"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!

Ride Your Horse Bridleless, Safety Tips & Training Advice. Video Examples!

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.

Safety First!

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 
  4. 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 beginthedance@gmail.com. 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. 

Bareback Dressage, Safety Tips To Get Started and My Top Bareback Pad Choices

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 beginthedance@gmail.com.
 

Now What?

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 beginthedance@gmail.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.