Part 1

Tunes, Tempo & Technique:

Building Your Freestyle





June 25, 1999

Anne Howard

Past USDF Region 7 Freestyle Coordinator

Regional USDF Freestyle Champion

350 Tulsa Lane

Watsonville, CA 95076

(831) 763-9309





Thoughts On Freestyle (Wolfgang Niggli):

"The freestyle test should be an exciting, breathtaking performance. Its composition should show a beautiful arrangement of different movements and well-placed figures. The rider is absolutely free in the form and manner of his presentation, thus allowing him to show his horse's abilities to their greatest advantage. His intentions should be clearly recognized by spectators and judges.

"[With regard to] Artistic expression...Either the rider shows a smooth, perhaps difficult test that he rides to the music of his choice, or he attempts to interpret the music through his performance. This [the latter] is of course far more difficult, for it demands...high artistic feeling as well as a very submissive horse.

"Sometimes it is difficult for the judge to discriminate between the two, but the more artistic performance, which requires the interpretation of the music, should get the higher mark...the latter is the more exciting and breathtaking.

"A test where the music is used only as background music has no, or at least very little, artistic value."



I. Recent changes in freestyle's use and acceptance in competition

A. International changes

1. Olympics: to be included in Atlanta for 1st time

2. 1994 World Championships had a FS section

2. World Cup: Major factor

B. CDS - now offers Horse of the Year classes 1st-FEI

C. Classes

1. USDF 1st-4th local shows; AHSA/FEI Intermediate 1 & Grand Prix

2. Pas de deux

3. Quadrille

4. Coastal Classic & specialty events



Participant to understand:

1. The rules of freestyle & pas de deux classes

2. The elements that make a quality freestyle

3. How to construct a basic freestyle



General Impression

Examples: Video:

Pilgrim's National Reserve Championship Int. 1

Pas de Deux - Winning pair at 1989 CDS Annual Show

Goldstern GP

Posh 3rd level

Christiane’s 4th level

Dutch Gold

Consider what elements of these rides are positives and negatives:

+'s -'s



II. How freestyles are judged: Critical components

A. Technical execution

1. Compulsory movements

2. Collective marks

B. Artistic Impression

1. Musicality

a. Appropriateness: rhythm/tempo

b. Cohesiveness; editing

2. Choreography

a. Design, balance (space, gaits, direction)

b. Difficulty; creativity

3. Presentation

a. Interpretation & Impact

b. Harmony; ease of movement

Note that there is much more to evaluate on the artistic side of the page, the sport has tried several different score sheets to try to teach the judges to appreciate the technical aspect of the artistic impression.








TEMPO - Number of beats ("thumps") per minute (music or horse).

RHYTHM - Inherent composition of the beat. e.g.

Horse: Canter is a 3-beat rhythm, trot is 2-beat, walk is 4-beat.

Music: Waltz is 3-beat, marches are 2 or 4-beat.

[You need to understand this difference! The trot tempo is not the same as the trot rhythm. You would not normally want to alter the horse's rhythm, although you might want to influence the horse's tempo (faster or slower). To alter the rhythm would in

fact change the purity of the gait].

CHOREOGRAPHY - The art of arranging movements to music to best effect.

PATTERN - A movement or series of movements.

PHRASE - A self-contained musical statement or a "clause" of musical speech, ending with cadence (punctuation).

CADENCE – (musical definition) A clear moment of punctuation in music, often a rest or pause in the music. Heard after a chorus before the next verse, for instance.

PERIOD - A group of related phrases, a "complex sentence".

MUSICALITY- The cohesiveness and suitability of the music chosen. Often the

deciding "subconscious" factor in music's appeal to the listener. Do not

underestimate the need for appropriate tempo for the "dancing horse" effect!

METRONOME - A device that issues a regular tempo at the user's chosen rate.




So you want to do a freestyle - GREAT!!!!

