Once equestrians take their competitive careers beyond childhood, it’s rare that there is any creativity involved – which, when you think about it, actually explains a lot about today’s topic. When we leave the kiddie arenas and their six-inch show jumps before the quick change for fancy dress behind us, it’s usually in favour of something far more serious and scripted: show jumping sees rider after rider present their horse at a set of fences in the same order; eventing is the same, it just takes longer and there’s a bit more mud; dressage is partnership after partnership displaying the same routine… unless, of course, it’s a freestyle competition.
Freestyle is more about guidelines than a prescribed test: competitors must complete certain movements within a specified timeframe; they are still bound to standard rules regarding personal presentation and equipment; they are to complete their routine to a soundtrack of their choosing, providing the piece was composed prior to 1985.
I may have made that last clause up. In fact, I definitely did. Freestyle dressage to music involves performing a selection of required movements, but riders have complete freedom in terms of how the routine is choreographed, and what music it is set to. Marks are available, in fact, for musicality and appropriateness of choreography. So much so that there are professional freestyle dressage choreographers, who will work with you to ensure that you choose a piece of music suited to you and your horse. Judging by the soundtracks used in many international competitions, selecting a piece of music which is vaguely contemporary either costs a huge amount extra or isn’t something that many dressage riders get around to in the preparation process.
I was first alerted to the fact that most dressage riders – irrespective of their age – compete to vastly outdated tracks during freestyle when London 2012 was in full swing.
Tweet from @_kickingon suggests dressage should “join the 21st century” and use more dubstep. Should it? Yes? No? Other music suggestions?
— Ollie Williams (@OllieW) August 29, 2014
Thanks to social media, many people who wouldn’t ordinarily care about dressage were sharing their opinions online, and several commented that they’d heard more Genesis during the dressage coverage than they had since, well, the 1980s. There’s also a tendency – as demonstrated by Charlotte Dujardin – to go down the patriotic route, particularly as music without vocals is strongly encouraged; music which was originally intended as an instrumental piece sounds far better than a track which has had the vocal removed. But it isn’t actually required that a rider’s music has no vocal. Equestrianism is repeatedly criticised for being an old-fashioned sport, and to choose a more contemporary track for your freestyle would potentially help the sport to be perceived as more modern. It doesn’t have to be that you keep pace with the current top 40 tracks in your home country – that would probably be a nigh on impossible challenge, in order to change your routine with such frequency – but is something from the current decade really so difficult to ask?
According to some people in the dressage and music industries, a 21st century soundtrack isn’t too much to ask. During #HorseHour on Twitter earlier this week, I learned that I’m not the only one who thinks that dressage to dubstep should be a reality. The advice from experts I connected with during #HorseHour was that your music choice should suit your horse’s rhythm (they analyse the horse’s bpm – beats per minute – and ensure that the track is suitable), as well as being a piece that you enjoy. The track I used as an example of what I’d like to hear at dressage competitions was deemed unsuitable, as apparently it’s “too slow for trot, too fast for canter”, which is a fair comment. However, there would hopefully be something within the genre which would work. Plus music can often be edited, having the tempo altered in order to suit the purpose it’s being used for. So my encouragement continues (given that it’s not likely I’ll be performing a kur myself any time soon): please, equestrians, step out of the 80s – the music was great in parts, but it’s been done! Explore the 90s (and the more entertainingly-named noughties). Go cheesy by using boybands. Be bolder by using a boyband/girldband medley. Push the envelope further by using a mashup, rather than the overused medley format. Google “dubstep” (I promise you won’t find anything you didn’t want to see). Above all, be imaginative:
— Nick Reeve Pianoman (@NickReeveMusic) November 3, 2014
Rules, regulations and realities of tempo or bpm aside, what would you love to trot down the centre line, halt and piaffe to? Check out the tracks I’ve “liked” here on Soundcloud for some of my wildest dreams, or listen to the one below which was deemed both too fast and too slow for some inspiration