DIY? Custom? A little bit of both? Learn the Pros and Cons for your Dressage Musical Freestyle...

Learn how to create a dressage musical freestyle.   Click here.

Learn how to create a dressage musical freestyle.  Click here.

After you have clarified your goals and defined a timeline for your freestyle you will need to decide the best path to choose. Do you have the time and energy for DIY freestyle or would you rather pass along the task to a professional?

There are a variety of ways to complete a musical freestyle but for the sake of simplicity I have broken it down into three choices to  narrow your focus.

Here are the pros and cons of the three Freestyle Paths you might choose from:

DIY & On a Budget

Creating a musical freestyle can be a very rewarding experience. On the flip side it takes a lot of time and energy, especially if you are new to freestyle design.

Make sure to give yourself enough time to accommodate the learning curve that comes with the tech and choreography. Typically,  I recommend 2-3 months at a minimum. I have broken down the process into seven phases in my eBook that guides you along the way.

Pros:
* Cheapest Option
* Learn the Process for Future Freestyles
* Edit as Often as you Like (especially after each show based on judge's commentary)
* Express your Creativity
* Gain a Sense of Accomplishment

Cons:
* Possible Frustrating
* It will probably take a lot Longer
* You will mostly likely run into Tech Issues
* You will face Setbacks
* You may not reach your Show Deadline

Learn how to design your very own Dressage Musical Freestyle.  Click here

Learn how to design your very own Dressage Musical Freestyle. Click here

With Some Help & a Moderate Budget

This is the route I see many adult amateurs take. They want to stay on a budget but are not quite capable, or confident, to put in the extra time to learn the tech side of freestyle design.

Typically, riders will outsource the music editing because they are not familiar with the  software. It is a smart decision considering the learning curve can be quite frustrating! Click here to take the guesswork out of choreography design. 

Pros:
* Learn the Process
* Outsource the Parts you Don't want to Do
* Outsource the Parts you Don't have the Skills to Do
* Express your Creativity
* Feel a Sense of Accomplishment

Cons:
* Costs more to purchase Pre-Made music or Hire Help
* You may run into Tech Issues
* You may not reach your Show Deadline
* You may have Trouble finding good Help

Save Time & Energy - Go with a Custom Freestyle

If you are a professional rider that is too busy with training clients and competitions, this is your best option. Adult amateur riders that are competitive and going to a lot of recognized shows will also benefit from a professional's touch. Every designer has a unique creation process and style to their freestyles. I personally am drawn to soundtracks that evoke strong emotions for the rider, the audience, and the judge. I chose music from the TV series Outlander for my Friesian gelding. When the entrance music starts my emotions change and it helps with my confidence. Click here to watch our Outlander freestyle

Pros:
* Works with a Busy Schedule
* Great Option if you Lack Creativity
* Takes the Worry out of the Process
* Can be a lot of Fun to test out the Music and Choreography
* Additional Support and Encouragement

Cons:
* Most Expensive
* Can be Frustrating waiting on the Designer
* You may end up on a Waiting List during busy Seasons
* You may have to pay for additional Edits and Changes

I hope that diving deeper into the Pros and Cons of each process has helped you decide on the best course of action for you. If you have any questions you can post them on the blog or email me at beginthedance@gmail.com.

Download My Free Resources

Stay organized with my Musical Freestyle Checklist and begin sketching choreography with my Blank Arena Diagram Page.

Freestyle Free Downloads.png

Browse my Freestyle E-Book Store

Learn how to create a musical freestyle from start to finish or choose an e-Book with choreography ideas just for your level.
Click here to view all Freestyle e-Books.

Related Articles

Six Smartphone Apps to Help you Create your Dressage Musical Freestyle

Learn how to create a dressage musical freestyle.   Click here.

Learn how to create a dressage musical freestyle.  Click here.

After you have clarified your goals and decided on a course of action, you will need tools and resources to begin your freestyle journey. The internet has made the freestyle creation process a lot easier, with more apps and tools being added all the time.

