How to Stay Motivated to Ride in the Winter Time, Ideas & Online Resources

I have lived in Maine my entire life and can relate to everyone out there who struggles with motivation in the winter. The ice, the snow, the below freezing temperatures, the frozen bits, the frozen fingers and toes!!!! Riding in the winter is certainly not for the faint of heart! However, the winter training season can also be a great opportunity for you to take your riding to the next level. Here are some ideas and online resources that I have used over the years that I hope will keep you going on those 10 degree days (or colder!) where you really want to ride but are frustrated and tired of winter.

Education

The winter months are the PERFECT time for continuing your education. If there aren't any clinics in your area don't worry! I have included a few online resources that I have devoured in the past.

Clinics: Look at your region and find out if there are any dressage instructors that will be teaching nearby. You can learn just as much or more auditing a clinic than even riding in one. By watching all the different riders and horses you can take away volumes of information to apply to your horse. Remember to bring your notebook to take notes and have a comfortable chair!

Online Training:
DressageClinic.com: This website is perfect if you don't want to miss all the big events happening in the dressage world. They post full videos of national symposiums and events like the USDF Convention, Global Dressage Forum and the NEDA Symposium. Watch clinics with all the top trainers and Olympic riders like Ashley Holzer, Ingrid Klimke and many more. Their monthly membership is $39.95 but if you pay for 3, 6, or 12 months at a time you can get that price down to $24.95 a month. Click here to visit their website: www.dressageclinic.com

DressageTrainingOnline.com: Imagine if you could visit the barns of Olympic riders and watch them school their horses and teach lessons.......this website lets you do just that! They have over a 1,000 videos to browse through and add 10 new videos every month. Their membership fee is currently $28.80 a month and it is certainly worth it to watch world class riders and their horses. They have also added an Evaluate My Ride feature where you can submit your own video and have it critiqued by the trainer or judge of your choice. Click here to visit their website: www.dressagetrainingonline.com

Working Student or Riding Vacation: If you can take off a few weeks or a few months why not try a working student opportunity somewhere warm! I have been a working student in Wellington, Fl for international dressage judge Gabriel Armando and I have also taken a dressage riding vacation in Portugal before under George Malleroni. Both experiences were incredibly valuable in shaping the rider I am today. My visit to Portugal boosted my work ethic and showed me what it took to become a great rider (riding over 7 horses a day!) and my experience in Wellington opened my eyes to the behind the scenes. I was able to visit training barns of Olympic riders and watch them train and teach.

Work with Me (Sandra Beaulieu): I have a new (December 2017) coaching group online where you can learn how to improve your dressage, teach your horse tricks, learn liberty and in-hand exercises, and upload short video clips of you and your horse for review. Behind-the-scenes access to schooling sessions, lessons, and performances. This opportunity is $9.99/month, with three new videos added weekly! Click here to learn more about my positive, creative style of training. 

Playtime

The winter months are a great time to relax and play with your horse. Have you been wanting to try some liberty training or teach your horse tricks? I first began riding Rovandio with Douwe at liberty because of the weather. It was too cold outside to take the time to ride both so I just put them in the ring together and started experimenting. That blossomed into a new performance routine for us and a new language between me and my horse. Here are some trick training resources I have used to help me get started:

Allen Pogue: Allen has a variety of trick and liberty training videos that can help you teach your horse how to lay down, bow, work on the pedestal and much more. He also sells props like bean bags to teach your horse to sit, pedestals, and balls for your horse to play with. Click here to check out his website: www.imagineahorse.com

Heidi Herriott I met Heidi when I was teaching at Southern Oaks Equestrian Center in Tallahassee, FL. She has been the head trainer at Arabian Nights and has her own tv show called Horse Trix TV. She showed me how to teach Douwe to smile, pick up objects and we also worked on spanish walk and rear. She has a variety of YouTube videos to help you get started and she also teaches clinics. Click here to visit her website: www.heidiharriott.com
 

Photoshoot

Photograph taken by Lydia Rose Spencer

Photograph taken by Lydia Rose Spencer

Have you ever wanted to do a winter photo shoot? It can be challenging but well worth it! I have done a few winter photo shoots over the years and my best advice is to LAYER! You have to get creative with layering so that you can wear a fun costume but not freeze to death! Using hand and toe warmers and bringing spare blankets and large jackets out to the site will help you enjoy the photo shoot and have fun. Waiting for the perfect snowfall can be frustrating and you have to be sure there is no ice under the snow. If you want to read more about photo shoot I did last year with a beautiful red cape click here.

