Drill Team 1.0

I finally have enough info to share ideas for drill teams! Drill team is a great activity for groups of two and up. It gives a practical application for riding skills, encourages group bonding, offers social interaction, requires timing and paying attention, and teaches teamwork. Drill team is a fun thing to do at shows and presentations. It’s also great for veterans, who are used to having a team, a purpose, and formations. The following information is gathered from a presentation given at the 2016 Region 4 Conference, this horse forum discussion (check out the videos), and my personal experience. Please add your suggestions at the end!

If you don’t know what drill team is, get a brief descriptions and see some pictures at the Wiki Definition here. A good resource about drill team and its rules can be found in the Minnesota 4-H Drill Team Guidebook. This post is going to focus on patterns and suggestions.

Drill Team Maneuvers

I’ve condensed the most common drill team moves into the chart below. Enjoy!


For a description about how to do some of them, click here.

Drill Team Notes

  • Attire
    • Be matching!
    • Sew matching saddle pad covers
    • Get nice/fancy western shirts donated
    • Consider costumes – but make sure they don’t get in the way
    • Matching polo wraps looks sharp
  • Music
    • It’s not just about rhythm but about the message, to leave everyone in a better mood
    • Have a list of acceptable songs for the riders to pick from.
    • Songs with varying rhythm and parts offer opportunities for slow and fast movements.
    • After the first ride to the song, it will either be too short or too long. Have the riders work together to decide what moves to add or remove.
    • Consider riding to music right away, because it’s fun! Especially if the riders are familiar with the movements already, start the music and call them out.
    • Some riders will need to ride the pattern without music first, or else they can’t focus from too much sensory input.
  • Leadership
    • Carefully consider who to put first in line in the leader position
  • Volunteers
    • Should have good endurance!
    • Should also know the pattern and movements, or they may mess it up
  • Horses
    • Pair up horses who like each other and have similar tempos
    • Make sure horses get used to passing each other closely and at different gaits
    • Make sure horses are ok with costumes, if used
  • Spacing
    • First work on keeping and even rhythm and pace, using speed up and slow down cues. Then teach using the size of the movement to adjust spacing (moving in/out of the circle).
    • Leave the ends of the arena open from your pattern (turn early instead of going all the way to the fence), so there is space to adjust if riders lose their spacing.
  • Caller
    • Designate one person to be the caller, who helps riders remember the pattern.
    • Examples:
    • The instructor calls the pattern out for the riders.
    • The lead rider calls out each next move and when to start.
    • The riders memorize the pattern, and the lead rider has a whistle. One whistle means start next move, two whistles means stop, three whistles means emergency stop.
  • Using a flag
  • Other Ideas
    • Integrate local 4-H club (if you need more riders)
    • If you have multiple groups (beginners and advanced) include separate drill team movements at the same time, to show off their skills (ex: beginners do pinwheel at the walk with reverse while the advanced riders canter around the perimeter)
    • Use dressage cones/letters for visual markers. If you perform off the premises, take them with you so they’re familiar to the riders.
    • If performing off the premises, make sure the arena is the same size, or the timing with the music gets thrown off. Use cones or poles to make a large arena smaller.

You can still do drill team with two people!

See the post about two person drill team.

Drill Team Curriculum

A co-instructor and I came up with this curriculum to go through with our veterans over the summer. Listed is the skill to teach and 2-3 drill team movements to work on that involved practicing that skill, with the end goal of putting them all together in one big drill team pattern.

  1. Halt, walk on, steer – separately and together at same time
    1. Nose to tail
    2. 90 degree turn
  2. Speed up, slow down on straight lines
    1. Pairing up in 2’s
    2. Pairing up in 4’s – halt & salute
    3. Stay aligned on opposite walls
  3. Steer, bend (legs) – circles
    1. Anna’s circle
    2. Do si do
  4. Straight lines – diagonals
    1. Thread the needle (speed up, slow down)
    2. Thread the needle in pairs, or Interlocking fingers, or Obliques
  5. Speed up, slow down on a circle – pinwheel/crack
    1. Full team crack
    2. Pinwheel
  6. Combine moves into a full pattern (attempt all in a row, or combine in another order)
    1. Find music
    2. Collaborate as a team
    3. Designate the leader/caller

That’s all I got. Do you have anything to add?


Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgment!

3 thoughts on “Drill Team 1.0

  1. Drill teams are great. As far as I know our Drill Team was the first team made up of therapeutic and non therapeutic riders to do a Major presentation of a drill team. The Exceptional Equestrians Drill Team from Novi Michigan preformed in front of more than 1300 people at the Kentucky Horse Park in 1984.

    The 8 person team were from ages 14-36, we practiced for almost a year and did many local performance before Kentucky. The Day of the Drill in Kentucky was an emotional event for everyone. We were just praying that the therapeutic riders remembered the drill. The drill was 14 minutes, which is pretty long but that was the time frame we were given. Our goal from the beginning was to not do any move more than twice. We were very creative, and the riders had a lot to remember.

    The last movement of the drill is still one of the most fantastic moves I’ve seen any drill team do. We’ve tried it many times since with all regular riders and no one ever did it as well as that day in Kentucky.

    It’s hard but i’ll try to explain it, then you can try it with your teams.
    The 8 member team moved into a straight line in the middle of the ring, 4 of the 8 riders were facing one direction and 4 riders were facing the other direction, as the center riders had to barley trot and just pivot the outside riders had to do an extended tort to keep the line straight and continue to trot making the straight line turn in a circle. The circle keeps moving in a straight line for 2 complete circles.

    Then 4 riders going remained trotting their side in the straight line and the other 4 riders take off at a canter keeping their line straight, after chasing the trotting line the canter riders passes thru the trotting riders coming up from behind, and making it look like the trotting riders never changed their spacing. Needless to say its a scary move, the trotting riders cannot see when the cantering riders are coming up behind them, and they must just concentrate on keeping their straight line moving in the circle. The canter riders passed thru the trot riders,not knowing in advance if the trot riders have actually spread apart just a little wider to alow the cantering horses to pass thru. After the pass thru the trot riders must continue the straight line trot at a steady pace, while the canter riders must stay in a straight line until they catch back up to their position making the straight line across the arena once again. As soon as the line is straight the canter riders must go to a trot in just a couple steps. hen as the music reaches it’s height it abruptly stops and so do the riders, their are just the right number of drum beats at the end of the music and the entire line each facing a different side of the audience dose a dramatic bow as the last drum beat of the music stops.

    Someone above was watching that day as we had never hit the bow right on the final drum beat before, but we did that day. We got a 20 minute standing ovation, Their was not a dry eye in the house. Gratefully we anticipated having a curtain call, and we had some really fun music played as each rider did a special movement ending up in the middle of the ring and bowing to both sides of the arena

    The only major mistake of the entire show was one of the riders during the curtain call bowed twice to the same side of the arena, instead of turning to the other side, most likely no one even noticed except us. After all the practice and worry, that a therapeutic rider would make a mistake it was a non-therapeutic rider that made the only mistake of the night.

    We have done many drills since, but never one so important to the therapeutic riding movement, and 8 people from Novi, Michigan and their Trainer Vikki Gartner.

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