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!

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!

"Just have fun. Smile. And keep putting on lipstick." Fun Horse Quotes

Just have fun. Smile. And keep putting on lipstick.
— Diane Keaton

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. 

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!

Friesian Horse BRIDLELESS and at LIBERTY, Shining Bright Like a DIAMOND!

"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!

How to Teach Your Horse to Smile and Talk Like Mr. Ed!

I have had a blast teaching Douwe and Rovandio to smile and "talk". Douwe absolutely loves it and offers to talk all the time. I think his ideal job would be to play a modern-day Mr. Ed, where he gets to stand around and smile all day! Trick trainer Heidi Herriott showed me how to teach Douwe and it is a fun, easy trick to teach any horse.

Why did I teach my horse to smile?
Douwe used to hold his ears back when he asked for attention. He is a big horse, so that made him look a little scary to new people (even though he wasn't being mean at all). I thought that the smile would make him appear more friendly (and also keep his lips busy so that he wasn't nibbling for treats!) It worked really well and he greets everyone with a smile and will also give gentle kisses.

Here are the Simple Steps to Teach Your Horse to Smile:

  • You only need a halter and a treat!
  • Make sure your treat is really yummy and smelly, like a peppermint or something with molasses. 
  • With your left hand, hold the horse's head up slightly so they will think "up" when you do the trick.
  • With the treat in your right hand, hold the treat right above their lip and rub or flick the lip upwards with your finger (to encourage the lip to curl up).
  • As you use the treat, make sure to use a vocal command. I use "smile".
  • When the horse gives you a slight lift of the lip, reward them with the treat. You need to reward the smallest try so that they will want to do it again and offer more.
  • Continue to hold the treat above the lip and wiggle/play with it to help encourage more lip movement.
  • Once the horse is consistent at lifting the lip, you can start to raise and wiggle your finger along with your voice command instead of using the treat.

Here is a silly video clip of Douwe "singing" Happy Birthday to my Grandfather. I was able to get him to stop "singing" by lowering my hand and then lifting it again when I wanted him to start again. This is a fun, silly trick to teach your horse and certainly entertaining, especially to people who don't know a lot about horses!

2014 Equine Affaire in Massachusetts

I am so pleased to report that both Douwe and Rovandio did AWESOME in their demos this year! I also had my own booth and was so thankful to have the BEST helpers during the event that not only made everything go smoothly but we had a BLAST, lots of laughs and memories! So here is a daily run through of what we did at the Equine Affaire 2014!

Thursday: Demo at the Youth Pavilion
I schooled both horses in the morning and was really happy that Rovandio had settled in okay and was eating and drinking a lot. This was his first time to the Equine Affaire and only his second time being away from home overnight. Both horses were energetic when I exercised them. Later in the day, Douwe was the featured horse in the Friesian breed spotlight in the Youth Pavilion. He performed many of his tricks including smile, Spanish walk, rear, and standing on the pedestal. He was wonderful! What a ham! Both horses were in the Breed Pavilion to represent the IALHA Booth (International Andalusian Lusitano Horse Assoc.) and the IFSHA (International Friesian Show Horse Assoc.) Booth. Rovy was very tired and mostly just chilled out in the stall but Douwe was a big HAM and smiled for the passing crowds for over two hours! He loved it! Click on a photo for a slideshow and hover over the image for a description.

Friday: the Andalusian Demo
Today was the big day for Rovandio! We had a four-minute time spot in the Andalusian Breed Demo all to ourselves. Originally we were supposed to perform with my friend Lydia who usually dances with us. I thought that would give Rovy more confidence in front of the audience and be more exciting with the veils and dancer. Unfortunately Lydia found out she couldn't make it only days before we left! So I changed songs and made up a simple routine to the song "Sway" from the movie Shall We Dance. I have always loved that song and it matched the Spanish-themed costume I had for Rovy. I tried really hard to get into the Mallory building in the off-hours to let Rovy look at the arena but the schedule was tight and it didn't work out. But, he went into that unfamiliar ring with the big crowd all by himself and was excellent! I was so happy with him and we had a lot of fun performing. We had so many wonderful comments from people about how we were really dancing together and how awesome it was to see a dressage horse being ridden bitless. We were riding in the Beta Bridle by Dr. Cook Bitless Bridle, who generously helped sponsor me at the Equine Affaire. Click on a photo for a slideshow and hover over the image for a description.

Saturday: the Friesian Demo
Douwe's big day! The Friesian Demo! I decided to use our pedestal as a way to help keep him focused if the audience made him nervous. It worked really well because when we first trotted around the arena he was tense and strong. After I had him step onto the pedestal he seemed to be more focused on me and his tricks rather than on spooking at the audience. He was expressive in his Spanish walk, reared a few times, and then I hopped off so that I could ask for the lay down. I am SO happy with him and how he performed throughout the event. Thank you Elisha Harvey for taking a video clip of the demo for me! Click on a photo below for a slideshow and hover over the image for a description.

Thank you to my sponsors!
Dr. Cook Bitless Bridle
They have supported me ever since I started riding Douwe and Rovandio in their bitless bridles. I have used their Beta bridles and the Padded English Leather bridles on both horses and like them both for different reasons. The Beta is easy to clean and is soft right out of the box. The leather bridle is awesome once the high-quality leather breaks in and has a lovely shine. I sell these bridles on my website in the TRAINING section. Click here to see the bridles.

