Louise Currans first Freestyle Dressage test to music
Louise and Gandalf Vanessa Cowling, C & C Photography
Written by Louise Curran
Dressage is all about learning. Its just as well I embrace this because at the moment Im on one of the steepest parts of the dressage learning curve for me learning how to ride Freestyle with some semblance of competence!
A couple of weeks ago I had my first crack at riding a Freestyle dressage test to music. It was the Intermediate 1 Freestyle at the Tatura Spring Dressage Classic; always a wonderful regional event on the Victorian dressage calendar.
Its a bit of a road trip to get to Tatura from Jindivick but well worth the drive. With my wonderful support team of strategist husband and supergroom daughter, and a couple of great friends we made a long weekend of it. There was great competition and great people and we had fun all weekend. Nothing better after a late competition finish on Saturday night than an impromptu tack box party in the stables with a couple of bottles of champagne until two of us realised we were riding our next test in about 7 hours!!
So what did I learn this time? Riding a good Freestyle is really hard!
Even so, I had a blast. In fact, it was probably the most fun I've had riding dressage that I can remember. I loved the music (some good old fashioned swing style tunes) and the floor plan is good to ride. I had a smile from ear to ear from the beginning to the end and enjoyed every madly frantic minute of it!
Reality, however, differed rather wildly from expectation. My thought before I started on this Freestyle journey was that I would elegantly perform a beautiful test perfectly in time with the music and that the music itself would transport us into another dimension of rhythm and harmony. It was going to be gorgeous. It was going to be poetry in motion. In fact, it was going to be just like Charlotte!
Hah! Nothing could be further from the truth!
Louise and Gandalf Vanessa Cowling, C & C Photography
In a normal dressage test you ride like you need to ride you can control the tempo, rhythm and even the speed of each movement. If you need to take a bit more time during some sections to balance and perfect things (relatively speaking!) you can. If you need to rev things up to get a bit more oomph, you can do that too. Basically you do what you have to do to get the best score.
And that's what the really talented riders do in a Freestyle test too. They can do all that within the parameters of the music, thinking quickly and making adjustments as they go so that they stay with the music. They have the experience and they know what they're doing.
I, on the other hand, dont! I rode a test that felt completely helter skelter, hit and miss and had no relation to the measured and beautiful test I intended to ride. We surprisingly managed to score reasonably well but that's a testament to a super horse and the relationship we've built together we were out there as a team, muddling through and having a whole heap of fun as we careened around to the music trying to put the right moves in the right places. And that's about as elegant as it got!
So, back to the learning curve what will I do differently next time? Well, for a start, we might modify the first extended canter that comes right at the beginning of the test. Back when the floorplan was designed at the end of last year, the thought was that something that got Gandalf pumping right at the start would be a good move. Since then however, he's come along in leaps and bounds and is now more likely to be a bit hot rather than restrained. So, on a night with a sizeable audience and lots of atmosphere, a hugely energetic extended canter from M to A as the first movement nearly had us out of the arena and halfway back to Melbourne! We might change that bit.
Louise and her boys Cil Dara Gandalf & Fiodore Gone Riding Media
I think the other thing I need to do is to go in with a head full of contingencies. In other words, work out some of the other ways I can ride the movements and still work with the music. I need to be flexible and adjustable and that's really hard for someone who's only just working out how to be measured and controlled. Just when I thought I was getting a handle on this dressage caper!
Thankfully I can throw all this into the lap of my coach, David Shoobridge, and together we can work out the best way to tackle it. I figure that someone who's recorded one of the highest Grand Prix Freestyle scores in the history of the prestigious Dressage with the Stars competition should have an idea or two!
Im also going to pick the brains of as many experienced freestyle riders as I can for hints and tips so if you have any suggestions, please send them my way.
As well as our first chance to ride a Freestyle test, Tatura was another great competition for Gandalf and I overall. Gandalf is becoming quite sanguine about new places and new atmospheres and after we arrived on the Friday and did a quick arena familiarisation he settled in comfortably, made friends with the small black pony in the next stable, ignored Fred, his very annoying stable mate on the other side of him, ate dinner with gusto (a relatively new occurrence) and relaxed.
On Saturday morning we managed to win the Prix St Georges and on the Sunday morning we won the Intermediate 1. With those two results and a second place in the Intermediate 1 Freestyle on Saturday night, it was a very positive competition!
The next time we compete will be at the Boneo Park Spring CDI in September where were stepping up into the CDI ranks with the Prix St Georges, Intermediate 1 and the Intermediate 1 Freestyle. Lots to work on before then!
As well as all the super things Gandalf and I are achieving, I have our resident clown, young Fiodore ticking along in the background. He's coming along very nicely and were getting some good scores at Preliminary level. He did a good job at Tatura despite the Prelim tests being on wet grass it was all very different for him but he behaved himself and worked well. That's all I'm really asking of this goofy five year old at the moment.
Other than that there's not a huge amount to report about Fred but he will get some attention in my next blog; he's actually starting to establish himself as a possible, maybe, future star the jury's still out but its starting to look promising. At the same time he's cementing his reputation as the biggest dork ever. He was recently described as a late maturer a very generous description of a horse standing in front of us with his hay net sitting on his head!
Fred will also be coming to the Boneo Park Spring CDI and competing in the Preliminary section. Its a big competition for a five year old so will be another good experience for him. Hell be expected to behave impeccably and stay completely focused while hes working if we can achieve that, Ill be a happy rider and scores won't matter at all.
As always, in the weeks before a big competition, well be increasing the dose of Rosehip Vital for all of us so that we can cope with everything that comes. There's a real confidence in knowing that both horses are feeling great and in peak condition; for me there's a real relief in knowing that this not so young body will be able to function like a real dressage rider, even in a Freestyle test! With Rosehip Vital making it possible for us to keep doing the things we love, were ready for the next challenge!