I hope these ideas and resources help inspire you to stay motivated this winter. I would love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below or email me any questions at beginthedance@gmail.com. How do you keep motivated in the winter? Do you have any other ideas that might be helpful to others that are struggling?

Join Sandra's New Online Coaching Group!

CLICK HERE TO GO TO PRIVATE FACEBOOK GROUP

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 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.

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

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

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

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

Exercises to Practice Correct Posture On Your Horse:

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

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

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

Exercises to Practice Correct Posture On the Ground:

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

Belly Dance Video To Help With Your Posture:

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

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

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

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

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

Join Sandra's New Online Coaching Group!

CLICK HERE TO GO TO PRIVATE FACEBOOK GROUP

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

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

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

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

Bareback Dressage, Safety Tips To Get Started and My Top Bareback Pad Choices

I have many people ask me how they can start to incorporate bareback riding into their dressage work. I wanted to share some of my advice for getting started, including safety tips and also bareback pads to try.

Before You Begin:

How Is Your Balance?
Before you try riding bareback you should be able to comfortably, and confidently, ride in a saddle without reins or stirrups at the walk, trot and canter! Do you have independent balance from the reins? [To learn more, CLICK HERE]. If you ever catch your balance with the reins, it is not a good idea to try riding bareback. [To learn how to improve your riding position, CLICK HERE].

Does your horse have a good "WHOA"?
If you have a horse that is hard to stop, rushes, or is resistant or disobedient, I do not recommend riding bareback. Make sure to refresh your horse's response to your "whoa", on the lunge line or on the ground, before you ride bareback.

Has your horse been ridden bareback before?
Some horses have sensitive backs and may react the first time they are ridden bareback. Do not assume that your horse will behave the same as he does with a saddle. Have an experienced rider test out your horse if this is your first time. You may also want a person on the ground to hold your horse when you mount and to lead him.

Things You Might Need:

  • Full Seat Breeches: I recommend wearing full seat breeches to help you "stick". Horsehair can be slippery so you may feel more secure wearing full seat breeches. I love wearing deerskin breeches because the material breathes with the horse and provides stick without being too tacky. Check out Aanstadt-Das Breeches for an awesome selection of full seat deerskin breeches.
  • Mounting block: Unless you are super flexible and have the ability to leap onto the horse from the ground, then you will need a mounting block. Try a three-step for extra height. You need to have good balance and confidence to mount a horse bareback.
  • A helper. Make sure you have someone with you to hold the horse when you first get on. They could even lead you around at the walk to see how it feels and to help keep the horse relaxed and slow.
  • Enclosed riding area. PLEASE do not attempt riding bareback for the first time in an open field or arena with no walls. The best place to start is in a small indoor arena or a round pen, with all the gates closed.
  • A bareback pad. A good bareback pad helps with padding and "stick". The horse's withers can be uncomfortable unless the horse has a very round barrel. Having a bareback pad can help with horses that have pronounced withers. Usually the material on the underside has some stick to it, like a synthetic rubber. Be careful with the all fleece pads because they may slide around on a well-groomed horse. Do not use a bareback pad that has stirrups! The tree of a saddle distributes the stirrup pressure and without it you will be placing all of your weight into one spot on the horse's back.

Here are some great bareback pads:

ThinLine Bareback Pad:

I currently use the ThinLine bareback pad. It offers padding and has a rubbery material on the underside of the pad and the girth to keep it from sliding. It is simple and elegant. I have been using this pad for my Art on Horseback with Rovandio and in recent performances. There are a few places online that you can purchase this bareback pad. In my opinion, it is a great pad for people to get started with at a decent price. 

 

 

Sheepskin Bareback Pads:
You will find top-of-the-line sheepskin bareback pads online at HorseDream.co.uk. They have a variety of colors and sizes, including this beautiful Iberian style pad. They are in a much higher price range and I have not ridden in one yet but I would love to try one in the future. If anyone else tries them I would love to get your feedback. Just leave a comment below or send me an email at beginthedance@gmail.com.
 

Now What?

