Hitting the Right Note in Equestrian Para Dressage

Sanne Voets (NED). (FEI/Liz Gregg)

Equestrian Dressage and Para Dressage are considered the most artistic of the equestrian sports. But it is in the Freestyle tests, which are specially choreographed for each horse and performed to music, that the horse and athlete have a real opportunity to come into their own.

No one know this better than Dutch Para Dressage star Sanne Voets, who took individual gold here in Tokyo on Thursday.

“When the horse, rider, and music all come together in a perfect fit, that’s when the magic happens,” Voets said.

“It all starts with your choreography. And the first ingredient of good choreography is to know your horse very well, to know what your strong exercises are and what you are good at. Top sport is all about standing out and having the audacity to show the world what you’ve got. The Freestyle gives equestrian Dressage and Para Dressage athletes that opportunity.”

And Voets is not afraid to make a statement with her original Freestyle choreographies or her unconventional choice of music. Prior to the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, Voets worked with critically acclaimed Dutch DJ Armin van Buuren for a chance to perform to his song “This Is What It Feels Like.” Together with her horse Demantur, Voets brought home the only equestrian gold for the Netherlands.

“The music adds an extra dimension to the choreography,” Voets explained. “You want to enter that arena feeling your very best. You want to feel focused. You want to feel strong and confident and that feeling can be affected by the music you choose.”

The 33-year-old is now going for more gold at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo alongside her horse Demantur RS2 N.O.P., affectionately known as “Demmi”, with a new Freestyle routine, developed in collaboration with top Dutch freestyle producer Joost Peters, and one of the Netherlands’ most popular bands, HAEVN. Founded in 2015 by singer-songwriter Marijn van der Meer and film soundtrack composer Jorrit Kleijnen, HAEVN’s music has a unique sound that Voets believes will allow her to make her mark.

“HAEVN compose cinematic music that has a distinctive sound with their piano, string, and electronic sounds. The singer Marijn has a clear and warm voice and this really makes the sound of the band unique. I first heard them when I was in my car and the lyrics touched me deeply,” Voets said.

“’Where the Heart Is’ is a song about chasing a dream, paving your own path, and taking a leap of faith. I chose it because I see myself so much in this song. I also try to follow my own path by doing what I feel is best, even when it is not the generally accepted way. There is always some doubt: Do I dare to be different? Is this the right choice? Am I good enough? This song tells me to have faith.”

Voets, who was born with a condition which weakens her legs and affects her other joints, holds Team, Individual, and Freestyle gold medals at European and World level. She won gold in the Grade IV Individual Freestyle on the opening day of the Para Equestrian events, and is hoping to achieve a ‘triple-triple’ of golds in Tokyo.

“The relationship between the horse and athlete is essential for success. You cannot perform or act like you have harmony when that relationship is not there. Demmi has quite a personality and we have a deep connection. He is so special to me. He always reminds me of what really matters and is the reason I’m encouraged to go after my dream, to never let anything or anyone stop me, and also to do good. I heard someone say a few years ago that a good Freestyle is like a movie. It should tell a story. It should tell your story. And that is what this HAEVN-Freestyle really does.”

If there’s anyone who knows how to find that perfect fit and bring music, athlete, and horse together into a breathtaking Freestyle routine, it is British composer and producer Tom Hunt.

Based in London, Hunt is the man behind Charlotte Dujardin and Carl Hester’s Freestyle music, and composed the music for Dujardin’s bronze medal Freestyle at the Tokyo Olympic Games. He also worked with Great Britain’s Natasha Baker and Singapore’s Laurentia Tan on their routines for the Tokyo Paralympics.

“Usually, the process begins with a discussion with the athlete where we talk about the Freestyle and about preferences he or she might have,” Hunt explained.

“If the athlete is passionate about creating a really good Freestyle, then that feeds into how I work with him or her. Some athletes are very hands-on at every stage and are really passionate about getting every detail absolutely perfect.

“Before I even begin creating the demo, I need to see how big the horse is, what its paces are like, and how expressive it is. Then I look at the floor plan and how it has been crafted, so I can emphasise the strengths of the horse and have the music highlight those sections of the choreography. It is important to build on the dynamics of the music in order to really show off the horse’s paces.

“When creating Freestyle music, it is important to figure out how to fit the music to what the athlete aims to do and the story they want to tell, and to make the style work for them and the horse.”

However, when composing the music for Laurentia Tan, Hunt has had to take into account input from a number of different people. Tan, who is currently ranked number four in the world for her Grade in Para Dressage, is profoundly deaf.

“With Laurentia we’ve been working not just with a whole team of people who tell her what the music sounds like, but also with technology so she can feel the music,” Hunt said.

“The SUBPAC is a piece of technology that she wears like a back pack and it feeds back all the low frequencies of the music so she can feel its pull when she’s riding. The creation of Laurentia’s Freestyle music for Tokyo has been a longer process than others, and not something we could have done quickly. So it has been good to have had the time to work with her over the past year.”

While the Freestyle Test is where the Para Dressage athletes can really show off their musical tastes and artistry, they are also free to choose the background music for their Team Tests. Any style of music can be used in a Team Test and, as it is considered background music, it does not affect an athlete’s score.

The Tokyo 2020 Para Dressage Individual Freestyle Tests across all five Grades will take place on Monday, 30 August 2021 at the Baji Koen Equestrian Park.

Media contact:

Vanessa Martin Randin
Senior Manager, Media Relations & Communications
vanessa.randin@fei.org
+41 78 750 61 73

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