Creating Freestyle Exhibitions

Tigger Montague creates freestyle dressage exhibitions to delight crowds. By Patricia Lasko for Dressage Today
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Tigger Montague creates freestyle dressage exhibitions to delight crowds. By Patricia Lasko for Dressage Today
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Exhibition riding is particularly compelling for many dressage riders who sometimes prefer it to competitive freestyle riding. Tigger Montague, of Charlottesville, Virginia, is someone who has embraced exhibition riding and created exciting, crowd-pleasing displays. Most recently, she used the music from the Broadway musical "The Lion King" and created a "dressage musical." With Grand Prix dressage horses and riders wearing masks, costumed quadrilles, tumbling children, champion vaulters, jumping pony clubbers and more, she crafted a delightful theatrical experience. The dressage version of "The Lion King" debuted at the U.S. Dressage Federation's (USDF) 2002 Freestyle Symposium to rave reviews.

Montague put the entire program together; it was her vision and took one year to create from start to finish. Rehearsals started in March for the November performance. Riders (all volunteers) drove as much as four hours round trip to participate. They rode Saddlebreds, Quarter Horses, Thoroughbreds, Arabians, warmbloods and Frieisans.

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For the Freestyle Symposium, Montague wanted to set a different tone. So she began with Cherokee Heritage Dancers. I wanted to take the audience to a different place and out of their hectic lives," she says. After Western reining horses, a pas de deux and comedic routines, the overture to "The Lion King" began--rights to use the music came through USA Equestrian. "I knew people in the audience were not ready for what they were going to see; they had no clue," says Montague. The audience was indeed amazed as the entire story of the young lion prince was acted out through dressage. "Dressage is not just about one breed or one way of riding," she says.

"I already had my mind how great it would be if I could just stage a theater production with horses and marry the two," says Montague. "People love horses and people love music, so when you combine them, what's not to love." With a degree in theater and additional training in acting and directing from Denison University, Montague understood the concept and knew what to do and began "Dancing with Horses"--exhibition riding that was strictly entertainment-dressage to music that told a story.

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"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," and "Aladdin" were several of her first productions that were used to raise money for charity. Montague also enjoyed developing short, 10- to 15-minute freestyles with themes, using 50s music, for example, and dressing a pair of riders (a pas de deux) as a biker and blonde with poodle skirt.

In another accomplishment, Montague orchestrates a "celebrity freestyle" for the Virginia Dressage Association (VADA). This competition, in its fourth year, uses recognized judges to score the technical aspect and movie and political celebrities who score the artistic aspect. "It's an amazing night because we have the sponsors in this tent wining, dining and having a blast," she says. "We have the celebrities judging and tailgaters on the opposite side of the ring drinking beer and wine. I mean when somebody does extended trot or piaffe, the whole place goes crazy."

The riders love the feeling of not being controlled at the celebrity freestyle. Only one ring is used, which includes an oak tree on the quarterline. "These beautiful big oak trees of Virginia surround the area, and people sit right next to it, so you get this feeling of being so intimate with the riders and the horses," she says. Top of the line sound people are brought in the day before to set the speakers up at the right level. This year ten speakers were used. "We spare no expense that the sound be like you're in a concert hall," Monegue says.

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Additionally, all riders are welcomed to participate. The afternoons are open to First through Fourth Levels, and the evening contains the Intermediare and the Grand Prix. Prize money is also included. Riders use all their competitive freestyles, which makes the event run like a competition. "The riders love the chance of being able to entertain with their freestyles. But they get that thrill of something different- I've noticed that they risk more, they'll go for things that at a show they might be a little more careful," says Monegue.

Most recently, Montague designed a pas de deux for two Friesian horses using traveling music such as "Leaving on a Jet Plane" and "Coming to America." Owner Ellen Simonetti of Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, and Catherine Sutton of Charlottesville rode and earned a score of 86 percent!

Montague does her own dressage training at her Springdale Farm with USA Equestrian "R" judge Carter Bass. She can be reached by e-mail at spiritpaws@aol.com.