"Outlander" Inspired Routine - Bitless, Bridleless, and at Liberty

I love watching the Outlander TV series and adore the soundtrack. The songs are dramatic, beautiful, and have a light-hearted quality that fits Douwe's personality really well. Douwe injured his knee a month before this event and I barely had a chance to ride him the week of the show. I brought Rovandio with us as a backup and ended up performing both of them and they felt great. I tend to be more creative on a deadline so I found myself putting together a brand new routine just days before the show, editing the music and pulling together a costume from my collection. I am so happy with how the routine turned out and Douwe really enjoyed himself. We even popped in a few tempi changes even though we haven't practiced those in months! The music gives me goosebumps to ride to and I am looking forward to the next time I can perform this routine. 

Begin the Dance - Dancing Quote

Dancing can reveal all the mystery that music conceals.
— Charles Baudelaire

This quote is so simple and yet so true! Have you ever watched a dancer without music? Or enjoyed great music without feeling the desire to dance? Probably not!  I cannot listen to music without imagining a horse moving with it, what movement would we perform, what would be the perfect gait or tempo? I am sure you are the same! This photo was taken at an open house performance at Safe Haven Farm in Durham, ME a few years ago. I am riding Douwe with dancer Lydia Rose Spencer. Her split leaps are amazing aren't they!? I love the fan veils she incorporated into that routine. I have included a video clip of that routine down below. Please feel free to save and share this quote/image and make sure to follow me on Pinterest where I have a board for  Inspiring Horse Quotes. 

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Behind the Ride: Creative Process for "Diamond" Routine - Music, Costume, Choreography, and More!

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.

Inspiration

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.

Music

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.

Choreography

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!

Costume

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!

Show Prep

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 leave them down below or email me at beginthedance@gmail.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!

Bitless Dressage: How to Fit the Dr. Cook Bitless Bridle

I consistently receive emails from riders interested in trying the Dr. Cook Bitless Bridle. One of the most popular questions is how to properly fit the bridle. I wanted to make a how-to video for you with my horse Douwe but it is just TOO cold here in Maine! I did find this wonderful video made by Cathie Hatrick-Anderson, another bitless bridle instructor with many years experience using the Dr. Cook Bitless Bridle. She did an excellent job explaining how to adjust the bridle and I have also included information from the Dr. Cook Bitless Bridle website.

"The Bitless Bridle's action depends on leverage applied from a firmly positioned 'O' ring on the cavesson noseband." -Bitless Bridle website

Common Mistakes:

  • The most common mistake in fitting is failure to place the noseband low enough.  If the Bitless Bridle's noseband is at the same level that is used for a bitted bridle, it is far too high. The bottom edge of the noseband should be not more than 1.5" or 2" (for a small or large horse respectively) from the corner of the horse's mouth.
  • The second most common mistake is failure to cinch up the chinstrap sufficiently. Once the level is correct, now cinch up the chinstrap so that only one FLAT finger can be inserted between the back of the jaw and the chinstrap. The noseband should not slide far up the face when tension is applied to the reins. If it does, leverage will be lost and the rider may have to work harder than necessary to communicate. Also, during prolonged use (during an endurance ride for example), a sore place could be rubbed on the side of the horse's face.
  • To help keep the noseband snug but also comfortable I use a sheepskin cover or a foam piece under the noseband buckle.  The leather bridle has a nice tab that covers the buckle but on the Beta the buckle is exposed to the horse so I like to put some padding there, it also helps to keep it snug without making it uncomfortable for the horse. You can use a Cashel cusion (they sell one on the Dr. Cook Bitless Bridle website) or any chin pad that is meant for a regular bridle.

Before mounting, always check that you have not inadvertently trapped one or more of the crossover straps UNDER the chinstrap. 

I started riding Douwe with the bitless bridle quite low, it almost looked like a drop noseband. But over the past two years I have been able to bring it up a little higher and keep the noseband slightly looser. If you have a really sensitive horse that is light in the hand you can keep the noseband a little looser (just one hole) than a stiffer, heavy horse. Just keep an eye on the cheekpieces, if they are bowing out too much then the noseband is probably too loose.

If you have any other questions please post a comment down below or send them to my email: beginthedance@gmail.com

Here is a video of me riding Rovandio in the Dr. Cook English Padded Leather Bitless Bridle. You can see me put on the bridle in the very beginning. Rovandio is very sensitive so I don't need to have it very low on him.

If you are interested in purchasing a Dr. Cook Bitless Bridle you can visit the Training Tools section of my online shop. I have been carrying their Beta and Leather English Bridles for a few years now and have many happy customers! Click here to visit the product page.