Performing in the Senior Showcase

Making my own Freestyle

By: Larissa Holmes

Well, another Senior Showcase has come and gone. I can stop playing the song I used for my freestyle over and over in my stall while cleaning or grooming my horse. I can stop running the movements again and again in my head until it became like second nature to me. And I can finally stop stressing about how the final performance is going to go, and if my horse is going to behave. I did what I had set out to do and I can’t ask for more than that.

It certainly wasn’t an easy journey. I prepared myself for that a little bit in the beginning, and I knew trying to perform something this intricate, with a hot-tempered horse who gets excited when he’s in front of a crowd, wouldn’t be as easy as the professionals made it out to be. But I didn’t really expect it to be this challenging. Every time I went into the ring to practice either my freestyle (riding in the ring as a solo rider) and my pas de deux (riding with a partner) it was a completely different experience. While there were elements to my freestyle that I was able to keep consistent, I was constantly changing my riding style to fit my horse’s attitude.

 I knew it would be challenging, but riding a freestyle and a pas de deux was something I had been wanting to do for a long time. Ever since I was a freshman, I had admired the seniors and upperclassmen for being able to pull off stunning routines set to music and put on an amazing show every year. My sophomore year I even got to participate as one of the extra quadrilles, meaning I did a four-person drill set to the theme of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

To be honest, I don’t think my experience would have been the same if I didn’t have my partner in crime, Lenny, the horse I rode for the showcase. After a few weeks with him the first semester of my senior year, I knew there was something special about him. I knew he had the capacity to do both the hunter/jumpers and the dressage. I knew instantly that I wanted to ride him in the showcase, and that I wanted to ride a freestyle with him. He’s a big, bold and beautiful horse, and I wanted to pick just the right music and freestyle to reflect that.

Instantly, my thoughts went to my old marching band music back from my high school days. I had been a devoted member of the marching band all four years of high school and am still passionate about it to this day. My senior year of high school held a special place in my heart and can be marked as one of the best marching years of my life. There were many reasons why I picked the music from that year, mainly because of the sentimental value that came along with it, but also because I knew that Lenny would match up well to the style and pace.

The hardest part came to the actual writing of the freestyle. Normally, a routine is created with a set of patterns and movements appropriate to the level of the horse and rider. Certain movements are reserved for the higher levels, while others can be integrated easily by all levels. Later, music is added to the routine with edits to fit the horse’s movements and patterns. I went a little different with my pattern and instead matched the movements to the music I already had from marching band. I ran into some problems with this method, because the movements always rode differently in real-life than it did in my head. Like I said, I was constantly adjusting the routine to try and make it fit to the music.

Freestyles are hard. Dressage tests are easy. The pattern is already written out for you. All you have to do is move from one letter to the next, doing the movement that the test requires. If the test asks for a half-circle at E, that’s easy enough. But creating something out of nothing, deciding which movement would look good after the first, and deciding which direction to go where so everything meshes together is difficult. I didn’t realize how challenging it was going to be when I set out to write my own freestyle, but I was determined to make it work no matter what.

The other challenge I encountered from my Showcase experience was the temperament of Lenny. As I said, he likes to perform and likes the attention he gets from the crowd. In practices, he would get so excited about his job that he would forget to listen to me and I would then have to fight with him to make sure I could get him through the test. When I played my music for the first time over the loudspeakers, to prepare Lenny for the final show, it was nearly impossible to ride my routine. He went nuts! He was so full of himself that, at times, he almost started piaffing (or trot in place). I made the decision to stick a pair of earplugs in his ears on the day of the Showcase to muffle the noise and help him focus on my commands. (yes, horses wear earplugs too).

All in all, I can’t really complain about how each of my performances went that night. The pas de deux was great, even though we once again had to make a last-minute change and my riding partner, Erin Mott, had to ride a completely new horse she was unfamiliar with the day before the Showcase. However, it all worked out in the end, and I think Lenny and Louis looked good together, both being chestnuts, and the music sounded great for our routine. When it came time for my freestyle I was, admittedly, pretty nervous. I wasn’t sure exactly how the routine would go and what kind of changes I would have to make on the fly during the performance. Luckily, for anyone watching the performance, Lenny and I rode well together and we hit all our movements. It matched perfectly with the music and to help emphasize the point that I didn’t mind that Lenny was getting energized by the crowd. He rode well, listened well and gave me a performance I won’t likely forget any time soon. He was the perfect horse to finish my senior year with and I couldn’t have asked for a better partner.

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