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Footfalls in Rhythm: The Musical Freestyle

Published on 5/28/2018

This month, I had the opportunity to speak with Cynthia Collins of LunaTunes Freestyles. Cynthia started riding to music thirty years ago, to help herself with tempo. She learned a lot about what makes a great freestyle when she began putting her own freestyles together and competing in traditional dressage. Now she has developed a passion for Western Dressage, and has started designing western freestyles as well.

I was curious about how to put together a freestyle, and even about who should be trying to ride them. Cynthia was kind enough to answer my many questions!


Cynthia, what is it about riding a musical freestyle that you enjoy most?

I love riding to the music and being able to create my own pattern.  The music makes riding so much more fun. Using the rhythm of the music helps me keep the tempo, especially in the trot.  I often sing along in my head while riding my freestyle.

Do you find that working on your freestyle helps with your general riding, and how?

I find that music really helps keep the correct rhythm.  My biggest pleasure is seeing how it helps my clients with their riding when they learn to use the rhythm, too.

In Western Dressage, you can begin riding a musical freestyle at the Basic Level. Some riders (myself included!) picture a freestyle as something for only the very experienced, more upper level riders. Do you think designing and riding a freestyle has benefits for riders even at the lower levels?

I think all riders can ride freestyles, especially at the lower levels.  I’m  riding Basic level freestyle this year myself.  I have pushed for all levels of freestyles to be allowed since it is so beneficial to learn to ride to music.  Plus it’s so much fun!  I think as riders we concentrate so hard on improving our riding, which we should, but we can take ourselves too seriously sometimes.  The music makes your riding fun.  All level of riders should have fun riding. I tell this to riders all the time: If it makes you happy to ride a freestyle, you should do it, no matter what level you are riding.

How would someone new to riding a freestyle go about getting started?

The first thing is to get a video of you riding your horse. Then you can start listening to different pieces of music.  There should be a clear 4 beat rhythm to the music – this is for all three gaits. The trot has a strong emphasis on the 1 and 3 beats, while canter has an emphasis on 1 with 2 and 3 for when the legs are still on the ground and 4 is while the horse is up in the air.  Walk can be slower with no real emphasis on any of the beats.

Next, start watching the video while listening to the music.  See if the tempo matches the movement of the legs. (I always watch the front legs).  It’s very important that the music matches the footfalls. If they seem to, then start riding to the pieces you think worked.  If you and your horse seem to like certain pieces, then that’s what you should use.  The music should also have some kind of theme, either genre or certain instruments.

I always pick the music first.  Then I let the music dictate the choreography of the required elements.  You can have your trainer help you with this. Once you have your choreography and it is within the time requirements, get someone to video you riding it.

Now you need to put the music to the choreography.  You can’t just have so many minutes and seconds of music for each gait, the musical phrases need to match what you are doing.  This part is a bit more technical, so a lot of people will go to a professional.

Finally, you need to learn to ride your freestyle to the choreography!  This is a bit of a process because you need to listen to your music and ride to the phrases, not the letters of the court. The judges don’t care whether you start or end something at certain letters, like in a regular test.  They are only looking for the quality of the movements and seeing if the music matches them.

Burn at least two CD copies of your music to take to the show.  I usually also have my freestyle on my phone for practice. And the last part is to have fun!

In choosing your freestyle music, what type should riders look for? Can the songs have lyrics and be music straight off the radio, or do you need to find only instrumental music? 

Music should be music the riders like, but it really needs to match the horse.  The horse is the dancer.  Some horses really like certain types and pieces or can really hate them, too.  So if the horse likes a certain piece, that’s what you build your freestyle around.  Some horses don’t care what music is playing, so then you need to see what pieces make your horse “look” better.  You can do this by watching the video while playing the music.  You can also get other people’s opinion while you ride to the music, and they don’t have to be horse people. Having music that works with your horse is more important than whether the music has vocals.

If you’ve watched freestyle, there are some that you really watch and like, while others are boring and you stop paying attention.  What’s the difference?  The ones that don’t have anything to do with the horse or what it’s doing are boring.  They are just riding around while the music is playing.  This isn’t a freestyle.  When you have music that “fits” the horse and the phrases “match” what is being done, then it’s interesting to watch.  So it’s picking the right pieces for your horse and then using the music to emphasize the movements.  That’s a freestyle!

As the owner of LunaTunes Freestyles, please tell us a little bit about how you got started and what services you provide.

Thirty years ago, I started riding to music to help me keep my tempo on my Andalusian/TB cross mare, Tierra’s Luna (whom my business is named after).  Then I started putting my own freestyles together and competing them in traditional dressage. I was training with Olympian Hilda Gurney (whom I trained with for 10 years), and she said I should design freestyle for others.  Twenty years later, I’m still doing it!

I can design an entire freestyle for either traditional or western dressage, or just do part of the process.  It depends on how much each rider wants to do.  My clients are all over the country, and I have clients at all levels, from Basic/Training Level Amateurs, to Pony Clubbers, to clients trying to make Teams.  Most of my clients are Amateurs who just want to have fun while showing.  I’m always happiest when I see my clients with a smile on their face, or when they tell me how much they enjoy riding their freestyles.

Cynthia, thank you so much for getting us started in Musical Freestyle! Any parting advice?

Yes: A good freestyle has music that matches the horse, it’s footfalls, and the movements. And have fun!

To contact Cynthia Collins and find out more about LunaTunes Freestyles, visit her website at

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