Getting Started in Freestyle Dressage

  So you want to try Dressage to Music?

These tips are to help you start - of course you can save a lot of effort and buy one of our ready made packs!

        Before you start

  1. Decide on your competition.
  2. You don’t have to aim at a competition to enjoy Dressage to music. But using the required movements and the time limits may help you produce a floorplan that you could use later.
  3. A competition test starts and finishes with a halt. Both halts must be on the centre line and facing the judge. Timing starts at the move off from the first halt and finishes at the establishment of the final halt. (If you want to be pedantic the salute is not timed!)
  4. Introductory tests should be between 3 mins 30 seconds and 4 mins. Prelimins and Novices between 4 and 5 mins. Elementary, medium and Advanced Medium must be between 4mins 30 seconds and 5 mins if it is not to be penalised. Taking too long should cost 2 penalty points though you're allowed to be up to 15 seconds under!
  5. Intro tests are for 40m arenas. Prelim, Novice and Elementary can be in either 40m or 60m arena while Medium and above should be in a 60, though not all competition organisers have the luxury of a 60m arena!
  6. Preparing

  7. Work out a suitable series of movements to show off your horse’s strong points. – you may find our "Arena Templates" useful for this - you can download these here
  8. Make sure you have included all the required movements. These are listed here
  9. Check you haven’t used movements that are not included at the level you want, such as leg yield or simple changes in a Novice test. These movements will be penalised! - Prohibited movements are listed with the required movements here
  10. Try to include movements that allow you to adjust the timing - for example a half circle from track to centre line and return to the track can take place when the music dictates - getting your changes back in time with the music.
  11. If all this sounds too complicated why not use one of our floorplans - we'd prefer you to buy the "Ready Made" music packs from here
  12. Testing

  13. Ride your floor plan to check that it "flows" well – ideally have a helper watch from the judges position. They can check that you are showing the judge the points you want, and that it is about the right time.
  14. Make any necessary adjustments and practice your floorplan. When it is smooth, get your helper to note the time of each change of pace – ie when you want the music to change. (If your helper has video'd your test, changing the music to match the video is part of the Sapphire Sounds video pack service) (Don't try to change the music during a 'change of leg...' in canter, it will look disjointed!)
  15. Polishing

  16. Choose your music. It no longer has to be purely instrumental, but remember you want it to emphasise your horse’s talents, not overpower them! If your chosen music has a clear beat make sure it suits your horse. Try playing it when riding the pace you want. Most horses can hear a beat and will adjust their pace to keep time. If the beat is too far from their natural pace they will either ignore it or adjust to the point of feeling unbalanced. When working from video, Sapphire Sounds will adjust the music’s tempo (without changing the pitch) but if it is too far from your horse’s pace it may seem odd to the judge. (Imagine the funeral march adjusted to match a flamenco….!) If possible, avoid more than 15% tempo adjustment, or use one Ready Made!
  17. When you get your CD, ride to your music and make sure it "works".
  18. Learn the music so it "tells" you where you are about to change. Ride your competitions to the music, if necessary adjust your floorplan to suit. Remember it’s freestyle and only you know what you meant to happen, no one else will guess, unless the music changes and you don't!


Remember this is only advice – there is no "right" way, only enjoying the riding matters!

Some riders have started with our "off-the-peg" packs and still won their competitions, even before the packs included the floorplan!

If you're still bothered about the complications that British Dressage (BD) introduces with the music licence see our notes on BD here .

You will need to be a full or club member of BD to take part in a BD (or a British Riding Clubs qualifier) freestyle competition

Everything else you will need is included in the Sapphire Sounds pack.

BD publish help for Dressage to Music which you can find here.


Click here for even more help!