"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!

Improve Your Dressage Position with Better Posture- 12 Tips & Exercises

It is a beautiful to watch an elegant rider on a balanced horse. What is the key ingredient to creating that elegant picture? Great posture of course! There is an immediate, 100% improvement in the overall picture of you and your horse if you correct your alignment.

A slouched, hunched over, "sloppy" rider can transform into a tall, straight, elegant rider quickly with consistent practice. Some of the causes of incorrect alignment include: physical problems, tension, and lack of confidence.

My improved posture came from years of practice. At the Isaac Royal Academy of Equestrian Arts I spent the first 6 months of my training on a lunge line riding without stirrups and reins. My instructor, Carolyn Rose, had me continue to ride without stirrups for years to instill independent balance. I also love to dance and practice yoga so that helps me with core strength and being open in the shoulders and chest.  Here are some exercises to try on and off your horse to help improve your posture.

Exercises to Practice Correct Posture On Your Horse:

  • Ride with one hand held above your head. Place your reins in one hand and stretch your other hand high to the sky. This will lift and stretch your torso, helping you to stay balanced and straight. This is also an excellent exercise if you tend to drop one shoulder more then the other. Try it at the walk, trot, and canter if it's available to you.
  • Start with warm-up exercises for your chest and shoulders. Try stretching your arms up high as you look up at the sky to open up your chest. While your horse is halted you can put one hand on the pommel and reach the other one back to the cantle to add a gentle twist with your upper body to help release tension in the back.
  • Lift your chin like you're balancing something on your head. Looking down at your horse too much will cause you to tip forward and round the shoulders. By keeping your chin up, you cannot help but lift and open your chest. Remember to look between your horse's ears or even higher to help keep your chin level.
  • Imagine that you are drinking tea! I really like this one because it also helps riders feel elegant and still in their upper body.
  • Try to pinch your shoulder blades together. Imagine there is a pencil in that space and you're trying to crush it with your shoulder blades. This will help you to open your chest.
  • Take a lunge lesson and hold the pommel with one or both hands. Use your hands pressing against the pommel to help you lift your chest.
  • Place a whip behind your back and wrap your elbows around it. Do this in your warm-up at the walk on a safe horse. This may over-arch your back but it can help open your chest and shoulders if you are really rounded in your upper back.

Usually, a person with poor posture when they ride will also have poor posture on the ground (and vice versa). This may or may not be true for you, but try to imagine that you are a King or Queen when you're home, or wherever you are, and that is what you should feel like on the horse! Proud, confident, and strong!

Noble and great. Courageous and determined. Faithful and fearless. That is who you are and who you have always been. And understanding it can change your life, because this knowledge carries a confidence that cannot be duplicated any other way.
— Sheri L. Dew

Exercises to Practice Correct Posture On the Ground:

  • Take dance classes. There are so many to choose from! Try tango, ballet, belly dance (see video below), salsa, or ballroom!
  • Practice yoga(check out THIS POST for yoga videos sorted by "target" areas of the body and choose a video by the amount of time you have to practice) or tai chi.
  • Try a pilates or cross-fit class for core strength.
  • Try sitting on an exercise ball while you are on the computer to help bring awareness to your seat and spine.
  • Wear a shoulder brace that helps remind you to stay in correct posture. There are many different styles to choose from online.

Belly Dance Video To Help With Your Posture:

If you live near Dover-Foxcroft, ME you should check out the Color of Life Yoga Studio.

For yoga videos to improve your strength, flexibility, and balance (from the comfort of your own home!) and to target your "stuck" areas, CLICK HERE.

If you have any pain or discomfort in your back, neck, or shoulders, you should seek therapy to help correct the issue. I have been to many massage therapists, osteopathic doctors, and alternative physical therapists to keep my body in order so that I can ride to the best of my body's capability.

Regular exercise and stretching is important to prevent injury and increase flexibility, strength, and balance. To ride a horse is the ultimate form of dance, involving the body, mind, and spirit of both partners. So treat yourself like a professional dancer, because that is what you are!

What does dance do for us? First and foremost, it inculcates the sense of rhythm and enhances our response to rhythm. This is really a response to life. It makes us more living, which is to say, more spiritual. It brings out beauty of form and movement, and envelops our personalities in the enjoyment of them. It takes us beyond ourselves, bringing an initial taste of the state of non-being, which is really a balm for the soul.
— Samuel Lewis

Join Sandra's New Online Coaching Group!

CLICK HERE TO GO TO PRIVATE FACEBOOK GROUP

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.

