I hope you enjoy this creative video put together by my talented friend Ashley Mancuso of Ash Equine Productions. Everything in my life is intertwined, the dressage, liberty training, performing, and Art on Horseback. Each avenue offers a unique way for me to connect with my horses and explore my creativity. I hope that my journey can inspire others to pursue their dreams, no matter how different they might seem. Please connect with me (email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Facebook), I would love to hear how you are using creativity with your horses. Enjoy!Read More
Lacking inspiration? This post shares inspiring quotes about Dressage Musical Freestyle. Get inspired to Dance with your Horse. Feel free to share with your friends, family, and audience on your social media accounts, Facebook page, Instagram, and Pinterest.Read More
This was the first time Douwe and Sandra performed BRIDLELESS with the wings. These particular wings are taken from the art of bellydancing, referred to as the Wings of Isis. This video was featured on the popular website Little Things and currently has over 138,000 views!Read More
Lacking inspiration? Perhaps you need a little push in the right direction. This post shares 27 success quotes for EQUESTRIANS. Feel free to share with your friends, family, and audience on your social media accounts, Facebook page, Instagram, and Pinterest.Read More
Sounds of thunder hit the ground,
feathers flying all around,
Friesian black and Friesian bold,
giant spirit, gentle soul.
Here are some highlights of Douwe's performance in the Friesian Breed Demo at the Equine Affaire. Here are some highlights of our performance in the Friesian Breed Demos at the Equine Affaire. I decided to try something different with Douwe this year, working him in-hand rather than riding him. It was a great training opportunity for us to work on focus and relaxation in a high-energy environment. Enjoy! Thank you to our sponsors Adams Horse & Pet Supplies for my ROMFH black breeches, you can't see them but I love wearing them while I perform! Enjoy!
bred to be a partner
through centuries of care
generous hearts and brilliant minds
make a lovely dancing pair.
Here are some highlights of our performance in the IALHA (Andalusians and Lusitanos) Breed Demo at the Equine Affaire. Rovandio was wonderful as usual, he loves to perform! Make sure you watch his dramatic ending! Thank you to our sponsors Adams Horse & Pet Supplies for my beautiful Ariat Volante Boots and to El Sueno Espanol for adding more rosettes to our custom bitless bridle. Enjoy!
I am proud to announce that I have a new partnership with Adams Horse Supplies, a tack shop located in Winthrop, ME. I am officially a part of their team as a sponsored professional. They have an extensive online catalog with an amazing selection of high-quality, top name brands, and generous sales and promotions.
They recently outfitted me for a USDF dressage show with Ariat dressage boots (Volant model), a ThinLine pad for Douwe, a Goode Rider show shirt, and Toklat Originals saddle pads. They have also provided grooming supplies and accessories for my horses from companies like Cowboy Magic, Mountain Horse, Equine Couture, and more!
The staff at Adam's Horse Supplies has been very supportive and I enjoy working with them. They are all knowledgeable horse professionals, with the experience to help their customers choose the right products for their needs. I look forward to working with them and promoting their amazing brand.
Who They Are
Adams Horse and Pet Supplies is a woman-owned business, run by a staff of local Maine riders and pet lovers who want to bring high-quality products and pet foods to their customers. They test and use everything they sell so they can educate their customers and help them choose the products that are right for them and their pets. They are a small town business with small town values and can't wait to make you part of their family!
Have you always wanted to ride a musical freestyle? Getting started at Training Level is a great way to get your feet wet and learn how the entire process works.
In this post, I have shared some examples of Training Level musical freestyles and reasons why they are good, from a judge's perspective…Read More
"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!
I love this quote by Jensen Siaw. Sometimes you just need to ignore all the negative voices, especially the ones in your head, and just go for it!
This beautiful saying was created by my mother-in-law Bethanne Regaglia. It has become my business motto and I love to share it with others. Riding a horse is so much more than learning physical skills. It is a mind-game, an opportunity to become one with the present moment, and a challenge to let go of our anxiety, tension, and our worries. I admit this is definitely a struggle some days...but when I finally get to that special place that's where the magic happens!
The calligraphy design is one of my art originals. I have a collection of designs on my SandraB. Designs website including clothing, apparel, and gifts. Click here to see the entire collection of designs and sayings.
"When I dance, the sun sails safely through the night;
When I dance, the future is formed by my feet;
When I dance, the stars move through the heavens;
When I dance, Venus shimmers the desert;
When I dance, dust becomes silver, stones are made of gold!"
— Cosi Fabian
This video was shot back in 2013. I am riding Rovandio (Andalusian/Lipizzan gelding) bitless with my good friend, and dancer, Lydia Rose Spencer. The footage is from Isaac Royal Farm in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, a picturesque setting. The video was created by Alan Dillingham, the director I worked with on the indie film Essential Realism, Frost Bite and a short film called Invasion. It was a COLD and WINDY day but Rovandio was excellent. I was planning to ride Douwe but he wasn't quite himself so Rovy filled in and was superb. Only one day to practice with Lydia dancing and he figured it out in a snap. Make sure you see the part where Lydia defies gravity in her split leaps at the 2 minute mark! Enjoy!
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 am having such a great time with my new Fantasy Photo Shoots Facebook group. People are sharing some amazing photos and ideas with each other. I will be featuring some of these creative equestrians on my blog to help inspire you with ideas. Featured in this blog post is Heather Hayes. Heather and I met when I lived briefly in Ashford, CT. I asked her to share the behind-the-scenes details of her recent steampunk photo shoot. The rest of the article is in Heather's words...
