Cobra, a "Three Strikes Mustang" Turned Horse of the Year, World Champion, and Breyer Model!

"Sometimes life gives you a second chance, or even two! Not always, but sometimes. It's what you do with those second chances that counts."
– Dave Wilson

Marsha Hartford-Sapp and Cobra, dressage champions.

Marsha Hartford-Sapp and Cobra, dressage champions.

For the past five years I have been involved with my friend, Marsha Hartford-Sapp, and her Mustang gelding, Cobra. Cobra was passed over three times for adoption, making him a "three strikes" mustang, but Marsha adopted him for the 2010 Supreme Extreme Mustang Makeover, and in 2013 they started competing in United States Dressage Federation (USDF) shows.

Cobra is a sharply intelligent, deeply intuitive horse. Cobra is fairly big for a Mustang and quite balanced. He likes to work and once he is warmed up he is full of energy and ready to go. Marsha has trained and competed him successfully in dressage through the Prix St. Georges level and Western Dressage. He has won numerous year-end awards and world championships. Here is a video of him competing in Western Dressage, earning a great score of 78%!


Marsha has competed in many Extreme Mustang Makeovers. She won the competition in 2016 with her mare Freedom, and this year with a beautiful palomino mare named Chason's Dream.

You can watch this USA Today interview with Marsha on training Mustangs.


Cobra is particularly talented in his canter work and has learned tempi changes and canter pirouettes, as well as other upper level movements. In the following video it shows him learning two-tempi changes only 2 years out of the wild! That is incredible! I am honored to have played a part in his dressage training, introducing him to the one-tempi changes this past winter in Florida. Over the course of a few months Cobra was able to learn how to do a one-tempi and progressed to four clean one-tempis in a row! 

Click on the image to go to cobra's facebook page or click here

Click on the image to go to cobra's facebook page or click here

Meet Cobra at BreyerFest

Don't miss your chance to meet Cobra and Marsha Sapp at BreyerFest. They will be performing daily and "signing" autographs. I will also be there to help answer questions for Cobra's raving fans. And don't forget to buy your very own Cobra Breyer model to take home with you. Isn't he beautiful!

Cobra's New Logo Design

In preparation for BreyerFest I was asked to create a logo for Cobra. My good friend, and professional photographer Kimberly Chason put together the logo idea and added the text to my art design. If you are interested in a custom logo design for your horse or business visit my online gallery...click here.

Falcyyr TV Series - Now Available on Vimeo!

Actress Sinari Diliiza rides Douwe as Sandra cues him for the rear.

Actress Sinari Diliiza rides Douwe as Sandra cues him for the rear.

For the past two years I have been involved with a film project called Falcyyr, which is directed by Ahura Diliiza. I play Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt, and Douwe is the special steed for the main actress Sinai Diliiza.

My character, Artemis, teaches the Falcyyr how to ride a horse in Episode #6, click here to watch. Both Douwe and Rovandio are used for this scene. It was fun to utilize my teaching skills and the horses behaved very well for the different actresses. 

You will also see the herd of horses from Isaac Royal Farm where the scenes were filmed. Many of the horses are Lipizzan or Andalusian crosses.

You can watch each separate episode of Falcyyr for $1 on Vimeo. You can also rent them all for $8 or download them for $12.


Check out Maine Today's article with Douwe as the featured photo:
Women rule in Maine-made fantasy ‘Falcyyr’

How To Teach Your Horse To Stand On A Pedestal

Elisha Harvey on her young horse Finn. He was a quick learner and loved the pedestal! This photo was taken only a few days after his first time standing on the pedestal.

Elisha Harvey on her young horse Finn. He was a quick learner and loved the pedestal! This photo was taken only a few days after his first time standing on the pedestal.

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.
Working with Thor, a Haflinger cross at Elysium Sport Ponies in Atkinson, ME. He was proud of himself!

Working with Thor, a Haflinger cross at Elysium Sport Ponies in Atkinson, ME. He was proud of himself!

Good boy! Elisha Harvey (owner/instructor/trainer at Elysium Sport Ponies in Atkinson, ME) having a successful training session with Finn.

Good boy! Elisha Harvey (owner/instructor/trainer at Elysium Sport Ponies in Atkinson, ME) having a successful training session with Finn.

