little uncomfortable for them so try to stroke or rub the neck instead of hitting them too hard out of sheer enthusiasm!
Treats: There is such a wide variety of treats it really depends on what your horse likes. Apples, carrots, sugar cubes, and any other treat on the market work very well. I prefer to use peppermint treats because they are an excellent size for training and they don't get mushy like carrots and apples. I do use sugar cubes as well because of their small size and they dissolve quickly. Carrots and apples are wonderful with the Bitless Bridle because you don't need to worry about them getting stuck in the bit. Make sure you do not give the colored treats or carrots at a horse show because they will change the color of your horse's saliva and could cause a problem with show management. Especially the peppermint treats because the saliva can look almost identical to a horse that has blood in his mouth.
Training Pouch: I helped design the Treats Reward Pouch found for sale on my website (shown in the photo). This training pouch has a magnetic closure so the rider has quick, easy access with one hand. Being able to hold the reins in one hand and give a treat quickly with the other is KEY to positive association. Wearing a vest is equally as helpful but not as comfortable in the summer months when you need to wear a tee shirt or tank top with no pockets. It is also handy to unclip your pouch and leave it in your tack trunk or grooming box rather than treats ending up in the washer machine or melting in your pocket. Click here to view this training product.
I hope these suggestions will help you incorporate more praise into your training. Horses, like children, thrive on praise and positive feedback. I really feel that they start to blossom when they know the rider is thrilled with their performance and effort. I would love to know what types of treats you use with your horse and any other tips and suggestions you might recommend. Please post a comment below or send me an email at email@example.com.
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!
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!
I wrote this article for "the Friesian" magazine that is created by the Friesian Horse Association of North America (FHANA). They send out a quarterly magazine to their members and this was included in their January/February issue (2015). They were very gracious to let me share the article on my blog. I want to send out a big THANK YOU to the editor Laurie Bell for creating such a beautiful article layout with all the photos. This article is under copyright of FHANA and cannot be shared without their permission. There is a list of resources and links that I mention in the article located at the bottom of the post.
Please visit their website if you want more information about the Friesian Breed and their organization: http://www.fhana.com/
Included in this article:
Dr. Cook Bitless Bridle: http://www.bitlessbridle.com/
Falcyyr Film (Ahura Diliiza): https://www.facebook.com/falcyyr
Custom Tack Created by Lisa Oberman: http://elsuenoespanol.com/store/
Isaac Royal Academy of Equestrian Arts (Carolyn Rose): https://www.facebook.com/pages/Isaac-Royal-Training-Center-of-Classical-Dressage/321529202925
Heidi Herriot Trick Training: http://www.heidiherriott.com/
Lydia Rose Bellydance: https://www.facebook.com/LydiaRoseBellyDance?ref=br_tf
Custom Breeches Worn in Falcyyr made by Aanstadt-Das: https://www.facebook.com/aanstadtdasbreeches
Safe Haven Farm in Durham, ME: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Safe-Haven-Farm/272054486150539
I have many people ask me how they can start to incorporate bareback riding into their dressage work. I wanted to share some of my advice for getting started, including safety tips and also bareback pads to try.
Before You Begin:
How Is Your Balance?
Before you try riding bareback you should be able to comfortably, and confidently, ride in a saddle without reins or stirrups at the walk, trot and canter! Do you have independent balance from the reins? [To learn more, CLICK HERE]. If you ever catch your balance with the reins, it is not a good idea to try riding bareback. [To learn how to improve your riding position, CLICK HERE].
Does your horse have a good "WHOA"?
If you have a horse that is hard to stop, rushes, or is resistant or disobedient, I do not recommend riding bareback. Make sure to refresh your horse's response to your "whoa", on the lunge line or on the ground, before you ride bareback.
Has your horse been ridden bareback before?
Some horses have sensitive backs and may react the first time they are ridden bareback. Do not assume that your horse will behave the same as he does with a saddle. Have an experienced rider test out your horse if this is your first time. You may also want a person on the ground to hold your horse when you mount and to lead him.