El Sueno Espanol
Lisa Oberman has made two gorgeous bridle & breastcollar sets for me that I have used in two films that my horse has been in, one called Essential Realism and the other Falcyyr. You can read about these films in the Film & TV category on my blog. She is able to make custom bridles for me so I can keep riding them bitless in films and performances. She posts some gorgeous spanish saddles and tack on her Facebook page, click here to follow her.

Aanstadt-Das Deerskin Breeches
I have worn Sonya's deerskin breeches for many years and she recently made a custom pair for the film I am acting in called Falcyyr. To see photos of those breeches click here. I also wore a black pair of full seat deerskin leather breeches in my demos at the Equine Affaire. You can't really see them in most of the photos because I have big skirts on but the breeches kept me comfortable in the saddle. Click here to check out their website.

Thank you to my friends & family at the Equine Affaire!
Without the help of my friends/grooms Elisha Harvey, Sue French and Hannah French I think I would have gone crazy! There was so much to do with a booth and two horses at the event. Elisha does an excellent job trailering my horses to special events and she is also a dressage trainer and does cowboy mounted shooting at her stable Elysium Sport Ponies. Sue French operates Lincoln Pony Pals, lesson barn in Lincoln, ME and her daughter Hannah is an excellent rider and trainer. Having experienced help is so important! I am also very lucky that my mother Peggy and my mother-in-law Bethanne were able to come for the weekend. They helped sell products in my booth and Bethanne had a great time watching her horse Rovandio be in his first big demo at the Equine Affaire! And a big THANK YOU to Danielle Barrasso for letting me stable Douwe and Rovy in her aisle in the C-Barn. She also organized the Friesian Demo and helps me a lot at the event. Thank you to Brenda Hammer for organizing the IALHA booth and I had a great time chatting with her when Rovy was in the breed pavilion. Overall the event was a huge success and I had a great time!
 

Sandra Beaulieu Performs at Elysium Sport Ponies Fall Fun Day with Douwe and Rovandio

I had a wonderful time performing with the horses at Elysium Sport Ponies Fall Fun Day with Douwe, Rovandio and Lydia Rose Spencer. The weather went from hot and humid all week to cold and windy overnight so all the horses were a little on edge. Rovandio was well behaved considering this is just his third time performing away from home. He is going to the Equine Affaire, Inc. (Official) next month and that will be his big debut in front of a larger audience.

Lydia and I changed our routine slightly to incorporate her fan veils and our loooonnnng blue veil that we used with Douwe a few years ago. We changed our color scheme and our entrance music. We only practiced the week before because the filming for Falcyyr has had us busy, out in the fields getting the horses ready for their group scene. We had some really nice moments in our routine and then other parts we goofed but overall I was happy. Rovy was anxious to get started at the beginning and wouldn't stand still but his focus was awesome once he got moving.

Riding Rovandio with Lydia Rose Spencer dancing. The long veil is harder to manage but it is beautiful in motion! Photo taken by Laurie Harvey's assistant Kaitlyn.

Riding Rovandio with Lydia Rose Spencer dancing. The long veil is harder to manage but it is beautiful in motion! Photo taken by Laurie Harvey's assistant Kaitlyn.

My routine with Douwe and Rovy came out pretty well, Douwe decided to add a new move where he took his front feet off the pedestal and left his hind feet up....not something we practice!!! He is only allowed to get off the pedestal by backing up but he lost his balance and came off the front. But it was really cute because he paused long enough for me to ride around him and give him a loving pat on the haunches. Douwe got on the pedestal with all 4 feet for the first time in this routine and he also did a nice lay down in front of the audience. Rovy was a superstar when I left him on the pedestal to do some in-hand work with Douwe. He stayed there for the end of the routine and never moved a muscle! He is so reliable, I love both of them so much!

Douwe and Rovandio working together in their routine. Douwe was a little lazy for the canterwork but they had some nice transitions together. See the video at the bottom. Photo taken by Laurie Harvey's assistant Kaitlyn.

Douwe and Rovandio working together in their routine. Douwe was a little lazy for the canterwork but they had some nice transitions together. See the video at the bottom. Photo taken by Laurie Harvey's assistant Kaitlyn.

Douwe was really good in his wings routine, relaxed and slow enough for me to push him a little bit. I was concerned that the wind and the weird noises from the roof would make him a little on edge but he was chilled out after working him at liberty. We performed bridleless again and he also did his flying changes pretty well. His rein back had a little more energy to it this time and his slow spin was even.

Douwe bridleless with his wings. Photo taken by Laurie Harvey's assistant Kaitlyn.

Douwe bridleless with his wings. Photo taken by Laurie Harvey's assistant Kaitlyn.

Please follow Elysium Sport Ponies on Facebook for upcoming events:
https://www.facebook.com/ElysiumSportPonies
To see more photos from this event click here to see my PHOTO GALLERY.

Here is a highlight video of my routine with Rovandio and Douwe together. Thank you Kaylee Clark for videotaping for me!
 

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