Here are some popular apps that will help you will different aspects of freestyle design. Most of these apps are available on both iPhone and Android but I have only included links to the iTunes store. Send me an email (beginthedance@gmail.com) if you have found another useful app that you think I should add to this list.

USDF EquiTests 1

It is a good idea to have the freestyle tests available for quick reference. I check the tests to make sure I know the required movements for each level and to make sure I am not including anything that is forbidden.

The app also includes the USDF Introductory Tests, which is helpful to have on your phone if you are teaching beginner dressage riders. Click here to download the USDF EquiTests 1 app.

BPM by Cheebow

I use this app on a daily basis to help me find a horse's BPM (beats per minute). There are many BPM and Metronome apps on the market but this one also lets me check the BPM of a song while it is playing in Spotify. Many of the other apps I have tried will not work at the same time as you play a song.

You can use this app to determine whether a song will match your horse's gaits, simple, quick, and easy! You simply tap the beat on the screen. When I use the app I start by tapping my foot to the beat of the song and then tap my finger to help me keep a consistent rhythm. Click here to download the BPM by Cheebow app.
 

Soundcorset

This metronome app came highly recommended by a member of the Freestyle Facebook Group. I have since downloaded it to my iPhone and I will test it out myself. You can simply tap the screen to start/stop the metronome and set a visual flash of light if you can't hear the beat. 

It also has a BPM detector that may also be useful to figure out the BPM of a particular song. This app is meant for musicians and has additional features to tune instruments and record music. Click here to download the Soundcorset app.

EquiTempo

This is a metronome app meant specifically for riders. You can use this app to help you determine your horses's BPM's but it works differently. Instead of tapping the screen you will set the tempo and keep adjusting it until you and your horse are in sync with it. 

This app is helpful for riders that have a hard time keeping a steady tempo. Once you figure out your horse's BPM's you can set the tempo and practice keeping it steady during your ride. Click here to download the EquiTempo app.

EquiSketch Dressage

I have not used this app personally but I have heard positive reviews from students. This app is helpful for choreography, letting you draw movements and save your routine on your phone. This would be useful if you have an idea for your freestyle but are not close to a pen and paper. 

Let me know if you have tried this app and how you like it. Click here to download the EquiSketch Dressage app. 

Spotify

I love using Spotify and I recommend the paid version. You can use Spotify for free but it does not let you click through songs quickly, you have to wait and listen to ads. If you just need the app to help you for a one-time freestyle you can just use the free version.

I save numerous playlists for walk, trot, and canter songs so I can go back later and find something for a new client. I also create playlists for each horse/rider combination and for my own personal horses and themed performances.

Spotify will also recommend songs based on your personal preferences. This has helped me discover new music that I wouldn't have found on my own. However, it is easy to fall down the rabbit hole and listen for hours! But I don't see that as a big problem do you? Click here to download the Spotify app.

Do you have an app you use for musical freestyle? Please leave a comment below, email me at beginthedance@gmail.com, or join the Facebook group and share with the other members

Download My Free Resources

Stay organized with my Musical Freestyle Checklist and begin sketching choreography with my Blank Arena Diagram Page.

Freestyle Free Downloads.png

Browse my Freestyle E-Book Store

Learn how to create a musical freestyle from start to finish or choose an e-Book with choreography ideas just for your level.
Click here to view all Freestyle e-Books.

Related Articles

Four Ways to Stay Motivated as you Create Your Dressage Musical Freestyle

Creating a musical freestyle takes time. You may begin the process all gung-ho and then find that your motivation lessens as time passes.

So far on your freestyle journey you have clarified your goals, decided on a course of actiongathered your resourcesfound your BPMs, and started the music search

Whenever I feel a lack of inspiration I spend some time doing the following. I would love to know how you stay inspired. Please share in the comments below or with the Freestyle Facebook group

Go to a Show

If you have the opportunity to attend a live event I think that it can help spark motivation. Even a local schooling show with one freestyle can motivate you. Watching a fellow rider in the ring, showing their finished freestyle is encouraging. Sometimes the lack of entries is also inspiring, it confirms the fact that creating freestyles is a lot of work and it means that your freestyle will stand out from the crowd.

