Dressage Musical Freestyle Rule Changes for 2019

Editing my freestyle with a little help from my horses. Photo credit: Kimberly Chason

Editing my freestyle with a little help from my horses. Photo credit: Kimberly Chason

Every four years the United States Dressage Federation (USDF) reviews their dressage tests and makes improvements/changes. This year there were a few notable changes in the freestyle tests that you should keep in mind when preparing to show.

Qualifying Score

For USDF Recognized dressage shows you need to earn a qualifying score at the highest test of the level (or above) before you are allowed to compete your freestyle. The qualifying score was 60% and it was raised to 63%. It might take you a little longer to earn that qualifying score but in the end it will help prepare you for your freestyle technical scores.

Example:
You are planning to ride a Training Level Freestyle at a USDF Recognized show. First, you will need to earn a 63% (or above) at a USDF Recognized show in Training Level Test 3. You may also earn your 63% at a higher level/test, such as First Level Test 1.

Choreography Changes

  • Lengthenings/Mediums/Extensions on Straight Lines

There was a significant change in the choreography requirements regarding lengthenings/mediums/extensions (will refer to these as extensions) at the trot/canter. Previously, you could choose to ride your extension on a bending line or a large circle. The rules have changed so that you MUST ride your extension on a straight line. You can choose to ride a second extension on a curved line but it will NOT be counted towards your technical marks, just your artistic scores.

This will limit your available movements but try to incorporate straight lines in a non-test-like fashion by utilizing your quarterlines, centerlines, long sides of the arena, and riding a diagonal line from the centerline to the corner and vice versa.

Scoring Changes

The test sheets are easier to navigate for the judges/scribes and there are fewer collective marks in the technical side of the test. There is only one score for rhythm, energy, and elasticity. There are also designated areas for errors and deductions. Keep in mind that your judge cannot ring the bell for test errors (example: forgetting to salute at your halt) while your music is playing. There is a great article by Janet L. “Dolly” Hannon in the USDF Connection magazine that goes into more detail about these changes. Click here to read it.

Click here to read the current freestyle rules on the USDF website and view the freestyle tests.


Download my Free Resources

Stay organized with my Musical Freestyle Checklist and begin sketching choreography with my Blank Arena Diagram Page.

Freestyle Free Downloads.png

Browse my Freestyle E-Book Store

Learn how to create a musical freestyle from start to finish or choose an e-Book with choreography ideas just for your level.
Click here to view all Freestyle e-Books.

Related Freestyle Articles

How to Create a Musical Freestyle - Learn the Seven Phases of Freestyle Creation

Watch our "Outlander" inspired first level freestyle... photo credit: spotted vision photography

Watch our "Outlander" inspired first level freestyle...photo credit: spotted vision photography

Imagine riding up the centerline to the music of your very own musical freestyle! If you are reading this article you are thinking of, or have decided to, design a musical freestyle. How exciting!

Just think how much fun you and your horse will have dancing to music. I know that my horses enjoy their music and they will start to learn their transitions and follow along. 

This video will give you an overview of what's in store for you in the months ahead. I have broken down the process into Seven Phases to help you keep track of your progress and avoid overwhelm. 

You can just watch the video or scroll down to read a description of each phase. I have also included links to articles and resources to help you along the way.

#1: Plan & Prepare

You are currently in this stage right now, planning ahead for your freestyle. If this is your first time I recommend giving yourself ample time to work on it. There will be a learning curve with the music software and how to choreograph your routine so be careful not to rush yourself.

The best time to start working on a musical freestyle is in your "off" season. If you compete in the summer months try to begin in the winter, right after the holidays is usually a good time to get focused. Download my free Musical Freestyle Checklist to help you stay on track (scroll to the bottom of this article).

#2: Rules & Requirements

You will need to learn the rules that pertain to freestyles at a competition, especially if you want to show at a USDF recognized event. It would be a shame to enter your first show and realize you are missing a movement or get disqualified because your entrance music is too long. There is a handy resource on the USDF website that summarizes the freestyle requirements...click here.

