Sandra Beaulieu - Art on Horseback Live Painting Demo Benefits Equine Assisted Psychotherapy Program in Maine

Photo credit: Sun Journal reporter Daryn Slover

Photo credit: Sun Journal reporter Daryn Slover

Rovandio and I performed a live painting demo at the Healing Through Horses Professional's Expo held in New Gloucester, ME. 100% of the money raised from the sale of this painting went to Healing Through Horses. It is a non-profit organization that offers equine assisted psychotherapy (EAP). 

This was a memorable experience for me, since it was the first time my mother and grandmother were able to watch me paint in person. I also used my new art easel that was creatively built by my husband. We only had 40 minutes to create a painting from start to finish, with all the extra distractions that come with performing. It was a challenge to figure out all the logistics and I couldn't have done it without the help and support of my friends Elisha Harvey, Holly Baily, Taylor Burdin, and Sarah Kach.


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

Congratulations Holly Bailey for winning the online auction for this painting! 100% of the sale went to Healing Through Horses towards their program and updating their facilities. Holly is one of my close friends in Tallahassee, FL. We had a lovely presentation dinner at Backwoods Crossing for Holly and her family and friends. She is now the proud owner of an Art on Horseback painting.

Sandra Beaulieu - Art on Horseback Live Painting Demo Benefits Equine Rescue and Rehabilitation Ranch

Photo credit: Kimberly Chason of chason photos & art

Photo credit: Kimberly Chason of chason photos & art

Rovandio and I performed a live painting demo at the "Have a Heart" fundraiser to benefit the Equine Rescue and Rehabilitation Ranch (Triple R) of Tallahassee, FL. All money raised from the auctioned painting went to the Triple R organization. Triple R is a 100% volunteer organization that rescues abused, neglected, troubled, and abandoned equines and rehabs, retrains, and re-homes (or retires) them "in an environment of well-being and trust". Click here to read more about them.

Congratulations to Kathryn Gladwell for placing the winning bid! I got to know Kathryn over the winter months in Tallahassee, FL and I am so pleased that this painting is in her hands. 

This was a special experience for me since it was the first time Rovandio and I have painted before a live audience. We only had 45 minutes to create a painting from start to finish, with all the extra distractions that come with performing. It was a challenge to figure out all the logistics and I couldn't have done it without the help and support of my close friend Marsha Sapp. Thank you Marsha!

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

photo credit: kimberly chason of chason photos & art

photo credit: kimberly chason of chason photos & art

Related Articles:

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!

Roxie Hart Jazz Routine at the Equine Affaire - Enjoy this fun & sassy routine!

"Mmmm, I'm a star!
And the audience loves me!
And I love them
And they love me for loving them
And I love them for loving me
And we love each other..."

                                                                        - Lyrics from "Roxie Hart" from Chicago

Who can't help but love this song!! It is so sassy and fun to ride to. This year I was given a solo spot in the Andalusian demo with Rovandio and I thought what the heck! It was the perfect opportunity to try something fun that the audience would enjoy. I wanted to highlight Rovandio's amazing personality and rideability. He loves the audience and enters into that electric atmosphere as calm and collected as he can be. It is hard to see me lip synching and playing to the audience but I am sure you can see how much fun I had riding this routine with Rovandio.  Enjoy!

"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 "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!

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. 

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.