Fun at Home: Here’s How to Match Music to Your Horse’s Gaits

Learn how to find your horse’s beats per minute so you can ride to music!

In this excerpt from her book Freestyle: The Ultimate Guide to Riding, Training, and Competing to Music, dressage rider, trainer, and Freestyle specialist Sandra Beaulieu explains how to find your horse’s beats per minute so you can ride to the perfect tunes.

In order to understand the benefits of riding to music, you need to know how to choose music that matches your horse’s stride. BPM stands for beats per minute. This is the number of footfalls your horse takes in the span of one minute. The reason this is important is that it helps you narrow your music choices—whether for training purposes or competition—to songs that have the greatest potential to match your horse’s stride. This is most important for competition Freestyles to help accent a steady tempo and to highlight cadence, impulsion, and overall quality of the gaits.

When you’re training, matching the footfalls to the music can help you with your own rhythm and timing; in competition, working with the BPM grabs the attention of your judge and your audience, making the horse look like he is really “dancing” to the music. (Note that just because the beats of your horse’s stride and the beats of the song match perfectly doesn’t always mean that music is a good fit. You also need to take into account the way a song flows with your horse and whether its “feel” matches your horse’s personality.)

There are two popular methods to determine your horse’s BPMs: traditional and modern. For both you will need the following items to make the process easier:

  • A stopwatch, timer, or cell phone.
  • Leg wraps in one or two colors.
  • Video camera or cell phone with video capability (optional).
  • Barn friend (assistant).

Photo by Kimberly Chason

Finding Your Horse’s BPMs

1. Start by wrapping one of your horse’s front legs with a wrap in a color that is easy to see. You only need to wrap one leg for this purpose, but you might find it easier to see your horse’s movement on a video if you wrap all four, using two different color wraps. For example, if you have a dark horse, wrap three legs in a medium hue such as blue and use a white wrap on the “leading leg.” The leading leg is the inside front leg in whichever direction the horse is traveling. If he is trotting on a circle to the left, his front left leg would be considered the leading leg. This applies to all gaits. (Note: In the walk and trot you can also count both front legs for their beats, but it is easier to use the method I describe below for the leading leg, and then multiply by two.) In a competition the judge will typically watch this leading leg to determine how well you are matching the beat of the music.

2. Take the time to warm up first so that you can be sure to have the best representation of each of your horse’s working gaits.

3. When you are ready, have your assistant watch (or video) your horse at all three gaits. She should watch the horse’s leading leg. Every time that hoof touches the ground it should count as one “beat.”

  • When using the traditional method: Using a stopwatch or the timer on your cell phone, have your assistant set the timer for one minute. Ride in a consistent working or collected gait, staying on the rail in a straight line for as long as possible. Your assistant should count the number of footfalls from the leading foreleg for one minute (or count both front legs in the walk and trot). This will give you the beats per minute (BPM) of your horse’s gait. Repeat once or twice more and then find the average.
  • When using the modern method: If you prefer to use this method to find your horse’s BPMs, you will need to download a metronome/BPM app on your phone to use instead of a stopwatch. Search for “BPM” or “metronome” in your app store to find a variety of free apps you can try. Using an app is handy when you are short on time and need to quickly determine a BPM. A metronome app will ask you to adjust the beat up or down until a “beep” sound matches the footfall of the horse’s leading foreleg. A BPM app will need your assistant to “tap” the screen every time your horse’s front hoof touches the ground. The app will calculate the BPM average and display it on the screen immediately.

I like to use a BPM app when I am listening to music. When I play a song, I try to tap my foot to the beat of the music. Once I feel the beat, I start to tap the screen, and you can then see how closely the music’s BPM matches your horse.

This excerpt from Freestyle by Sandra Beaulieu is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books.

You can purchase the book here.