Back in the day, we made mix tapes for boyfriends, girlfriends, parties, and our own listening enjoyment. (Today we make playlists instead.)
A lot of early dressage freestyles probably got created the same way: with a dual cassette deck and a stack of vinyl.
My fantasies of one day creating a freestyle soundtrack armed only with the modern equivalent (my trusty iMac, GarageBand, and my cherished iTunes music library) were pretty much dashed when I saw this new video of Swedish Grand Prix-level competitor Tinne Vilhelmson Silfven and her horse, Don Auriello. Tinne's freestyle designer, the Dutch guru Cees Slings, put together this fascinating split-screen look at horse and rider performing their new freestyle (we'll see it at the London Olympic Games in a couple of weeks), and the professional recording session of their custom-arranged, custom-performed, custom-everything music. (It's a medley of songs by The Who, in case you were wondering.)
Who's Anton? - Tinne Vilhelmson Silfvén & Don Auriello's London 2012 Freestyle - from Cees Slings on Vimeo.
Now, the super-deluxe custom dressage freestyle is nothing new. The first one that I recall receiving a lot of attention was "Bonfire's Symphony," the original orchestral piece composed for Bonfire and Anky van Grunsven of the Netherlands. That performance won an individual silver medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
These fascinating looks at the tippy-top of our sport are reminders, however, that dressage at the Olympic level is not really the dressage that I (and possibly you, too) engage in every day. The underpinnings (the basics, as it were) are the same: good riding, good horsemanship, good care and management, and above all else a love for the horse and a commitment to his welfare. At the elite level, however, it's serious. I'm sure it's exciting and thrilling to be Tinne or Anky or Steffen or Isabell...but I'm also sure there is pressure the likes of which we hobbyists cannot imagine.
OK, I take that back. I suppose we can imagine the pressure, if we translate it to what we feel in our jobs. For at that level, being a top rider and competitor is a job. Vying for medals is serious business, and therefore it is a bona fide business investment to hire a roomful of professional session musicians to perform one's freestyle music.
This is not intended as a criticism of elite horse sport, or session musicians, or freestyle (I happen to like all three). It's a roundabout way of saying that the Olympic Games are another horse show and yet not another horse show. They are the same, and the rules are the same (more or less) as at any other FEI dressage competition; yet there is an intensity, a fierce patriotism, and a palpable feeling of pressure at Olympic Games and World Equestrian Games that just aren't there at other horse shows.
It's a crucible, these Olympic Games--wonderful, but demanding. I admire those with the mental toughness to get there. And just maybe I'll get so inspired by this year's freestyles that I'll come home and start fiddling with GarageBand. Hey, you have to start somewhere.