Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Continuing Education in Freestyle Judging, hosted by DVCTA

Lois Yukins
On March 19 and 20th, 2016, the Delaware Valley Combined Training Association (DVCTA) hosted the USDF Continuing Education in Freestyle Judging Program. Saturday was filled with a classroom discussion held at New Bolton Center, and Sunday was comprised of live freestyle rides at Ardara Sporthorses. Presenters were Klassic Kur Freestyle Designer Terry Ciotti Gallo and FEI 4* and USEF "S" Judge Lois Yukins. The audience consisted of 12 Participants, made up of L-graduates and USEF-licensed Dressage Judges, approximately 25 auditors and 11 demonstration riders.   

Yukins began the day by describing the path to creating the USDF Continuing Education in Freestyle Judging Program.   Her description began with “a box of stuff” that was handed around the L faculty, but no one could sort out how best add the information into the already-densely-packed L Program itself.  Yukins approached Gallo about the problem, who utilized her enthusiasm for freestyles and background in gymnastics judging to turn the “box of stuff” into this well-thought-out program. 
Lois Yukins
With that introduction, Gallo began Saturday’s lecture.  She started by defining the purpose of the event—to eliminate the “touchy-feely” element of filling in the “artistic impression” side of a freestyle score sheet, which often intimidates judges.  The silence coming from the participants illustrated her point. Terry solved that problem by tossing Easter eggs filled with candy to everyone who contributed to the discussion.
Terry Ciotti Gallo
Participation came more easily as Gallo outlined the specific criteria judges are to use to evaluate each category of the freestyle performance, augmented by video of good examples and poor examples.  By putting the evaluation into familiar judging methodology of “Basics + Criteria +/- Modifiers = Score,” she created a comfortable format for judges to begin their evaluations. 
Gallo began with an example of how music can enhance or detract from the horse’s gaits.  She played a short video clip of Steffen Peters riding Ravel in a trot half pass, and played several music clips with it.  The video clip never changed, but different music made him look lighter and more elegant, while other clips made him look slightly hurried. 
Using this as her segue into explaining methodology for evaluating the “Music” line on the score sheet, Gallo stressed that suitability of the music to the horse is the primary factor in evaluating the “Music” score.  According to Gallo, the criterion for this mark is the suitability of the music for all three gaits.  If the music is suitable, the score starts at a 7.  If the music enhances all three gaits, then the score is higher.  Modifiers that can push the “Music” score higher are cohesiveness, or is there a common thread in the walk, trot, canter music, and seamlessness of the editing. If music is suitable, music works together, and editing is good, it can earn an 8.0 or higher. In summary, the “Music” score is about the music selection and preparation, and is the score least affected by the technical performance.
After that, Gallo tackled the topic of “Interpretation.”   The primary criterion for “Interpretation” is what Gallo called “six-point phrasing.”  She defined “points of phrasing” as times when the horse’s movements changed with a musical phrase or dynamic change. A ride that shows six key “points of phrasing” should earn a 7.0 in the “Interpretation” category.

The six key “points of phrasing” are as follows:

Tracy Basler adn Bondurant awaiting instruction from Terry Gallo
  • 1.       Initial halt and salute
  • 2.       First movement changes
  • 3.       Lengthening or extension in trot
  • 4.       Lengthening or extension in canter
  • 5.       Gait change
  • 6.       Final halt/salute

 If the ride shows more than these six “points of phrasing,” the score can go higher than a 7.0.  Gallo showed her personal shorthand system for counting points of phrasing, where she made tally marks for each point of music phrasing or dynamic change highlighted by the choreography. 

The modifier that can push the “Interpretation” higher is if the music expresses the gait. To illustrate this, Gallo played several music clips, and asked the participants decide if it was walk music, trot music, or canter music.  She stressed that the horse does not need to be “in step” with the music, but if the horse is in step, as this is a very hard thing to do in a show setting, it should be rewarded.  In summary, if a ride expresses more than six points of phrasing, has music that suggests the gait, and the horse’s gaits match the footfalls most of the time, the score should be an 8.0 or higher.

The third element Gallo explained was “Degree of Difficulty.” Evaluating this criteria is pretty clear-cut—if the requirements of the freestyle match the highest test of the level in all three gaits, then the score is a 7.0.  If the freestyle pattern is harder than the highest test of the level, and is performed well, then the score should go above a 7.0.  However, if the choreography includes a difficult movement, but it is not performed well, then the “Degree of Difficulty” score will be reduced.   This score, and the “Harmony” score, are the two scores where the strength of the horse’s basics will impact the number earned.

