Thursday, July 22, 2010

Final Music - Rev 1

Designing a kur, one eventually reaches a point where you have to say, "Burn the CD!"  No more editing.  No more tweaking.  No more builds of new audio files.  That time has come.  Now we just make the CD, and a backup copy, test them both, and put them in the horseshow briefcase for safe keeping.

From now until 2:45 Saturday afternoon, I will listen Piper's freestyle music over and over, becoming intimately familar and utterly comfortable with it and its odd little modifications.   For the moment, I will even embrace the little musical messes I desparately want to try tidying up.   I will also study today's final videotaped practice run, a test which even my perfectionist husband thinks was pretty good.  I will absorb how the test flows with the music and fully accept where the choreography does not quite fit.

From now until around 2:45, nothing changes.  However, after 3:02, once my ride is done and dusty, scrutiny of the music and the choreography can start all over again, in preparation for the next show....

...Or maybe not.  If the feedback from the two judges is favorable, the Kur may last the rest of the season as is.  And wouldn't THAT be wonderful?  I could shift my focus to weeding my overgrown vegetable garden!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


After several hours playing with music, editing, riding, videotaping, viewing, reviewing, and more editing.... technology decided to throw in several curve balls.

First, my red Acer Ferrari laptop, a computer I have enjoyed for several years, keeled over.  Deader than a doornail.  And sure enough, it was the system I was using for iTunes and Audacity.

Then, Audacity had the audacity to erase a huge strip of music across 4 tunes.  Ugh.  However, since I had been keeping records of the work I was doing, I was able to recut the music.... Or so I thought.

Test riding it, I discovered, much to my husband's amusement while he videotaped, that I can cut out TOO MUCH of the music, about 20 seconds worth.  A video of this can be seen here on YouTube.

So, not to be deterred, I went back to the drawing board and made more edits....
  Only to have a good cut of music get wiped out when the system I am now using CRASHED.   Ah....   Windows.   And try as it did to restore the work in progress, Audacity was unable.

And so now, a fierce thunderstorm is spiking our power like crazy and I have about 3 days of work to do on my kur....   And only 1 day in which to do it.

Panic or Don't Panic!?   Believe me, I am panicking....

Friday, July 16, 2010

Timing Is Everything

And of course, according the the USDF rules, my freestyle test can not exceed 5 minutes.

Sure enough, after riding mine and taping it in the blazing heat late this morning, I discovered that my current favorite pattern runs 5 minutes, 20 seconds.   Ugh.   Fortunately, by removing a stretchy circle, and tightening two half figure eights, I can get back under 5 minutes.... just.   Phew!

Meanwhile, the music still plays in my head, morning, noon, and night.   I fall asleep with it in my head.   I wake and it's still playing.   Today, while standing in line at a local community Fish Fry dinner, an elderly gentleman standing next to me commented on the extra treat of dinner with music.   Sure enough, I was humming my kur elevator music without knowing it.   Fortunately, he liked it.     :-)

Later this evening, with a spreadsheet handy, I played back the video of our practice run, timing each movement and counting the exact number of steps & strides used.   For the first trot sequence, we take 283 steps in 2 minutes, 1 second.   That works out to 140 beats per minute, confirming what I already established earlier.   But more importantly, and maybe of use later on, I now know how many steps it takes for Piper to perform a 10 meter trot circle, a leg yield from D to E, and so on.   And these steps translate to BEATS in the music.   So if I do find myself needing to adjust the choreography and music a bit, I'm now armed with useful data that I can apply and test via software....

....Anything to avoid having to drill in this excessive heat!   Bring on winter!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Final Song Choices

10 days to go and tonight, I made the final choices on which tunes will be used for Piper's first freestyle.

The semi-finalists included three Abba songs, four jazz tunes, and three Spanish guitar songs.   The Spanish tunes did not meld together well and were the first to drop off the list.   The rest, the finalists, were loaded onto my Shuffle.   Watching a videotaped training session of me riding Piper, I listened to the music and looked to see which suited Piper's movement.   While they all matched the BPM of his gaits exactly or close enough to match with a bit of help from the Audacity software package, I was looking to see which matched his lightness and his ring persona.

Jeddien, who is a chunky ground stomping KWPN Dutch Warmblood mare, worked aesthetically to good strong German folk music, music which one might hear at an Octoberfest celebration.   Piper, however, is a much lighter type KWPN who benefits from light "fluffy" music.

