Hosted by The Equestrian Center at Pineland Farms, as a NEDA Education Outreach event and the USDF Continuing Education Program, the two day course led by Terry Ciotti Gallo of Klassic Kur and FEI 4* Judge Lois Yukins earned unanimous praise from the attending judges, riders, trainers and auditors. Asked if participants would attend the detailed seminar again, the answer: a resounding yes, with the dates for the next one in the works! The audible relief from judges and riders alike on gaining tools and clear criteria showed how needed this program is. Just a short drive from Boston to the world-class equestrian facility at Pineland Farms Equestrian Center in southern Maine, the facility is gaining recognition nation wide as a premier training and educational center for Dressage.
Observing the lack of a solid freestyle education program for judges, Gary Rockwell and Lois Yukins asked Terry if she would help to bring a program to fruition. It has received so much recognition that close to 100 judges signed up for the course at the 2015 USEF Judges Forum in Wellington this past March. USEF licensed dressage judges who attend are eligible to earn the new "Musical Freestyle Designation" via an online exam to be added to their judging credentials.
“Personal opinion is irrelevant,” Terry stresses. “This is an analytical method to define the five artistic categories on the score sheet.” She designed the course so judges, riders, and designers could all be on same page on how to assess artistic impression from Training Level up to FEI standards.
Originally, from a gymnastics background of judging and choreography, designing dressage freestyles turned into a natural offshoot for Terry that led to a passion and 25 year career. She is well known for designing Debbie MacDonald’s and Brentina’s rocking “Respect” routine that kicked the doors off to using lyrics and vocals for punctuation. She’s also served on the USDF Freestyle Committee for 16 years (six years as its chair), and is the freestyle liaison to the USDF Judge’s Committee.
The Rise of Freestyles
There’s no denying the popular evolution of freestyles from nonexistent in the early 1980s to the Global Dressage Festival’s Friday Night Lights’ broadcasts, to packed stadiums at the World Equestrian Games to sellout World Cup crowds. Freestyles draw revenue, sponsors and new fans.
However, it remains a challenge for riders aspiring to pull off that cool, artistic, graceful test under competition pressure and for judges, a daunting job to simultaneously score technical and artistic marks, while watching an unknown pattern unfold.
This course provides an open window for riders to learn how judges work objectively in subjective sport along with the nuts and bolts of building a successful routine. Terry points out that some discrepancy between judges is okay, but her goal is to help clarify how to use a systematic approach, literally, a color-coded chart as a tool to navigate artistic interpretation.
“I thought the clinic was excellent,” said Kem Barbosa, a USEF “S” Judge. “Clarification on musical phrasing was very helpful.” Many judges present concurred that they’ve had to devise their own methods for deciphering freestyles in absence of a formal checklist approach.
Pineland Farms Equestrian Center not only provided an ideal, modern facility for lectures, and their world class arena for riders but added insight over the two days from Olympian Michael Poulin, resident/head trainer who also demonstrated a fairly new Grand Prix freestyle for discussion.
“Sometimes the horse picks music,” said Michael Poulin. “It’s not music you may necessarily adore but you need to feel it and the horse should love it.” Watching varied musical genres and beats played over video of the same horse half-passing revealed just how much music choice can alter how your horse’s gaits look.
Lois Yukins’ sage comments delivered with her trademark humor made the presentation informative and fascinating. “We want to see clean, stress free tests,” Lois emphasized. You will be penalized on both movement scores and harmony if you can’t execute your ambitions,” she warned. Keep it simple, yet interesting, she offered. “Please don’t make us guess what you’re doing or what your theme is supposed to be,” she pleaded.
Design Cohesiveness was one of the critical buzzwords as Choreography is the highest coefficient on the score sheet.
Michael, Terry and Lois all cautioned about freestyle obsessing that leads to over drilling, or adding too much degree of difficulty that stresses the horse.
A look behind-the-scenes of how the freestyle elements of music, choreography, editing, phrasing, and execution can come alive to achieve good scores or those transcendent, magical performances that give us goose bumps, the when and why it works (or not) proved extremely valuable and enlightening.
One auditor, not a dressage rider came for an education for when she does watch freestyles. Another rider marveled that her non-horse husband but a musician, stayed engrossed, taking notes, the entire first day.
Stay tuned for more coverage from the Judges’ Musical Freestyle Program at Pineland Farms.