Download the USDF EquiTests 1 App so that you will have quick access to your freestyle test sheets if you aren't sure about a movement...click here.

#3: Gather Info

In this phase you will be gathering information that will help you find your music and create your choreography. You will need to figure out the beats per minute for your horse's gaits so that you are prepared to select music. Learn how to determine your horse's beats per minute in this article...click here. 

There are many smartphone apps available that will also help you with the BPM's, choreography, and music. Click here to see which apps I use and where to get them. 

#4: Discover your Music

It is a lot easier to find music with the availability of online search. Platforms such as ITunes, Spotify, and Pandora will help you find music to match your horse. Don't forget to look in your old CD collection as well, there may be some gems that you forgot about. Click here for some ideas...

If you feel overwhelmed about selecting music, there are some options online for pre-made music such as Marvin's Music and MusiKur.

#5: Choreography

It is a fun challenge to work with a horse and rider to showcase their strengths and downplay their weaknesses. Try to "marry" the music and the choreography together, doing your best to follow the natural progression of the music. Avoid movements that will add stress for you and your horse, your test should HELP you, not hinder your horse's ability. My blank arena diagram sheet is very helpful during the process. Scroll down for your free copy.

If the idea of creating choreography overwhelms you, I have pre-designed routines in my Freestyle Choreography e-books. If you don't see the level you want just sent me an email (beginthedance@gmail.com) and I will let you know when it is available.

#6: Edit, Edit, Edit

This is perhaps going to be the longest, most frustrating stage of the game. Keep faith! You are so close to the end it should help you gain momentum to push through. If you are not very "techy" this part of the process can be outsourced to a friend or a professional. I have gathered together some popular music software and extra options in this article...click here.

If you get stressed out, take a break and try one of the four ways I stay motivated. Read the article here.

#7: Go to a Show

Time to take your freestyle for a trial run! Keep in mind that the first show is a learning experience. You will become familiar with the process, how to submit your music to show staff, the sound check, how to deal with different sound systems, and most importantly...how does your horse do with the freestyle at a show. 

You may discover that your horse's tempo is a lot faster than normal or he/she spooks at the speakers set too close to the arena. After you receive feedback from your judge you can go back to the drawing board, adjusting choreography and music based on their scores. 

Here's some advice, do not drastically change your freestyle based on ONE judge's opinion! The artistic scores can vary widely from judge to judge. For example: One of my clients rode her new First Level freestyle at a schooling show and received a score in the low 60's, the artistic scores ranged from a 6 to a 6.5. She rode the EXACT same freestyle at a USDF Recognized show for an "S" judge and received a 76%! All 8's in the artistic scores.

Artistic value is in the eye of the beholder, don't lose faith if one judge doesn't resonate with your music. 


Download my Free Resources

Stay organized with my Musical Freestyle Checklist and begin sketching choreography with my Blank Arena Diagram Page.

Freestyle Free Downloads.png

Browse my Freestyle E-Book Store

Learn how to create a musical freestyle from start to finish or choose an e-Book with choreography ideas just for your level.
Click here to view all Freestyle e-Books.

Related Freestyle Articles

Instagram | Friesian Douwe - Stretchy Trot & Rein-Back BRIDLELESS!

I just wanted to share this short video clip I did for Instagram. I was schooling Douwe bridleless and he was relaxed and consistently performing a nice stretchy trot. I judge schooling shows and it is surprisingly difficult to find a rider who can perform a good stretchy trot. Douwe prefers to work bridleless, because he doesn't like pressure. I have been working on more dressage training with him lately and I wanted to give him a fun day. We played on the pedestal and even worked in some flying changes without the bridle.

Sandra Beaulieu Dressage - 365 Days of Tao, Daily Meditations

I received the book, 365 Days of Tao, Daily Meditations, as a gift from my mother-in-law, Bethanne Ragaglia. I thought today's meditation was appropriate for dressage riders; it talks about devotion.

