|Qrac and me at a show last summer|
Do you have moments when you’re driving in your car, music blaring, dreaming up freestyle choreographies that match the beat of the song you’re listening to? I do! All the time! There I am, cruising along to, say, “Bailamos”, that old hit by Enrique Iglesias, visualising Qrac and I dancing across the arena, half-passing and tempi-changing and piaffe-passing, then pirouetting during the break in the song before taking off in a fabulous extended canter. Yeah, it’s totally daft, but it’s a fun fantasy. And yeah, it’s definitely a fantasy especially if you know how difficult it is to ride a perfect ten metre circle. Needless to say, Qrac and I aren’t quite ready to do fancy footwork to Enrique Iglesias! But that’s ok. It’s something to work towards, right?
I’ve only ever ridden one freestyle program, and that was years ago, on Amanda, the mare I received as a wedding present from my father-in-law. Amanda wasn’t a dressage horse, she was more of a jumper. Amanda had a lot of thoroughbred in her and was never an easy ride. I jumped her for a few years, but never really enjoyed it as she hated touching the bars so would either jump massive, or pull up sharply, catapulting me over the jump instead, which kind of sucked.
Anyway, after my children were born I decided I no longer wanted to be a human cannonball, and luckily for me, my decision coincided with the arrival of two lovely dressage divas at my stables who took me under their wing, introducing my mare and I to dressage fundamentals such as “outside hand, inside leg”. Over the next few years I saw my mare change from a wiry, skinny-necked, hollow-backed sewing-machine to a chunky, nicely chiselled Muscle Woman. Ok, so she was never going to be a dressage arena dreamboat, but the physical metamorphosis was definitely impressive. Amanda and I entered a few dressage shows, and the one we did best in was a freestyle program performed to Brian Ferry’s “Slave to Love”. I’d spent ages trying to find a song that matched Amanda’s cadence in trot, and “Slave to Love” was perfect. Of course, it didn’t work quite as well for the canter or walk work, but back then (I’m talking maybe fifteen or sixteen years ago) we didn’t have the technology we have now to create sophisticated home-made freestyle mixes (not that I’ve any clue how to create one now), so we had to make do with riding to one track. Having said that, I remember other people managing to put various tracks together, but I guess they were just more techno-savvy than me. Anyway, whatever; riding that test was the most fun I’ve ever had in a competition.
Qrac and I are going to be competing next week (in a regular program, not a freestyle), so we’ve been working hard towards the test. It’s nothing complicated, and frankly I find it kind of depressing to think that I’ve been riding for eons and yet I’m still competing in the lowest levels. Not that I’ve done many shows; as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m not a competitive person. I’m far too emotional, and my nerves tend to get the better of me. Also, I’ve never had a horse long enough to be able to rise through the dressage levels. WhenI bought Qrac two years ago he was extremely green. All he did was run, so we had to go back to basics, get him to work through his back, get him to connect, focus on trying to keep him soft and relaxed. One of my main difficulties is keeping him in a slow rhythmic trot; he didn’t come with a built-in metronome and finding the right cadence is quite a challenge. The most common comment I get during my lessons is “slow down”, yet no matter how hard I concentrate, I have an extremely hard time finding Qrac’s correct “slowness”.
When I mentioned this to one of my trainers the other day, she suggested I find music to fit his ideal rhythm. So I went home, grabbed my iPad, found the video of my recent clinic with Bernard Sachsé, sat down in front of the computer, opened iTunes and then spent ages going through songs, trying to determine which songs fit matched his tempo when he was working at his best. It was an interesting exercise as many songs I’d imagined would work didn’t at all. In the end I made a playlist of four songs that work best. These are “Hall of Fame” by The Script (I’m currently addicted to that song), “Breakeven”, also by The Script, “Perdido sin Ti” by Ricky Martin (yes, I still love him) and “Weather with you” by Crowded House.
Unfortunately, there’s no music system at our stables so there’s no way I can burn a CD and play it while I’m riding. I don’t like riding with an iPod and headphones; I think it’s dangerous as you can’t hear what’s going on around you.
The only solution is to sing!
So I’ve been singing my heart out during my last few training sessions. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not torturing my fellow riders, belting out “Hall of Fame” at the top of my voice! For one, it’s really difficult to ride sitting trot and not massacre Danny O’Donoghue’s catchy tune. I sing softly, sometimes even just in my head, but I’ve found that this simple trick really helps. As soon as Qrac speeds up, the song rhythm reminds me to check him with a little half-halt, and the problem is solved. I also think Qrac enjoys being sung too; his ears flick backwards and forwards, somehow he’s more “with me”. I’m not saying “Hall of Fame” is going to solve all our cadence problems, and that thanks to Danny’s uplifting track we’re suddenly going to woosh through the levels and “the world’s gonna know (y)our name”, but it’s a useful tool to work with, especially in the downward transitions from canter to trot, which is where Qrac has a tendency to run. All I have to do is find the song to find the rhythm. Besides, it’s kind of fun, too!
As for the other songs I mentioned that also work with Qrac’s tempo, they don’t seem to come to me quite so naturally. I can belt them out nicely on the way to the stables in the privacy of my car, but for some reason I’ve found them far more difficult to sing on horseback. Or maybe it’s just because, similarly to my Enrique Iglesias freestyle fantasy, I’m far too happy trotting around in my own little “Hall of Fame”!
Do you have any personal, quirky “tricks” you use while riding? Have you ever done any freestyle programs? And, more generally, what music do you enjoy?