Sunday, February 13, 2011

Drill Bit

Lately I've seen some pretty amazing drill team exhibitions on youtube which gets me excited about working with the drill team riders here. Not that we'll be jumping through hoops of fire like the London Metropolitan Mounted Policemen (or will we...?) but there are other ways of getting the crowd's attention, and keeping it.

Drill team has always been something I loved coaching, but I think I've only ever ridden in two of them. One was during college when some classmates and I were chosen to ride a Quadrille for an open house. We rode to "Bolero" and my mount was a gorgeous TB gelding named Star Trek. He was a stunningly good looking horse with an unfortunate name and severe lack of coordination. The cantering parts of the drill were always a bit hair-raising for me.

Despite all raised hairs, I enjoyed it tremendously and from then on, wherever possible, I worked drill rides into lessons. First were the little Summer Camp riders who managed to learn a drill within just a few days. Then there were Quadrille teams that rode a pre-determined test, and then larger drills with 6 or 8 riders and smaller drills with only two. I rode in the two horse drill (technically a pas-de-deux) with one of my students. I rode Raffles and she rode Dancer. Raffles is a 16.2 hh beefcake Swedish Warmblood. Dancer is a 12 hh Welsh Pony. Taking their sizes and personalities into consideration, we performed our ride to two songs. One was Fred Astaire's "Dancing Cheek to Cheek" for which we rode very sweet patterns where we would ride apart, come together, part again and finally sway through a series of intricate circles. Then the music switched over to "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better". Cue the hilarity. With spunky little Dancer upstaging him at every moment, Raffles and I wove a pattern of diagonals, leg yields, and changes of direction. A few years later, I did a reprisal of the ride with a different student (student #1 had outgrown the pony) and with a different horse. Raffles was stricken with a hoof abscess so at the last second, Vanessa had to pinch hit. She was also a big horse so the visual was similar, but without Raffles' machismo the effect wasn't quite the same. Also, I made a few mistakes. And Dancer wouldn't go through the puddles in the ring. Overall, it was not a polished performance. Let's just leave it at that.

Choosing the music is a big part of having a crowd-pleasing drill ride. Hoops of fire don't hurt either, but as I said earlier, we're not doing that (or are we...?). The music has to have the same tempo and rhythm of the gaits used, and it has to be recognizable and lively. In the most drills, we rode the drill to fit the music. The pre-determined Quadrilles were tricking because we couldn't alter the ride to fit the music so we had to find music to fit the ride. Fancy-schmancy computer programs are available to edit music to the length of the ride, and to blend different songs together to fit the different gaits, but my computer skills are neither schmancy nor fancy so I always had to adapt the ride to the music. Which meant that all the riders had to put up with last minute choreography changes.

"Hey guys, that last part that took you two weeks to learn.... that's got to be longer so we're going to add two more circles. Right in the middle. In the other direction. At the canter. Ready?"

Without fail, every drill rider learned their pattern, with all last minute changes, better than I did. Even though I was the one that made it up and coached it every week.

Some of the choices we've made for music were; the theme from Top Gun, music from the movie Jurassic Park, a 1980's techno remix of Puttin' On the Ritz, Hawaiian music from the movie Lilo & Stitch, ragtime music from the movie, The Sting, and one piece of music by a veritable deity of British rock & roll - Gary Glitter. We had some classic drill moves like the Wheel, Obliques, and Thread the Needle, but also some I dreamed up and labeled as Crashing Diagonals, the Shuffle, and the Roll-back Reverse. I wish I had video of each of the rides my students have done over the years. There are a few on youtube, but most were done before youtube was mainstream. I'm sure there is a rider or two that is secretly not too sad about that.

Without fail, the day of the actual performance, one of the horses would get overly excited by the pomp and circumstance of the occasion, and flip his lid. Usually, that horse is the same one that was too slow to keep up with the other horses during the 3 months of practice thereby catching his hapless rider completely off guard. My efforts at keeping my mouth shut, as the drill was performed, gave way with shouts of "Stay in line! Stay in line! Sit back! Hang on! Stay in Line!"

Every ride has been memorable for me and at every performance, I've had more jitters than my riders. Every ride had me bursting with pride (and relief) at the end, and applauding like a fool. I look forward to many more opportunities to applaud like a prideful, relieved fool.