"If we have devotion- total faith and commitment to our spiritual path- our determination will naturally build momentum. Fewer and fewer obstructions will come before us. Our path becomes like a crooked one made straight. No matter what tries to keep us from our purpose, we will not be deterred.

Proper devotion lies not simply in a headlong course. It also requires fortitude. Our bodies, our hearts, and our spirits must be totally concentrated upon what we want. Only by uniting all our inner elements can we have full devotion.

If we see our path clearly and our personalities are completely unified, then there is no distinction between the outer world and the inner one. Nothing is faraway anymore, nothing is not open to us. That is why it is said that the world is like a single point. So strong is devotion that there is nothing that is not part of it." ~Deng Ming-Dao

To truly master the art of dressage requires a lifetime of devotion, hard work, and time in the saddle. It also asks that we be humble, aware, and listen to the horse.
— Sandra Beaulieu

What do you think of this excerpt? Does this relate to anything in your life requiring devotion? Share with the Begin the Dance "tribe" and leave a comment below!

Sandra Beaulieu - Dressage Training - Importance of Free Balance

Balance is the #1 most important skill for a rider.

How can a rider help the horse to achieve balance if the rider themselves cannot find balance?

I see riders every day, Training Level all the way to Grand Prix, who rely on their legs to grip for balance, knee rolls to hold the thighs down, or the reins to keep from falling back in the saddle. Finding balance on an animal that is moving is not easy and can be a constant struggle. However, if the rider cannot ride without holding onto the reins for balance, it will be nearly impossible to create true self-carriage in the horse and will cause problem areas in the horse's body. If the rider cannot relax and trust their body, the horse will always hold tension in the neck and back, and will have difficulties moving freely.

I spent over a year working on my position on a lunge line. My instructor, Carolyn Rose, made me ride without stirrups at all times, to allow me to find my balance without relying on any external devices. I encourage everyone, of all ages and skill levels, to take periodic lunge line lessons. Having the horse controlled by a ground person allows the rider to focus on their body and position and to feel the horse's movements through the seat.

A great example of this method is the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria. The instructors there keep the riders on the lunge line for months to help each rider develop an independent seat. Many riders associate the lunge line with "lesser" beginner riders. Considering that the totality of the sport of dressage is about balance, why would it only behoove a beginner rider to focus on this foundation? Why would it be seen as "below" the rider to learn the bio-mechanics of themselves and their partner?

A lunge lesson can reveal answers to those who seek the truth about riding and the language of the horse.
— Sandra Beaulieu

The rider can also develop balance through riding the horse bareback, without the saddle. This should not be done too often, as the direct pressure to the horse's spine is not beneficial for the horse. It is informative to feel the horse's back muscles without the obstruction of the saddle, as the rider can better understand how the horse moves and how their own body affects that movement. Feeling the energy move through the horse's top-line is an incredible experience.

Here is a video of me riding Gryphon, a Friesian gelding that I had in training in Florida. In the video I demonstrate riding bareback at the walk, trot, and canter.

Sandra Beaulieu - Training Journal for Friesian Gelding, Gryphon - Difficulty Picking Up Right Lead in Canter

Gryphon:

Gryphon is a 9-year-old Friesian gelding that is trained in the walk, trot, and canter and basic leg-yielding and has been ridden a lot on trails. I rode Gryphon while he lived in Maine and my friend, Marsha Hartford-Saap, has been working with him since his new owner purchased him. Like most Friesians, he is behind the leg aid and has trouble connecting in his top-line. Marsha has improved his connection and he is able to trot forward, feeling through in his back.

Day One

Biggest issue: 

Picking up the right lead in the canter. He needs a lot of help to coordinate his body for this transition.

To help him get the right lead:

1) When he tried to pick up the left lead, I made very clear half-halts with the rein and my seat to help give him a compelling reason to not take the wrong lead.

2) I used my voice to say "No," when he got the wrong lead and highly praised him when he got the correct lead.

