Freestyle dressage

Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro have captivated the world with their near-perfect performances (Photo: FEI)

Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro have captivated the world with their near-perfect performances (Photo: FEI)

Thinking of adding some dance steps to your dressage routine? Judy Vertue of the SA Lipizzaners offers some tips on composing a Freestyle for beginners.

How do people begin?

For me, first and foremost, a Freestyle is ENTERTAINMENT. As a judge, I need to get that ‘tingly feeling’ when someone’s music begins; there’s a whole range of emotions from laughter to tears, to people tapping their feet. I want to see technical excellence and musical interpretation and a harmonious flowing performance.

Firstly, understand the Objective of the Freestyle which is clearly set down in the Dressage Rules:

This is a competition of artistic equitation to music at all levels. It includes all the school paces and all the fundamental airs of the Classical High School as in the test of the same level. The competitor is, however, absolutely free in the form and manner of the presentation he chooses within a fixed time. The test should clearly show the unity between rider and horse as well as harmony in all the movements.

I prefer the previous Objective which is simpler and still holds true:

The Freestyle test to music is offered as a form of competition where a rider can present the horse TO THE BEST ADVANTAGE AT ITS LEVEL OF TRAINING, in a musical setting of harmony with the horse’s paces, reflecting the personality of the horse and the ingenuity and skill of the rider.

The ill-fated Blue Hors Matiné and Andreas Helgstrand were crowd favourites with their freestyle at Achen in 2010

The ill-fated Blue Hors Matiné and Andreas Helgstrand were crowd favourites with their freestyle at Achen in 2010

So a copy of the rules is essential. Failure to comply with the rules can be expensive, resulting in many zeros and deductions for movements not allowed, not required, not performed and for timing errors!

You will also need the following:
  • A copy of the test sheet in your particular grade with the required movements and timing
  • Regulation size dressage arena
  • Lots of music
  • Some device to listen to music – CD player, laptop, iPod – and also the ability to play music to your horse next to the arena.
  • Video camera to video your final test.
  • Stopwatch for timing.

Remember it is first and foremost ‘dressage’. Don’t try to do a Freestyle if you have the most fantastic music but, in simplest terms, your Novice horse can’t walk, trot and canter on the bit, in a controlled and rhythmic fashion. Then the harmony between your horse and the music will be non-existent!


The rules on choreography state:

The choreography of the test should show originality with order, avoiding the limitations of a normal dressage test, but not confusing the judges and spectators with indiscernible patterns.

Try to be creative with your choreography – your performance should not look like a standard dressage test! It is not necessary to ride to a marker or start or finish a movement on a marker. Try not to let your choreography get busy. Required movements only have to be performed once, but if your horse has a spectacular extended trot, show it more than once! Extra marks can be gained for inventive choreography.

Consider your horse

Having said that, there is also a mark for degree of difficulty, but don’t try and do anything that is beyond the capability of your horse. For example, if you try to do shoulder-in on the quarter line and your horse loses rhythm, position and frame, you will get marked down not only in the technical execution of the movement, but also in the harmony and in the degree of difficulty mark.

Pick a theme and stick to it – don’t mix Mozart with the Rolling Stones. Heavy marching music would be unsuitable for an elegant Thoroughbred, in the same way that a big, heavy Friesian would look a bit silly dancing to the Sugar Plum Fairy!

Transitions between music clips should be smooth and unnoticeable and recording levels the same throughout. Make sure you have a good piece of entry music to ‘announce’ yourself and a clear ‘ending’ for your final salute.

Remember that different arenas can ride at different speeds and it is always essential that you canter when the canter music comes on, and walk when the walk music comes on, even if this is three or four paces past C or wherever you planned it in your test!

Think how your music will reproduce over a sound system. Don’t choose music that has a single instrument only (such as piano or violin alone). This will not have enough ‘body’ to have impact in the arena.

And probably most important of all, ALWAYS ALWAYS make a spare copy (or two) of your final CD!

See the Lipizzaners in action at SA’s Lipizzaner Centre in Kyalami. Visit their site for show times.

The full article appears in the March 2015 issue (97) of HQ.