Ditties for Diddy

Laura Graves and Verdades
Laura Graves and Verdades

All good freestyles begin with inspiration. But from where does that inspiration come?

For Guenter and Graf George, it was an off-hand remark. I initially saw them when George was first in training with Guenter, but by the time the show came around a few months later, the horse had become much more muscled and impressive. The music no longer worked. I watched a video of that show performance over and over wondering what was I going to do next. As I saw George come down the final centerline for the sixth time, I said, “This horse needs a knight.” Camelot was born.

In 1998 when I first saw Grandeur, aka Johnny, I remarked to Steffen, “His leg comes so high in the passage, he looks like an Irish step-dancer.” That became the basis for the Lord of the Dance freestyle.

With Brentina, it started with Respect. So inspiration can be a song, a thought, a passion or whatever sparks that first step. As a designer, I find that my Grand Prix riders have solid ideas about song choices, and so it was with Laura Graves.

The Journey Begins

Laura had determined to leave behind her previous music, which did its job, but now it was time to step it up. As fortune would have it, Laura lives fairly close to me, so we met. With Laura’s very clear image of what would work for Verdades—or Diddy—as to his choreography and with a good start on a musical idea, we rolled up our sleeves.

First, we drew the choreography that included extensions to pirouettes, two tempis on a semi-circle and passage half-passes. We could immediately see by the diagram that the difficult patterns fit into a nicely balanced overall structure. We moved from the kitchen counter top “drawing board” to the studio.

I found that Laura had an incredible sense of tempo and easily could tell a canter from a trot from a passage just by listening. What a gift! Her suggestions were good and all I needed to do was fill in the missing parts. She was making my life easy.

99 Percent Perspiration

If I may paraphrase Thomas Edison, inspiration is only one percent. Laura recorded the choreography and I edited the music to match. The completed project was sent to her coach Debbie McDonald, who tactfully said it was nice but it was not Diddy. Debbie thought power was in order, so power it would be. Back to step one!

Flipping through my catalog, I found the next inspiration in a piece from the uplifting movie Rudy—a true life story about a young man who wanted to play football for Notre Dame. The music had been sitting in my inventory waiting for the right horse. That horse had come, and this passage would serve as the basis for the rest of the program.

With football as the motif, my good friend iTunes and I found fabulous music from the NFL library as well as other footfall ideas. The music was presented to Laura, Debbie and sponsor Betsy Juliano in late January. Everyone liked it.

All football fans know that the Lombardy Trophy is the highest award a team can get because it means you won the Super Bowl. The music that bears the same name was composed especially for that occasion and our choice for Laura’s canter music.

Laura Graves and Verdades
Laura Graves and Verdades

Sir Galahad Rides In

The Olympic committee sends a form asking for publisher’s information, making it essential that all music selections have their permissions in order. Now that we knew which selections we were using, it was time to secure licenses. Most publishers were easily located, but the listed The Lombardy Trophy publisher no longer had that piece in its catalog.

After days of searching, I decided to try to contact the composer directly. Nothing. Weeks went by. Nothing. I had almost forgotten about it when an email arrived in early May. Apparently, the composer had been busy writing music for the NFL Draft and had his hands rather full! He lobbied on our behalf, but even though he wrote the music and he had some sway with the NFL, he could not get us permission to use The Lombardy Trophy.

It is now May and Rotterdam will soon be approaching—Laura’s last chance to try the freestyle before the Rio Olympics. It’s stress time for all.

David Robidoux did not just write The Lombardy Trophy, he is a 12-time Emmy Awards winner with more than 22 nominations! As busy a schedule as he has, and as prominent a position as he holds, he offered to help.

I explained that we needed something with power; it had to have good dynamics so we could express the various movements; and in order for it to properly match the gait, it needed to fall in the 89-93 beats per minute range. I would do the rest.

He sent five extraordinary pieces that had it all, but I particularly liked one called Man of War. It was a great piece to range from pirouettes to extensions and the one tempis would be thunderous. Besides, Man o’ War was one of the great horses of all times. What could be better?

Laura liked it. Mr. Robidoux again interceded on our behalf to get the licensing and after much paperwork, we were granted one year’s use.

All’s Well

Good freestyles are not a static event. Horses evolve. Sometimes as their gaits improve, the tempos change, the strides can begin to cover more ground and so on.

As horses become more capable at their current level, greater difficulty can be added; or as they move up to the next level, the choreography may need to be completely revised.

In our case, Diddy became so aerial in his movements from December to January, the original choreography no longer fit in the allotted time. We needed to restructure the choreography and take out an entire line.

You may find that small musical adjustments need to be made on your own freestyle to accommodate the development of your horse. In our case, we needed to change an entire selection for other reasons.

As it was with Laura, me and the rest of Team Diddy, stay composed and be persistent. Time, patience and an openness to remodel are essential to bring out the best in a freestyle.

Laura Graves and Verdades
Laura Graves and Verdades
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