Yay! First day learning how to stand on the pedestal. Finn is very smart and well balanced so he was able to do all four feet on the first day!

Yay! First day learning how to stand on the pedestal. Finn is very smart and well balanced so he was able to do all four feet on the first day!

Working with the younger girls and their school horses. Quigley found it easy to stand with his front feet but he has arthritis in the hind end so that was as far as he went for the day. 

Working with the younger girls and their school horses. Quigley found it easy to stand with his front feet but he has arthritis in the hind end so that was as far as he went for the day. 

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Teach Your Horse How to Lay Down - NO ROPES - 3 Methods with Videos

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: beginthedance@gmail.com. Please feel free to share this post!

Teaching a Friesian Horse How to Rear

Ever since I bought my Friesian gelding, Douwe, I had hopes of teaching him performance movements to use in exhibitions, such as lay down, bow, rear, and Spanish walk. After four years of persistence, and a lot of patience, he is beginning to understand what I am asking of him.

When I started teaching Douwe how to rear in December of 2012, he was confused and the normal way of asking wasn't working; he was just shutting down. I taught my Andalusian/Lipizzan gelding, Rovandio, to rear simply by lifting his head with the lead line and tapping him on the chest with my whip. I would reward him for a small lift of his shoulders and after a few days, he fully understood what was expected and enjoyed performing the rear. Douwe, on the other hand, would lean into the whip, trying to perform the Spanish walk, because that was all he knew. He is not naturally a vertical-moving horse. 

Some trainers will teach a horse to rear in a stall by backing the horse into a corner until they can not go any further, and instead lift their front legs. That reminded me of equine dentist experiences and how horses will rear to avoid him when they are in the corner! I didn't want the stall to be a place of tension for Douwe so instead, I backed him into a corner of the indoor arena. I then asked for him to lift with a hand and whip motion, rewarding the slightest inclination towards lifting his head, leg, or anything vertically. It took about a week for him to think of lifting both front feet off the ground, and even then he only gave a couple of inches.

I persevered with his training and he eventually developed what I fondly call his "bunny-hop"- a tiny rear performed multiple times. Eventually, he progressed to a rear with no tack on and then I tried it under saddle. I used the same corner of the arena each time we practiced (that was his "rearing corner"), and that way he knew what to expect. I had developed a vocal cue: "Annnnddd...UP!", which worked well, only he started anticipating and would rear on the "And" instead of the "Up"! At least he was doing what I asked for.

Fast forward to 2013 in Tallahassee, FL. I wanted Douwe to lift higher in the rear but I wasn't sure how to go about it. The difficulty lay in his avoidance of transferring his weight to his hind end, and instead pushing off his front legs. He would do the same thing when schooling piaffe, and avoid tucking his pelvis under and engaging his abdominal muscles. I started to use my spur towards the girth when asking for piaffe, which better cued him to lift his back. I then started to incorporate the piaffe-in-hand with the rear-in-hand, back and forth between the two, so he would think of lifting his front feet up in the piaffe. His rear started to become more balanced because he was thinking more about engaging his hind end and wasn't pushing off his front legs.

After a week or two, we had a successful breakthrough with the rear. I was able to gently use the spurs and he lifted higher then he has ever gone before! I am so happy to see his progress and feel that his balance has greatly improved. This work is also helping his canter collection and balance for the flying changes. Everything I have taught Douwe has been a learning experience; he is unlike any other horse I have trained. He has come into my life to be my tutor and he has opened my eyes to the awareness I must have when working with any horse. You must listen to the horse completely and think creatively about how to reach each individual animal. Here is a short video clip of Douwe working in the rear. I am so excited and proud!

Sandra Beaulieu - Training Journal for Friesian Gelding, Gryphon - Difficulty Picking Up Right Lead in Canter

Gryphon:

Gryphon is a 9-year-old Friesian gelding that is trained in the walk, trot, and canter and basic leg-yielding and has been ridden a lot on trails. I rode Gryphon while he lived in Maine and my friend, Marsha Hartford-Saap, has been working with him since his new owner purchased him. Like most Friesians, he is behind the leg aid and has trouble connecting in his top-line. Marsha has improved his connection and he is able to trot forward, feeling through in his back.

