2006 Kentucky Horse Park All-American Freestyle Symposium Delivers

It takes more than great gaits and perfect execution of movements to earn a trip to the winner’s circle in a musical freestyle. A big part of the final score is based on such elusive concepts as "choice of music," "cohesiveness," "degree of difficulty" and "use of the arena."

In an effort to demystify these concepts, successful dressage freestyle designers Marlene Whitaker and Terry Ciotti-Gallo joined forces with Olympic rider Robert Dover and FEI "O" judge Axel Steiner at the All-American Freestyle Symposium held at the Kentucky Horse Park April 22-23.

It’s the artistic marks that give pause for many riders – whether a freestyle novice or veteran – leaving them wondering what judges saw that they didn’t.

"That’s why the focus here is on the concepts found on the artistic score sheet of the freestyle," said Margee Koffler, co-organizer of the event. "It’s a bit of a ‘how-to’ symposium."

PhelpsPhoto®: Axel Steiner, Marlene Whiaker, Terri Ciotti-Gallo,Robert Dover

How To Lessons From the Experts

The "how-to" included lessons in how to choose music that matched the horse, count strides and beats, up the ante in degree of difficulty and create patterns and movements that wisely use the whole arena.

Since it’s a musical freestyle, choice of music is central to success and the first piece of advice is to pick music you like – you’ll be listening to it a lot.

Also remember that judges are looking to see that your choice of music fits your horse. This means, Steiner said, that using powerful music with a powerful horse can often be "overpowering" to the judge. Powerful music is best used with a smaller – or lazier – horse to give the illusion of power. That said, Ciotti-Gallo also noted that ponies should have music befitting a pony and young riders music that fits their age. Another way to view it is this – find music that fits your "style" and that of your horse.

Match the Beat to the Horse

Just as important is to match the beat of the music to that of your horse. If you pick music with a beat faster than that of your horse, then your horse’s effort to keep up with the music will make him look rushed and flat. Thanks to modern technology, the beat of music can be slowed down, but Steiner warned to be careful when doing this. If poorly done, or done with music that is widely known, judges – even the deaf ones – will notice it. If you do this, it’s best to use a professional with all the right technology.

When it comes to cohesiveness, judges are listening for freestyle music that has a theme or genre. Thus, don’t mix big band sounds with rock. Don’t use 90 percent guitar music and then throw in something completely different. If you begin with a Spanish-style music theme, stick with Spanish music throughout. As Dover put it, "let the music tell a story."

PhelpsPhoto®: Sue Kolstad rides to different music clips playd by Whitaker and Ciotti-Gallo

Degree of Difficulty and Knowing the Rules

Degree of difficulty is all about giving the judge more than is required. But keep in mind that the rules forbid performing movements above the level at which one shows. The way around this, Whitaker and Ciotti-Gallo said, is to distinguish between movements and figures. If you’ve got a horse that can do an 8-meter volte, but the level at which you are showing requires only a 10-meter volte, go ahead and do the 8.

"A volte is a figure, not a movement," Ciotti-Gallo said.

Other examples of how to up the ante in difficulty include increasing the angle a bit on the half-pass and shoulder-in. With leg yields, one from the centerline to the rail might earn a rider a score of 6. Since horses naturally gravitate toward the rail, yielding to the rail isn’t all that difficult. More difficult would be a leg yield zig-zag.

In fact, Steiner suggested that the rail be avoided as much as possible if aiming to improve scores for degree of difficulty. For example, perform shoulders-in on the quarterline or centerline rather than along the rail.

But of course, avoid the pitfall of trying for something you can’t pull off. Steiner warned that failing a more difficult move is worse than doing well at the less difficult.

Do What You Know You Can Do

"Do what you know you can do," he said.

The same advice was given regarding the creation of choreography.

"The best choreography for you is the choreography you can do," Whitaker said.

It’s in the choreography that the term "use of ring" comes into play. It’s a big ring, use it all, panelists advised. Scoring well in this category requires a fine balance between too much and too little. As a judge, Steiner said he doesn’t like to see long stretches of nothing, which "is boring," and he doesn’t like a choreography that has too much action because it looks "too busy."

And, of course, in choreography avoid those "test-like" movements, meaning that a movement or pattern looks much like something right out of a test. That’s certainly no way to earn points for creativity.

Here’s another piece of advice from both Steiner and Dover – be careful what movements you do away from the judge. As Dover put it, "your horse’s rear end is not as pretty as the front end."

And the final important piece of advice is that no matter what happens – smile, smile, smile – and look straight at the judge when you do.

Lynndee Kemmet for DressageDaily.com

Kentucky Horse Park – Great Place for Dressage Moms

Ann Guptill brought her son James to the Kentucky Horse Park where she participated in both the USDF Judge’s Forum, and the KHP Freestyle Symposium. In addition to picking up a new dog, a puppy of mysterious bloodlines, James had a blast while his mom did her horse thing. James who brought his bike was free and safe and able to get around the park, walk the cross country course, and help his Mom with packing up to go home.

“There is so much for him to do here,” said Ann, he’s been having a great time, and is not bored at all. We’ve been to the Horse Park Museum which is wonderful, and James was captivated.” Guptill, who together with her musician husband Ed Iarusso own a Freestyle Design Company, Ann came away from the Symposium enriched by the experience. It was well worth the trip and the price of gas to travel from Connecticut and settle in. “We absolutely love it here.” said Ann, “And hope there will be more reasons to come again.”

On the same weekend as the Kentucky Horse Park All American Freestyle Symposium, the USDF had their ribbon cutting ceremony opening the USDF Education Center, overlooking the lake and outdoor arena. It was recently announced in support of the upcoming 2010 FEI Games, a new state of the art arena, the state legislature has approved the funding. There are also additional funds for building and improving the roads throughout the Horse Park and Lexington.