Begin the Dance - Horse Quote

Upon the horse the girl was lost, in a surging, pounding beat, not felt upon her own two feet.
— Bethanne Ragaglia

This photo was taken in Florida at Southern Oaks Equestrian Center. I am riding Gryphon, a Friesian gelding that I had in training. He is very sweet and I had a great time working with him. He was really fun to ride bareback with a smooth stride and a round barrel. 

"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!

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.

Sandra Beaulieu Painting on Horseback

"In the zen of the moment
living, breathing art
brush stroke upon brush stroke
hoofbeat upon hoofbeat.
The horse forms the artist
the artist forms the horse
flowing, living, breathing art."

                              -Bethanne Ragaglia

Two years ago I was inspired with an idea... a way to combine my two passions, dressage & art. I wondered if it was possible to create a painting from the back of a horse. Hard work, creativity and patience brought my dream into reality! It is so amazing to see the results of a vision come to life. I hope that my journey will inspire others to follow their dreams. This video was made by a small group of amazing interns at the Innovation Center run by the University of Maine. Thank you to Matthew Bullard, Christine Le, Courtney Norman and Jacob Pelkey for their hard work and enthusiasm!

Related Art on Horseback Videos:

Painting for Have a Heart Fundraiser to benefit Triple R Horse Rescue: To learn more about this painting, click here.

Creating a commissioned painting, "Nicole's Dream". To request a commission, email: beginthedance@gmail.com

Originals and more information available at ArtonHorseback.com

(or click the image below)

Douwe & Rovandio, Winter Training

To keep things fun and interesting this winter I did a lot of liberty and trick training with Douwe and Rovandio throughout the cold winter months. They are both incredibly smart but Douwe is scary smart! He loves learning new tricks and performing them on his own. When I finally brought the pedestal back to the barn this winter Douwe went and got on it all by himself, he owns that pedestal!

Douwe and Rovy sharing the pedestal while Douwe gives me a gives me a big smile.

Douwe and Rovy sharing the pedestal while Douwe gives me a gives me a big smile.

I also rode him with a bareback pad all winter so I could practice my sitting trot and really feel what was going on underneath me. Douwe seems the happiest when there is the least amount of tack involved, bitless, bridleless, bareback, and at liberty. Inspired by other performers that I enjoy like Guy McLean and Frederic Pignon I started riding Rovandio with Douwe at liberty. Mostly I wanted to ride them together so it would be more fun and I could spend more time with each of them. They live together so they are very well behaved. Douwe is the boss but Rovy has become more confident with him over time. Here is a video of them after only a few days...they did a great job!

As the months progressed we started to figure out some new moves to perform together. I swear the horses make up most of the interesting ones! Douwe is an interesting horse because he likes to be the boss and basically set the stage for the routine. I have to be clever to feel what type of movement Douwe might try next and then offer that voice command so it is "my idea". I really feel like the three of us create this spontaneous dance every time we work together. It is so much fun to just let go and be creative in the precense of these dramatic animals. They love the recognition and take pride in their work.

Douwe practicing how to lay down on a rug.

Douwe practicing how to lay down on a rug.

I have also been doing some new tricks with Douwe, he has learned how to give kisses really well and to pick up things. Douwe loves to use his mouth and he has BIG lips so it was a little touch and go at first for him to give kisses. But he is so smart, he picked it up in no time and now I just make the kiss noise and he gently gives me a kiss. Such a cutie. Rovy is getting better at the smile but hasn't started the kiss yet. We have a demo coming up in a few weeks and I am hoping to perform with the two of them for the first time! This will be Rovy's first time off the property,  my first time performing a liberty routine and their first time performing together. A lot of firsts! I will share photos and videos for sure.

Sandra Beaulieu - Dressage Training - Importance of Free Balance

Balance is the #1 most important skill for a rider.

How can a rider help the horse to achieve balance if the rider themselves cannot find balance?

I see riders every day, Training Level all the way to Grand Prix, who rely on their legs to grip for balance, knee rolls to hold the thighs down, or the reins to keep from falling back in the saddle. Finding balance on an animal that is moving is not easy and can be a constant struggle. However, if the rider cannot ride without holding onto the reins for balance, it will be nearly impossible to create true self-carriage in the horse and will cause problem areas in the horse's body. If the rider cannot relax and trust their body, the horse will always hold tension in the neck and back, and will have difficulties moving freely.

I spent over a year working on my position on a lunge line. My instructor, Carolyn Rose, made me ride without stirrups at all times, to allow me to find my balance without relying on any external devices. I encourage everyone, of all ages and skill levels, to take periodic lunge line lessons. Having the horse controlled by a ground person allows the rider to focus on their body and position and to feel the horse's movements through the seat.

A great example of this method is the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria. The instructors there keep the riders on the lunge line for months to help each rider develop an independent seat. Many riders associate the lunge line with "lesser" beginner riders. Considering that the totality of the sport of dressage is about balance, why would it only behoove a beginner rider to focus on this foundation? Why would it be seen as "below" the rider to learn the bio-mechanics of themselves and their partner?

A lunge lesson can reveal answers to those who seek the truth about riding and the language of the horse.
— Sandra Beaulieu

The rider can also develop balance through riding the horse bareback, without the saddle. This should not be done too often, as the direct pressure to the horse's spine is not beneficial for the horse. It is informative to feel the horse's back muscles without the obstruction of the saddle, as the rider can better understand how the horse moves and how their own body affects that movement. Feeling the energy move through the horse's top-line is an incredible experience.

Here is a video of me riding Gryphon, a Friesian gelding that I had in training in Florida. In the video I demonstrate riding bareback at the walk, trot, and canter.