I’m Sexy and I Know It
These are the words that the Dressage Musical Freestyle class would say if it were personified. How do we know that? Simple. While a few well-wishers and curious on-lookers may gather at the rails to see a friend or interesting horse perform, freestyles draw just about everyone within ear shot. At major events, the freestyle night is sold-out, boasting an audience of not only dressage devotees but also those who know little about our sport.
It’s the Music
We are exposed to music everywhere—in the elevators, stores and cars. We may even turn on the radio, TV music stations or our personal collection at home. We love music.
We hear country, rock, alternative and sweeping orchestrations in soundtracks and in TV shows.
Whether or not we have a personal musical preference, there is something very compelling about a specific choice of music that supports a particular visual image that can sweep us away. Freestyles are no different.
It’s All Good
Actually, most of it is good. In their attempt to be taken “seriously,” riders sometimes choose bold, dark or dramatic music that may not be appropriate for their horse. They may also pick music they think will have audience appeal or, at the very least, express their own taste. In doing so, they may short-change their performance.
So what are the criteria for picking the right stuff?
First, the various pieces should make the horse look good. Over powering music may diminish a horse that does not have the boldness to support it. But mostly, the rhythm of the music should not interfere with the visual image of the movement. For instance, a syncopated salsa tune could be very interesting, but it can also make a horse—depending on the horse—appear uneven.
The next thing that should strike us is whether or not the horse moves to the music. When the footfalls of the horse match the beat of the music, the horse seems to be dancing. When we see that, we know the rider has done quite a bit of homework.
The third and fourth criteria can be thought of in terms of a soundtrack. For example, we can usually tell when music comes from the same movie, even though it may be exciting for the chase scene and sweet for the romantic moments. Good dressage music selections will sound as if they all belong together.
Also, when the music has contrasts such as between the chase and romantic scenes, riders can use those differences to express the various movements of the horse. Extensions are usually done to a crescendo or a forte section, pirouettes customarily to softer sounding section, and lateral movements to music somewhere in between.
For an A+ performance, dressage riders should concentrate on the last criteria: musical phrasing. Musical “sentences” and phrases are like literary sentences and paragraphs in that they group “thoughts” together. It takes great planning to see movement change when we hear a new musical sentence or phrase begin. The more often the rider does that, the more exciting the dance, and the more we should appreciate the effort it took to make that work.
It Made Me Cry
Nothing takes the place of a beautifully executed ride. Sometimes we see a Freestyle that has all the right elements but the execution is lacking. Sometimes the execution is flawless, but the music is expressionless or doesn’t enhance the horse.
But occasionally, we are lucky enough to see a great performance to fabulous music that fits all the criteria. It could be Debbie McDonald and Brentina with their rhythm and blues “Respect” kür that brought over 20,000 people to their feet laughing and clapping, or Juan Muñoz Diaz and Fuego who enthralled the audience with their passionate flamenco program, or Steffen Peters and Ravel’s moving “Avatar” program that had Aachen all abuzz. The genre is varied, but the result the same. Great music accompanying a great performance moves us. For the promise of that alone, freestyle nights will continue to draw the biggest crowd.
Terry Ciotti Gallo established Klassic Kur in 1989. Since that time, her freestyles have appeared in the Olympics, World Equestrian Games, Pan American Games, and hold two World Cup titles. She currently serves on both the USDF Freestyle Committee (six years as chair), and Judges Committee.