Make plans to attend a big show if you live near high-profile showgrounds like Saugerties, NY or Tryon, NC. Are you making plans to attend the World Equestrian Games coming up this September (2018)? Regional and National Championship shows typically showcase the freestyles in the evening for the enjoyment of the audience. 

Watch YouTube

This is by far the quickest way to get motivated and inspire new ideas. I have saved individual Playlists for each level, Training through Grand Prix, and would love your help to add more. If you want to inspire other riders please send it along. Click on the freestyle level you are interested in seeing, the link will take you to my YouTube playlist for that level.  

If you have a video you would like me to add, please post the link in the comments below, email me at beginthedance@gmail.com, or post your video in the Freestyle Facebook Group. I would love to share your finished freestyle, it doesn't matter if you are starting out at Training level.

Browse Quotes

When I am feeling down I jump onto Pinterest and start searching for motivational quotes and sayings. There aren't that many quotes related to musical freestyle...believe me I know! That's why I have created my own using quotes related to dancing, music, and riding. Click here to browse my collection of quotes here on my website or you can follow my Dressage Musical Freestyle board on Pinterest

Join a Community

Being a part of a group of like-minded riders is helpful to stay inspired and get encouragement. I started a Freestyle Facebook Group specifically for riders that want to ask questions, share their journey, and receive encouragement along the way. It is a positive group of ladies, many of them I know in "real life" too! Click here to join.

You can also join a few other Facebook groups called Musical Freestyle (Dressage Kur) and Musical Freestyle Dressage

There are also two online forums that you can ask questions and interact with other members on the topics of musical freestyle. These are the two that I recommend, the Chronicle of the Horse Forum and the Definitely Dressage Observation Lounge Forum.

If you find any other fun, positive groups online please let me know in the comments below or email me at beginthedance@gmail.com. I hope this post helped you find some motivation to continue working on your freestyle. Don't worry, everyone gets stuck, I think it is basically a right of passage! When you are struggling through the third, even tenth edit of your freestyle music it can feel like it is taking forever! Good luck!


Download My Free Resources

Stay organized with my Musical Freestyle Checklist and begin sketching choreography with my Blank Arena Diagram Page.

Freestyle Free Downloads.png

Browse my Freestyle E-Book Store

Learn how to create a musical freestyle from start to finish or choose an e-Book with choreography ideas just for your level.
Click here to view all Freestyle e-Books.

Related Articles

Turn Up the Music! Begin the Search for Your Dressage Musical Freestyle Music by Picking a Theme...

Now for the fun part! This is usually the part of freestyle creation that everyone seems to enjoy. Searching for music can be exciting. However, it could be overwhelming if you don't know where to begin. That is what we will focus on today.

Before you search for your freestyle music you will want to clarify your goals, decide on a course of actiongather your resources, and figure out your horse's BPMs. By knowing your horse's BPMs you will spend less time on your music search.

You can use a smartphone app to check songs on the fly, save songs on an app like Spotify, and shorten the amount of time it takes to find songs for your walk, trot, and canter. 

You might already have a particular band, song, or soundtrack that you are particularly fond of. If you starting from a clean slate, use this list to help you brainstorm ideas. 

> Match Your Horse's Breed:

Your horse's breed might lend itself to a particular genre of music.  Think about where your horse's breed originates from, and the history that goes along with it. 

If you ride a Mustang you might choose music that sounds like the wild west or a movie soundtrack like Spirit. If you ride a Baroque horse (Andalusian, Lusitano, Lipizzan) you might like classical, flamenco, or spanish style music. 

> Favorite Movie & T.V. Soundtracks:

Riding to popular movie soundtracks will engage your audience/judge, reminding them of the emotions they felt when they watched that movie.

