Equestrian mounted drill teams are teams made up of riders on horseback, performing a series of synchronized movements to music. The performance is a sort of dance on horseback, and the team wears matching uniforms and often hold up flags and perform flag movements along with the horse patterns. Drill teams at the professional level are polished and entertaining as their horses weave in and out of patterns in a tight-knit formation.
There are a number of maneuvers a drill teams performs ranging from basic to advanced movements. For a new drill team, the basics are the essential building blocks. While the basic moves may sound simple, the more horses that are involved in the team, the longer it can take for the team to master those movements. For this reason, teams begin with the straight line formation.
Horses line up next to each other, side by side with the horns of the saddles in a straight line all the way across. In the beginning stages, it is best to keep the horses farther apart. When horses are unfamiliar with one another, putting them too closely can caught them to snap or kick. Once the horses line up together, teams will begin to move the line forward, with the horses staying at exactly the same pace.
Another formation in equestrian drill team is the nose-to-tail, or single file formation. Rather than lining up side by side, the horses are lined up in a single file line, one behind the other. It is important that a safe distance is maintained between the horses in this formation.
The flank turn brings the horses from a single file formation to a straight line formation and back again. When the horses hear the blow of the whistle, each turns 90 degrees in place to face the center of the arena. After the horses cross the arena, they turn 90 degrees once more and line up in the single file formation once more.
In the pairing up formation, the horses begin in the single file formation. The horses travel down the line in the center of the arena. The first horse will turn left when it reaches the arena wall. The second horse will turn right. Each horse will continue the pattern, changing direction every horse. The two lines travel along opposite walls until they meet in the middle to ride as pairs.
The mini sweep is a more advanced drill team movement. In the mini sweep, all of the riders ride along the side of the arena in an oblique pattern. The pinwheel is a spectacular movement to watch. In this movement, two horses stand in the center of the arena facing opposite directions but side by side. Horses line up on the side of both center horses, facing the same direction. The two center horses pivot in place while the horses on either side made a circle. The result is that the riders on the outside are riding the most quickly to keep each line straight and the center horses are circling in place. The movement gives the appearance of a pinwheel, spinning in a circle.
The full team crack is similar to the pinwheel, except there is one pivot rider and the horses are all moving in one direction in a straight line. Similarly to the pinwheel, the outside riders must travel at a faster gait to keep the line straight. The resulting movement resembles the cracking of a whip.
Another important aspect of equestrian mounted drill team is movements in which horses must cross paths. These movements require precise timing and obedience horses. In the single file cross, horses separate into two lines riding single file. One line crosses across the center of the arena while the other crosses perpendicular to the first group. Horses take turns crossing the center, creating a cross pattern of alternating horses.
The figure eight movement is a great practice maneuver for drill teams and looks impressive in competition. Horses ride single file in a figure eight movement, following one another and crossing in the middle. The interlocking circles is a similar movement where two separate lines of horses make two separate circles. Where the circles meet, horses must cross each other in alternating patterns without breaking the circles.
Drill Team Horses
While equestrian drill teams will sometimes try to achieve a uniform appearance, any breed of horse is able to participate. The most important thing for a drill team horse is a good temperament. A horse that is obedient and willing to learn will make a great drill team horse. Horses should respond to commands willingly and should also be able to transition quickly and smoothly between gaits like a walk, trot or canter.
Equestrian mounted drill team horses must be able to work with other horses. Drill team maneuvers require horses to hold a tight rank and horses that bite, kick or get nervous around other horses will not do well in drill team. In drill team competitions, there is often loud music playing, audiences cheering and whistles blowing. The horse must be trained to be accustomed to these noises so it does not get frightened in competition. An important aspect of training for equestrian drill team is preparing the horses for the sounds and sights in addition to the movements. A horse that can perform the movements perfectly in practice, but is not ready for the boisterous atmosphere may become skittish and refuse to perform.
Many horses enjoy performing. When the horse and rider have a good relationship, that relationship is evident in performance. A horse that loves and respects its rider will perform and enjoy the movements. The willingness to practice and to learn are qualities necessary for both the horse and the rider hoping to compete in drill team. Riders must also be good team players as a team without unity will never win an equestrian drill team competition.
In a drill team competition, riders and horses must have a polished appearance. Riders wear matching clothes and cowboy hats. Some riders use the same tack as well. In order to present a polished appearance, riders will clean and polish everything for a put-together finish. Many teams will wear fancy western shirts that include rhinestones or glitter in order to stand out among the crowd. The horses should be as well groomed as the riders in equestrian drill team. Riders will carefully clean, brush, polish, braid and spray even tame the mane and tail with hairspray. While equestrian mounted drill team is not based solely on appearance, a dirty or unkept horse can certainly detract from the performance.
Drill teams can range in size from four members to up to twenty members. Teams compete in different divisions in an equestrian drill team competition. Some of the divisions of competition include novice, youth, 4-H, gaited, theme, rodeo, quad and open. Competitions are judge a little differently for each category, but in general are based upon overall performance, unity as a team in spacing and alignment, ability of the horses, speed in movements and overall appeal. Equestrian drill team is fun to watch at the novice level and incredible at the professional level. Riders and horses alike perform difficult movements with great unity and perform a polished and impressive show.