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!

Begin the Dance - Jazz Quote

Life is a lot like jazz...it’s best when you improvise.
— George Gershwin

In this photo I am enjoying a jazz dance with Rovandio. He is getting so much better at his liberty work, graduating to just the neck rope. Hopefully soon he will be able to perform without it. He is a lot different than Douwe but is learning at his own pace and I am starting to see his personality blossom. I love this quote because it sums up the nature of liberty work. It truly is an improvised dance between human and horse. Wonderful things happen spontaneously and I savor the moments that something unexpected but magical happens. This photo was taken by Kimberly Chason. Please share this quote with anyone that might appreciate it.

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!

Improve Your Horse's Training With Praise and Treats, Helpful Tips & Advice

I am a huge supporter of using praise and treats when I am training my horse. I think that a well-timed treat can greatly enhance your horse's desire to learn and perform. However, if treats are given when the horse did not earn them they can definitely make a horse mouthy or sour, so timing is essential. I will be the first one to admit that I give a LOT of treats, probably too many but that is my own choice. I always use them when I teach new movements and regularly with the piaffe in-hand, trick and liberty work.

I like to think of treats as a way to activate the horse's brain. If he is really food motivated then he will use his brain to anticipate what you might ask for, thus resulting in less aids on your part because he is listening. Once the horse has learned a new movement I wean them off the treats and only use them sporadically for that specific movement. For example, in training the Spanish Walk on the ground, I started by giving my horse a treat each time he raised his leg. It was tedious, patient work because he was not naturally talented for this movement and wanted to "hang" his leg back under the body rather than reach out from the shoulder. But fast forward a few years later and we can perform an expressive Spanish Walk around the arena before he earns any treats. He loves to do the Spanish Walk and I have to be careful that I do not aid him by mistake since he likes to earn his rewards. I do not think I could have motivated him to do the Spanish Walk without treats because he found it difficult in the beginning.  Some horses find the Spanish Walk very easy and a nice pat or "good boy" will work really well as their reward.

Using the Voice: The voice is definitely an instrumental tool in training. Try to use your voice with as much timing and precision as your other aids. If my horse is tense I try to talk to him, telling him what a good boy he is to give him confidence. Your voice can also be the quickest way to reward your horse when he is learning something new. If he gives you one step of piaffe or yields nicely to your leg then tell him right at that moment. Positive reinforcement is the best way to train a horse, they will want to perform for you because you make them feel confident and appreciated.

A Well Timed Pat: To reward your horse "on the go" try to stroke the neck with your inside hand during your ride at the right moment. This will help you, the rider, release the inside rein which is also an added benefit. It is also helpful in training to transition to the walk, give a long rein and a pat on the neck (along with voice) when the horse has done something really spectacular. The horse then associates a huge reward for a job well done...walk on a long rein, voice, and a pat. I do this a lot for training flying changes. After my horse does the change I reward with my voice, transition to the walk/halt, give a pat or treat and let them walk. This helps for a horse that gets nervous with changes and tries to rush or run after the change. Eventually they become calmer and more confident, wanting to do a flying change for fun! Be careful not to slap your horse too hard on the neck, this could be a little uncomfortable for them so try to stroke or rub the neck instead of hitting them too hard out of sheer enthusiasm!

Treats: There is such a wide variety of treats it really depends on what your horse likes. Apples, carrots, sugar cubes, and any other treat on the market work very well. I prefer to use peppermint treats because they are an excellent size for training and they don't get mushy like carrots and apples. I do use sugar cubes as well because of their small size and they dissolve quickly. Carrots and apples are wonderful with the Bitless Bridle because you don't need to worry about them getting stuck in the bit. Make sure you do not give the colored treats or carrots at a horse show because they will change the color of your horse's saliva and could cause a problem with show management. Especially the peppermint treats because the saliva can look almost identical to a horse that has blood in his mouth.

Training Pouch: I helped design the Treats Reward Pouch found for sale on my website (shown in the photo). This training pouch has a magnetic closure so the rider has quick, easy access with one hand. Being able to hold the reins in one hand and give a treat quickly with the other is KEY to positive association. Wearing a vest is equally as helpful but not as comfortable in the summer months when you need to wear a tee shirt or tank top with no pockets. It is also handy to unclip your pouch and leave it in your tack trunk or grooming box rather than treats ending up in the washer machine or melting in your pocket. Click here to view this training product.

