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Altamont Fair Special Section Archives The Altamont Enterprise, August 12, 2010

The Pony Pals aren’t horsing around
as they ride their steed, in choreographed dance routines

By Anne Hayden

ALTAMONT — Twelve kids and their faithful steeds will perform 27 synchronized drill patterns during special performances at the Altamont Fair on Friday and Saturday.

“Think synchronized swimming, but on horseback,” said Jean Forti, the mother of one of the performers. “It’s a fully choreographed dance routine of flying hooves and ponytails.”

A Berne-Knox 4-H group, the Pony Pals, has worked for nine months to perfect the complex choreography involved with an equestrian drill-team event. This will be the group’s third year at the fair.

The Pony Pals’ leader, Sue Mason, said the 4-H group is made up of “horse-crazy” kids, and the program focuses not just on riding, but on horse maintenance, health care, and the different equine sporting events, such as polo and racing.

Mason said that, several years ago, while learning about drill teams, the Pony Pals decided it would be fun to add a drill team competition to the Altamont Fair. The group wanted to challenge the other clubs at the fair to a friendly drill competition, but Pony Pals ended up being the only club to follow through and put together a performance.

An equestrian drill team, with horses and riders performing choreographed maneuvers to music, is meant to show sportsmanship, horsemanship, showmanship, teamwork, and dedication. They typically perform at rodeos, fairs, and benefits.

“I went online and researched different drill teams, and learned what patterns they used. I learned all the names for them. Then it was a matter of choreographing the moves and making them flow,” said Mason. The kids are the ones learning the patterns, not the horses, she said. The horses just need to be able to respond quickly to the rider’s cues, to turn, slow down, and speed up on command.

Mason said she thought one of the coolest parts of the drill team patterns were the names — police line-up, thread the needle, comb-through, suicide wheel, and zipper are just a few of the 27 different patterns involved in the show.

“The hardest part was getting the horses used to working in such a close group; we had some horses kicking at each other, kids fall off every once in a while — that’s all a part of it,” Mason said. The group had to experiment to figure out which horses could work in close proximity to others, she said.

The Pony Pals drill team is a real mix this year, according to Mason. The kids, 11 girls and one boy, range in age from 9 to 16. Some ride horses; some ride ponies. Some of the kids own their horses, and others ride one of Mason’s 31 horses.

“The first year we did a drill-team event, we had some riding Western, and some riding English,” said Mason. Now they all ride English. The costumes have also come a long way since the first competition, when the kids had matching shirts. This year, thanks to costume designer Kim Miller, they will have shirts, helmet covers, chaps, and the horses will wear breastplates.

The costume colors are red, white, and blue, but the music this year, rather than being patriotic, will be country music.

“The kids are very excited to finally show off the performance at the fair, but they have had a lot of fun practicing,” Mason said. The group has practiced once a week for the past nine months. 

The main drill team event will take place at the Altamont Fair on Friday, Aug. 20, at 7:30 p.m. in the large horse ring. There will be a repeat performance on Saturday, Aug. 21, between 3 and 5 p.m., during the open horse show.

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