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Competing in dressage to music
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Competing in dressage to music

Ever since the “dancing horses” graced TV screens in 2012’s Olympics, more and more people have become interested in Dressage to Music competitions. Classes are open to all abilities, but it is all about planning and preparation to make a good test. Valegro’s test was so memorable not just for the dressage movements, but for the way the horse and rider worked with the music. The artistic element makes dressage fun, fresh and great for entertaining a crowd.

Can I do whatever I like?

Not completely. Every competition grade will have a set of compulsory moves that you must complete. If you miss one element, you will receive 0 out of 10. You can however plan when in the test you are going to do the compulsory moves, and what additional dressage movements you can add to help make the test unique and show off your horse’s best qualities. Do not include movements from a higher level test however, as you will be penalised.

Your choice of music is also up to you. You will need get register your choice of songs with British Dressage, so you are covered by their music sub-licence. This will allow your freestyle tape to be played in public. There are no rules about including songs with lyrics. Some judges say it is distracting, but if it becomes part of your artistic interpretation it is worth using.

Where do I start?

There are a number of things you will need to research before you start to design your test routine. These elements will help you choose the right movements and music.

What is the personality of your horse? – does your horse float over the arena, or stride with purposeful footfall? If your horse is feisty and dramatic, picking folk music will never suit his performance. Never pick music just based on what you love, watch your horse and pick the genre that will best show his personality and dynamics. A large warmblood can carry off “Flash Gordon”, whereas a round Welsh Section A may just look funny.

What is your horse’s natural tempo? – every horse will perform a movement at their own speed. Work on regulating and finding your horse’s natural tempo as you plan your test, so you can find the music that best suits his footfall. Make the music fit his natural rhythm rather than the other way round, as your test will not naturally flow otherwise. Music can be speeded up or slowed down to fit if all else fails.

Measure out your arena – many people forget to plan their test in the same size arena as the competition. Make sure you measure out the exact size in your field or school, so you can plan your test and match the music perfectly.

Video the movements you plan to use – so you don’t drive yourself and your horse mad as you plan, video your schooling sessions so you can capture all of the moves you plan to use. When you are at home, you can then cut and paste each move next to each other to see how it fits the music, how long it takes, and how you can use the school.

Make sure you highlight your horse’s ability – if your horse does a better shoulder in from a circle than on a straight line, plan your test to help show of this move. If he has an amazing extended trot, find a piece of music that will emphasise this moment in the test. Dressage to music is part technical and part artistic in its marking.

How do I create my test?

Now you have done your research and collected information on your horse’s style and speed, you can start to design your test.

Map out your test time – write down a list of all of the compulsory elements you have to use, and use your videos to work out how much time they will take in the test. All tests will have a time limit. With the time left you can then work out what other moves you can include.

Putting moves together – start to work out which moves will seamlessly lead into the next. Make sure the paces are varied across the test, so it isn’t all walk, then trot, then canter.

Make your test symmetrical – judges like to see a test that is symmetrical so they can see the horse work on both reins, and at different ends of the arena.

Pick your music – you will need three pieces of music, one for each gait. Although classical is popular, some riders are using pop records. Try to pick a theme, as it will help mesh the test together. If your music is a little fast or slow but matches your horse’s personality, you can use music programmes to change the tempo as you plan the cuts you want to make.

Video practice – using the videos you have taken, watch the moves in the order you have planned, and then overlay the music to see how it can work together.

Ride the test – once you’ve mapped the test out, video a test run. Don’t do this often as you don’t want your horse anticipating the moves in the arena. If the music is the right tempo, make sure it is playing as you video so you can review how it suits the test movements and horse’s personality.

Get the music cut into one tape – you can do this yourself, or commission a music producer or Dressage to Music specialist to pull it together for you. Provide the video, and the three songs you wish to use. When you receive the finished result, make sure you practice some of the movements to it, making sure it feels the right tempo.

Ready for the big day

With all the planning, you should be quite excited as the big day arrives. There are a few things to remember:

  • Make sure your horse is used to loud music.
  • Know the test in full.
  • Pack the tape.
  • Always have a back-up plan should a move go wrong.
  • Don’t over practice!
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