Things You Might Need:
- Full Seat Breeches: I recommend wearing full seat breeches to help you "stick". Horsehair can be slippery so you may feel more secure wearing full seat breeches. I love wearing deerskin breeches because the material breathes with the horse and provides stick without being too tacky. Check out Aanstadt-Das Breeches for an awesome selection of full seat deerskin breeches.
- Mounting block: Unless you are super flexible and have the ability to leap onto the horse from the ground, then you will need a mounting block. Try a three-step for extra height. You need to have good balance and confidence to mount a horse bareback.
- A helper. Make sure you have someone with you to hold the horse when you first get on. They could even lead you around at the walk to see how it feels and to help keep the horse relaxed and slow.
- Enclosed riding area. PLEASE do not attempt riding bareback for the first time in an open field or arena with no walls. The best place to start is in a small indoor arena or a round pen, with all the gates closed.
- A bareback pad. A good bareback pad helps with padding and "stick". The horse's withers can be uncomfortable unless the horse has a very round barrel. Having a bareback pad can help with horses that have pronounced withers. Usually the material on the underside has some stick to it, like a synthetic rubber. Be careful with the all fleece pads because they may slide around on a well-groomed horse. Do not use a bareback pad that has stirrups! The tree of a saddle distributes the stirrup pressure and without it you will be placing all of your weight into one spot on the horse's back.
Here are some great bareback pads:
ThinLine Bareback Pad:
I currently use the ThinLine bareback pad. It offers padding and has a rubbery material on the underside of the pad and the girth to keep it from sliding. It is simple and elegant. I have been using this pad for my Art on Horseback with Rovandio and in recent performances. There are a few places online that you can purchase this bareback pad. In my opinion, it is a great pad for people to get started with at a decent price.
Sheepskin Bareback Pads:
You will find top-of-the-line sheepskin bareback pads online at HorseDream.co.uk. They have a variety of colors and sizes, including this beautiful Iberian style pad. They are in a much higher price range and I have not ridden in one yet but I would love to try one in the future. If anyone else tries them I would love to get your feedback. Just leave a comment below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now, get out there and ride! Once you have a good bareback pad and all the other suggested items, it's time to give it a try! Riding bareback will help improve your balance and reveal weaknesses in your riding that can be hidden by the saddle. I love to feel the horse's back muscles and check that I am sitting evenly on my seat bones. The horse's spine will help you feel whether you sit centered or not. Be sure to stay aware of whether your horse is enjoying the bareback experience, or not. You will feel the incredible sensitivity of the horse and the amazing connection you can have without the saddle. Even if you just practice at the walk, try lateral work and transitions. Feel how you can transition your horse from your seat and have the horse follow your weight in turns and circles. If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment below or email me at email@example.com. Be safe and have fun!
Hide your helmet hair, protect yourself from the sun, AND make a statement all at the same time! Let everyone know that you love horses and believe that riding is a dance.
Horse are incredibly sensitive creatures, they rely on their instincts for their overall safety. If they sense an uncomfortable situation their "fight or flight" mentality comes into play. Horses will teach you the incredible power of your emotions and how to harness your personal energy. If you arrive at the barn in a negative mood, frustrated or tired, the horse will sense that as weakness and feel uneasy. If you approach their stall in a great mood, confident, and looking forward to your ride then they will be more interested in their work. Put yourself in your horse's shoes...if your owner/rider was tense and frustrated you wouldn't be that excited to go trot and canter circles over and over again would you? It took me many years for this to really sink in. I spent so many rides in frustration at my inability to improve. I am a type-A, goal oriented person and learning to train a horse doesn't exactly go according to plan. I broke down in tears more times than I care to remember. I tried too hard and let myself think negatively about my skills. This blocked my ability to relax and really feel my horse. Timing comes when the rider can truly be "in the moment" with their horse. You must focus and read the horse's body language to react quickly and correctly. If you are constantly thinking negative thoughts such as, "I am never going to get this." "The other riders look good, why can't I do it?" "This is too hard, why won't my horse just do it!" "He always spooks in that corner." "I always get tight in the flying changes."
