Horse-Riding Dressage: The Freestyle Test

The Freestyle may be the king of dressage competitions provided the correct gymnasticizing of horses is not compromised. Judging it should be a pleasure. The element of novelty, the ingenuity manifested in composition, the thrill of the unexpected, all contribute to that feeling of evaluating something that is now “world premiered.” The Freestyle Test lets the rider emerge not only as a performing artist, but also as a composer/creator of art as well. Watching a brilliant Freestyle Test may give us a thrill similar to what audiences must have felt when Rachmaninoff played his own piano compositions in concert. Perhaps even more so, for often a Freestyle Test is seen for the first time, while Rachmaninoff’s works may have been heard before his performing them.

Riders earn scores by the propriety and ingenuity of their composition on the one hand and the level of technical perfection of performance on the other. The propriety of the Freestyle Test demands that the rider display all the gaits and movements appropriate to the level of development required by a standard test.

The ingenuity of the Freestyle Test depends on the rider’s artistic creativity, sense of proportion, and thorough knowledge of how to display his particular horse to his best advantage.

Composing a Freestyle Test
The test should appear fluent in composition and in movement. Movements should flow easily from one to another and offer a sense of gymnastic logic: progressing from simpler toward the more complex. Part of fluency is a vigorous beginning and crescendo ending, not unlike symphonies, which usually begin with lively, attractive passages and have an impressive finale.

When composing an impressive beginning to a musical freestyle, keep in mind that a rider ought to top the entrance by a magnificent ending. For instance, in a Grand Prix Freestyle Test, entering with a passage would leave diminished choices for an ending.

Here are some examples for building from simple to complex exercises:
In patterns, larger patterns such as large circles to smaller ones. Commonly used, familiar patterns are easier, such as riding on the center line, as opposed to riding on less frequently used patterns such as a quarter line. Or riding a serpentine limited in size to only one-half of the arena is more difficult to ride than one from wall to wall. While using new patterns can add interest and novelty to the test, making transitions at rarely used or not designated points (letters) can cause confusion and detract from the value of the design.

Transitions should also become more complex as the Freestyle progresses. In an old version of the Grand Prix test, there used to be complex and sophisticated transitions in the movement number 34: down center line at collected canter to halt at L. Followed by a rein-back of four steps, and then proceed directly in passage! A rider should provide such transitional feats later rather than at the beginning of a Freestyle Test.

Gaits can also be shown from simple to complex. Obviously, a working or medium gait is simpler than an extended or collected trot. Also, exercises at the walk are simpler than those at the canter. Think particularly of the pirouette.

The symmetry of the patterns is important. Not only is a symmetrical test aesthetically more beautiful, but also riding logic expects it. After all, the horse has two equally important sides that should be evenly gymnasticized. However, even the symmetry of a test’s design can progress from simpler to more complex expressions of symmetry. When the symmetry is simple, then an exercise performed on one rein is immediately repeated on the other rein. The figure eight is an example of this. An intricately sequenced pattern can include symmetry by several transitions repeated and its mirror image on the other rein delayed. A balanced test design gives an equitable distribution of effort to display all three basic gaits.

A rider may show more at his best gaits and much less at the weaker ones. He can do that without compromising the balance of the test by showing weaker gaits in a more novel pattern and at unexpected locations. Show the slow walk on short patterns. Show bold gaits on longer lines and for longer duration. This is gymnastically logical and also gives the impression of a bold, forward-thinking performance.

A Freestyle Test is artistic when it is logical rather than ambitiously confusing. When composing one, scrutinize it as to its fluency, complexity, symmetry, and balance. Ride it, to feel the performance quality, and have the courage to alter it when needed. Freestyle Tests should reflect perfect riding logic and the best performance of a given horse. Musical accompaniment is very important. Therefore, its quality and appropriateness strongly influence the rewards it may earn in the scoring.

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