I was contacted by Paul Morris, a writer for www.littlethings.com, about featuring the video of my Friesian gelding, Douwe, and I performing our "Wings of Isis" bridleless routine. I was thrilled to be included on their channel among other positive, creative, and inspiring stories! It is my hope to inspire as many people as I can, especially young girls that are just as horse crazy as I was - and still am! Please help me share my appreciation to LittleThings.com by visiting the link below and "liking" the video on their page. Thank you so much!
Here is an excerpt from the article:
"Using the most loving and caring of training techniques, Beaulieu has created a whole new school of thought in the world of dressage dancing. Ensuring that the horse's experience is as positive as the rider's, she often rides with bitless bridle, on a bareback pad, and sometimes even completely bridle-less; these horses are all treated with the love and respect they deserve to be given." -Paul Morris, LittleThings.com
To read the rest of the article, watch the video, and see other inspiring videos on LittleThings.com please click here. http://www.littlethings.com/horse-wings-dance/
I absolutely love performing with my horse. It is such a satisfying experience to take an idea or be inspired to create something unique and make it a reality. My "Wings of Isis" routine with Douwe is one of those ideas that has taken years to develop. I wanted to share our journey to hopefully inspire you to pursue that creative freestyle you have been dreaming of. It may take some time but in the end it is worth it!
I have always loved to dance! In 2007 I started taking bellydance classes and fell in love with the veil and fabric wings called the Wings of Isis. I taught classes for a few years and our local dance troupe performed locally. From the very beginning I wondered if I could ride a horse with the wings and began to experiment. I purchased my silver wings from www.moondancebellydance.com, they come in a variety of sizes and colors.
I went with a Pegasus/Greek goddess theme. I found a Greek goddess dress at the Halloween store for under $65 and have added a lot of details to it over time. I bought silver wings from www.moondancebellydance.com and also used an aqua blue petal skirt that I purchased from them as well to add in some color. The dress had gold trim on it so I covered it with a variety of silver sequin trim from Jo-Ann Fabric and added some aqua blue ribbon to match the petal skirt. I am wearing a white satin circle skirt underneath the dress to cover my legs/saddle. I had this made for me by a local seamstress. For the finishing touches I found a matching headband and some really sparkly diamond earrings at the mall. I braid my hair the night before to give it that wavy look.
This was a difficult ride to find music for...I searched and searched on iTunes for something that would accent my arm movements with the wings, have a walk entrance, a smooth ending (no sharp halts) and also be dramatic for the horse. The music I finally chose is called "Ulysses" from Cirque Du Soleil. The music lets me highlight the movement of the wings and has transitions that give me space to re-organize if the horse is getting quick or tense.
My routine is fairly simple and leaves a lot of wiggle room. Essentially, my only goal is to match the musical transitions (particularly to and from the canter), to show simple serpentines at the trot and flying changes at the canter. I want to match my arm movements to the music at the trot and try to remain quiet in my body and always smiling!
From the Beginning
The first horse I performed with the fabric wings was Vienna, a Lipizzan mare owned by my close friend Lydia Spencer. After losing Max and Vanidor in 2008 she was very kind to let me ride Vienna for shows and performing. The first day I rode Vienna with the wings I had to have someone lead me around the ring at a walk. She was a little suspicious of the fabric tickling her flanks! It took about a week of walking and slow trot with a ground person until she was relaxed with the wings and after that she was wonderful. I steered Vienna by using very thin cables clipped to the bit that went through a "belt" on my dress and then out to my hands. When I turned my upper body I was able to cue her with the reins. She was very light and sensitive to the aids so this system worked really well for her. Douwe on the other hand is big and stiff in comparison so when I tried the same thing with him the cables/clips/belt kept falling apart! On the other hand he was very good with the wings from day 1...he never spooked or seemed bothered by the fabric floating on top of him.
Here is a video of me performing with Vienna in the Isaac Royal Equestrian Theater back in 2007. She was a really good girl, performing flying changes and prompt transitions. I made the simple bridle and sidereins with clothes line rope you can purchase at the hardware store.
Discovering a New Way...
After some experimentation I found out that Douwe is really good at whip-steering. I started using the wings for steering, the same way you would train a horse to steer by using whips (not by hitting them of course but by holding the whip out to the side so they can see it peripherally and turn away from it). In the beginning I rode Douwe with a regular bridle and handmade sidereins (the same clothes line but spray painted black to blend in).
The Power of a Dream
When I had the idea to ride with the dancing wings my dream was to eventually ride bridleless.
It took 7 years from the first ride on Vienna (summer 2008), training Douwe in Florida (winter 2010) and then performing bridleless in the summer of 2014.
I wanted to give you an idea of the timeline to help inspire you to keep plugging away at your goals...if you are persistent they really can come true!
I encourage you to follow your dreams no matter what they are...being creative is one of the most satisfying things you can do. This video was taken at Elysium Sport Ponies in Atkinson, ME at their open house. This was the first time I performed with Douwe bridleless and he was super! His flying changes need more work but overall he was relaxed, focused and I really enjoyed our ride together.
I would love to hear from you about what inspires you...maybe you have an idea for a freestyle or exhibition ride that you have begun to work on. If you have any questions or comments please post them down below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and watch the videos!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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 email@example.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!
"So shine bright, tonight you and I
We're beautiful like diamonds in the sky
Eye to eye, so alive
We're beautiful like diamonds in the sky."
-Rihanna (lyrics to Diamond song)
This routine was performed at Safe Haven Farm in Durham, ME in 2015. They have an annual open house that I have performed at many times. This year was special because it was Douwe's birthday on the day of the show. He turned 14 and I wanted to honor the 6 years we have had together. I consider him my "diamond in the rough" so I decided to go all-out with glitter and sparkle! We did a bridleless and liberty routine, performing new liberty moves we have been working on. It will take time to perfect performing together, but I am having a blast thinking of creative new ways to dance with my horse. Please share this video if your horse shines bright like a diamond. Enjoy!
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.