What you think about materializes into reality so be careful! If you constantly repeat any negative thoughts they will continue to be a problem in your riding. You must learn to take a negative thought and turn it into a positive one. For example: "I am never going to get this!" can turn into "This is hard but I am going to master it!" You are recognizing the difficulty but encouraging yourself to push on and believe that you can do it. We can only accomplish what we truly believe is possible.
3 Tips to Help You Focus:
- Surround you and your horse in an imaginary bubble. Imagine that you and your horse are enclosed in a quiet, safe place. Almost like an invisible force field that protects you from outside, negative energy. I try to feel that my aura is merging with my horse's aura, creating a highly positive force field.
- Close your eyes. Don't allow your eyes to wander towards the on-lookers or the other riders if they intimidate you or make you feel inferior. That will only make you self-concious and your ride bad, the opposite result that you actually want! Try closing your eyes for a few strides, feel the horse moving with you, or focus on the horse's ears, notice if his attention is on you. The better you can filter out the unnecessary thoughts and distractions, the more sensitive you will be to the finer details of riding your horse.
- Ride a pattern. Pick a dressage test that you and your horse are familiar with and ride through it. This gives you something to focus on and relays confidence to your horse because you are certain where you are going. Often times riders wander around the arena aimlessly and never really know if their horse is truly on the aids.
3 Tips to Help You Relax:
- Have NO Expectations. I have found over the years that I ride better when I have NO expectations of how my ride will go. I am not focusing on a specific test for scores for an upcoming show...I am simply riding my horse, working on weaknesses and enjoying our strengths. Horses do not have an agenda and they certainly do not always agree with the rider every day. Try to be aware of how your horse is feeling and tailor your ride accordingly.
- Take your time in warm-up. Rushing your warm-up is a key to disaster! Your warm-up should be based on rhythm and relaxation. I always start with a free walk on a long rein to allow the horse and myself to warm up together. I like to feel my hips open, my legs relax and then feel the back of the horse swinging with a relaxed topline. Make sure your basics are intact, the energy is good, the swing through the back is there, and your horse is supple before you attempt the harder movements.
- Smile! The simple act of smiling can also change your attitude. If you are becoming negative and over-focusing on a problem I suggest taking a walk break (very important for the horse as well if he is frustrated). Try to find something in your mind, in another horse/rider, or in your surroundings that you think is positive. Recognize it and smile, appreciate the positive and then pick up your reins and go back to your ride. This is also a great opportunity to breathe deeply and release tension in your back and shoulders.
I hope these suggestions help you Begin the Dance with your horse. If you have any other tips to help riders develop a positive attitude please leave a comment below! Or you can email me with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
- 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").
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:
- Have a friend hold your rein so you can practice gently pulling and giving, focusing on the bend in your elbows.
- 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.
- Keep space between your hands, generally hip-width works the best. This will help keep your elbows by your side.
- 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.
- 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.
- Imagine your elbows weigh 100 pounds but your hands are light, this will help them to stay bent correctly.
- 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!
"Follow your dreams.
They know the way."
This video show highlights from our routine at the 2014 Fall Fun Day held at Elysium Sport Ponies in Dover-Foxcroft, ME. I am riding Rovandio bitless and bareback, with Douwe at liberty. The boys were very good and Douwe got on the pedestal with all 4 feet for the first time performing. He also performed a nice lay down at the end of the routine, while Rovandio stayed perfectly still on the pedestal. Each horse has their own strengths and these two complement each other very well. Enjoy!
Wearing this special shirt tells the world that you LOVE horses and you BELIEVE that riding is a Dance, not a push/pull sport that views the horse as a machine. YOU are a dancer at heart and wearing this shirt will INSPIRE others and remind you why you love the dance.