It happens about once a year. I get a frantic call from someone who needs a freestyle for a competition coming up in a couple weeks. Actually, the caller is never frantic because they don’t realize what they are getting into. I am the one whose pulse starts to rise.
My Rule #1 about freestyles: They take a long time to pull together. You don’t enter the competition first and then start thinking about the actual freestyle. Last week the caller – the mom of the rider – was completely clueless, probably a blessing for her at that point. She’d purchased a couple lessons I had donated to a benefit silent auction and asked if perhaps I might be able to help.
I asked if they had a CD prepared. Mom answered that her daughter had music she liked. I asked about how well it matched the horse’s three gaits. The response: “Huh?” I started to talk about tempos of the gaits, metronomes, beats-per-minute, phrasing and so on, and I could feel her eyes glaze over right through the phone line. She began to realize this wasn’t as simple as just randomly picking music. Okay, so this was going to have to be fast and dirty: I used some music I had on hand, did straightforward choreography and the clever, capable rider picked it up quickly. I think it will work out well for her, but that is not always the case.
After she gets through this first competition, she can go back to square one and pick different music if she prefers. There are some excellent websites now available with selections timed to specific BPMs if someone doesn’t want to go to the expense of working with a freestyle professional. It just takes time, some imagination and creativity, plus maybe access to an IT person who can prepare the final CD.
Ideally, the horse’s gaits all need to be timed carefully, the music selected with those specific tempos in mind, the choreography worked out over several sessions, and then the entire concoction practiced until horse and rider are completely comfortable with it. Devising the choreography and practicing a freestyle involves a lot of start-and-stopping, and the horse will get very tired of the process if it is crammed into intensive sessions. You don’t want the horse to start pinning his ears at the music the instant it starts.