Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Thar Be Pirates About!

Freestyle Work Begins Again

Friend and fellow dressage rider, Jutta Lee of Appledore Farm invited me to her farm to view the first FEI Intermediare 1 freestyle / kur she was working on for a dressage competition which was three weeks away.  The music she selected was straight from the Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, was deep and powerful, and sounded like it was performed by a full orchestra.

Some of the music was wonderful.  However, some of it just didn't feel right.  As Jutta expected, I was honest in my opinions.  We both have enjoyed success in freestyle competitions, so we starting sharing ideas....

Since I have more musical training and enjoy the challenge, I offered to create the Pirates kur for her.  With a copy of the soundtrack loaded into my iShuffle, I listened to the music several times and agreed she had selected a song that was great for her canter work.  However, I found nothing wonderful for the walk and trot.  We were going to need to look elsewhere for more Pirate music.

Hurray for iTunes!

On YouTube, we found other dressage freestyles that used "Pirates of the Caribbean" music.  One was fairly good (viewable here on youtube) and encouraging in the sense that it proved the Pirates music could be used fairly successfully for dressage.  This particular kur included music from other films.  A few iTunes purchases later, I had the soundtracks from three other Pirates of the Caribbean movies - Dead Man's Chest, At World's End, and On Stranger Tides - loaded into my iShuffle and I immersed myself in Pirates music for the next few days.

Using Pinnacle Systems's Studio 10 software, I watched video loops of Jutta and her horse, Glorious Feeling, performing the walk, trot and canter portions of her freestyle while listening to the music, most of which is composed by Hans Zimmer.  I listened for hours on end.

Finding ideal music for a horse and rider is an inexact science at best.  First, one needs to understand and accept the musical tastes of the rider.  After all, it is she who will have to listen to the music over 100 times!  I knew Jutta wanted to stay clear of Spanish guitars, vocals, and death marches!   :-)

Searching for music, luck certainly helps.  And patience.  And keeping an open mind.  Fast forwarding after a few seconds of sampling a tune is NOT a good idea!  For example, one of the Pirate songs, at first, did not sound suitable at all.  But, at the very end, there were a few measures of truly beautiful walk music!  A couple minutes into another song, I discovered entrance music which Jutta and I both liked.

Music is 10% of the Score

In USDF / USEF dressage freestyles, from 1st to 4th Levels, the music makes up 20% of the total score.  At FEI level, the music of a freestyle only accounts for 10% of the overall score.  However, at International Level, the quality of the music is expected to be very good.  It also must be pleasurable to listen to and even the horse needs to accept it!

Leave the Chippy Choppy to the Chefs

One key to making a good freestyle lies in a deep desire to avoid what I call "chippy choppy" transitions which can insult the ears of the audience AND JUDGES.  You know what I mean.  When a piece of music abruptly and prematurely ends and another follows.  Smooth musical transitions are very important to making the music more enjoyable, more entertaining and simply easier on the ears.

While cutting and editing music, maintaining an even beat in the music must also be considered.  An incomplete beat during the trot, for example, will cause a blip which can cause the whole picture to appear unbalanced for a moment.  It will also throw off anyone who was happily tapping their feet to the music.... something we hope judges will do while enjoying the performance!

It's the Rider's Music

In the end, the music belongs to the rider.  She must love it, live it, sleep it, dream it, hum it and become one with it.  And so the rider's input into the composition is critical.

In the end, we create a Pirates of the Caribbean freestyle which flows smoothly from movement to movement, matches Glory's graceful lightness and powerful impulsion, includes the sounds of ship bells and cannons, and left one member of the audience at the July GMHA Show - USDF Vice President Beth Jenkins - with goosebumps!

The Debut CDI

After a few "trial runs" with the freestyle at schooling and USDF shows, Jutta and Glory made their Concours de Dressage International debut at HITS on the Hudson in Saugerties, NY.  They won the freestyle class!  And were written up in World Dressage News!

Next stop, the NEDA Fall Festival and CDI-W ! If you are there, come say "Yo ho" to the Pirates!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Babies

After a winter siesta, the dressage competition season is now resuming. For many of us, our individual competition calendars are pretty well decided, we've started sending in show entries, and the end of the year goals are coming into focus.

For me, for the first time since 2007, my dressage goals do not include qualifying for and competing in the USDF Region 8 Championships. In fact, I may not even enter a USEF / USDF show at all.

Piper, with whom I was already half qualified for the 2012 Championships, has been sold to a wonderful family. I look forward to seeing him and his new owner competing in New England this season!

Now, there are two horses who are getting the majority of my attention this year. Young horses who have been quietly standing in the wings, waiting for their turn to be center stage: Bea Yewtee & Big Ben.

Bea Yewtee

Bea is out of my retired 4th level mare, Jeddien. Her sire is Da Vinci, who was a lovely grey FEI dressage stallion who stood at Cornell University after retirement from competition.

Bea was a little foal, when compared to Ben who stood at 11 hands high at birth! She is and has always been fiesty. Sharp. Edgy. She's a fast learner and a nice horse.

Riding Bea is interesting as she has trouble standing still for any length of time. I call her my "Energizer Bunny". A little trotting machine with a lot of "hock action". I suspect she is hovering around 16 hands and in many ways is a lot like her dam. Compact and powerful, for starters. Bea is a liver chestnut with 4 white socks. Very pretty.

Big Ben

Ben is very different from Bea. First, he loves to canter. However, he would really rather stand around and chat all day. His first riding lessons began with him having to learn that he was not allowed to have a roll in our indoor arena with the rider (me) in the saddle! He's cuddly and friendly.

Second, he is BIG. He wears a size 36" girth and my leg only goes 3/4's of the way down his side! I've not measure him yet and am not sure I even want to know.... I do know, however, that I could use a 4th step on my 3 step mounting block!

Ben has long smooth supple strides and a surprising amount of natural suspension for a big guy. Ben is out of Marja, a Burggraaf mare we imported from Holland while she was carrying Ben. Ben's sire is the talented Dutch show jumper, Tangelo van de Zuuthoeve.

Both Bea & Ben were imprint trained and handled daily since birth. I started both of them when they were 3, and then left them to grow. And grow they did! They continued to be lunged... occasionally.... and put through groundwork training... occasionally... and ridden indoors and outdoors.... occasionally. But nothing regular and certainly not to the extent so that their training is where it should be or could be at their age.

Yup, they have some catching up to do. However, both young horses are well behaved, past their terrible 3's (and 4's) and eager to learn. And, both are super comfortable. That's an extra bonus!

So, my goals for this year are to focus on both of "the babies" and to get them out to schooling shows. After earning awards and titles through 3rd Level, it seems odd to set my sights on Introductory Level, but that is exactly this years goal. Easy tests and lots of experience away from home.

Realistically, if all goes well, I will enter GMHA's October show, which is part of the USDF 2013 Show Season. If I do that, I will aim to for qualification at Training Level. Woohoo! Gotta start somewhere.

And so, the journey starts all over again.:-)