I chose music from the Outlander soundtrack for my Friesian horse Douwe. I love the T.V. series and I was lucky that the music matched his gaits. Click here to watch our First Level Freestyle that has over 9,000 views on Facebook! 

> Favorite Bands & Popular Songs:

Is there a particular song on the radio that you just love? Lyrics are discouraged in the show arena (unless they lend a special quality to the performance) but you can find a variety of cover songs and remakes online.

Search the song name on ITunes and Spotify and you will typically find instrumental versions. Some of my favorite groups that create instrumental songs from modern music are Vitamin String Quartet, Eklipse, and The Piano Guys. You can also find remakes of your favorite songs from the 70s, 80s, etc. 

> Favorite Genre of Music:

Are you a huge fan of the 80's? Maybe you love classical music and opera. There are so many genres to choose from. Narrowing it down to one genre may not be as specific as a particular band but it will be a great start! 

When you think of your favorite style of music keep in mind how it makes you feel. Gravitate towards music that gives you confidence and keeps you focused, some music can create a lot of excitement that might translate into tension at a horse show.

If you haven't started already, I hope this article inspires you to begin your music search. Putting together your own musical freestyle is a challenge but well worth it in the end.


Download My Free Resources

Stay organized with my Musical Freestyle Checklist and begin sketching choreography with my Blank Arena Diagram Page.

Freestyle Free Downloads.png

Browse my Freestyle E-Book Store

Learn how to create a musical freestyle from start to finish or choose an e-Book with choreography ideas just for your level.
Click here to view all Freestyle e-Books.

Related Articles

How to Determine your Horse's BPMs for your Dressage Musical Freestyle...

Learn how to create a dressage musical freestyle.  Click here.

Learn how to create a dressage musical freestyle. Click here.

After you have clarified your goals, decided on a course of action, and gathered your resources, you will need to figure out your horse's BPMs. 

I get asked about BPMs (beats per minute) frequently from riders who need help finding freestyle music. They know that they need to figure out their horse's bpms but aren't quite sure what that means or how to go about it. It is actually quite simple once you give it a try. I have included a few different methods, hopefully one of them will work for you!

Why You Need To Figure Out Your Horse's BPM:

Every piece of music has it's own beats per minute. When you match your horse's bpm to the music's bpm you can feel confident that the music will match. Of course, there is more to it than just matching the bpm (picking a theme, matching personality, and whether your horse enjoys it as well) but is a good place to start. 

Items You Will Need

  • A Timer or Cell Phone (with one of apps listed below)

  • Leg Wraps - use one easy-to-see color

  • Video Camera (optional)

  • A Helper/Assistant

Start by wrapping one of your horse's front legs with a colored polo wrap. You only need this one wrap but the leg will show up better in a video if all the legs are wrapped with just one that is brightly colored.

Learn how to find your horse's BPMs for your musical freestyle.

Learn how to find your horse's BPMs for your musical freestyle.

I suggest that you warm up first so that you can be sure to have the best representation of your horse's working gait.

Every time that front leg touches the ground at the walk or trot, you will count it as one “beat”. At the canter, you count the leading foreleg as one “beat” when it strikes the ground.

Use a Timer

Using a stopwatch or the timer on your cell phone, have your assistant set the timer for one minute. Have them count the number of footfalls (of that one foreleg) while you ride your horse in a consistent working walk, trot or canter. As long as the horse stays steady and your helper is a good counter (haha) you will have your bpm. You may want to take an average after multiple tries.

Use an App

Have your ground person use a metronome app on your phone, adjusting it up or down until the “beep” sound of the metronome matches the footfall of the wrapped leg. Some good apps to try are EquiTempo and Metronome.

OR

Have your ground person use a BPM app, tapping the screen every time your horse's front leg touches the ground. It will give you the average bpm within a few strides, try it a few times to double check consistency. I have been using the BPM by Cheebow  for many years.

Take A Video

Take this opportunity to have your assistant video your horse at a consistent walk, trot and canter. Make sure to include your working gaits and lengthened/extended movements. Stay in each working gait for at least one full minute. You can count the footfalls from the comfort of your own home on your computer. The video will also be helpful for you to test out different pieces of music.