III. Where to begin?

A. Ideas - brainstorm - log them! Have a binder to centralize your efforts

(Music and pattern ideas pop up in all sorts of places)

B. Know your horse & current requirements of level (USDF/AHSA/FEI)

Get USDF score sheet for your level and Freestyle booklet

P.O.Box 6669, Lincoln, NE 68506

(402) 434-8550 ~ (402) 434-8570 FAX

C. Plan a goal

D. Start working! (This seminar is a great start!)

E. Practice, get input, rework, practice! Be open to changes...



IV. What you must have at some point:

A. Access to a regulation size arena

B. Video of you and horse doing gaits & patterns similar to those you'll use

C. Metronome & stopwatch

D. Access to good quality music recording equipment (details later)

E. Groundperson for feedback (or videoperson)

F. Nice, but not mandatory: sound system at arena






Obviously, this cannot be "gifted" in a short seminar! However, consider these points as you plan your ride:

- Keep your choreography well within your technical abilities. Keep in

mind that you are riding to the music in addition to riding your horse.

This increases the difficulty factor that many first-time freestyle creators neglect

to consider until their first pass through with the music!

- What looks difficult may be easier than what looks simple and

vice versa! Try patterns and skill combinations to discover

your partnership's strengths and weaknesses. Often a "training

pattern" will look nice and be helpful to have "mid-test".

- This is also the potentially biggest "fudge" factor. Beyond

the requirements of your level, there are no penalties for

impromptu changes in your routine! However, this is not recommended...

ABSOLUTES: USDF has clearly established guidelines for each level, and there are

significant penalties for including movements "above level". In addition, any movement

not evident will get a zero! See the USDF freestyle pamphlet enclosed or look on the

back of a test for clarification.

Also, keep in mind you and your horse's concentration abilities. If you both

need some "cruise time" between movements to regroup or prepare extensively

for an upcoming movement, your choice of pattern will be affected.




Often the element that scares many people away from freestyles is having to deal with finding music. Even if you "know zilch" about music, don't despair! There is SO much music available these days in so many forms! While it will take some hunting down to find the best & most appropriate piece for your horse/kur, it is not necessary to have a wealth of musical knowledge to put together a unique and captivating freestyle. Consult friends, libraries, and music stores for music possibilities. My personal favorite is the Wherehouse: you can bring back any CD that isn't to tempo and exchange it for another (within a time frame). Blockbuster Music also allows you to listen to a CD before purchase, but unless you are good with the visual metronome, this can be hard. Keeping a blank tape in the cassette recorder at home can help to identify music that catches your

ear on the radio (classical or jazzy stations are what we most often use). This way, when the announcer says the title of the piece, you'll know what to look for at the store. Before long, you'll be more of a music expert!




A. Establishing the "steps per minute" of each gait/movement

See appendix A

B. Video (or live with a trusted ground person)

C. Walks: 90-112 beats per minute

Trots 135-160 "

Canters 90-110 "

Piaffe/Passage 100-110

D. Need metronome!! *

Many types of metronomes are available. Seiko has good inexpensive ones, but there are MANY to choose from. Perhaps one for the house and one for the barn? Riding to the metronome "beep" is a nice way to get you used to counting steps as well.



A. Character must suit horse

Video game

Amplify or diminish? Does the music add to the picture?

Suitability: "Light" music generally looks silly with heavy horses,

"heavy" music may be too much for a lighter horse.

B. Tempo should be within workable range (+/- 5-10% depending on piece)

C. Dynamic enough for level? (Intensity/loudness/variety)

As you and your horse improve in ability to demonstrate extremes of collection and extension (expression) your music should also have more expression and dynamic variation. Your 1st level kur should not have the same music as your 4th level kur.

D. Different segments of music ought to be cohesive (of similar style/theme, e.g. no C/W mixed with classical flutes, opera with modern rock synth), but similar instruments of different style may "work".