The Spanish tunes are wonderful, but I failed to find a matching set that share enough of a common feel to work well together for one freestyle.

The Abba music was suitable for Piper, however, no matter how I tried to think of the music, I could hear lyrics in my head.   And that's not a good thing!   I don't want the audience and judges to be mentally singing along when I suddenly cut to another song.

In the end, I went with two jazzy tunes, both of which are recognizable (and therefore predictable for the audience), but if the songs have lyrics, I doubt anyone knows them.   Both songs, while having very strong beats, manage to still be very light and fluffy.   Perfect for Piper.   And, best of all, both songs make me smile.   This is really important as I'll have both songs stuck in my head for the next few months.

Two songs?   Yup.   Unlike Jeddien's kur which used three songs, one per gait, the music I have chosen for Piper has one song for the trot and another for both the walk and the canter.   Since the BPM for Piper's walk and canter differ by a small amount, a little tweaking will be needed, but not much.

Editing with Audacity is now underway.   The computer may be hooked up to the outdoor arena speakers and to allow for editing on the fly.   Alternatively, new MPEG-4 files can be created and loaded onto the Shuffle, then ridden to.   The iterations will continue for the next several days, with a goal of having Piper's debut Freestyle CD ready a few days before competition.

So, progress continues....   It feels great!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Kur Design : A Chicken and Egg Puzzle

Designing a kur reminds me of the chicken and egg puzzle I often tried to unravel as a kid.   In this case, it's a question of which comes first, the music or the choreography.

For Piper's debut First Level kur, I have had a floorplan in mind for quite some time.   It includes interesting center line sequences at the beginning and the end of the test, has counter canter movements that aren't used in any USDF 2007 tests, is symmetric and pleasing to watch / judge, includes all of the required movements for a USDF First Level Freestyle, and does not include any movements from higher levels.

However, as I get closer to making the final selections on Piper's music, I can see that the choreography will need modification.   This, by the way, is not a surprise.

While I could simply ride the trot movements to Piper's trot music, the canter movements to his canter music, and the walk movements to the walk music, designing choreography that works well with the musical phrasing has the potential to vastly improve the overall entertainment value of the freestyle, and hopefully the scores earned as well.

For example, when the trot music builds to its strongest point, so should the trot.   Doing a lengthening or medium trot during a quiet phrase in the music is something I want to avoid.   The same holds true for the walk and canter.   And I will be aiming to avoid what I call "chippy choppy" music; music that starts and ends abruptly and includes musical transitions that make the listeners say, "Ouch!".

The challenge of designing a good kur is just that, a challenge.   But then, so is solving the chicken and egg puzzle....

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fighting Horse Flies

One of the problems with training outdoors in the summer, at least in this part of the country, is having to deal with horse flies and deer flies.   Both are nasty persistent bugs who can cause at the very least, distraction during training sessions, and at the worst, pain and suffering to both horse and rider.

Using bug spray, ear nets, and a horsehair riding crop can help.   However, eliminating the pests so they can't pester the horse in the first place would be even better.

After doing some light internet based research about horse flies, their life cycle, and pest control, I learned quite a bit about them.   And understanding that they are attracted to high contrast color, I suddenly appreciated why my black horse was getting attacked more viciously than my solid chestnuts, and why my flashy chestnut with four white socks seems to be preferred by the horse flies when standing next to her buckskin boyfriend.

I also learned that whenever the fly attacks the underside of a target, if the target turns out to not be food, the insect flies vertically instead of horizontally to continue the search for something edible.   It is this behavior which led scientists at the University of Manitoba and Rutgers University to design their successful traps.

And, of most interest, I learned that only females bite.   They need to feed on blood before they lay their eggs.

With a goal of breaking the female horse flies' cycle of feeding on my horses and then laying eggs so next year's offspring can feed on my horses, I decided to try a horse fly trap.   After considering the traps available for purchase on the web, I decided to build my own.

My trap is very heavy, suitable for use on our windy mountain.   The design is a mix between the Rutgers and the Manitoba fly traps, both of which capture flies without the use of chemicals or foods.