Next Gallo explained the requirements for the “Choreography” score. “Design Cohesiveness” is listed as the criterion for this category on the score sheet.  According to Gallo, choreography that shows a clear and logical pattern that is easy to follow meets the criteria for a 7.0.  If the pattern uses the entire arena well, shows equal use of right and left rein work, and has some elements used in interesting or uncommon ways, the score should be higher.  This score is mostly independent of technical execution, except when the technical execution makes the choreography hard to see. 

The final element Gallo covered in the lecture is “Harmony,” which relies largely on the technical execution of the freestyle.  Gallo said she put this discussion last because it is comprehensive of the entire freestyle performance.  To earn a high “Harmony” score, the horse needs to be calm and attentive, and the freestyle should look easy and fluid.  If the horse shows some tension issues during the ride, the harmony score should be below a 7.0. 

Gallo and Yukins also discussed that the FEI Freestyle sheet differs a little from the USDF Freestyle score sheet, placing “Rhythm, energy and elasticity” on the artistic side of the score sheet, whereas USDF places the equivalent score, worded as “Gaits, Impulsion and Submission,” on the technical side of the sheet.

Day two involved using live horses to allow the participants to practice their new methodology.  After Gallo used a live horse to demonstrate how she selects suitable music, Yukins took the lead in discussing scores for each of the 10 demo rides. 

The demo rides ranged from a training level teenager on a pinto pony to a Pas de Deux to a CDI rider’s Intermediate freestyle. Yukins began by giving a tactful evaluation of the first ride.  Her comments helped each participant understand how she arrived at her numbers, and helped each demo rider understand the strengths and weaknesses of their performance. As the day progressed, she changed tactics and started asking the participant judges to do the evaluating before she revealed her score.  Yukins' gifted teaching skills created a comfortable environment for the candidates to begin to use their new skills, by teasing the high-scorers that “they’d get hired a lot” and accusing the low-scorers of “Sunday grumpies.” By the last few rides, participant’s scores were very similar to Yukins and Gallo’s marks.

After two days of education, participants came away with a clear methodology for evaluating freestyle rides.

Lois Yukins discusses scores with the participating judges

DVCTA would like to thank Lois Yukins and Terry Gallo for sharing their knowledge of judging freestyles with all who attended.  Your style and your wit create such a positive learning environment for all involved.  Many thanks to all our volunteers and to our demonstration riders without whom this weekend would not have been so productive:

Karen Anderson / Fhinland - Third Level
Lauren Annett / Savannahh - Intermediate
Tracey Basler / Bondurant - First Level
Anecia Delduco / Captain Morgan - Fourth Level
Melanie Delduco / Flacon - Fourth Level and Pas de Deux
Lauren Kramer / Mazur - First Level and Pas de Deux
Rebecca Langwost-Barlow / Chesapeake - Intermediate
Silva Martin / Aesthete - Intermediate
Jordan Osborne / Domino - Training Level
Jamie Reilley / Feinest Proof - Second Level

Melanie Delduco and Flacon

Monday, April 11, 2016


In response to my last post, I’d like to answer several questions that keep coming up:

Yes, the splints are out of my nose now. Those things were much bigger than I thought they were. Like truly huge. And I don’t mean “the fish that got away” huge, but in reality huge. Honest.

Yes, I’m riding again (silly humans, of course I am). As happens this time of year, my ride list is a little shorter. Horses that came for a winter boost-our-training-up-a-notch have transitioned from me in the saddle to the owners in the tack, learning where all of their nifty new buttons are before they head home for the summer.  Plus I have a quite effective working student right now.  So I’m only sitting on 4 to 7 a day.

Yes, I was sore on Friday. Of course I was, but TOTALLY worth it.

Yes, I’m wearing a mask. It is horribly uncomfortable, steams up my glasses, and has caused my chin to break out like a teenager. The upside is, according to one of my closest friends, it makes me look like a Marvel Super Villain. Can I get any cooler than that?

So I did some research. Turns out there are tons of ways to stop dust from coming into your nose – everything from gas masks to foam pompoms stuffed up your nostrils. These two caught my attention: 

How can that be comfortable? 
Now this look is total super-villain, and even comes in green.

As I'm a bit over having things stuffed up my nose at the moment, I ordered what looks like a band aid with a filter in it. Hopefully it will be more suitable than my mask, but somehow I don’t think it’ll be any more classy.

No, I won’t have to dust-filter my nose forever, just until everything heals inside.