Here are some basic BPM guidelines:
Walk- between 50-65 BPM
Trot- between 75-90 BPM
Canter- between 95-110 BPM
Passage/Piaffe- between 60-65 BPM

*Generally the canter is twice the beats of the walk and the trot lies somewhere in between.


Freestyle Free Downloads.png

Browse my Freestyle E-Book Store

Learn how to create a musical freestyle from start to finish or choose an e-Book with choreography ideas just for your level.
Click here to view all Freestyle e-Books.

Related Articles

What Computer Software Should You Use to Edit Your Dressage Freestyle Music?

Learn how to create a dressage musical freestyle.   Click here.

Learn how to create a dressage musical freestyle.  Click here.

After you have clarified your goals and decided on a course of action, you will need tools and resources to begin your freestyle journey. The internet has made the freestyle creation process a lot easier, with more programs and tools being added all the time.

Find online resources to edit your dressage freestyle music. Click image.

Here are some popular programs that are used by amateurs and professional freestyle designers. Send me an email (beginthedance@gmail.com) if you have found another useful program that you think I should be added to this list.

> Garageband My current software of choice. It is easy to use and works seamlessly with ITunes. Only available on Mac.

> Audacity Probably the most popular FREE software that will work on all computers.

> Logic Pro X The next step up from Garageband. Only available for Mac.

> Adobe Audition Creativity in the cloud, there is a monthly fee but you also have access to other Adobe programs.

> Music Maker  Previously known as Sound Forge, was bought out by Magix. They have a free trial to use the software.
 


Dressage Musical Freestyle Video Tutorials YouTube online resources Begin the Dance Kur Design.png

YouTube Video Tutorials

I regularly save freestyle videos and tutorials on my YouTube channel. If you find a video that I have not saved to a playlist please send me an email (beginthedance@gmail.com) so I can add it.
 
> How to Edit Music using Audacity YouTube playlist with Video Tutorials

> How to Edit Music using Garageband YouTube playlist with Video Tutorials

 


Local Resources

Dressage Musical Freestyle Resources Music Editing Software Kur Routine DIY how to day four.png

In addition to online resources, I encourage you to look into options that might be available to you locally. 

> Family & Friends: Perhaps your son is really good on the computer? Check with your horse friends and see if any of them are tech savvy. Maybe you could barter some riding lessons for their editing skills! Be creative!  

Local High School: Meet with your local music teacher to see if they have the ability to edit music. Your school may have a computer class that could include your freestyle as a class project.  

Nearby University: Pay a college student to edit your music. Try posting a want ad on a local community board or coffee shop where the tech-savvy folks hang out. Some college student would probably appreciate the opportunity to earn a little extra money.  

Professional Musician: If you know someone who records their own music they will certainly have the skills to edit music. Check out some local bands in your area. Don't worry about the genre of their music, it is the editing skills you need. 

Freestyle Designer: You can reach out to a few professional freestyle designers and see if they would be willing to edit your music separate from the choreography. Most designers want to be involved in the entire process or they may have suggestions for your music choices and choreography.


Download My Free Resources

Stay organized with my Musical Freestyle Checklist and begin sketching choreography with my Blank Arena Diagram Page.

Freestyle Free Downloads.png

Browse my Freestyle E-Book Store

Learn how to create a musical freestyle from start to finish or choose an e-Book with choreography ideas just for your level.
Click here to view all Freestyle e-Books.

Related Articles

10 Strategies to Lessen Show & Performance Anxiety for Horseback Riders

I have dealt with show anxiety for many years and still feel the butterflies before each performance. I had MANY goals growing up, I wanted to be an Olympic rider and an Olympic judge! I put a LOT of pressure on myself and had high expectations. I was always riding for scores and focused on that particular percentage whether is was a 60% for a USDF Medal or a 65% for the USEF "r" Judges Program. That pressure caused me to CHOKE and FREEZE UP. I got very tight, held my breath, and was not in the moment with my horse. This caused my horses to be tense, resistant, and lose all the connection that I had schooling at home. After earning my scores for my USDF Silver Medal and the USEF "r" Judges Program I was burnt out.