The first trap, a big black beauty of a thing if I may so myself, was so successful in capturing horse flies that I built a second trap this weekend.   With high contrast being the priority, I had a bit more fun with the paint job.   A retired horse ball toy, painted high gloss black, hangs "loose" from the center of the top panel where the actual containment traps sit.   In the wind, the ball provides a bit of motion, helping to make the trap look more alive.   The containment traps are Farnam's "Toss N Trap" fly traps, without the chemicals.   They are perfectly designed for use on a Manitoba horse fly trap and, held on with bungy cords, are very easy to replace when the contents of the traps get grungy.

So, now we have a handsome Holstein in one of our pastures.   Hopefully the horse flies will absolutely love it!   Dinner is ready!   Come and get it!     :-)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Creating Piper's First Kur

In two and half weeks, Piper and I will be doing our first musical freestyle / kur together in competition.   And at this time, I still don't know what music we will be riding to, nor what pattern we will be using.   But, we have 2 weeks to get this sorted.

The design of the kur Jeddien and I did last year, the kur which earned USDF Region 8 Reserve Champion at 3rd Level Freestyle only took a few years to put together.   Yes, years.   But that's due to the fact that I was hoping to debut at freestyle riding in the UK.   I knew which music I was going to use and had cut my first CD for practicing with, but the floor plan and choreography was still very rough.

Then we moved to the USA, and Jeddien had a foal, and well, time kept slipping by.   In 2009, concentrated design work was picked up again in time to do 3 competitions, qualify, and get to the Championships.

So, with prior experience of designing ONE KUR, I am aiming to get the second one done in less than 2 weeks time.   A wee bit ambitious?   You bet!   Nothing like a little pressure.   :-)

Once again, having good tools helps.   This includes my collection of Isabell Werth CDs, iTunes for ripping the CDs, my Shuffle for riding with music in my ears, a metronome, Dressage Divas software to play with the floorplan and timings, and Audacity software to edit the music and create a high quality CD.

Today, with a major heatwave underway, I spent the day indoors with a box fan to one side and laptop in front of me.   With a wide selection of music and a good example video of Piper doing First Level Test 4, the keystep is now done.   I now know the Beats Per Minute (BPM) of Piper's walk, trot, and canter.   And sure enough, they are different from Jeddien's!

I have a floorplan in mind, but now that I've narrowed down the music choices to two sets of walk, trot, and canter tunes, I know the choreography is going to have to be changed.   But first, I want to decide on the music.   And for that, I really want to get on Piper....

.... only after the heatwave breaks.   Saturday, I hope....

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Aiming for a Better First Level Counter Canter

At this stage of the game, I feel confident Piper and I have Training Level down pretty well.  But with only one competition at First Level under our belts, I know there's a lot of work yet to be done to earn consistently decent scores at that level.
The biggest challenge for Piper is counter canter.  It's still a new movement for him and he still needs to "chill out" when doing it.  Cantering from the long side to X and then counter cantering back to the same long side (the loop in First Level Test 4) still tends to get him a bit excited.  And, in Piper terms, that means his head comes up, his back goes hollow, and he debates whether to offer me a flying change.
It wasn't until I sat back and gave it some thought that I realised I'd skipped some important counter canter training movements in Piper's preparation for First Level Test 4. My favorite of these is the Teardrop.
The Teardrop is a simple movement that involves cantering down the long side, then turning down the center line, or second quarterline, returning back to the same long side in counter canter at B or E, staying in counter canter for a bit, and returning to trot before navigating the corner.  This is a nice way to get the counter canter mindset working in the horse before going for something extreme like Second Level's 20 meter circles in counter canter!
Another counter canter exercise I found useful in the past, is simply counter cantering on the long side, starting on a quarterline, parallel to R and then towards to P (or S to V), and returning to trot well before the corner.   (Few things are worse than sending a horse into a turn without being in balance.)   Initially keeping a gap between the horse and the long side seems to help make counter canter easier.   Think room to breathe, room to escape.   Horses want both.   The gap can start at 5 metres (which means riding on the quarterline) and eventually reduce down to zero when counter countering on the long side is safe and easy.
Our next competition is only a few weeks away!  Until then, we're going to work on our Teardrops and Counter Canter Quarterlines.   And if Piper is anything like Jeddien was at this stage in her training, after each balanced counter canter, he will offer an even BETTER working canter with more expression, elevation, and balance.   Well, that's the plan anyway     :-)