Article in "the Friesian" Magazine- My Top 7 Training Struggles with my Friesian Horse Douwe

I wrote this article for "the Friesian" magazine that is created by the Friesian Horse Association of North America (FHANA). They send out a quarterly magazine to their members and this was included in their January/February issue (2015). They were very gracious to let me share the article on my blog. I want to send out a big THANK YOU to the editor Laurie Bell for creating such a beautiful article layout with all the photos. This article is under copyright of FHANA and cannot be shared without their permission. There is a list of resources and links that I mention in the article located at the bottom of the post.

Please visit their website if you want more information about the Friesian Breed and their organization: http://www.fhana.com/

Included in this article:
Dr. Cook Bitless Bridle: http://www.bitlessbridle.com/
Falcyyr Film (Ahura Diliiza): https://www.facebook.com/falcyyr
Custom Tack Created by Lisa Oberman: http://elsuenoespanol.com/store/
Isaac Royal Academy of Equestrian Arts (Carolyn Rose): https://www.facebook.com/pages/Isaac-Royal-Training-Center-of-Classical-Dressage/321529202925
Heidi Herriot Trick Training: http://www.heidiherriott.com/
Lydia Rose Bellydance: https://www.facebook.com/LydiaRoseBellyDance?ref=br_tf
Custom Breeches Worn in Falcyyr made by Aanstadt-Das: https://www.facebook.com/aanstadtdasbreeches
Safe Haven Farm in Durham, ME: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Safe-Haven-Farm/272054486150539

Improve Your Ride with a Positive Attitude! 6 Tips to Help You Focus & Relax

Horse are incredibly sensitive creatures, they rely on their instincts for their overall safety. If they sense an uncomfortable situation their "fight or flight" mentality comes into play.  Horses will teach you the incredible power of your emotions and how to harness your personal energy. If you arrive at the barn in a negative mood, frustrated or tired, the horse will sense that as weakness and feel uneasy. If you approach their stall in a great mood, confident, and looking forward to your ride then they will be more interested in their work. Put yourself in your horse's shoes...if your owner/rider was tense and frustrated you wouldn't be that excited to go trot and canter circles over and over again would you? It took me many years for this to really sink in. I spent so many rides in frustration at my inability to improve. I am a type-A, goal oriented person and learning to train a horse doesn't exactly go according to plan. I broke down in tears more times than I care to remember. I tried too hard and let myself think negatively about my skills. This blocked my ability to relax and really feel my horse. Timing comes when the rider can truly be "in the moment" with their horse. You must focus and read the horse's body language to react quickly and correctly. If you are constantly thinking negative thoughts such as, "I am never going to get this." "The other riders look good, why can't I do it?" "This is too hard, why won't my horse just do it!" "He always spooks in that corner." "I always get tight in the flying changes."

What you think about materializes into reality so be careful! If you constantly repeat any negative thoughts they will continue to be a problem in your riding. You must learn to take a negative thought and turn it into a positive one. For example: "I am never going to get this!" can turn into "This is hard but I am going to master it!" You are recognizing the difficulty but encouraging yourself to push on and believe that you can do it. We can only accomplish what we truly believe is possible.

3 Tips to Help You Focus:

  • Surround you and your horse in an imaginary bubble. Imagine that you and your horse are enclosed in a quiet, safe place. Almost like an invisible force field that protects you from outside, negative energy. I try to feel that my aura is merging with my horse's aura, creating a highly positive force field.
  • Close your eyes.  Don't allow your eyes to wander towards the on-lookers or the other riders if they intimidate you or make you feel inferior. That will only make you self-concious and your ride bad, the opposite result that you actually want! Try closing your eyes for a few strides, feel the horse moving with you, or focus on the horse's ears, notice if his attention is on you. The better you can filter out the unnecessary thoughts and distractions, the more sensitive you will be to the finer details of riding your horse.
  • Ride a pattern. Pick a dressage test that you and your horse are familiar with and ride through it. This gives you something to focus on and relays confidence to your horse because you are certain where you are going. Often times riders wander around the arena aimlessly and never really know if their horse is truly on the aids.