E. Vocals generally discouraged, but can sometimes add humor, more character, or symmetry to presentation.

F. Ensure that the recording is of a quality appropriate for generic PA systems, test this before choosing it!

G. Audiences (Judges) like to hear the "familiar", but to a point. One year everyone used "Chariots of Fire", not only was it not in tempo or used well, by the third rendition, everyone in the audience was groaning! Not the reaction you want! Star Wars story. Some pieces that have been used to death and are not usually to tempo:

"Axel F", "In the Mood", "Music Box Dancer",

"The Entertainer", "2001", and "Bolero". Not that you can't use these, but consider being more original!





Making a visual representation of music is critical to planning your choreography, making editing plans, and learning the music's phrases/periods. This is an IMPORTANT piece!

In essence, you are recreating the sheet music without the notes or needing to know how to read music. Once you have a good map of your music, it simplifies the rest of the process. Once you've chosen a piece as appropriate in tempo and character, then diagram it!

A. Listen to the piece several times to get an idea of the "whole."

B. First several "run throughs" - simply get all the beats down.

C. Add phrasing as you become familiar with piece.

D. Add intensity changes/choreography ideas as punctuations.

E. Neaten up to a logical look (it will simplify choreography).

F. Listen for "complete" segments/phrases, pencil in patterns

that the music suggests.

G. Mark what you want to compile onto master tape, its nice if

you can use the whole piece (simpler too) but in a 5 minute kur, it

is unlikely to find 3 short-enough pieces.


Practice with "finished product" - Pilgrim's canter piece*




Choose a brief piece of music to diagram for next week's meeting.

Bring your first thru final drafts with the tape or CD its from.




Often the most time consuming piece - I have learned to use the equipment I have at home. There are professionals who can do this for you, but you will want to be personally involved to ensure the creation is what you had in mind. Locally there are folks who will burn a CD with your composition and make seamless cuts to your satisfaction, knowing the beat and the exact phrasing will speed your session and make it more cost effective.

Equipment I have used:

A. Tape to tape, variable speed feature ("Pitch") See appendix*

B. Record to tape, variable speed

C. CD to tape (least accurate, best quality)

D. Tape to tape (dubbing), regular speed, standard pitch

Details on home taping:

D. Lead on tape at least 5 seconds

E. Use "recording level" to fade in/out. Fade quickly, most PA systems will "drop" a lot of quiet music. (low levels)

F. Clean breaks are important - use the pause feature, experiment first with your machine

G. Make several tapes off the original, choose the best

H. Make a backup or two!!

I. ***Copy your master to get a slow and fast copy. May want to get a higher and

lower recording level copy as well -- sounds systems are notoriously variable***




- Tape speeds vary +/- 10% ! This can truly @#*% with one's

carefully planned ride - have a slow & fast version if

possible and time a segment with a reliable watch during

the sound check at the show.

- Play music as you ride regularly

a) for your relaxation/accustomization

b) your horse's accommodation

- As more copies are made, tape quality goes down. Try to start

with the "cleanest" original, and copy wisely!




Using a worksheet will simplify this and then you will have all the nuts and bolts to build your freestyle. There is a staging sheet in the appendix, but you may wish to create your own. When you have an idea of what you and your horse do well (and/or want to do), it is often helpful to get the patterns on video (2-3 reps) to help figure out the staging.

You will want to get:

A. Required movements per level

B. Any "traveling" movements

C. Your patterns of delightful uniqueness & beauty

D. Check at all gaits you plan to use

E. Emergency movements (technical error cover-ups)


Because you have selected music to match your horse's tempo, creating your choreography becomes a matter of fitting musical phrases to movement patterns. By utilizing your map, simply count the number of steps with the number of beats. As you listen, the music may suggest choreography. The real art of freestyle comes in learning to use the music to seemingly "make the horse dance". I assure you that Pilgrim had no idea he was doing tempi changes in time with the music! This is an area where riders often get "test-minded", and use common patterns not because they show off their horse, but

because "that's what you do in a dressage arena". There is no reason to hug the rail if cutting a corner "works" with the music.

Improvise! Create!


- Do use the whole arena

- Do have balance and symmetry when possible

- Do consider the judge(s) vantage point(s)

- Don't get so intricate no one can tell what you're doing!

