The Art of Drill Team

Power, Precision and Poetry on Horseback

The RCMP Musical Ride executes intricate
figures and cavalry drills choreographed
to music. The highlight of the Musical Ride
is, without a doubt, the Charge. The lances,
festooned with red and white pennons, are
lowered and the riders launch their mounts
into a hard-running gallop

If you love to ride and enjoy being with horse friends —
but aren’t into horse shows — why not start a musical ride or drill team?
This fast-growing sport is a pleasurable way for riders to get together on a social level, or even a competitive level, to experience the horsemanship and comradeship of being on
an equine team. You may belong to a 4-H Club, ladies riding club, gentleman’s group, youth or senior group or a mixture of all of the above. It doesn’t even matter whether you enjoy Western or English riding.
A musical ride is an equine performance full of manoeuvres,
choreographed to music, designed to create a flowing pattern to either please a crowd or impress a judge.
As the tempo of the music quickens or diminishes, so does the
speed of the ride to complement it, not unlike figure skating. It might be done at the trot or lope, or a mixture of both, depending on the pattern and the music chosen.
A drill team, however, is never done at the trot; it’s fast-paced.

The Cariboo Cowgirls Drill Team performs a
highspeed pinwheel at the 2008 Williams
Lake Stampede. For these riders to
perform at a gallop, it takes precision and
fast reflexes as highspeed accidents can
result in serious injury.
Photo courtesy Cariboo Cowgirls Drill
Team Society

Although there is music playing, it’s not necessarily there to complement the ride; it’s intended more to excite the crowd.
The great thing about a musical ride is you don’t need to have a special type, size or colour of horse. To have matching colour or breed would be nice, but it’s not necessary. What pulls the team together are matching outfits on both riders and horses.
If you plan to enter a competition, there are rules to follow, as with any sport. For instance, in reining you lose points if you break gait, or over spin, for example. In musical ride, some of the faults the judges watch for include spacing, off-stride or out of position, but the degree of difficulty of the ride will always add to the score.
Whether you plan to compete, perform for a crowd, or just have fun with it, you’ll need to understand
that horsemanship skills are a must — and your horse should be well broke, so riding lessons may well be necessary to get started.
Your horse should have a quiet, forgiving nature; he’ll have to work closely with other horses in very tight quarters. (You certainly don’t want a horse that might kick or bite.) He should be able to execute a turn on the haunch, turn on the forehand, side pass, and two-track as well as upward and downward transitions with ease; these come into play in almost every manoeuvre in one form or another.
How long should a ride be? If you’re in a competition, it’s no less then eight minutes and no more than 12. However, if you’re doing a performance, the time is typically around eight minutes, but can vary slightly depending on the venue. There are both easy and hard ways to choreograph a ride. The easiest way is to choose the music first and create a ride to enhance the music. It can be done the other way around — but this approach is much more difficult.

The Prairie Dusters of Grande Prairie were
formed in 1987. Their roster has included
riders aged from 6 to 70. Known for their
precision as well as their costumes,the
musical ride is a crowd favourite at the
annual Grande Prairie Stompede.
Photos courtesy Prairie Dusters /
Nicky Rae Photography

If you’re going into competition, compulsory manoeuvres must be incorporated into the ride; the rest are added to complete symmetry and flow. However, if you’re after performance or fun, then the sky’s the limit on what moves you can incorporate. There are more than 100 different manoeuvres to choose from. Typically, an eight minute pattern will feature 25 to 30 manoeuvres, with variations.
Manoeuvres, to name a few, include: the pinwheel, thread the needle, suicide cross, posse roll, charro ladder, chevron, oblique and inverted oblique. There’s an abundance of books on drill team manoeuvres. As well, the Internet is rich with ways to get started on creating a pattern.
While there’s no set number of riders on a team, the ride works best with a number that’s divisible by four. A group as small as four to one as large as 20 is possible, but typically
a team has 12 or 16 riders. The famous RCMP musical ride boasts 32 riders, which certainly increases the degree of difficulty. When done well and with precision, a musical ride is an unforgettable sight.
Whether you choose to join a musical ride team for education, competition, performance or just for fun —

One of the more familiar MusicalRide
formations is the “Dome,” once featured on
the back of the Canadian $50 bill. The Ride
is performed by a full troop of 32 riders
and horses, plus the member in charge.
Photo courtesy of the RCMP Musical Ride

 it’s a great way to
make memories with your horse friends and your horse.

New Brunswick native Ruth Fowler has called Cochrane, Alta., home for the past 13 years. Here’s a fraction of Fowler’s credentials from her extensive resume: she taught the Western Equine Coaching program at Olds College; is an Equine Canada (E.C.) Certified Level II Western Coach, E.C. Certified Level II Course Conductor, the Master Course Conductor for Alberta, Acting Master Course Conductor for B.C., E.C. Certified English
Instructor, E.C. Certified Senior Judge, the Chair of the Equine Canada Western Coaching Committee; and was the Director of the world-famous Calgary Stampede Showriders for many years. Fowler is the only Certified Drill Team Judge in Canada.

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