Stepping into freestyle.

I’ve always wanted to try dressage to music, right from a young age after watching Jennie Loriston-Clarke give a music masterclass at Goodwood. There is something about a horse moving in time to music that is particularly magical. It gives me goose bumps!

Rather than just being reserved for people who reach the top level of the sport, dressage to music has become increasingly popular and it’s now open to all levels from Prelim, so everyone can give it a go. Many more venues are offering freestyle classes, at unaffiliated and affiliated competitions, so it’s much easier to get involved. Plus, there’s a new British Dressage music championship to aim for in 2018.

Even though my horse has only just started out at Novice level, I thought it would be fun to give music a go. It’s something different to do and it can help relax nervous horses (and riders!) if they are a bit tense and spooky. So, I’m on a steep learning curve as I explore the world of floor plans, compulsory movements and beats per minute!!

How do you go about it?

It is possible to create the floor plan and music yourself, if you know what you are doing and have some music editing software. But if, like me, you don’t know where to start, you might want to enlist the help of a professional who can guide you through the process and create the right freestyle for you and your horse. You can send a video of your horse’s paces to a professional, or attend a music clinic so you get to try out different types of music. I opted to develop a floor plan with my trainer, as she knows my horse’s strong points, alongside a music expert, and was lucky to be able to arrange a session with them both at the same time so we could build it together.

Whatever way you choose to do it, here are some key points that I’ve learnt so far:

  • Getting the basics in place: Each level has a set of compulsory movements which are available on the BD website. Obviously it’s vital to get those basics in place and develop the rest of the floor plan around those movements, so that you have a nice flowing test.
  • Playing to your strengths: You want to show your horse off to the best of its ability, so it’s a good idea to get advice so that your floor plan plays to your strengths. For example, if you know your horse has a better canter than trot, bring the canter in early and use as much of the time as possible to show that off. Or, if your horse is weaker on one rein, start with the other rein so they are more relaxed and supple by the time you get to the same movement on the other side. The great thing about freestyle is that it’s your opportunity to create a test that works best for you and your horse.
  • Matching the horse’s paces to the music: The starting point to choosing music is knowing the beats per minute of your horse’s paces. This means counting how many times one foreleg hits the ground within one minute, in walk, trot and canter. A good tip is to use a white bandage/boot on that leg so it makes it easier to spot. You can ask someone to video this for you and count it out at home, or ask a professional to do this.
  • Choosing the music: Once you have the beats per minute, you can start searching for music which fits your horse. You are going to have to listen to it a lot, so choose something that you really like! It’s good to be creative but the most important thing is that it suits your horse – not only in terms of tempo but their personality too. I really liked the sound of an Ibiza club mix, but it just didn’t suit my horse at all!! You can choose something with vocals but they shouldn’t be distracting, so most people opt for instrumental versions. It’s good to have a theme which links the music in each pace – such as songs from a particular artist, musical, film or TV programme.
  • Perfecting your freestyle: Once you have your music and floor plan sorted, you’ll need to practise it to make sure the music fits. You’ll find that some days you’ll ride it quicker than others, depending on your horse’s mood, the surface of the arena or the CD player! That’s why you need to know the music inside out, so you know when to get a wriggle on if you need to make up time, or pop in an extra circle if you are ahead of the game.
  • The official bit: You need to have a license to play music in public, which you can do through British Dressage. They will send you some stickers which need to be placed on your CDs (or CD covers to avoid them interfering with the CD player). To compete in BD music classes, you will need to be at least a Club member – for more details visit

I took Rupert for his very first freestyle outing a few weeks ago, armed with my fabulous Bake-Off music designed by Ros Kay. I was a bit distracted because he was very spooky down one side of the arena, which meant I missed a movement on one rein and ended up with loads of spare trot music. Rather than styling it out like I should have done, I just hung around A for what seemed like forever until the canter music kicked in! This was a great learning experience. I know I have to practise it a lot more before the next outing and listen to the music at home, visualising exactly where I want to be – just to make absolutely sure I know where I am going and that I don’t get knocked off course if something goes wrong.

Most of all, we are aiming to have fun with our music outings. It feels a bit less pressurised somehow and it helps me relax as I’ve got something else to think about! So why not give dressage to music a go? Even if you can’t get out competing, you can still use music at home by playing it while you are schooling. It’s fun to do something different and a great way to practise keeping in a consistent rhythm.