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BRC Dressage To Music Blog by Alison Wheelock Novice with Points 2015 Champion

Just wanted to say what a fantastic time I had at the Verdo Horse Bedding BRC National Dressage to Music Championships ay Bury Farm in October 2015, where myself and my horse won the Senior Novice (with points) championship.

Following a 10 year break from riding and competing I had competed my sister’s horse in a few dressage to music classes and decided it would be nice to look for another horse. I was lucky enough to find the 14.3 Welsh x Warmblood chestnut mare, Y Matilda, through word of mouth two years ago, initially having her on loan but later buying her.

Once I started riding again I joined my local riding club, Calderdale Saddle Club, and found that I already knew quite a few members from my Pony Club days, and I got to know more people through attending their summer camp. Our club is only small but has a strong core of members who are very keen on improving their riding through training and competing at all levels.

Initially I was lacking confidence and I always rode with a neck strap for at least the first year and felt quite nervous when going to any new venues. I have a responsible job so was worried about falling off and getting injured, even though I’m quite a competent rider, but I was glad I had chosen a 14.3 and not something bigger – not too far to fall! The first time my instructor asked me to canter without stirrups I thought she was joking! When I started riding my new horse the owner also gave me a CD used previously for Novice freestyle so this encouraged me to have a go. I put together a floorplan with all the compulsory moves and kept it quite simple as I was worried I would get nervous and lose my way! The music really suited Matilda (Tilly) as being almost a pony she needed music that emphasised her lightness and daintiness, and the tempo and style of each track matched her paces perfectly. Anything too heavy and dramatic would have been too much for her and more suited to a larger horse. The music also matched her personality – if your horse is cheeky, laid back or a bit of a live wire you can bring this out with appropriate music.

If you choose a theme this can also enhance your programme – this can be film or TV themes, a particular artist (e.g. Queen, Phil Collins, Robbie Williams) Irish music, rock, dance music, or orchestral. Just make sure you choose music that you really like as you will need to listen to it over and over again to help you remember your floorplan and learn when the music tracks change. I play mine while driving in my car and in the horsebox on the way to shows.

Music with a clear beat to make the judges and audience tap their feet is good and it can help you ride your horse in the correct rhythm and tempo. You need different music for each pace, walk, trot and canter as the beats of the footfalls are different for each gait. You can choose this by videoing your horse in all three paces and then playing music to see which ones match the video best. It’s also good to have some intro music so you can ‘make an entrance’ to your freestyle. My intro music is The Archers theme tune and it always catches people’s attention and seems to appeal to the judges – something familiar that people recognise is preferable. It’s about 20 seconds long and is not included in the overall timing of the freestyle which is measured from the first halt to the last halt.

I qualified for Bury Farm at the Area 4 qualifier at Northallerton. It was my first attempt and i didn’t really think we would win. I was very apprehensive of going to the finals as it’s a very long journey from Yorkshire – a long way to go for one test so I was really pleased when I heard there was a warm up test available. My club was very supportive and encouraged me to go, even though I was the only member that had qualified. They paid the entries and stabling from club funds.

On the day of the competition I had an early draw for the warm up test so completed the arena walk in the fantastic indoor then went straight outside to work in. Tilly felt a bit on her toes in the arena walk but by the time we had completed our warm up test we had both relaxed. The test went well and I was really pleased to find I had come second. This was a big confidence boost ready for the main event – I already had a rosette to take home so the pressure was off! I would recommend entering the warm up test if you are inclined to get nervous as it definitely took the edge off my nerves.

When I rode my freestyle I was glad to see the viewing gallery seemed fairly empty – most people were there to support their own club. Luckily, my test went completely to plan and all my moves came off. I had revised the canter part of my floorplan just a couple of weeks earlier and it worked perfectly and we did our final halt exactly in time with the music.

I then had a nervous wait while the rest of the class rode their tests. I knew I had achieved a good score but wasn’t sure if it was good enough to win. Everyone looked pretty good as we sat and watched from the gallery and cafe. I was amazed when I heard we had won and had to go and get ready for the prizegiving. I was told the winner also had to ride their test again which was a bit of a shock! Second time round the gallery was quite full as everyone came to watch the prizegiving.

The whole competition was a fantastic experience. Once I had won I had lots of photos taken and did an interview with BRC and Horse and Hound and a video interview for the sponsors – I felt like a celebrity! We stayed to watch the Quadrille qualifiers on the Saturday night before setting off home the next day. I would like to thank Verdo Horse Bedding for sponsoring this event and for their generous prizes including a trophy, rosette and sash, a saddle cloth, a pallet of bedding and a shavings fork. Having tried this bedding I have now converted! It is great for my mare who can make her stable quite wet.

I would recommend anyone to have a go at the Riding Clubs Dressage to Music qualifiers. It’s a chance to represent your club and be creative with your music. There are lots of freestyle clinics and workshops around these days if you need help with putting together a floorplan or music CD.

Since the Championships I have gone on to ride at the British Dressage Northern Regionals in Novice Open Freestyle where I came third and qualified for the BD National Winter Championships 2016 at Hartpury on a wild card. I then came tenth at the Nationals riding the same test Tilly and I performed at Bury Farm. My success achieved at the Riding Clubs Championships was a real boost to my confidence and I don’t think I could have gone on to ride at Hartpury without this experience.