When I bought Douwe in 2008 I decided to follow my heart and to focus on my horse, not myself. I went to shows that I thought would be fun and easy for him and showed below the level we were schooling. Douwe was undefeated at Training Level and earned many awards through the Northeast Friesian Horse Club. This experience helped boost my confidence and give me hope. With Douwe my aspirations are more artistic in nature, performing and training him in liberty and bridleless. I have found that performing is more natural to me than showing because I can make mistakes and the audience won't really know, as opposed to a judge that looks for every fault. Performing, to me, is based on the positive and showing is based on the negative.

Here are 10 strategies I have used to lessen my show and performance anxiety. I hope they will help you this show season!

1. Get Organized!
The stress of showing and performing really comes down to detailed preparation and last minute details. Usually, we are so wrapped up in our own lives that we forget to think ahead to all the things we could take care of ahead of time to make the showing experience go as smoothly as possible. I have multiple checklists that I use...one for early preparation (months in advance, hotels, trailer details-check tires, etc) the week before (packing, cleaning tack, preparing my music, etc), the night before (schooling at the venue, grooming, etc), and the day of. Planning out your day with a priority list is very helpful so you can stay on track.

2. Focus! 
It helps me to focus on ONE thing at a time when I am getting ready. Instead of letting your mind wander ahead to your test/routine and thinking of everything that could go wrong, try your best to focus on what is right in front of you. Braiding your horse, cleaning your tack, bathing, tacking up, etc. When something pops into your head that you may have forgotten just WRITE IT DOWN so you can get back to the job at hand. I used to keep a piece of paper and a pen in my pocket but now I use the notes app on my IPhone. I even included simple things like breakfast and hair/makeup which helped me plan my show day so I gave myself plenty of prep time in the morning.

3. Change Perspective:
Take a moment to visualize the show/performance experience from your horse's perspective. What do you think your horse will get upset, tense, or excited about? If you know the trailer ride will be full of stress you will want to put extra attention towards the morning preparation so your horse will not be waiting on the trailer while you finish packing. Think about the stall situation, are the stalls open to the other horses? Will you need a stall guard (or two!). If you have never been to the showgrounds make sure to email or call ahead to see what the stalls are like. You may arrive and find out that there are no eye hooks to put up your stall guard or that your horse will be stabled where he cannot see other horses. Do you have certain care routines that you do with your horse like carrot stretches or hand grazing?  Try to fit those into your show day to help keep your horse relaxed. Make sure to pack your therapeutic products, Back on Track, ice boots, and liniment. I use Rescue Remedy (a Bach homeopathic remedy) to help minimize my stress and the horse (yes it works for both people and horses!). I also pack Arnica pills to help with muscle soreness from stress and physical exertion.

4. Familiarize:
Most dressage shows will allow riders to hand walk or school in the show arena the day before but will block it off after they prepare and drag it at night. If there is an opportunity even just to lead your horse around the outside of the ring it will really help, especially with a spooky horse. Arrive early and take your time letting your horse look around and see the judge's booth, the flowers, and the gait to enter the ring. This will give you an indication as to how your horse might react the next day. If the showgrounds has a long walk between the stabling, the warm-up ring, and the show ring you will want to time yourself the day before so you can time your preparation just right.

5. Calming & Relaxing Exercises:
Deep breathing, yoga stretches, and simple loosening exercises during warm-up are very helpful. Play some calm music on your phone or listen to it while you are tacking up. Anything that helps slow down your mind and your heartbeat is helpful. I find that simple yoga stretches and warm-up exercises work best for me. If I sit still and try to focus on my breathing my mind gets racing. I used to try visualizing my dressage test in the morning but found that I became tense and anxious just thinking about it. Experiment with different techniques to find what works the best for you. I also give myself a solid 10 minutes to just get on my horse and walk, letting his movement loosen my hips and slowing down my breathing.

