Tale as Old as Time: Sandra and Friesian Douwe Perform as Beauty and the Beast

"Tale as old as time.
True as it can be.
Barely even friends,
Then somebody bends-
Unexpectedly."

                                                        - Lyrics from Beauty & The Beast

My relationship with Douwe has certainly had its ups and its downs. It took many years before he trusted me and
started to enjoy his training. This song holds a lot of meaning for me in regards to our relationship. Douwe was angry and depressed when I first bought him, and over the years has become the goofiest horse I know with a huge personality! It just took some time to uncover what was already there, and to shed his past.  

This video was taken at the Riding to the Top Therapeutic Riding Center in Windham, ME. This routine was very emotional for me; I was fighting back tears as we performed because Douwe was so in-tune with me.

This was our first time performing this new routine and it brought laughter and tears to the audience as well. 

 Don't miss Douwe's "singing" debut at the 4 minute mark! 

Arghh! Sandra and Rovandio Perform Together as Pirates!

"Not all treasure is silver and gold, Mate."

-Captain Jack Sparrow

The video below is of Rovandio and I debuting our latest routine, "Pirates", at Elysium Sport Ponies in Atkinson, ME. I had an idea for Rovy to perform the Spanish walk to Captain Jack Sparrow's drunken sailor music from the movie, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the rest of the routine developed from there. I definitely wanted to include Rovy saying pirate lines, so that is where you see him perform the "Argh!". At the end of our performance, I handed out "gold doubloons" for the kids in the audience and Rovy adored the pats and attention! Enjoy!

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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"Sway" Routine at the Elysium Sport Ponies Open House

"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!

Behind the Ride: Creative Process for "Wings of Isis" Bridleless Routine - Music, Costume, Choroegraphy, & More!

I absolutely love performing with my horse. It is such a satisfying experience to take an idea or be inspired to create something unique and make it a reality. My "Wings of Isis" routine with Douwe is one of those ideas that has taken years to develop. I wanted to share our journey to hopefully inspire you to pursue that creative freestyle  you have been dreaming of. It may take some time but in the end it is worth it!

Inspiration

I have always loved to dance! In 2007 I started taking bellydance classes and fell in love with the veil and fabric wings called the Wings of Isis. I taught classes for a few years and our local dance troupe performed locally. From the very beginning I wondered if I could ride a horse with the wings and began to experiment. I purchased my silver wings from www.moondancebellydance.com, they come in a variety of sizes and colors.

Costume

I went with a Pegasus/Greek goddess theme. I found a Greek goddess dress at the Halloween store for under $65 and have added a lot of details to it over time. I bought silver wings from www.moondancebellydance.com and also used an aqua blue petal skirt that I purchased from them as well to add in some color. The dress had gold trim on it so I covered it with a variety of silver sequin trim from Jo-Ann Fabric and added some aqua blue ribbon to match the petal skirt. I am wearing a white satin circle skirt underneath the dress to cover my legs/saddle. I had this made for me by a local seamstress. For the finishing touches I found a matching headband and some really sparkly diamond earrings at the mall. I braid my hair the night before to give it that wavy look. 

Music 

This was a difficult ride to find music for...I searched and searched on iTunes for something that would accent my arm movements with the wings, have a  walk entrance, a smooth ending (no sharp halts) and also be dramatic for the horse. The music I finally chose is called "Ulysses" from Cirque Du Soleil. The music lets me highlight the movement of the wings and has transitions that give me space to re-organize if the horse is getting quick or tense. 

Choreography

My routine is fairly simple and leaves a lot of wiggle room. Essentially, my only goal is to match the musical transitions (particularly to and from the canter), to show simple serpentines at the trot and flying changes at the canter. I want to match my arm movements to the music at the trot and try to remain quiet in my body and always smiling! 

