Thursday, April 18, 2013

Singing in the Ring

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. When
I 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?


Laura Crum said...

Cesca--You will think I am an old fuddy duddy or a real curmudgeon (and I am, actually), but I don't much care for popular music. I like music without lyrics, and only at the cocktail hour. Otherwise I like quiet, so I can hear the birds and the sounds around me. My husband plays the bagpipes (not quiet at all) and we listen to Celtic music in the evening--mostly non-verbal--tunes played on pipes, fiddles, whistles...etc.

As for horses, the one way I have used music is to sing cheerfully (even though I can't carry a tune) while riding alone on a nervous horse. It seems to calm them. Though chatting away in a pleasant conversational tone works just as well.

I really HATED riding in barns where they piped music (of any kind) into the arena. And as for people listening to Ipods while riding, I think it is very dangerous. But as I started out saying, I am not a fan of popular music.

Francesca Prescott said...

Laura: not sure what a curmudgeon is! I'm a music buff, and I like all kinds of music. I also enjoy instrumental tracks, especially in the evening, Celtic, or guitar, or electronic chill-out. But in the car I tend to prefer listening to the radio (my trip to the stables takes me so long every day that I learn all kinds of interesting things!), or to pop music. Not always pop though, sometimes more chilled stuff.

I had an INCREDIBLE ride this morning, I don't think Qrac has ever been so constant and sitting and big moving! In fact he was so amazing that I actually forgot to sing!

Thanks for reading :)

irish horse said...

One time my old trainer put on some music on a large portable stereo. It was not my style (country music) but the class rode around the arena and it was so relaxing and the horses really responded to how we felt and the beat.

I listen to music at work but not while riding, as I'm often out on the trails by myself (I've run into plenty of runners who need to take off their earbuds and pay attention to the world!) But I do recite poetry to my horse, when things get a bit dull after trotting for 20 miles!

I break out the old classics like Yeats, Shelley, Robert Frost, ee cummings. Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade" is a good one to get you moving!

I love your choice of Weather with You, one of my favorite bands and songs. Maybe you could try a portable stereo, but glad you had such a good ride!

Francesca Prescott said...

Irish Horse, how lovely to recite poetry...I don't think I know any poems anymore, except maybe Macavity the Mystery Cat!!!

As for Crowded House, I think "Don't Dream it's over" is one of the most romantic songs ever.

I think my friend is bringing some ipod speakers to the stables this weekend, so Qrac and I can rock out to The Script :) I love watching big Freestyle competitions, it's always fun to hear riders' choice of music. One lovely teenage rider on the Swiss pony team does a fab freestyle to songs from Mary Poppins! Just brilliant!

Thanks for commenting :)

AareneX said...

I'm a huge believer in music to create cadence...and out on the endurance trail, we like LONG songs with a strong rhythm and LOTS of verses.

When riding in a group, I'm big on children's songs ("I know an old lady who swallowed a fly...") because everybody knows the words and can join in. Another personal solution: sea chanteys. These are work songs, made with a rhythm so that a group of sailors would work together hauling up anchor ropes or turning the capstan--and it totally works on horses.

(BTW, the question is not "Can you sing?" The question is "Do you know the words?")

Also, if you are singing (and I really do belt out the tunes sometimes, especially when I'm nervous and/or my mount is being a knucklehead)your posture is better, your breathing is steady, and you ride better! Here's a link to a song that's great for riding a BIG TROT (you can slow it down...but why?):

BTW, "singing while riding" is a big plot point in the story I'm writing right now!

Laura Crum said...

Oh, that reminds me--on one trail ride as we were exploring new trail, my son, who was quite excited about the expedition, started humming the William Tell overture (in a merry, lively way) and it really did fit our mood and the horses seemed to like it. So I hear you, Aarene.

Laura Crum said...

And Aarene__ I am betting you sing "What Do We Do With the Drunken Sailor?" from time to time (one of my personal favorites).

Francesca Prescott said...

Aarene: Great idea to have mariners songs! I could do a freestyle to Drunken Sailor and nobody would bother that we weren't going straight!!!! Love that song on the link you posted, but yes, that would have to be a very BIG trot!

Thank you :)

Francesca Prescott said...

PS: Aarene: I'll have to try really belting out tunes sometime, but I'd have to be sure nobody's around!

AareneX said...

I love Drunken Sailor!

(Best version EVER: I am a huge fan of Great Big Sea...)

Anonymous said...

I have a secret fantasy of doing a musical freestyle number while driving my pony. I bought a wireless speaker and hook it on the cart when we practice. It is much safer as you are able to attend to the other sounds in your environment. Plus, the music reinforces what speed I want to the pony to go at. Could you do something similar while riding?
Rocking out to the Backstreet Boys,

HHmstead said...

Singing yes - where no one can hear! :-) Otherwise I've always loved for the "Sound of Silence" which is getting harder to find. That seems when I'm the most "in-tune" with my mare. But! We're no where Near your level of expertise! Love the photo!

Francesca Prescott said...

Hi Colleen! Love the Backstreet Boys (oh dear, I'm such an overgrown teenager!)! Sounds like you and I are on the same wavelength with our freestyle fantasies :) I've tried riding with my iphone playing in my pocket, or in a special belt pouch on my jodphurs, but it's much heavier than an ipod, so not great. I guess I'll have to buy some ipod speakers and just hook them up somewhere in the arena. I think we may even have some in the daughter may have left them here when she went to uni. Will have to look!

Thanks for reading and commenting and keep on rocking out with your horse!

xx cesca

Francesca Prescott said...

Hhmstead: do you mean the sound of silence in nature, or the classic track by Simon and Garfunkel?! I wouldn't want to play music on trail rides, far nicer to chat with a friend, or just listen to the birds...and listen for tractors coming!!!

Thanks for reading and commenting.

xx cesca

Alison said...

What a fun blog! i bet singing will help you relax as well as Qrac.

Let us know every detail of your upcoming competition.

KYCowgirl said...

Great blog - I'm really enjoying it! Many years ago, when I decided to try dressage with my appy/tb cross as a way to slow down his canter (a.k.a. gallop!!) and work on elastic contact and control, I had a terrible time during my lessons and practice because I apparently lack "natural rhythm" - and he couldn't help me because he had fast and faster - LOL. I started to make tapes of clips of songs that gave me walk/trot/canter/cooldown mixes. It helped us both soooo much, and he even learned to anticipate a bit with music :-) I love to watch the freestyles at the olympics etc., wish I had my act together enough to ride at that level! The music definitely helped us both, and even now I will hum/sing to him sometimes on trail or in the ring.

BTW - when I first learned to ride, the old cowboy who taught me said anytime you are feeling tense on the trail, in the ring, anywhere, sing low to yourself - you can't hold your breath and tense up if you are singing, and it will help you both :-)