Polish Your Dressage Freestyle

Terry Ciotti Gallo answers this reader question and provides some tips to improve your dressage Freestyle.
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Q: I have been riding my own First Level Freestyle and observing at the higher levels. I notice that some rides are polished and others are not. Can you tell me some general ways I can polish my ride? Also, I am wondering what happens if my music stops during my test. Do I start over?

A: When rider first began doing Freestyles, they were not able to see the connection between the music and the movements. But now, most people are aware that the beat of the music must match the footfall of the horse. This is good because, at the trot, the judge will be looking for the front legs to match the beat of the music as they strike the ground. At the canter, the lead leg must be in-sync with the beat.

I think the newest challenge facing freestyle riders is in remembering to present an entire program. Riders are linking disparate pieces of music together. Yes, the pieces match the footfalls and change when the gaits change, but the selections don’t have a cohesive sound. The various selections must be linked either by coming from the same genre (jazz, classical, show tunes), having a theme (children’s music, Irish music, Broadway) or at least having the same instrumentation (all orchestral, all small band, guitar as a feature instrument). That’s what holds the program together.

Another way to give added impact to your program is to interpret your music. For instance, when you hear the phrasing change within a piece, think about how you can express that change with your horse’s movement.

The most critical issue involved in giving your freestyle a true polish, though, is the editing of your music. This is crucial because your composition shouldn’t sound as if you dashed it together the night before. Ask yourself if the editing is disruptive or if there are long pauses between sections. If so, then the editing needs to be tighter. Just as you expect your transitions from gait to gait or from movement to movement to be fluid, you must expect the transitions in your music to be clean and smooth. Seek the help of a professional editor. Not only will your musical transitions be good, but the sound will be clean and crisp, too. Then, when you come down centerline, you can have confidence that you will have good sound quality.

Having well-recorded music is even more important because the sound systems at shows are often poor. In fact, I recently went to a CDI-W, where the music just stopped in the middle of someone’s ride. That poor rider spent a lot of time to get that far, and this problem certainly was unexpected. If this technical glitch happens to you, Article 1928, 6.4 of the American Horse Shows Association (AHSA) Rule Book says, “In case of technical failure of the playing of the music, the competitor has the option to continue the ride without penalty or to stop and ride the test again. 

This article first appeared in the June 2000 issue of Dressage Today magazine. 

terry ciotti gallo

Terry Ciotti Gallo is a member of the U.S. Dressage Federation Freestyle Committee. She began her equine Freestyle enterpirse, Klassic Kür, in 1989, while still working as an Olympic gymnastics choreographer. She designs Freestyles for numerous FEI riders. She lives in Winter Springs, Florida. 

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