Ep. 52: In honor of the “2020” Olympics: The MUSICAL Olympic event, with champion equestrian Betsy Van Dyke

Photo Credit: Anthony from Pexels

July 21, 2020

In the spirit of the 2020-Tokyo-Summer-Olympics-that-would-have-been, we are highlighting a musical Olympic event that some listeners may not even know about, and that is the equestrian dressage musical freestyle. This event is really the grand finale of all the dressage events – only the top finalists in other Olympic Dressage events advance to the musical freestyle, which is the event that determines the top medals. And it is the only Olympic event in which men and women compete together as equals. “Freestyle is the pinnacle of Dressage execution and when it works, the result is magic.” – International Olympic Committee website [The 2020 Summer Olympics were originally scheduled for July 24-August 9, 2020.]


My guest today is Betsy Van Dyke, an accomplished dressage horse trainer and competitor through the International level of the Grand Prix. Betsy has an affinity for musical freestyle dressage and has won many championships, including Grand Prix Freestyle Championships. Betsy has a deep appreciation for music, and finds joy in compiling freestyle music and working with musicians to create original scores for horse and rider combinations. My favorite fact about Betsy is she happens to be my sister!


  • Here is a basic, general description of the Dressage category of Olympic events (from https://tokyo2020.org/en/sports/equestrian/):  “Dressage is considered the most artistic of the equestrian sports and is used as the groundwork for all other disciplines. It tests the ability of horse and athlete to display both athletic prowess and supreme elegance by evaluating, for example, an athlete’s ability to make their horse move quickly from side to side, transition into a gallop or rapidly change direction, using subtle commands…“Often compared to ballet, the intense connection between the human and equine athlete is a thing of beauty to behold.”
  • We’re talking specifically today about the musical freestyle Olympic event. This event is really the grand finale of all the dressage events – only the top finalists in other Olympic Dressage events advance to the musical freestyle, which is the event that determines the top medals. Only 18 Olympic contestants advance to the final event of musical freestyle.
  • We discuss the history of the dressage musical freestyle event, which was added to the Olympics in 1996 (Atlanta).
  • Musical freestyle was first used in the 1985 World Cup; it was first included as an Olympic event in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
  • Betsy mentions Anky van Grunsven, who has been referred to as “Queen of the Kur (musical freestyle event)” and is very musically inclined. Her humming is actually included in the original music used for one of her musical freestyle events!
  • Do horses sense and follow the beat and rhythm of the music at all, or are they strictly following the rider’s instructions, and it’s all up to the rider to sync the steps to the beat?
  • Betsy explains the process of an athlete putting together the music and choreography for this event.

Connect/Other Resources


Betsy Van Dyke competing with an original score at National Finals. Original score by David Chown; Betsy is riding Cantana (aka, “Tanner” or “Tan-the-Man”).

Shorter highlight of the above: 

Closing Words

I don’t know about you, but I get goosebumps listening to that! Treat yourself to the combination of ear candy and eye candy by watching the full 7-minute video above. (And, if you want to learn more about why music gives us goosebumps, check out Ep. 35!) Thank you so much, Betsy, for sharing your expertise with us, and highlighting the role that music plays in this mesmerizing and complicated Olympic event. Betsy and I were in MI together recently at our parents’ place around the 4th of July, and our Dad was such a great sport and humored us in getting out his accordion, which he hadn’t played for several years. He took lessons for just a few years as a kid, and has only played maybe 10 or 15 times in the last 50 years. I was so impressed with how well he was able to play, and he commented on how incredible muscle memory is! I’ve included a couple pictures in the show notes of Betsy and me with him playing his accordion.  (And By the way, you’ll see in the pictures he did not have a music stand. He DOES now have a music stand — and he’s agreed to my request that he play the accordion for 75 min/week – for his pleasure AND as an anti-aging brain workout. If any of you listeners know Doug Van Dyke, please ask him regularly if he’s played his 15 minutes that day! We want to keep him in this great shape for as long as possible!)

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This IS the show’s 52nd weekly episode, which means we’re celebrating one year of exploring the many ways music enriches our everyday lives! A one-year anniversary is the perfect time to say thank you to all of you listeners for accompanying me on this delightful learning experience. Thank you also to all of you guests who have shared your time and expertise and experiences. It feels very fitting to have Betsy as my guest on this 52nd episode, since she – and my Dad – are two of my most loyal listeners and cheerleaders. Thanks, Betsy and Dad! Last, and most important, a huge thank you goes to my husband and my two kids. In case you haven’t noticed, I am very passionate about the power of music, and absolutely love learning about and discussing the topic; so I have spent quite a bit of time on this fun project in the last year or so, and my family has not once complained but have been completely supportive and happy for me to be in my happy place creating these episodes and connecting with guests and listeners. So thank you, thank you, thank you, Ian, Adrienne & Erik. You’re the best! Thank you so much for joining me today. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to hit the subscribe/follow/+ button on whatever podcast app you use. This conveniently delivers each new episode to your device each week when it releases, so you don’t have to search for it. Until next week, may your life be enhanced with music.

14 responses to “Ep. 52: In honor of the “2020” Olympics: The MUSICAL Olympic event, with champion equestrian Betsy Van Dyke”

  1. I so very much enjoyed this episode (I will make sure I listen to more). Music and horses are HUGE in my life and until I learned about mystical freestyle I would create ice skating programs in my head to music I was listening to. Now I create Dressage Musical freestyles! Your interview with Betsy was so informative. Not only as a great motivator but as a very complete explanation of this discipline for those who don’t know about it. Looking forward to re-listening to this and re-watching the videos, also looking forward to your next episode! Thank you, Tina

  2. I just finish listening to the podcast #52 with Betsy and Mindy Van Dyke. Very interesting and very informative I enjoy every minute !

  3. Just finished listening to podcast #52–this kind of caught me by surprise even though I was fully aware of how long you’ve been doing these episodes and the fact the two of you had this one in the works. Certainly a special blessing to have both our daughters doing this together—-without any bias at all I would say this episode was especially spectacular and highlighted what Mom and I are so proud of with our two girls so it will no doubt be my favorite episode!! 🙂 I can only imagine the number and kind of comments it will invoke by the many followers of two really talented and accomplished professionals. Absolutely loved how these two worlds were brought together with such clarity plus in a fun way and surely demonstrates how life is enhanced with music!! BRAVO…..well done!!

  4. Thank you Mindy for having me join you on your fabulous podcast. Chatting about musical freestyle is something I could do all day, and I hope your listeners check out this magical sport. There are so many incredible riders in our sport, and I would recommend looking up Anky Van Grunsven for a taste of some beautiful musical freestyles over the years. Music has enriched my life immensely through my riding, my personal peace, and my inner joy! Thank you Mindy for shining a light on us all through music!