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  • Writer's pictureMarilyn Bassett-Coffey

1, 2, 3… DANCE!

You are on the edge of your seat, eyes glued to the dancing horse and rider. Excitedly, you watch (videos, or, maybe in person) the FEI horses and riders perform each of their dances to music. It is so magical… breathtaking even! “It’s called a Musical Freestyle,” you tell your friends. “Look here, see?... the union, harmony, and creativity between the two!” As you watch, your heart longs to do the same with your horse, but alas, where to begin? Maybe you say to yourself, “My horses (and/or I) are not THAT level yet.” So does that mean you can’t perform a beautiful freestyle? Can you still dance to music with your horse?

YES, of course you CAN!

Classical Dressage Freestyle levels range from Training Level all the way to the top levels! (What you might see on TV or on “YouTube.”) Western Dressage Musical Freestyles range from “Intro Level” through “Level 4”!

Depending on the event, some events/shows require previous scores at a certain percentage (in the regular tests) in order to “qualify” to compete in Freestyle. For the purpose of this article, however, I will be gearing topics more towards those who are new to Musical Freestyles, already have the scores, or for those that are showing at the “Schooling Show Level.” My hope is that after reading this, you might have a better idea of what could be involved in **music selection.**

“Music Selection” is ONE part of the Freestyle creation process, but it’s important to note that the “Choreography” and “Skills Shown/Demonstrated” will actually hold “more weight” on your final score. In a separate article, I can go into more detail about “What makes a Freestyle work” / “Choreography.” Please leave a comment if this is of interest to you!

Music Selection

Three quick tips on how to select music perfect for you and your four-legged dancing partner

Tip #1

Type of music!

When selecting music, it’s important to select ONE “Music Genre,” i.e. Rock, Country, Instrumental/Epic, Classical, Hip Hop, etc. Why? If you mix themes of music (i.e. Rock with Classical Music, and then later throw in Hip Hop), it will not be cohesive and can be very confusing to judges who are watching. It could lower your “interpretation” score.


Tip #2

“Unspoken Theme”

Similar to Tip #1 (but taking it a step further), ensure that once you pick a “Music Genre,” that within the “Genre,” the songs you select for each of your horse’s gaits, SOUND like they belong with each other, or in the same mix. Imagine the “Music Genre” you selected as one BIG family. Now, within that family, select “close relatives” inside the “Big Family.”

For example, say you pick “Rock.” Try to find Rock songs (typically separate songs for Walk, Trot, & Canter) that match your horse’s gaits and are cohesive together (not totally different styles of Rock between each of them.) Point being, ALL music should sound like it belongs together and has a “clear, unspoken theme.” You would not want to mix “Heavy Metal Rock ‘n Roll” with something like “Blues Rock.” That would be mixing styles and themes.

**PLEASE do not pick one song and just loop it for all three gaits. ONLY ONCE (at FEI) have I seen this done well, and it still got LOTS of push back from the judges. I have seen “New to Freestyle Riders” make this mistake over and over again at competitions. It generally doesn’t end well for scores.**

Another example, say you pick “Instrumental,” and you take that a step further, and say “Movie Scores.” Now, if you pick one type of movie, let’s say “Spy Movie,” you could do all sorts of “James Bond” music or “Mission Impossible” or mix in some “Jason Born” music and it still has a theme… “Spy Movies!”

But if you mix the types of movies and their soundtracks together (i.e. Horror with Drama and then throw in some sci-fi themes), the music will not sound cohesive. Try to selected music that SOUNDS like it belongs together or that it is in the same family.

Some examples of the Freestyles with “Unspoken Themes” I have done in the past:

Movie/Game Theme:

Pirates of the Caribbean

Assassin’s Creed

Greatest Showman


Music Style Theme:

Dance Celtic (all music came from one album/artist)

Country Rock (all music came from one album/artist)

Battle Celtic (all music had a “Going into Battle” sound)

Country Rock Gypsy (all music was violins/stings)

Egyptian Theme (all music was Arabic style)

Patriotic / Armed Forces (All music was main themes of Armed Forces theme songs)


Tip #3

"Music that ENHANCES your horse"

Once you have selected Type/Genre of music, be mindful that music should ENHANCE your horse.


Early on in my music mixing days (okay it was my 1st Freestyle mix), I created a Freestyle for myself and my horse, Willie. The music I picked out was from Assassin’s Creed and the piece I chose was a very pretty, lovely, flow-y kind of music. It had some boldness in places, but most of it was just elegant violins. Later that year, I showed this Freestyle for the first time. After the show the very kind judge came to me and said, “I loved your Freestyle! Did you create it yourself?” I responded “Yes!” He went on to say, “I have never heard that music before. Very good for you! I am going to give you a tip for your next one… You selected music that matched your horse too well.” I asked him to explain, so he continued “The music did not *enhance* your horse… it actually matched him to a fault. You missed a

chance to trick the eye to *show off* more of your horse. Perhaps music with more “jump” could interpret more “jump” in your horse’s canter than what is actually there. With the music you picked out, your horse looked flat or plain. Like the music suggested, he was pretty and elegant, but simple.” He and I talked for another few minutes, and I thanked him for his time and tips. They have stuck with me since.

Now some of you might think the judge was out of place to say those things, but I did not think so! His tip has carried over to each of my created Freestyles ever since.

So, is your horse not a big mover? Maybe try music that will make him/her look like he/she has more cadence, but still match him/her. DON’T GO OVER THE TOP!

Got a Pony? Try music with a “cute” component to it, but be mindful that music doesn’t make the pony look quick or choppy.

Powerhouse for a horse? Dramatic music can be fitting, but also your downfall. If the Dramatic Music is level appropriate and fits the horse, then you are golden. For example, you can have “thrill” at say 3rd Level going down the long side in a medium canter, but maybe not “Dramatic” music during a Training Level test when the most “exciting thing” you are planning to show off is a 20m trot circle. Oh, and if your “Dramatic” music is TOOOOO OVER THE TOP for what your horse can show off, you will be just proclaiming to everyone that your horse is really not as thrilling as your music.

**Load noisy music is not a favorite among most judges. Music that “makes the horse LOOK better” is best!**


Anyone who watches you ride your Freestyle should be able to identify an “Unspoken Theme” in all of your mixed music. Or at the least, hear a “style” that matches what your horse can perform. It should make your horse look BETTER, and please… pick music you love. If you love the music, your horse will move better. And besides… you will be listening to it a lot, after all. And there you have it… 3 quick tips on music selection!!


My name is Marilyn Coffey and I have professionally “Mixed/Designed/Choreographed” Musical Freestyles for Individuals and Drill Teams, in both Classical Dressage, and Western Dressage for over 10 years. My Freestyles have been presented at a wide range of shows, including WDAA WORLD with GREAT success! Each Freestyle is completely customized to the wishes of the rider. My favorite part is watching the customer’s face “light up” when he/she gets to ride a customized Freestyle for the 1st time… “All Smiles” the whole time around the arena!

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