About the Rider
I grew up the daughter of horse-loving parents! My mom grew up around horses and my dad was a trainer for over 50 years. I was on a horse before I could walk and never looked back! My background includes reining, hunters, jumper, eventing, dressage and driving. I hold a BS in Equine Science and am certified for equine massage and myofascial work.
About the Horse
Cinta de Seda (Sadie for short!) is a 2003 Azteca mare that I found totally by accident in 2009. She's absolutely brilliant, has a huge personality and loves to work every single day! Sadie has top 5 national placings in a variety of disciplines and has shown through Third Level dressage and Level 3 in Working Equitation.
About the Photographer
I am NOT a fu-fu princess girl! My background outside of horses includes work for DOD (Department of Defense) and extensive exposure to firearms. I've been wanting to do a shoot that combines two of my passions and am glad to have finally had the chance! Additionally, I absolutely love the grit and feel of the TV series, Hell on Wheels and wanted to capture some of that vibe. I think we pulled it off pretty well!
The hat and accessories are homemade, antique firearms are from our collection and the corset and skirt are from Damsel in this Dress.
Hair & Makeup
I am the first to admit that I am incapable of hair and makeup. It's a good day if I wear lipgloss. Hair and makeup were done by Jillian Labrie, click here to visit her Jillian & Company Facebook page. I can't say enough how great she is to work with and her background in the horse world made working with her on something like this super easy.
The bridle is just a training bridle and the saddle was my mom's wedding gift to my dad. After helping them both through serious health issues the last two years...well...I couldn't have used another saddle for this. That simple.
We were allowed to shoot at the Antique Machinery Museum in Kent CT. This is a fantastic place and open to the public for the cost of a small donation. Wonderful people, loads of history.
Back to Sandra
I hope you enjoyed this blog post! To learn more about Fantasy Photo Shoots with your horse, check out my E-Book series!
It has been many, many years since I have needed to treat a horse for scratches so I went online to find the best treatment, natural if possible. I was amazed at all the different options and concoctions that people have used to treat scratches. We experimented with Vitamin E oil, pure Aloe Vera, pure Silver Spray, and even pure Coconut Oil before figuring out a system that cleared his scratches up within a week. I wanted to share this with you in case you are looking for a natural alternative to the harsh creams and sprays.Read More
There are many different methods for teaching a horse how to lay down. My Friesian gelding, Douwe, was first taught to lay down with the use of a surcingle (and ropes) by a trainer that had years of experience, then I continued his training on my own. Using that technique is effective but can be stressful for the horse if not used properly. I have begun teaching Rovandio how to lay down using the method #1. So far he is dropping his head and bringing his hind legs under from me lightly tapping on his belly. Dan James also showed us a method in a recent clinic we hosted at Elysium Sport Ponies in Atkinson, ME. He has a video for sale that explains the entire technique in detail. I have included the information at the bottom of the post.
Method #1 with Juliette
This method is my favorite of the three. This young trainer named Juliette has done an excellent job training her horse, Oreo. She was inspired to perform with the Wings of Isis after watching Douwe and I perform together. I saw a video of her performing with the wings and I have kept an eye on her videos since then. She did a great job showing the process from start to finish and making it clear that it takes a lot of time and patience. Every horse reacts differently and some may take longer than others.
Method #2 with Ellie Sales
In this video Ellie shows us how she taught her horse to lay down using the bow/kneel. I know of some trainers that will teach the bow before lay down and some prefer the other way around. There are pros and cons to both. Make sure you are clear on your cues from the start so that you do not confuse your horse. I know of some trainers that will cue the bow from the left side and the lay down from the right side. You will see how Ellie starts from the bow, teaches the kneel, and finally the lay down.
Method #3 with Emilia
Emilia uses a method that is referred to as "wetting". You give your horse a bath and take them to a soft, sandy place where they will naturally want to lay down and roll. If your horse loves to roll after their workout this could be a gentle, easy option.
Teaching the Lie Down with Ariana Sakaris
This video goes step by step through the lay down process. This is the method that is used by Dan James and he endorses this video.
I am excited to try this new method and I would love to hear from any of you that are also working on it with your horses.
If you found this post helpful at all, or are using a method not listed to train your horse to lay down, please leave a comment down below or send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please feel free to share this post!
I just love this photo of me with Rovandio and I was giddy when I found this cute quote by Diane Keaton to go with it. What I love the most about liberty work is that the horse's personality actually expands and blossoms the more they are allowed to have an opinion and engage in the dance. I also feel that my horses thrive when they know that I am having fun. I can see my horse's ears perk up when I laugh or giggle so I definitely don't hold back in the enthusiasm department. Positive praise and voice cues sometimes work better than any other aid and are the most gentle of all.
In this photo I am enjoying a jazz dance with Rovandio. He is getting so much better at his liberty work, graduating to just the neck rope. Hopefully soon he will be able to perform without it. He is a lot different than Douwe but is learning at his own pace and I am starting to see his personality blossom. I love this quote because it sums up the nature of liberty work. It truly is an improvised dance between human and horse. Wonderful things happen spontaneously and I savor the moments that something unexpected but magical happens. This photo was taken by Kimberly Chason. Please share this quote with anyone that might appreciate it.
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 email@example.com. Thank you for reading! Have fun at your next show or performance!