From the Beginning

The first horse I performed with the fabric wings was Vienna, a Lipizzan mare owned by my close friend Lydia Spencer. After losing Max and Vanidor in 2008 she was very kind to let me ride Vienna for shows and performing. The first day I rode Vienna with the wings I had to have someone lead me around the ring at a walk. She was a little suspicious of the fabric tickling her flanks! It took about a week of walking and slow trot with a ground person until she was relaxed with the wings and after that she was wonderful. I steered Vienna by using very thin cables clipped to the bit that went through a "belt" on my dress and then out to my hands. When I turned my upper body I was able to cue her with the reins. She was very light and sensitive to the aids so this system worked really well for her. Douwe on the other hand is big and stiff in comparison so when I tried the same thing with him the cables/clips/belt kept falling apart! On the other hand he was very good with the wings from day 1...he never spooked or seemed bothered by the fabric floating on top of him.

Here is a video of me performing with Vienna in the Isaac Royal Equestrian Theater back in 2007. She was a really good girl, performing flying changes and prompt transitions. I made the simple bridle and sidereins with clothes line rope you can purchase at the hardware store.

Discovering a New Way...

After some experimentation I found out that Douwe is really good at whip-steering. I started using the wings for steering, the same way you would train a horse to steer by using whips (not by hitting them of course but by holding the whip out to the side so they can see it peripherally and turn away from it). In the beginning I rode Douwe with a regular bridle and handmade sidereins (the same clothes line but spray painted black to blend in). 

The Power of a Dream

When I had the idea to ride with the dancing wings my dream was to eventually ride bridleless.
It took 7 years from the first ride on Vienna (summer 2008), training Douwe in Florida (winter 2010) and then performing bridleless in the summer of 2014.

I wanted to give you an idea of the timeline to help inspire you to keep plugging away at your goals...if you are persistent they really can come true!
 
I encourage you to follow your dreams no matter what they are...being creative is one of the most satisfying things you can do. This video was taken at Elysium Sport Ponies in Atkinson, ME at their open house. This was the first time I performed with Douwe bridleless and he was super! His flying changes need more work but overall he was relaxed, focused and I really enjoyed our ride together.

I would love to hear from you about what inspires you...maybe you have an idea for a freestyle or exhibition ride that you have begun to work on. If you have any questions or comments please post them down below or email me at beginthedance@gmail.com Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and watch the videos!

Sandra Beaulieu Performs at Elysium Sport Ponies Fall Fun Day with Douwe and Rovandio

I had a wonderful time performing with the horses at Elysium Sport Ponies Fall Fun Day with Douwe, Rovandio and Lydia Rose Spencer. The weather went from hot and humid all week to cold and windy overnight so all the horses were a little on edge. Rovandio was well behaved considering this is just his third time performing away from home. He is going to the Equine Affaire, Inc. (Official) next month and that will be his big debut in front of a larger audience.

Lydia and I changed our routine slightly to incorporate her fan veils and our loooonnnng blue veil that we used with Douwe a few years ago. We changed our color scheme and our entrance music. We only practiced the week before because the filming for Falcyyr has had us busy, out in the fields getting the horses ready for their group scene. We had some really nice moments in our routine and then other parts we goofed but overall I was happy. Rovy was anxious to get started at the beginning and wouldn't stand still but his focus was awesome once he got moving.

Riding Rovandio with Lydia Rose Spencer dancing. The long veil is harder to manage but it is beautiful in motion! Photo taken by Laurie Harvey's assistant Kaitlyn.

Riding Rovandio with Lydia Rose Spencer dancing. The long veil is harder to manage but it is beautiful in motion! Photo taken by Laurie Harvey's assistant Kaitlyn.

My routine with Douwe and Rovy came out pretty well, Douwe decided to add a new move where he took his front feet off the pedestal and left his hind feet up....not something we practice!!! He is only allowed to get off the pedestal by backing up but he lost his balance and came off the front. But it was really cute because he paused long enough for me to ride around him and give him a loving pat on the haunches. Douwe got on the pedestal with all 4 feet for the first time in this routine and he also did a nice lay down in front of the audience. Rovy was a superstar when I left him on the pedestal to do some in-hand work with Douwe. He stayed there for the end of the routine and never moved a muscle! He is so reliable, I love both of them so much!