3) After cantering on the correct lead for a few strides, I would ask him to halt, and then I fed him a treat so he would start to have positive associations with this lead.

4) I "unbalanced" him by counter-bending and thinking of physically pushing him onto the inside shoulder at the right moment.

He successfully picked up the right lead about 1/3 of the time and he started to understand the "game". I wanted him to have fun and look forward to his training sessions. I believe his difficulty lies in his having formed a bad habit and his lack of coordination. Most young horses have a difficult lead to pick up, much like people are right- or left-handed.

Day Two

Today, Gryphon had plenty of energy and I hardly had to use my leg or whip aids to keep the impulsion. I asked for leg-yields from the center line to the rail, followed by shoulder-in. I asked for canter once on his good (left) lead before trying the difficult lead. On the left, he lifted beautifully from the walk and showed an improvement in his engagement and uphill jump.

  • Moving to the right, he anticipated the canter transition and tried to pick up the left lead. I half-halted strongly and used my voice.
  • I asked again, and again he anticipated and attempted to pick up the left lead. I repeated my actions.
  • I then asked for the walk and re-grouped.
  • In the walk, I counter-flexed him and shifted my weight to the outside to push the energy towards his inside shoulder.
  • From there, he jumped into the correct lead and continued to get the correct lead every time afterwards. Each time I asked, I straightened him a little more, until he had the correct bend and was not "falling into" the lead, but lifting correctly into it.

Day Three

Day 3 of Gryphon’s training was gloomy. He felt a bit tired from our previous rides and a little stiff in his body. We worked on basic trot and canter work. He picked up the correct lead to the right without a fuss.

  • I added: half-pass in the walk to our routine, performing simple half-turns towards the rail and then asking him to step over with his haunches. Gryphon is responsive to the leg for other lateral work so he could perform legitimate half-pass steps to either direction. I also taught Connie (Gryphon's owner) the aids for the turn-on-the-haunches. The aids are almost identical to the half-pass, so this will give her a way to practice the aids to eventually ask for half-pass.

I also asked Gryphon to bow at the end and he was so good that he went down so far he got sand on his forehead!

Day Four

This day was interesting. Gryphon had gone out to the pasture with my Friesian gelding, Douwe, for the day and it seemed to bring out his "alpha" attitude. During the session, Gryphon was distracted and constantly looking around. On a positive note, he was energetic! I asked for half-pass at the trot, since he had the impulsion, and he performed nice steps tracking to the right.

  • I added: simple changes in the canter using a large figure-eight. This would help fine-tune his leads and make sure that he is balancing and listening to the rider’s aids. When I asked him for the left lead, he volunteered his difficult lead, and instead of transitioning to the walk I pushed him to keep cantering and then asked him for counter-canter. He held the lead beautifully with no tension or resistance.

To end the session, I asked for piaffe in-hand and it seems Gryphon will learn the piaffe fairly quickly. He had a few engaged strides and he is beginning to figure out how to connect his body. Connie is doing an awesome job riding Gryphon and is learning balancing techniques for herself and her horse that will help improve their relationship.

Day Five

Today was a fun day! I did a few new things with Gryphon today- riding with my veil and riding him bareback.

I started the session with softening work, and he was feeling energetic so I had to really remind him to keep his hind end underneath him when he went forward. He is such a funny horse; now he just wants to take the right lead no matter what direction he is going and I had to work much harder to get the left lead. The clear message to not pick up the left lead and the praises and treats for getting the correct lead really changed things for Gryphon. So today I asked for more cantering on the left lead, and gave him the same rewards as the right lead, to balance him out.

  • At the end of our session, I rode with my belly dance veil. I put a knot in the reins so they weren't too long and just did simple trot with transitions while I held the veil up high behind me. Gryphon did great, but the fabric spooked some of the other horses in the arena! I also rode Gryphon bareback at the trot and canter- what fun!

For a 9-year-old horse that has had chronic issues, Gryphon is doing wonderful!