Not many people are allowed to ride in the huge show-jumping arena at the Rolex Three-Day Event in Kentucky. Usually you have to gallop around a gigantic cross-country course the day before! But last April, four lucky Pony Clubbers from Lexington, KY, got to perform a quadrille in the huge ring in front of an audience. A quadrille is a musical dressage display, performed by a team of four riders.
About a year ago, Marty Whitehouse (12), Allaire Ryan (14), Jessica Strayer (13) and Katey Cadell (14), all members of the Keeneland Pony Club, signed up for a clinic with a dressage instructor named Trip Harding. One of activities the girls could try at the clinic was a quadrille.
Allaire explained, "Marty and I knew it was like a drill team, and we thought it would be fun." The pair convinced Katey and Jessica to join their group and the Keeneland Pony Club Quadrille was born. Their goal was to compete at the mid-south Pony Club rally in June.
All four girls compete in combined training events, so doing dressage was nothing new for them. But thinking up a good musical ride took some time.
They started thinking up the movements that would make up their musical ride. "Trip helped us a lot," Marty admits. "We came up with a first draft of the ride during that clinic." They incorporated regular dressage moves into the ride, including circles, serpentines and loops.
One of the hardest moves is called "thread the needle." Katey explains, "It's when one pair goes across the ring on a diagonal and passes close by the other pair who are traveling in the other direction."
Sometimes moves like thread the needle cause big crashes!
"That's why you have to have flexible and friendly ponies," says Allaire. "No kickers or biters allowed." And it's a good idea if the ponies (or horses) are all about the same size so they travel along at the same speed.
Once they had figured out some cool dressage moves that all four ponies could do at the same time, the girls had to come up with suitable music.
"You try to pick music that fits the ponies, and the movements you are doing in the ride," explains Marty. "I had a CD with the song Supercalifragilisticexpialidocius (from Mary Poppins) and we thought it would work for the trotting sections of the ride."
They had to slow down the music a bit for the cantering and free walk sections, so they chose a song from Mannheim Steamroller to go with those gaits. Then Allaire got to work editing the music onto one tape. Then it was time to practice the quadrille.
"We wrote the test down so we would all remember it," says Marty. "We studied it at home before we practiced together." Then the girls practiced, practiced, practiced.
Allaire was voted the leader of the team. Allaire carries a whistle, and blows it to let the other girls know when they are starting a new movement.
"You're not allowed to talk during the quadrille," Katey explains.
Then came the big news. The team was asked to perform their musical ride at Rolex during the lunch break on cross-country day. Luckily they got to practice in the big showjumping ring the day before. While they were riding, they noticed that they had some famous spectators — star eventers Karen and David O'Connor.
"They sat outside the ring and watched us for a while," remembers Allaire. "When we got done, they clapped and cheered for us. It was a big honor."
The girls admitted that they were a bit nervous before the musical ride.
"I had jitterbugs in my stomach," says Allaire.
Thanks to all of their hard work, the team made no mistakes, and the ride went well. Now they had to get ready for the Pony Club Rally a month away.
But the drill wasn't the only thing they had to practice. The four girls and ponies are also the Keeneland Pony Club's mounted games team! Not only do the four tiny ponies perform dressage tests like pros, they gallop nimbly in and out of poles, and win mounted games competitions.
Finally it was rally time. The four girls put on their dark jackets, and polished their ponies until they gleamed. When it was their turn to go, they trotted into the ring, halted, and waited for the music to begin. Four sets of pony ears pricked up when the music started, and off they went. The ride went well. Everyone remembered their movements, and there were no crashes! When the girls halted at the end of the ride, the judge stood up and clapped for them. They were a hit. The team placed second in the quadrille competition.
The girls aren't sure when their next quadrille display will be, but they hope it's soon. They are keeping busy, though — they have a mounted games competition coming up at the Pony Club East Coast Championships.