Douwe and Rovandio working together in their routine. Douwe was a little lazy for the canterwork but they had some nice transitions together. See the video at the bottom. Photo taken by Laurie Harvey's assistant Kaitlyn.

Douwe and Rovandio working together in their routine. Douwe was a little lazy for the canterwork but they had some nice transitions together. See the video at the bottom. Photo taken by Laurie Harvey's assistant Kaitlyn.

Douwe was really good in his wings routine, relaxed and slow enough for me to push him a little bit. I was concerned that the wind and the weird noises from the roof would make him a little on edge but he was chilled out after working him at liberty. We performed bridleless again and he also did his flying changes pretty well. His rein back had a little more energy to it this time and his slow spin was even.

Douwe bridleless with his wings. Photo taken by Laurie Harvey's assistant Kaitlyn.

Douwe bridleless with his wings. Photo taken by Laurie Harvey's assistant Kaitlyn.

Please follow Elysium Sport Ponies on Facebook for upcoming events:
https://www.facebook.com/ElysiumSportPonies
To see more photos from this event click here to see my PHOTO GALLERY.

Here is a highlight video of my routine with Rovandio and Douwe together. Thank you Kaylee Clark for videotaping for me!
 

Related posts

Friesian Horse Performs at Liberty with Andalusian ridden by Sandra Beaulieu

"Follow your dreams.
They know the way."

                                            -Kobi Yamada

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. 

Sandra Beaulieu Performs at Open House for Elysium Sport Ponies

We had such a wonderful day at Elysium Sport Ponies open house this past Sunday on June 15th. Elysium is owned by Laurie & Elisha Harvey in Atkinson, ME. The facility includes an indoor arena with attached stalls. It is well set-up and clean with a lot of natural light in the stalls and the arena. Douwe and Rovandio really liked the open stalls so they could visit with each other and see everything that was going on. The demos started in the afternoon followed by a wonderful bar-b-que later in the day.

I rode Rovandio with Lydia Rose Spencer dancing and we did our "Music Box" routine. We added more color to our costumes and glitter to the pedestal to help it stand out more. Rovy was impatient to start but once the music began he was really focused. He loves to have a job! His flying changes were better today and he had a really high rear at the end.

For my final ride I rode Douwe in our "Wings of Isis" routine. Today was the first time I tried doing the routine without a bridle and he was fantastic! He even did his flying changes! Good boy! This was such a fun ride, he was with me the entire time, relaxed and enjoyed performing.

Rovandio and Douwe also did their "Liberty Dance" routine again and today Douwe really wanted to stay on the pedestal. At the Safe Haven demo he really wanted to roll and was distracted away from the pedestal but at Elysium that's all he wanted to do!! He is so funny!

You can see more photos from the event on the Elysium Sport Ponies Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ElysiumSportPonies

Rovandio's First Time off the Farm!

Rovandio (aka Rovy) is owned by my mother-in-law, Bethanne Ragaglia. She has owned him since he was young and never needed to trailer him anywhere. This year (2014) I wanted to start taking him to shows with my Friesian gelding, Douwe, and using him for exhibitions. I wanted to make sure that he wouldn't be overwhelmed by the trailer or develop anxiety over the trailering process. My good friend, Elisha Harvey, trailered Douwe and Rovy to her barn, Elysium Sport Ponies, a few miles down the road from where Douwe and Rovy live, for me to see how Rovy would react to being off the property. With grass in his hay net and Douwe by his side we made the short trek to Elysium.

Rovy was a little excited when he unloaded but settled in like he had lived there forever! I was amazed at how well-behaved he was. I wasn't planning to do much with the horses, other than to let them free in the ring and take the time to relax, but within 5 minutes they were ready to do something. We practiced our routine where I ride Rovy and Douwe is at liberty. Elisha and Bethanne took some photos for me; her indoor ring has a lot of light so we were able to get some good shots. It was such a wonderful experience!