An Introduction to Drill Riding

five horses, with riders carrying colorful flags

K. Blocksdorf

Drill riding or equestrian drill riding is a team activity. It originated with mounted military units as a way to practice skills. There are competitions for drill riding, but drill riders don’t always compete. Some, like the famous Royal Canadian Mounted Police, participate in events to entertain the audience. And not all drill teams are mounted. There are also driving drill teams. Teams can range from four to over twenty. They may use western, English, parade or any other type of tack, or some ride bareback with no tack at all. Often the horses are all of one type, and team members wear matching clothing and use similar tack, leg wraps and grooming styles. Some may require all horses to be the same color with similar markings. Drill teams can be formed by a group of like-minded horse riders, within a stable, through Pony Club or 4-H, a local riding club, other organizations or as a school activity.

What Is the Goal?

The goal is to coordinate a group of horses and riders to perform precise maneuvers to music. The elements of a drill ride are often pulled from dressage and other disciplines such as reining and even jumping. Some drill teams only perform to entertain audiences at events, while others may compete in drill riding competitions.

Equipment You'll Need

You will likely need to obtain clothing and tack that coordinates with the rest of the team. This includes headgear for you and may require saddle pads or blankets, leg wraps, decorations for your horse’s mane and tail and other items that pull together the look of the team. You may need to carry a flag or other prop.

What to Expect

Expect to practice a lot. You may practice on your own, and you’ll need to practice with the team. If you do not stable where the drill team practices, you will need to arrange to trail to and from the facility. You’ll also need to arrange travel to and from any demonstrations or competitions. The costs will be similar to showing a horse. You will need to purchase liability insurance and may need to pay for memberships to any organizations that govern drill team competitions, and there may be a fee for being on the drill team. Uniforms and other gear may be provided or you may have to purchase your own.

Preparing Your Horse

Your horse will have to be obedient, quiet and good in groups or other horses. It will have to be healthy with all of its vaccinations and well groomed. The level of training your horse will need to have will depend on the team. Some will require that a horse only walk and trot, while others might expect things like sliding stops and half-passes. The better trained your horse is, the easier time you will have. 

Preparing Yourself

You will have to commit to a lot of practice time. You’ll need to spend time bathing and grooming your horse, just as you would for showing. Knowing that this is a team sport, you will have to work well in groups and take coaching and instruction. What level riding you will require will depend on the team. Some will only require basic riding skills, while others will require that you be able to ride higher level dressage-like movements in the group.


Your team's performance will be scored on the accuracy with which it performs the drill. The judges consider things like timing, speed, accuracy, crowd appeal, horse manners, level of difficulty, the closeness of the horses and synchronization. The music and overall presentation also influence the score. But, catchy music and spectacular costumes will not make up for sloppy accuracy. Many North American drill competitions use the United States Equestrian Drill Association (USEDA) judging criteria.

The Benefits

The benefits of drill riding are many. You will become a better rider, and your horse will become better trained and easier to handle. You will learn teamwork and enjoy socializing with other riders. And of course, you will have fun.