Saturday, February 15, 2014

Ask the Judge | 2/15/2014

Questions About Dressage

With Amy McElroy

Amy McElroy is a USEF R judge, qualified to officiate at any USEF recognized show at all national dressage levels. She rides, trains and teaches at Fairlane Farm in Aiken and judges about a dozen dressage shows and events each year. In her popular Ask the Judge column, she answers readers' questions about dressage.

Dear Amy,

I was thinking it would be a lot of fun to do a musical freestyle. I am just a First Level rider. Is there a freestyle test I can do at my level? What are the requirements, and how are freestyles judged?

                                                                                       -Music Lover

Dear Music Lover,

Everyone likes musical freestyles: riders, spectators, judges, even horses. At your level, you could choose to do a Training Level freestyle (new since 2012) or a First Level freestyle, if you have met the requirements. In order to be eligible to do a First Level freestyle, you must have earned a minimum 60% score in First Level Test 3 at a USDF recognized show.

Assuming you are eligible, let's look at the USDF First Level freestyle test. The test sheet has a "technical execution" side and an "artistic impression" side. The same judge will evaluate both sides of the test.

Scoring of the technical side:

The freestyle has a possible 150 technical points. These movements are required:
  1. Free walk: 20 meters minimum of continuous walking.
  2. Medium walk: 20 meters minimum of continuous walking
  3. 8- to 10-meter trot circle, shown at least once in each direction.
  4. Leg yielding in the trot to the left and to the right. This movement has a coefficient of two, meaning that the point are doubled.
  5. Lengthen the stride at the trot. There is no minimum number of steps, but the lengthening must be clearly shown. This can be done sitting or rising.
  6. 10- to 15-meter canter circle to the left and to the right.
  7. Change of lead through the trot shown in both directions. This movement has a coefficient of two.
  8. Lengthen the stride at the canter. There is no minimum number of steps, but the lengthening must be clearly shown. This movement has a coefficient of two.
  9. Halts at the beginning and end of the test.
The technical side also includes scores for gaits (rhythm and quality), impulsion (energy, elasticity and engagement) and submission: "basic issues of submission and technical aspect of the rider." (From the USDF musical freestyle test sheer.)

The technical execution may be scored in half points or full points. The movements are judged as they would be in any First Level test. Each time you do a specific movement, the judge will give you a score for that movement. If you do the same movement more than once (six leg yields, for instance) all your numbers for the leg yields will be averaged and turned into one score. If you do not execute a compulsory movement, you will receive a zero for that movement, so be sure your routine includes everything that is required.

Scoring the Artistic Impression side:

The artistic impression side also has 150 possible points. You will be scored on the following:
  1. Harmony between horse and rider. This has a coefficient of three.
  2. Choreography: The use of arena, design, cohesiveness, balance and creativity. This has a coefficient of four.
  3. Degree of difficulty. This has a coefficient of two.
  4. Music: Suitability, seamlessness, and cohesiveness. This has a coefficient of three.
  5. Interpretation: The music expresses the gaits; use of phrasing and dynamics. This has a coefficient of three.
The artistic and the technical points are added together to give you your final score. The maximum possible score is 300.

Important Information:

  1. There is a maximum time limit of five minutes, but no minimum time. If you exceed the time limit, one point will be deducted from the artistic side.
  2. Riders must enter the arena or signal the sound engineer within 45 seconds of the bell. Riders must enter the arena within 20 seconds of the start of the music, or they may be eliminated.
  3. Entry halts and salutes must face C.
  4. All figures, regardless of size, patterns, combinations or transitions are permitted, even if configurations are found in higher level tests. For instance, you can do canter serpentines, simple changes of lead, walk-canter transitions, canter-walk transitions, or a counter canter. (All of these figures are from Second Level.)
  5. However, movements above the level at which you are testing are illegal and are penalized by a four-point deduction from the technical execution side from each illegal movement. For instance, if you do a flying change, which is first seen at Third Level, you will be penalized by four points.
Other higher level movements that are clearly forbidden include the rein back, the shoulder in, the travers, the renvers, the half pass, the turn on the haunches, the pirouette (in walk or canter), the piaffe and the passafe.

Tips for success:

  1. Use music that matches your horse and has a lively bear, music that many people will enjoy - a catchy tune, or something familiar. Your music (which has coefficient of three) is an important part of the performance and should not seem like background music. Preferably, it should have very little vocals. Be creative: Each gait could be represented by a different tune, for instance. Man people use medleys, which are usually best if all the songs are from the same genre - songs from Broadway shows or a medley of television show theme songs, for instance.
  2. Try not to be too "test-like" in your presentation. It is better not to copy patterns from a published test, and it is more fun to create your own patterns, using all of the arena. Show off your horse's highlights, those things that come easily to you and your horse as a team.
  3. Your freestyle should be at least as difficult as First Level Test Three, and greater difficulty will enhance the ride. However, be certain you can perform your test easily - don't make it so difficult that you are not certain that you can do it smoothly and reliably.
  4. Make several copies of your music. Make sure you test your music at the show before you ride. (The show will let you know when you can try out your music in their equipment.)
Keeping these things in  mind, you should have a good experience. So start selecting music and creating a routine to show off all of your horse's best moves. Then, have fun in your First Level musical freestyle!

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.