- Don't get so difficult your horse seeks a divorce!

- Do stick to a theme if possible





What makes a good kur sparkle and create excitement for the observer can be summed in the word IMPACT. Impact can bea trot that knocks your socks off, and it can be more impactful if that same trot is perfectly in rhythm with complementary music. While showmanship is a part, much can be created with carefully planned presentation.

- Kurs that traipse along without regard to the expression in the music are inherently UN-impactful. The music becomes "elevator music" with no meaning for the viewer. (True whether or not the music is elevator-like!) What scores will be most impacted by this?

- Beginning with a solid element to make a good first impression, and then ending with a strong "impact moment" makes a lasting positive impression on the judge. What scores will this affect?

- Conversely, presenting the weaker movements in a more flattering or camouflaged position, i.e. a pace-y walk shown down the centerline, will lessen the negative image of that movement. Show your strengths in the limelight!

- Impact if strong enough will make up for weaker moments (that were hopefully rather un-impactful!)


e.g. Dutch Gold


Pilgrim's changes

the pas' change of rider

Recurring theme in Bonfire's piaffe




A. Look at your requirements/rules.*

B. Consider your strengths/weaknesses.

C. Consider presentation/artistic impression/originality.

D. Select music pieces of appropriate tempo and character.

E. Complete staging sheet & music diagram, fit pieces to music.

F. Be creative, don't think "test to music".

G. Draw out your ride/choreography with staging marked clearly.

H. "Ride" it to music - count beats on your "court" w/ music. I cannot emphasize this point enough -- you must know the music note for note and the staging so well before you EVEN THINK of trying with your horse. Ride in on the ground, on paper, in your dreams, FIRST.

I. Ride patterns with beastie and without music (video is useful here).

J. Play music watching video before riding to music to practice. Ensure staging was accurate, plan contingency choreography.

K. Ride in full court and adjust choreography if needed - recreate if new ideas surface! Start simply, embellish as you get more confidence with the medium.


- Don't plan one big event, give yourself several "shows", real or staged, to get over nerves, encounter difficulties, and learn to overcome!

- Many riders abandon all previous highly-regarded riding techniques like half-halts and preparation when first riding their freestyles. Your horse doesn't hear the must "ride" ahead of the music and prepare normally.

- Expect problems on the first several go-throughs. Unfortunately there is always the element of uncertainty. If you have prepared your kur with this method, you will know (by heart!) how long it takes to make corrections and how much music it will "use".

- Many judges will lend good opinions that you may want to consider. With your music map, making a minor change in choreography isn't too hard.



TEMPO Comments (Does the tempo vary? Steady rhythm or irregular?)

Walk __________ _________________________________________________

Trot __________ __________________________________________________

Canter __________ _________________________________________________

Piaffe __________ _________________________________________________

Passage __________ ________________________________________________

Music Ideas:




Piaffe/Passage _______________________________________






Letter to letter____________________________________________________________

A to X__________________________________________________________________

X to G__________________________________________________________________


20M O__________________________________________________________________

15M O__________________________________________________________________

10M O__________________________________________________________________

8M O___________________________________________________________________


1/2 diag._________________________________________________________________

3/4 diag._________________________________________________________________














Tape to tape recorder

Variable speed tape recorder

Marantz Variable speed portable tape recorder # PMD 221

(Ours was ~$200 about 10 years ago, newer models surely exist although it is a standard)

Variable speed turntable (many models have "pitch control" +/- 10%)

CD Player (with remote....invaluable if you are scanning many CD's.)

Stopwatch (need I say accurate?)

Metronome (many styles available)

High grade blank audio tape (short tapes are better)

Binder to keep all records of tempos and choreographs in one place



Helpful Resources:

Werner Storl, Riding to Music, Breakthrough Publications, 1986

Mary Campbell, Dancing With Your Horse.

Both of these authors use the "timed" approach rather than the tempo approach.

Many commercial "helpers" available. (myself included) Costs range from $50/hour to a $12,000+ finished product.