Saturday, October 6, 2012

Putting Together a Quadrille Team

I was recently part of a quadrille team and thought that some of the things we learned when putting it together would be helpful to someone else attempting the same. 

Quadrilles are lots of fun both to do and to watch.   They are essentially four riders syncronizing their riding to music and performng a set pattern.     The most important element is the syncronization and accuracy of your pattern so having a steady tempo and riders who can "watch" out for one another and temper the pace of their horse to match the others is crucial.

Choosing your Team
Its great if you can find four horses who are similar in color and size.    If not, having pairs is helpful -- for example, two greys and two bays.   Or two ponies and two horses.     Even more important is that the horses have similar paces.  

This is not necessarily about choosing the best "movers" unless you have FOUR good movers.  If you have one horse with extravagent lovely gaits and three with average gaits, its not going to work.  If you have one horse who really moves out, that rider is going to spend a lot of effort shutting that horse down to match the others.   What you need are four similiarly moving horses that are steady decent movers.

Its also important to find horses that like to work with others.   Quadrille relies on the horses getting CLOSE and some dressage horses like to be more solitaire than quadrille requires.

Very close to the debut of our quadrille team at a show, one of our team members broke her arm.   We decided to substitute her with a very qualified rider who had a lovely horse.   While the mare was a great dressage horse, she did not like working with other horses and the show was a disaster.  Well, maybe not a disaster because honestly we all had a great time laughing at ourselves.  Even the judge was laughing.   You could tell we had most of the moves down but the horses just did not want to be with eachother.  At one point, my horse did a spin that could qualify for a roping competition and at the end, the mare was so fed up with the situation she bucked across the arena like a dolphin.  Take a look... we don't mind you laughing at all!

Choosing your Pattern
Many times there is already a chosen test or pattern for the show and the easiest thing is to use that established test.  For example, the PVDA uses the United States Dressage Federation tests.  There is a test for Basic (walk/trot), Training, and First through Grand Prix.  You can also come up with your own to match your selected music.  If you decide to design your own, using the movements in the USDF tests in a different order to match your music is a good starting point.

Starting Practice
We spent WAY too many practices learning the test.  Its much harder to learn the test with four riders on horseback -- not only are you learning the test but the riders are distracted by the horses getting used to one another.   For at least the first practice, I suggest leaving the horses at home.   Set up a very small dressage ring (to scale but about a tenth the size) and walk out the test on foot.   A good way of creating a small one is using sidewalk chalk on a driveway.    Then walk it out on foot.   Trot when your horses would be trotting.  Canter when your horses would canter.  You'll feel silly but 1) its much faster to learn it this way and 2) its fun!

Once you have the test down cold, THEN start practicing on horseback.  Once you are mounted, have a person on the ground to let you know if you are lined up correctly and where you are making mistakes.  Its doesn't have to be a person schooled in dressage.  At this point its not about proper bend or collection.  Its about being EXACTLY opposite one another or lined up EXACTLY behind one another when you should.  The more accurate you can get this the better.  When you come down a line behind one another, the judge should only see the front horse if you are doing it correctly.

Choosing your Music
Choosing music is hard -- mainly because there are so many choices.  I started by listening to cd after cd trying to imagine how the horses would look "dancing" to the music.   What I should have done was narrow my choices first by the length of the song.  Sure you can edit the music to be whatever length and tempo you like but if you are like most people this is beyond your capabilities and frankly there is enough good music to choose from that will meet your needs so why work so hard?

However, if you have someone with good computer ediitng skills, the best route would be to meld three different songs -- one for each gait.

So start by choosing which genre you like.  You are going to listen to this music a LOT so you better like it.  If you hate classical music, don't choose it.   If rock is your thing, find a good rock song.   Everyone will give you a different opinion on whether the song should have lyrics or be just instrumental -- decide what's best for your group.

Another important element is the Beat Per Minute (BPM).    You can use a metronome to measure how often your horses foot hits the ground per minute to determine this.   Take the average of all the horses in the group.  Hopefully all four have similar BPMs.

Since most of the test is done at the trot, you should start there.   Let's say that your trot is 76 beats per minute.  You need to find a song that matches that beat.  As an example, the Training level test is 5 minutes and 50 seconds.   If you can find one that is close to 5 minutes 50 seconds you may be able to start there if you want to stick with one song -- especially if it has some slower sections you can use for walk.

A great resourcs is Mike Matson's website --  You can put in the beats per  minute and get a full list of songs.    He also does a great clinic where he brings out his music and plays it for your horse until you get just the right song.   He then burns a cd for you to take home.

Once you have the trot selected, then you need to select a walk and canter that is in the same genre.

Try them out with your horse.  You may find that one song or genre really gets your horse going -- you will be surprised at how much they respond to the music.

Practice and have a Backup
Our team practiced from early Spring until November at least a couple times each month.   It takes a while to get the basics down and then you start perfecting all the little elements.  Its a good idea to have five team members in the event that a horse or rider is injured on the day of competition....  which is of course a high probablity when you are working with horses.    Swap that alternate in each time someone can't make practice and on the days when all four primary members can make it, use the alternate team member as your eyes on the ground so they are as familiar with the test as the primary riders.

Accuracy is the key to a good quadrille.  Perfect circles.   Turning at exactly the same time.  Horses lined up so precisely that the judge can only see the horse closest to them.  Being exactly opposite one another when doing mirroring elements.  Little things like saluting the exact same way and at the exact same time makes a difference.   You can usually wear outfits a bit outside the norm for a quadrille so it may be fun to have costumes that match your music or matching colorful shirts.

Despite our injuries and swapping of horses at the last minute, the practice paid off.  We were the 1st place winners at the Chapter Challenge that year.  A video of the final product is below.   

Quadrille is lots of fun and is a great way to ride together with other members of your riding clubs.  Its particularly good for kids who like the comaradarie of riding together.  Hope our experience helps make your journey in quadrille a little easier!


  1. This is such a great article! I'm currently trying to help plan out a Pas de Deux with another rider. This article is very helpful with laying out the basic guidelines and some awesome tips! Thanks!!

  2. Cindie WilloughbyMarch 4, 2014 at 8:30 PM

    I just found your blog and you are a VERY good writer and your stories are excellent. I can relate to so many of your experiences, I too had partial knee replacementS...yes both at the same time. LOVE your quadrille work..the song is perfect for these horses and beautiful riders. Keep up the good work.

  3. Wow! How nice of you both to take the time to comment. I sincerely appreciate the feedback.


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