I hope these suggestions will help you incorporate more praise into your training. Horses, like children, thrive on praise and positive feedback. I really feel that they start to blossom when they know the rider is thrilled with their performance and effort. I would love to know what types of treats you use with your horse and any other tips and suggestions you might recommend. Please post a comment below or send me an email at beginthedance@gmail.com.

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!
 

First Art on Horseback Painting

I am feeling overwhelmed to share this painting. In 2012 I had the inkling of an idea. I wondered if it was possible to create a painting while riding a horse. I obsessed about it and it took years to figure out the logistics, months to acquire the necessary supplies, days to prepare for, and hours to set up, but, two "practice canvases" later, I have my first finished piece, "Prancing Water Horse":

This painting will always hold a special place in my heart. <3

This painting will always hold a special place in my heart. <3

This painting is made of two 36"x48" canvases to make a full 4'x6' canvas. The background was created with a paint roller at the trot and canter, using the movements of the horse to help mix the colors. I rubbed the paint onto the canvas directly with my hands and created the drips with a water bottle. I let the canvas dry and turned it upside-down before I painted the horse. My painting partner, Lipizzan/Andalusian gelding, Rovandio, and I had to work together in the collected movements so that I could paint while remaining in motion. We used piaffe, Spanish walk, collected canter, and rein-back. This painting is an expression of my passion for the art of riding. Please help me share my story so that I can help inspire others to turn their dreams into reality.

Art on Horseback

Sandra Beaulieu Painting on Horseback

"In the zen of the moment
living, breathing art
brush stroke upon brush stroke
hoofbeat upon hoofbeat.
The horse forms the artist
the artist forms the horse
flowing, living, breathing art."

                              -Bethanne Ragaglia

Two years ago I was inspired with an idea... a way to combine my two passions, dressage & art. I wondered if it was possible to create a painting from the back of a horse. Hard work, creativity and patience brought my dream into reality! It is so amazing to see the results of a vision come to life. I hope that my journey will inspire others to follow their dreams. This video was made by a small group of amazing interns at the Innovation Center run by the University of Maine. Thank you to Matthew Bullard, Christine Le, Courtney Norman and Jacob Pelkey for their hard work and enthusiasm!

Related Art on Horseback Videos:

Painting for Have a Heart Fundraiser to benefit Triple R Horse Rescue: To learn more about this painting, click here.

Creating a commissioned painting, "Nicole's Dream". To request a commission, email: beginthedance@gmail.com

Originals and more information available at ArtonHorseback.com

(or click the image below)

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!

Fantasy Winter Photo Shoot with Friesian and Warmblood Horses

My friend, Lydia Rose Spencer, and I brainstormed a photo shoot in the snow for the winter of 2013. I spend my winters in Florida and was leaving the week we decided on, so I asked Jesse Schwarcz (www.jschwarczphotography.com) to come back (she had done a shoot with my Frisian gelding, Douwe, and I a few days before). Of course it was extremely WINDY and cold, but we are both tough Mainer girls, so we charged ahead into the shoot anyway! (I put hand-warmers in my gloves, fit a turtleneck under my corset, and wore my thick winter breeches under my skirt.)

Costumes:

We found awesome fur shawls/hoods at JCPenney, as well as jewelry.

I wore a "Snow Queen" inspired outfit: a blue and white corset with a white shirt, white fur, and blue skirt.

Lydia wore a "Red Riding Hood" inspired costume and rode her chestnut Warmblood gelding, Valimar, with a mixture of red/black/and brown costume pieces.

Location:

We started in the indoor riding arena, and Jesse used the doorway to silhouette our figures. I had Douwe rear in the doorway, though he is not strong enough yet to move very high. Douwe also performed Spanish walk going out the doorway (shown above).

We went into a big field and took trotting and cantering photos towards the photographer. That was the moment the wind picked up, and I mean PICKED UP! It was an instant ice cream headache when we were facing into the wind and it was hard to see because the snow was getting blown around. It was well worth braving the elements, as the lighting was fantastic and the wind made for some wonderful snow effects.


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