6. Focus on the Judge/Audience:
When you are performing the audience has no idea what you are planning to do. Use that to your advantage and when things go wrong just smile and pretend that was supposed to happen. Of course there are things the audience will know isn't mean to happen, like spooking, bucking, or resistance. However, the audience will usually sympathize with you as long as you don't get upset, use force, or make it look like you are having a hard time. That will make the audience tense and want to look away. During a competition the same advice doesn't apply but try to think of ways to make the judge's job easier and more enjoyable. Make a great first impression with good grooming and turnout, tell the judge "Good Morning!" or tell them your name and number to help the scribe check the test. Say something so the judge can hear your voice (be confident and cheerful) and feel your positive energy! The judge would love to see you perform your best so if something goes wrong it does not help to dwell on it. Think ahead to the next movement and forget about the moves that already happened. Instead of thinking that the judge is mean-spirited, imagine that she is your personal cheerleader, silently willing you to do your best. That is what I do when I am judging!

7. Smile!
Just the simple act of smiling can change the chemicals in your brain. Even if you have to force it!! Just do it! Especially going down that centerline. Being a dressage judge I know the difference in how I judge a rider that looks highly stressed and one that looks like they are enjoying themselves. A smile puts the judge at ease and lets them focus on the other aspects of your ride. If your face is scrunched up or you look like you are about to cry it will only distract the judge, making them feel tense and negative and that could affect your scores. One cute thing my Mom used to do for me was put a smiley face sticker on the top of my horse's bridle, on the poll. I could see the smiley face when I looked at my horse's head and it reminded me to smile! Thanks Mom!

8. Expect Mistakes:
Please accept that your dressage test or performance routine will not be perfect. Perfect is not real. Obsessing over every little detail not being just right will take you out of the moment and the true enjoyment will be lost. Staying focused on your horse will help you move on from a mistake and enjoy the rest of your routine. Remember that EVERYONE makes many, many mistakes in every ride. I am sure every Olympic rider can recall an embarrassing experience where their horse left the dressage ring or bucked them off in front of an audience. S**t happens!!! That's life, what more can I say?

9. Healthy Diet:
This is very difficult to stick with at a horse show. I can relate! Every best intention usually goes down the drain on the second day. That cooler you packed with healthy food is now luke warm or completely gone! I have found that healthy snack bars (Kind Bars are my favorite!) and flavored seltzer waters (because it is more fun than plain water!) are the easiest things for me to stock up on before a show. When you start to feel shaky it could be low blood sugar. Watch out for heat exhaustion at shows as well, it is so easy to get over focused on your dressage test and forget to drink any water. Put on that show coat on a 90 degree day and I can guarantee you will have problems focusing in your dressage test! Avoid sugar and caffeine the best you can, particularly right before your ride. The caffeine will get your heart racing and the sugar will not sustain your energy.

10. Practice In Your Show Clothes/Costume:
This is a common mistake that I have fallen for many times, especially showing. For instance, I would save my fancy dressage boots for a show but they felt slippery when I rode because I was used to suede half chaps. Or my white show breeches were not full seat and I felt like I was sliding around in my saddle without my sheepskin seat cover. The same is true for your horse's tack, make sure you have ridden in your saddle pad at least once to be sure it fits well and won't slide back and make sure to ride in your show bridle the week before so your horse has a chance to adjust. All of these little details make a difference. You need to feel confident in your show clothes/costume to perform at your best!

Here is a helpful video on a common performance anxiety trait called Choking. He includes two additional strategies, "De-escalate the Situation" and how to use a "Holistic Cue Word".

If you have had problems with show and performance anxiety please let me know what strategies, tips and tricks you have used in the past. Please leave a comment below or you can email me with questions/comments at beginthedance@gmail.com. Thank you for reading! Have fun at your next show or performance!

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!

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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. 

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