Just as you need not know a lutz from a toe loop to enjoy reruns of Torvill and Dean’s Bolero, a kür can entertain spectators who know as much about dressage as BBC presenter Craig Doyle.
That said, suffering an uninspiring freestyle is like watching grass grow in winter, even for the cognoscenti. So how do you get the judges on side and keep the audience awake, for the good of your mark and the sport?
Jane Brewin’s Nadonna — reigning novice freestyle champion with Roland Tong — is returning to Solihull for a crack at the medium. Jane believes the choice of music is personal and must fit your horse’s character as much as its hoof-falls. She rejected Anna Ross-Davis’s original suggestion of Irish tunes because, although they fitted fine, “it just wasn’t Nadonna”.
“She’s a bright red mare and a real tart, who will present her backside to any passer-by, vet or wall,” says Jane. “The cancan music from the Moulin Rouge — where dancers were at best courtesans and at worst whores — suits her well.”
As well as showing off the horse’s character, it helps to have music with a good beat all can enjoy.
“Our music is liked by judges and gets everyone stirred up,” says Jane. “When we practise at home, all the boys and girls cancan in the barns.”
Andrew Gould, who is after this year’s prix st georges freestyle with Numero Uno, knows how a horse’s character can play its part.
“The most popular thing I ever did was riding my pony, Captain Pugwash, to the Blue Peter theme tune — the judges loved it,” cringes Andrew, who now drives around listening for music he might be able to use.
“Some people ride to what seems like background music, which doesn’t fit with the movements at all. That will make people fall asleep,” says Andrew. “Equally, I’ve seen people with a great piece of music totally ruin their horse’s natural way of going with it.”
It is one thing for judges to penalise a pair whose music does not work with the horse, but personal preferences should not play a part.
“Judges shouldn’t be allowed to favour their own preference in music,” says Andrew. “I look for music that gives me more satisfaction than the judges, something powerful, that’s also motivating.”
Reigning prix st georges freestyle champion Henry Boswell, who rides to upbeat classical violins by Bond, agrees.
“If you’re inspired by the music, you can really get into it,” says Henry. “And the horse should look like he’s dancing to the music.”
One kür that stuck in everyone’s mind was Elena Kalinina (Russia) and Royal Black Label’s effort in Olympia’s World Cup qualifier.
“Elena had her music turned up extra loud and got the crowd involved and clapping along. That’s what it should be about,” says Andrew. “For weeks afterwards, everyone talked about her performance, not the winner’s.”
Charlotte Edmonds made a brave musical choice for her performance at the 2005 national championships. Her medley of Superstition, Jungle Boogie and Walk This Way — for the free walk — had some members of the crowd tutting and others tapping. Either way it got them talking and earned Charlotte the biggest cheer of the day.
Winter intermediaire I freestyle champion Nicola Jourdain used a mixture of dance tracks, including Paul van Dyke, to win with Sancerre II in 2005.
“The freestyle is definitely able to give something of the rider’s character as well,” she says.
“The kür is pointless without a crowd,” says Andrew Gould. Bigger prize-money might encourage more professionals to enter and therefore draw an audience. But to get that money put up, riders need to put on a crowd-pleasing performance.
Freestyles are also an opportunity for amateurs to beat the pros and entertain the masses with creative floorplans and music.
“So many people’s music bares no relation to the test, which makes it very boring,” says Henry Boswell. “The test should be uplifting and build to a crescendo.”
All three pieces of music should be in keeping with each other, but real variation helps make things interesting.
Nicola Jourdain says: “It’s difficult to do, but the extended canter should have a different piece of music again, rather than sticking to three tunes for the walk, trot and canter.”
Ice skaters are able to individualise their programmes to a greater degree, putting in cheeky moments, which add little to the technical aspect but endear them to the crowd.
“It’s not like you could enter to the Superman theme tune with one fist outstretched,” laughs Henry.
It is harder in dressage, especially at the lower levels, but riders could be more imaginative. Just a “ting” in the music as a rider salutes the judge, as though he is giving them a wink, can make everybody smile.
“If there were rein-back in the elementary freestyle, you could rewind the track,” suggests Nicola.
Having sent the audience home smiling, you only need hope your individuality goes down well with the judges. As Andrew says: “Having spent a fortune and really gone for something, if the judges don’t like it you’re right up the creek.”
For more information on this year’s championships visit: www.bdchampionships.co.u/
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