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  • Writer's pictureAnna Beattie

Choreographing your Floor Plan - dos and don'ts!

We catch up with Pegasus' resident instructor Jill Hobson on what makes a successful Freestyle music floor plan.

"Designing your own floor plans can be fun, and is a great way to both draw full attention to your

horse's strong points and also to minimise the things you do less well. There are, however, a few things to bear in mind which make designing a dressage to music floor plan different to designing a standard dressage test.

The first thing to check is that you are including all the compulsory movements as dictated by the body for which you are riding! If you are required to show two ten metre circles, one on each rein, and you show only one, your mark for that movement will be a zero, and will strongly influence your final score.

The second important thing is to take note of is the time you are permitted. For example, at Introductory level, this is a very short three and a half to four minutes, and at the higher levels it is between four and a half and five minutes. The time is measured from the move off after the first halt to the final salute. If you go over or under the time, you will lose marks, but it can be very tight if you want to show anything other than the compulsory movements.

That brings us back to the things you can do well! Remember that this is a performance and that the audience is the judge at C. So, for example, if you have fantastic two time changes, do them right under the judge's nose, preferably on a circle, at the C end of the arena. If there is something you are less confident with, like a pirouette, position it towards the A end of the arena, and not on the centre line.

In the same way, you can use the shapes you are riding to enhance your movements. So for example, if you ride a ten metre circle back to the track, you can use it to help set your horse up for a shoulder-in or travers. Or it might help to do a medium canter on a twenty metre circle; this will encourage the horse to push forward from behind, and may make it easier to get a smooth transition back to working canter.

You will also be given a list of non-compulsory movements. In the higher levels some movements are awarded a mark for degree of difficulty; these will be listed. But in the lower levels there is very little opportunity for you to get any extra marks for non-compulsory movements, and, unless you can do them very well and they enhance your performance, avoid them. Often they will cause you to actually lose marks. For example, a non-compulsory movement at Preliminary level is the give and retake of the reins. This runs a risk of causing your horse to fall onto the forehand, lose balance, outline or rhythm, but adds nothing to the overall picture nor affects any change in the music. Best avoided unless you are completely confident.

Considering how to put all this together is the next stage. Remembering that the judge is your audience, I like, as far as possible, to show movements facing the judge, such as performing half passes or leg-yields when travelling towards the C end of the arena. Then you can return to the A end using the diagonal lines to show off your extended trots, where the judge can best see them

It is also important to make your shapes recognisable as specific dressage movements. The judge has a very limited time to award a mark for each movement and if they are struggling to identify what you are doing, you may find they have missed something and awarded a zero.

Aim for a balanced floor plan. For example, don't do two thirds of your work at the A end, and very little at the C end where the judge can see you best. Try to keep it equal. Likewise, check that you haven't put most of the movements at the E side of the arena and less at the B side. Or, in a Preliminary test, avoid doing all the twenty metre circles at A and C, with none in the middle at E or B. Think of the overall composition of your floor plan like it is a piece of art which flows and has symmetry!

So symmetry is an important factor. This means doing a section of the performance on one rein, then exactly repeating it on the other. This offers several advantages. Firstly, the judge will be primed as to what to expect next and it will make their job easier. And secondly, the music! It offers a much superior listening experience when sections of the music are repeated as mirror images and this is something a professional edit will achieve. And an added bonus is that when your music is reflected symmetrically you will find it much easier to keep in time and follow the musical cues!

Originality is welcomed! But be careful to stick to classically correct dressage movements. Avoid, for example, attempting to go directly onto a diagonal from halt, as this belies the mantra of “ride straight and ride forward”. With the scales of training in mind, there are lots of innovative tracks you can take; use the quarter line and three-quarter line, or you can add horizontal lines across the arena too, ride circles or lateral movements off diagonal tracks, or include a half twenty metre circle starting at K or F, for example. Let your creativity flow!

Continuing our consideration of the music, it is vital to avoid frequent changes of pace, instead to ride in blocks of paces- all the walk – all the trot – all the canter, and maybe a bit of trot again at the end. The job of the sound technician is to lay the music over your performance in a perfect fit. But each pace has its own distinct tempo, or BPM (beats per minute), and therefore a different piece of music will be used for each pace. Jumping between these different tracks, for example when changing legs in canter by way of a full diagonal of trot, maybe lasting eight seconds, will not accommodate the musical phrasing and will leave it sounding incoherent and choppy.

Use the music to add some highlights to your performance. In the higher levels these will occur naturally, for example, the extended paces lend themselves to a crescendo, and an experienced sound producer will be able to recognise these and give them added Va Va Voom! Or the pirouettes can be highlighted with a brief change in the melody or added percussion. But even at Introductory level, in a cleverly choreographed floor plan, “walk one horse's length” might lend itself to a brief musical highlight. A professional edit will incorporate these highlights and reflect them in the music, allowing the judge to fully appreciate your ‘party pieces’.

In the higher levels, it is useful to end the floor plan with a “joker line”. This generally takes the form of a diagonal line such as HXF, during which no specific movement is planned. This line allows the opportunity, if you feel you have “messed up” something earlier, to do a repeat, such as tempi changes, or an extension: marks can be salvaged!

Lastly, the final halt! You have ridden a brilliant test, but towards the end you have become a bit in front of the music. Positioning your final halt at G would be a disaster in this case, you would find yourself right up at the judges's table before the music stops! It is always best to give yourself some space here and aim for a final halt somewhere between X and G. That way you can finish in time with the music and be rewarded with applause for a polished performance!

So, with a Freestyle music test, success begins with a well designed and crafted floor plan. Everything else flows from getting this right: the music edit and your riding performance. It is a fabulous opportunity to show off your strengths and nothing beats the rush of coming down the centre line knowing you and your horse have nailed your performance."

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