Now, get out there and ride! Once you have a good bareback pad and all the other suggested items, it's time to give it a try! Riding bareback will help improve your balance and reveal weaknesses in your riding that can be hidden by the saddle. I love to feel the horse's back muscles and check that I am sitting evenly on my seat bones. The horse's spine will help you feel whether you sit centered or not. Be sure to stay aware of whether your horse is enjoying the bareback experience, or not. You will feel the incredible sensitivity of the horse and the amazing connection you can have without the saddle. Even if you just practice at the walk, try lateral work and transitions. Feel how you can transition your horse from your seat and have the horse follow your weight in turns and circles. If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment below or email me at beginthedance@gmail.com. Be safe and have fun!

Hide your helmet hair, protect yourself from the sun, AND make a statement all at the same time! Let everyone know that you love horses and believe that riding is a dance.

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

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

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

3 Tips to Help You Focus:

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

3 Tips to Help You Relax:

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

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

How to Develop Soft Elbows - Seven Tips for Horseback Riders

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more about Nuno Oliveria, CLICK HERE.


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

Common Faults:

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 Tips to improve your elbows:

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

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

Join Sandra's New Online Coaching Group!

CLICK HERE TO GO TO PRIVATE FACEBOOK GROUP

Sandra Beaulieu - Dressage Training - Importance of Free Balance

Balance is the #1 most important skill for a rider.

How can a rider help the horse to achieve balance if the rider themselves cannot find balance?

I see riders every day, Training Level all the way to Grand Prix, who rely on their legs to grip for balance, knee rolls to hold the thighs down, or the reins to keep from falling back in the saddle. Finding balance on an animal that is moving is not easy and can be a constant struggle. However, if the rider cannot ride without holding onto the reins for balance, it will be nearly impossible to create true self-carriage in the horse and will cause problem areas in the horse's body. If the rider cannot relax and trust their body, the horse will always hold tension in the neck and back, and will have difficulties moving freely.

I spent over a year working on my position on a lunge line. My instructor, Carolyn Rose, made me ride without stirrups at all times, to allow me to find my balance without relying on any external devices. I encourage everyone, of all ages and skill levels, to take periodic lunge line lessons. Having the horse controlled by a ground person allows the rider to focus on their body and position and to feel the horse's movements through the seat.

A great example of this method is the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria. The instructors there keep the riders on the lunge line for months to help each rider develop an independent seat. Many riders associate the lunge line with "lesser" beginner riders. Considering that the totality of the sport of dressage is about balance, why would it only behoove a beginner rider to focus on this foundation? Why would it be seen as "below" the rider to learn the bio-mechanics of themselves and their partner?

A lunge lesson can reveal answers to those who seek the truth about riding and the language of the horse.
— Sandra Beaulieu

The rider can also develop balance through riding the horse bareback, without the saddle. This should not be done too often, as the direct pressure to the horse's spine is not beneficial for the horse. It is informative to feel the horse's back muscles without the obstruction of the saddle, as the rider can better understand how the horse moves and how their own body affects that movement. Feeling the energy move through the horse's top-line is an incredible experience.

Here is a video of me riding Gryphon, a Friesian gelding that I had in training in Florida. In the video I demonstrate riding bareback at the walk, trot, and canter.

Working Douwe with the Veil

Today I rode Douwe with my bellydance veil instead of the wings. I was able to use a set of sidereins today, that helped Douwe stay together and balanced while I rode without my hands. I love working with the veil, incorporating movements that I do while I am dancing on the ground onto the horse. It is difficult to do outside because a little breeze will throw the veil in my face. I think Douwe really likes the fabric, he lets me throw it over his head back and forth. It also makes a flapping noise while we are cantering that would make other horses crazy! But that is why the Friesian is an ideal performance horse!

Training Douwe with Wings ~ Day 1

Today I  started working Douwe with my fabric wings. I rode him with the wings a couple times in Maine but that was a couple months ago. It was very windy today, not ideal for the wings but Douwe did very well. The horses in the pasture went a little crazy when they saw us trotting around with the wings flying in the air. I started by riding with two whips when I tied up my reins. I made sure I shifted my weight clearly to change directions and used the whip on the outside to encourage him to turn. We did some steering at the trot too and then I put on the wings. I didn't canter today because of all the other horses galloping around but Douwe did a good job staying calm and listening. I also need to get a set of sidereins so he will stay in better balance in the canter. We need a lot of practice but it is so much fun!

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

Gryphon:

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

Day One

Biggest issue: 

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

To help him get the right lead:

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

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

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

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

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

Day Two

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

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

Day Three

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

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

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

Day Four

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

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

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

Day Five

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

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

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

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