3 Tips to Help You Relax:

  • Have NO Expectations. I have found over the years that I ride better when I have NO expectations of how my ride will go. I am not focusing on a specific test for scores for an upcoming show...I am simply riding my horse, working on weaknesses and enjoying our strengths. Horses do not have an agenda and they certainly do not always agree with the rider every day. Try to be aware of how your horse is feeling and tailor your ride accordingly.
  • Take your time in warm-up.  Rushing your warm-up is a key to disaster! Your warm-up should be based on rhythm and relaxation. I always start with a free walk on a long rein to allow the horse and myself to warm up together. I like to feel my hips open, my legs relax and then feel the back of the horse swinging with a relaxed topline. Make sure your basics are intact, the energy is good, the swing through the back is there, and your horse is supple before you attempt the harder movements.
  • Smile! The simple act of smiling can also change your attitude. If you are becoming negative and over-focusing on a problem I suggest taking a walk break (very important for the horse as well if he is frustrated). Try to find something in your mind, in another horse/rider, or in your surroundings that you think is positive. Recognize it and smile, appreciate the positive and then pick up your reins and go back to your ride. This is also a great opportunity to breathe deeply and release tension in your back and shoulders.

I hope these suggestions help you Begin the Dance with your horse. If you have any other tips to help riders develop a positive attitude please leave a comment below! Or you can email me with any comments or questions at beginthedance@gmail.com. 

How to Develop Soft Elbows - Seven Tips for Horseback Riders

I'd like to start this post with quotes from Nuno Oliveira, as I believe he says it best:

"In the trot, the hip has to trot, not the hand."

"One has to have an immobile hand with mobile fingers."

"Every rein aid must be preceded by an action of the torso. Otherwise you only address the horse's head."

"The hand should be a filter, not a plug or an open faucet."

-(Vol 3. 1998. "Notizen zum Unterricht von Nuno Oliveira"-  a compilation of notes that several of his students took after lessons and conversations with him.)

For more about Nuno Oliveria, CLICK HERE.


I believe the most important element of having a soft connection between your hand and the horse's mouth is the elbows. The rider's hands should be soft, the forearms relaxed, and the elbows bent and moving forward and backward in a fluid motion. 

Common Faults:

  • Moving the hands up and down instead of receiving the energy back into the elbow.
  • Pulling the hands towards the belly and rounding the upper back.
  • Holding the forearm muscles tightly with clenched hands.

Any of the common faults listed above will create resistance in the horse's mouth. All of these habits reveal an inefficiency in the use of the elbows. If you brace, the horse will brace. If you break the connection to the elbow, the horse will break his connection and come above or behind the vertical. I also find that the hands coming towards the belly creates a mental and physical block where, instead of keeping their seat moving within the horse's center of balance, the rider ends up pulling the seat towards the back of the saddle.

A simple solution is to practice riding with the hands approximately hip-width apart and keeping the elbows bent. This opens up a space for the seat to "go through" your hands and keep a correct position. Sometimes just changing your mind and imagining that the horse's top-line is a channel will help keep your hands in the correct position ("mind over matter").

Sandra Beaulieu and Rovandio showing a Second Level Musical Freestyle.   Photo taken by Spotted Vision Photography. 

Sandra Beaulieu and Rovandio showing a Second Level Musical Freestyle. 
Photo taken by Spotted Vision Photography. 

I know how hard it is to have soft hands! For years I wanted to keep a tight, steady contact on the horse's mouth.  I would finish riding and my arms would be tired and sore from holding them tense throughout my ride.  It has taken over a decade of riding to develop softness and the feeling of lightness in my hands. Mentally I was trying too hard and the tension came from frustration. When I became more confident and relaxed in my riding I was able to feel softness in my reins. Our arms will also reveal a lot about our security and confidence as a rider. If you are tight on the reins that typically means that there is some insecurity or fear related to being out of control. Other times it just has to do with a lack of balance, and the arms will bounce or tighten up as a result.  Quiet hands will come from a quiet seat, quiet mind and relaxed elbows.

7 Tips to improve your elbows:

  1. Have a friend hold your rein so you can practice gently pulling and giving, focusing on the bend in your elbows.
  2. Take a lunge lesson so you can ride without holding the reins. Practice keeping your elbows bent and mimic the actions of the reins, pulling and giving, keeping the motion smooth and relaxed.
  3. Keep space between your hands, generally hip-width works the best. This will help keep your elbows by your side.
  4. Have someone place a hand on the back of your elbow so you can practice pushing back against them. This will help if you tend to lock your elbows.
  5. Record your ride and review photos and/or video, focusing on the use of your arms. Watch for negative habits and tension. Try different arm positions in the video so you can make a connection between what you feel and what you see.
  6. Imagine your elbows weigh 100 pounds but your hands are light, this will help them to stay bent correctly.
  7. Gently wrap an elastic band around your elbows behind your back. One of the fitness bands you would use at the gym works really well. When your elbows drift too far away from your body you will feel the resistance.

I hope this information helps bring more awareness to your riding and improves the connection you have with your horse. If you would like to work with me to improve your riding join my new coaching group online. 

Join Sandra's New Online Coaching Group!

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