“RIDING SHALL NOT BECOME TOO RULEBOOK DRIVEN – WE NEED TO LOOK UPON GRACE, ELEGANCE AND THE HAPPY ATHLETE IN GOOD COOPERATION WITH THE RIDER”
ARTICLE BY LEIF TÖRNBLAD, International 5* Judge
SINCE 1985 THE FREESTYLE DRESSAGE BECAME AN OFFICIAL RECOGNIZED PART OF DRESSAGE COMPETITIONS. Since competitions began, in 1985 at Grand Prix freestyle level, competitions have been introduced at all other levels from Pony, Juniors and Young Riders to Intermediate I level for Seniors.
Riders and judges do not always have the same perception on what is difficult and what is a beautiful choreography and when it comes to music everybody including spectators have an opinion. This frequently raises the question of how Freestyle is judged – or rather how it should be judged.
The International Equestrian Federation and the top interna-tional judges have worked on how to define good choreography and degree of difficulty when it comes to Grand Prix Freestyles. Unfortunately there has not been the same focus on the lower levels. It is however even more difficult to assess what is degree of difficulty when it comes to a Pony freestyle. The reason being that the riders are not allowed to incorporate movements that are more difficult than required. For example; it is not allowed to make flying changes in a pony test or half passes that are too steep in Junior freestyles. Nevertheless judges are asked to eval-uate degree of difficulty and choreography at all levels and the riders all make an effort to create good freestyles without really knowing what the demands are.
I have during the last year tried to make seminars directed to-wards trainers and riders where I, as judge, give directions on what judges consider difficult and nice. I have in that way entered into a good dialog with riders and trainers and during these sessions. Riders, trainers and myself is learning and developing a common understanding. When it comes to music, I also try to convey how we judge music and what is important and what is not.
In my opinion, the only way to make judging less mysterious is to have an ongoing dialog with all involved parties. Some experts are working on computer programs that can help the judging process. One of the propositions is that judges should know in advance the choreography of the freestyle test and that the test beforehand is rated with a degree of difficulty mark and the judg-es then subtract marks if and when mistakes occur. Others have propositions that we should have a metronome to find out about how the rhythm of the music is fitting to the horse´s movements. All these suggestions come from people supplying technology to support their ideas.
I am opposing this since I consider Dressage to music as a sport but also as an art, where riders and their horses show their best possible performance of the day. We need to be able to be sur-prised by something new and we need to be able to enjoy the riding to music without having to count steps and rhythm. Riding is not something mathematical, it is something the spectators as well as the judges shall enjoy and be happy watching.
My thesis is that when a Freestyle to music is successful, every-body can enjoy and understand it. The technical performance as well as the artistic supports each other and when both the tech-nical and artistic part of the performance is good, then we have found a winner.
To support my opinion on this matter I would like to refer to history. I cannot recall any winner of the World Cup Grand Prix Freestyle or winner of a large championship since the beginning of the Freestyle era that has not been the correct winner in the eyes of spectators, press, judges, trainers and riders.
Our main task is to define the demands of the freestyle at the lower levels of dressage to music. We need to help and support especially the young people in creating good freestyles fitting to our horses. Riding shall not become too rulebook driven – we need to look upon grace, elegance and the happy athlete in good cooperation with the rider.
MY THESIS IS THAT WHEN A FREESTYLE TO MUSIC IS SUCCESSFUL, EVERYBODY CAN ENJOY AND UNDERSTAND IT. THE TECHNICAL PERFORMANCE AS WELL AS THE ARTISTIC SUPPORTS EACH OTHER AND WHEN BOTH THE TECHNICAL AND ARTISTIC PART OF THE PERFORMANCE IS GOOD, THEN WE HAVE FOUND A WINNER.