Terry Ciotti-Gallo, Klassic Kur www.KlassicKur.com
The music starts and people from all corners of the show grounds gather around the source of the sound. What alluring spell draws them there? The freestyle of course. Whether it is a solo performance, pas de deux, quadrille or a large drill team, there is something captivating about watching horses dance to music. And when it is done well, it is nothing short of magical to witness.
The Chance to Dance
Remember the days when Olympic coverage had us watching one skater after the next cut the exact same figures on the ice, or had us viewing a gymnast do the same compulsory exercise as the gymnast before? For the uninitiated it was "seen one, seen 'em all" and it left most of us desperately wanting the free programs to begin.
Oftentimes, the same can be said for dressage. Audiences do not come to see the standard tests. Yet the day of the freestyle, the house is sold out. Why? We are intrigued to know how the riders will capture us with their creativity. Each freestyle will show a different dance highlighting what that particular horse does best and, like a skater performing a triple axle, each will have risks in it to thrill us.
How will the riders use the space, order their gaits, join their movements, choose their difficulty? Will they risk a challenging transition or do a breath taking combination? How inventive will they be? Whether it is First Level or the Olympics, we can appreciate the care the rider has taken to create his own dance in order to stand apart from the others in the field.
The Magic in the Music
Like a ballet, there is a strong connection between the music and the movement. Most often the tempo of the music will match the steps of the horse so that the pair seems to be responding to the tune. But beyond beat, the right selections can enhance the look of the horse or can even seem to bring out his personality.
A great freestyle comprises several pieces that blend together to form a unified sound. It is expressive and has no disturbing cuts in it that could jar the ear. In fact, a well thought out composition can easily be a stand-alone piece to which the listener could close his eyes and almost see what the rider is doing.
The moments of greatest visual impact happen when the musical phrasing highlights the changes of the dressage movements. We hear one phrase coming to a close, we see the horse completing his strides on the short end of the arena and, as the horse turns and we anticipate something new--voila! There it is--a new music phrase and a new movement starting in perfect synchrony.
Music also contains dynamic range where we can hear the differences between loud, soft, crescendos, assorted moods, and so on. Similarly, dressage movements have range. Extensions represent freedom or power, canter pirouettes reflect precision and control, tempis are very rhythmic and so on. Coordinating powerful music with powerful movements and juxtaposing them against softer music and softer movements creates memorable images.
Riders who can employ both dynamics and musical phrasing exemplify the epitome of musical interpretation. They are the ones who give us goosebumps. They are the ones who really make us believe that a horse can dance.
We want to be impressed, exhilarated, surprised, and humored. With the wide range of horse and rider personalities, we may get any or all of that in one freestyle class. So we will cross the show grounds and go to the arena's edge when the music plays and, if we are fortunate, we may even get to experience a few goosebumps.
Klassic Kur was the first business dedicated solely to the development of freestyles. It has a well-earned reputation as the #1 freestyle design service in the country, and has done freestyles for a host of distinguished international riders including World Cup winner and Olympic Bronze Medalist Debbie McDonald. Regardless of your level of competition, Klassic Kur guarantees that you will receive a quality product, accented by meticulous attention to detail and unrivaled personal service.
Terry Ciotti Gallo has had her work represented at the Olympic, World Equestrian, Pan American Games, and World Dressage Masters. Her freestyles earned two World Cup titles. She is the former chair of the USDF Freestyle Committee and currently serves as the freestyle liaison to the USDF Judges Committee.