Creating Dressage Freestyles

How technology makes music magic.

Credit: Courtesy, Terry Ciotti Gallo Thirty years ago, the cumbersome technology of the day dictated Terry Ciotti Gallo’s versatility in creating freestyles.

For more than 30 years, I have put music and movement together in various forms—in theater, gymnastics, dressage, even karate. The principles are all the same: interpret the music. What makes design more efficient now, as well as less expensive, is technology. I wish I had then what I have now. It seems for almost everything I need—yes, you guessed it—“there is an app for that.” 

Smartphone Applications

When I am with a client, I can pull out my iPhone and have a video camera for taping, a metronome for calculating a horse’s beats per minute, possible music and a stopwatch to figure out timing at my fingertips. The video camera and stopwatch app come with the operating system, while the other two were purchased at very modest costs. I used to have to lug all those separate things around with me.

Video camera. I still prefer my HD video camera when I am with clients, but that fits conveniently in one hand. This is so much better than the bulky, heavy VHS recorders that either had to be put on a tripod or gave me a shoulder ache. I am a professional, but a smartphone can do the trick for you. Besides, it can easily transfer the video to your computer if you choose. Why video? So you can determine the tempos of your horse’s gaits. 

Metronome. Now it’s time to employ that metronome you downloaded. You can use the metronome to determine the tempo of both your horse’s gaits and that of music. There is plenty of material on how to do this.

Music searching. The single largest leap in music search is iTunes. Instead of spending hours in the music stores and purchasing entire CDs for a few possible songs, I can now preview the songs while tapping the beat on my downloaded metronome. If the tempos of the music are close to the horse’s tempos—eureka!—we can purchase single songs that we are fairly certain will work, rather than buying entire, more expensive CDs with a few songs that might work.

Credit: Courtesy, Terry Ciotti Gallo Today Gallo has the capability to capture video, search music and utilize a stopwatch and metronome all from her smartphone.

Despite all the technology, the one thing for which I have found no substitute is sketching choreography. Paper, pencil and a large eraser still work best. So does thinking outside the box. No computer can do that for you. However, watching lots of freestyles is inspirational and can trigger ideas, and you can find those on YouTube.

Stopwatch. When your freestyle is complete, it must fit within the legal time limits. Time to pull out that iPhone again because the clock feature also has a stopwatch. USDF-level freestyles have no minimum time, but FEI does. Both have maximums. Check for your individual level.

Music Editing

I have been editing music for decades and decades. Long gone are the tape-and-razor-blade days. Thank goodness! Digital is definitely the way to go. Not only is it accurate to cut within a particular piece or transition from one song to the next, digital is flexible. 

If you need to slightly increase the tempo in one section, you no longer run into the problem of changing the pitch in the middle of the music (yes, I actually heard freestyles that did that—oh, my!) There are many other benefits as well.

Several free editing programs are available to download, though they have limitations. Nonetheless, most are fine for the lower levels. The question you need to ask yourself is whether or not you want to go through the learning curve. If not, you should do all the work you can and make your final step a trip to a local music studio. With all the money you saved on not having to purchase an expensive metronome, camera, stopwatch and music you can’t use, you can afford to splurge on a pro.

Freestyle Music Format 

CDs are accurate no matter who burns them. Burn two, because you will need them for the show’s soundman. But for practice or at a show, your phone’s music feature will allow you to listen in privacy. Or you can plug it into your barn or car’s music system. This will help keep your discs pristine for competition use. 

Tape cassettes are definitely a thing of the past. We used to have to worry about tape warp (a horrible sound) and whether or not the speed of the tape deck at the show was the same as the one you had at home. In a blink, all your hard work could be either rushed or over time.

There is no need to be timid about trying to put together your own kür since there is how-to information everywhere and technology makes it easier. I am glad to have learned that lesson. It has made a time-consuming process almost like magic. 

Terry Ciotti Gallo has experience in theatre, sports, dance and music, which led to the development of her business Klassic Kur. Her freestyles have been in the Olympics, World Equestrian Games and hold two World Cup titles. Terry is a long-time volunteer for Challenge of the Americas, a fundraiser for breast cancer research. She has also served as a member of the USDF Freestyle Committee for 15 years—six years as its chair—and is currently the freestyle liaison to the USDF Judge’s Committee (






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