Yes, my hair is much better. My hairdresser is a miracle worker.

No, the cookies did not turn out well. They are the worst chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever made. The dough was a bit on the dry side to start, then while it was “resting” in the fridge, somehow about a fourth of it mysteriously disappeared. When I actually got around to baking them, they came out hard as rocks. I gave up after the 3rd tray and left the rest as dough. The dough is better than the cookies anyway.

Which means yes, my sense of smell and taste are returning. 

Yes, my headaches are MUCH improved. I can even blow my nose now.  No one appreciates being able to blow their nose enough.

Yes, I’ll post the DVCTA article here, but I thought I’d let DVCTA, who asked for it, run it first. That seemed polite.

Yes, my teeth are still being brushed, but not as frequently. Breathing from my nose is a really, really nice thing.

Now off to ride the ponies.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


I am grounded off of horseback for a week.  It’s been a long week.

Last Wed I had sinus surgery, to correct some structural issues in my nose that the doc thinks contributes to my frequent sinus and ear infections.  I’m a lifelong veteran of ENT offices and the assorted surgical things they can do.  I’ve put this particular procedure off for about 8 years now, mostly because I truly hate general anesthetic’s side effects, but this year the sinus infections and earaches have been almost constant, so it was time.

Normal people usually return to work a couple of days after this particular surgery, but as dust, getting bonked in the nose, and breathing heavy are parts of my daily life with horses, the doc advised me to take a week off. 

For those who have not had sinus surgery, essentially, while you are taking a nap, the doctors do their thing.  Before you wake up, they fill your nose with what they call “packing” and “splints.” Then they use a giant rubber band between your ears to hold a hunk of gauze under your nose.  In essence, giant plastic discs and tampons go up the nose and a maxi pad goes underneath.  Over the course of the next week, these things are gradually removed. No, I did not take a selfie of my swollen, black-eyed self with all this stuff on and inside my face.

All that aside, I felt like crap for about 2 days.  Then I got restless.

My friends know I’m not exactly the lay-around type, and keep asking me what I’m doing to stay busy.  In order to entertain myself, I did typical geeky-dressage stuff, and other day-off stuff:

-          Organized a fix-a-test for my students to keep them busy while I am trapped in the house.
-          Played with freestyle choreography and music for Capi.
-          Mapped out and laminated some dressage tests and organized my judging bag.
-          Scanned in everyone’s USEF Vaccination report and sent them to my students      electronically.
-       Brush my teeth. Breathing through my mouth makes my mouth feel gross.
-          Printed Coggins/Vaccine report/Membership verification for the horses I’m         competing this season.
-          Wrote an article for DVCTA.
-          Did SFD’s beginning of the month paperwork.
-          Colored my hair. This didn’t go so well. My bathroom looks like a homicide scene, and my hair looks like Ariel.
-          Cleaned out my inbox.  That took a while….
-          Took the time to figure out how to make my phone quit doing the series of annoying things it does.  That didn’t take nearly as long as I expected.
-          Followed up on judging requests.
-       Brush my teeth again. It just feels nasty.
-          Finished reading a book about the end of WWII – way too heavy of a read for being trapped inside.
-          Got off my plateau in Candy Crush.  That took FOREVER.
-          Spent an afternoon shopping. I hate shopping. I was that bored.
-          Tortured my husband with my cooking.  This really didn’t make sense, as I can’t taste much. But it did remind him why he does the cooking.
-          Touched base with several friends who were checking up on me – first to see how I felt after surgery, and later to make sure I was following doctor’s orders and not doing too much.
-       Brush my teeth again. I have the best dental hygiene ever.
-          Got caught up on House of Cards and Agent Carter.
-          Played with my dogs. The puppy is becoming a pro at fetch.
-          Wrote this nonsensical, fairly pointless blog about trying to entertain myself. 

I have resorted to standing outside of the barn and asking people to bring me horses.  I did sneak in one afternoon, after all the dust-rousing sweeping and chores were done, to visit.

Today I plan to make cookies and run some broken tack to the repair shop—hardly a full day’s worth of activities.  Wednesday I’m going to go visit Harry, our young horse who is off being backed, visit the hair salon to correct my Little Mermaid look, then get the toothpicks, er splints, out of my nose.  If that’s not enough to fill my last two days left of my confinement, I may need to sneak into the barn to pet horses again.

I can’t wait to sit on a horse Thursday. I suspect Friday morning I’ll be feeling the effects of a week with no exercise, but it will be completely worth it.