Day One

Biggest issue: 

Picking up the right lead in the canter. He needs a lot of help to coordinate his body for this transition.

To help him get the right lead:

1) When he tried to pick up the left lead, I made very clear half-halts with the rein and my seat to help give him a compelling reason to not take the wrong lead.

2) I used my voice to say "No," when he got the wrong lead and highly praised him when he got the correct lead.

3) After cantering on the correct lead for a few strides, I would ask him to halt, and then I fed him a treat so he would start to have positive associations with this lead.

4) I "unbalanced" him by counter-bending and thinking of physically pushing him onto the inside shoulder at the right moment.

He successfully picked up the right lead about 1/3 of the time and he started to understand the "game". I wanted him to have fun and look forward to his training sessions. I believe his difficulty lies in his having formed a bad habit and his lack of coordination. Most young horses have a difficult lead to pick up, much like people are right- or left-handed.

Day Two

Today, Gryphon had plenty of energy and I hardly had to use my leg or whip aids to keep the impulsion. I asked for leg-yields from the center line to the rail, followed by shoulder-in. I asked for canter once on his good (left) lead before trying the difficult lead. On the left, he lifted beautifully from the walk and showed an improvement in his engagement and uphill jump.

  • Moving to the right, he anticipated the canter transition and tried to pick up the left lead. I half-halted strongly and used my voice.
  • I asked again, and again he anticipated and attempted to pick up the left lead. I repeated my actions.
  • I then asked for the walk and re-grouped.
  • In the walk, I counter-flexed him and shifted my weight to the outside to push the energy towards his inside shoulder.
  • From there, he jumped into the correct lead and continued to get the correct lead every time afterwards. Each time I asked, I straightened him a little more, until he had the correct bend and was not "falling into" the lead, but lifting correctly into it.

Day Three

Day 3 of Gryphon’s training was gloomy. He felt a bit tired from our previous rides and a little stiff in his body. We worked on basic trot and canter work. He picked up the correct lead to the right without a fuss.

  • I added: half-pass in the walk to our routine, performing simple half-turns towards the rail and then asking him to step over with his haunches. Gryphon is responsive to the leg for other lateral work so he could perform legitimate half-pass steps to either direction. I also taught Connie (Gryphon's owner) the aids for the turn-on-the-haunches. The aids are almost identical to the half-pass, so this will give her a way to practice the aids to eventually ask for half-pass.

I also asked Gryphon to bow at the end and he was so good that he went down so far he got sand on his forehead!

Day Four

This day was interesting. Gryphon had gone out to the pasture with my Friesian gelding, Douwe, for the day and it seemed to bring out his "alpha" attitude. During the session, Gryphon was distracted and constantly looking around. On a positive note, he was energetic! I asked for half-pass at the trot, since he had the impulsion, and he performed nice steps tracking to the right.

  • I added: simple changes in the canter using a large figure-eight. This would help fine-tune his leads and make sure that he is balancing and listening to the rider’s aids. When I asked him for the left lead, he volunteered his difficult lead, and instead of transitioning to the walk I pushed him to keep cantering and then asked him for counter-canter. He held the lead beautifully with no tension or resistance.

To end the session, I asked for piaffe in-hand and it seems Gryphon will learn the piaffe fairly quickly. He had a few engaged strides and he is beginning to figure out how to connect his body. Connie is doing an awesome job riding Gryphon and is learning balancing techniques for herself and her horse that will help improve their relationship.

Day Five

Today was a fun day! I did a few new things with Gryphon today- riding with my veil and riding him bareback.

I started the session with softening work, and he was feeling energetic so I had to really remind him to keep his hind end underneath him when he went forward. He is such a funny horse; now he just wants to take the right lead no matter what direction he is going and I had to work much harder to get the left lead. The clear message to not pick up the left lead and the praises and treats for getting the correct lead really changed things for Gryphon. So today I asked for more cantering on the left lead, and gave him the same rewards as the right lead, to balance him out.

  • At the end of our session, I rode with my belly dance veil. I put a knot in the reins so they weren't too long and just did simple trot with transitions while I held the veil up high behind me. Gryphon did great, but the fabric spooked some of the other horses in the arena! I also rode Gryphon bareback at the trot and canter- what fun!

For a 9-year-old horse that has had chronic issues, Gryphon is doing wonderful!