How to win the British Riding Clubs quadrille from a woman who knows… *H&H Plus*

  • Clare Chapman from Cornwall Trec Group explains how she masterminded a daring reveal for last year’s quadrille champions’ costumes, and why she needs a patient equine mannequin...

    Cornwall Trec Group (CTG) have entered the British Riding Clubs quadrille championships every year since 2012 and have qualified for the finals seven times out of eight.

    Each year we raise funds for the quadrille at our gala night to pay for the costs of transporting four horses and riders to Bedfordshire for the weekend. I was inspired by watching the 2015 team and put my name down to participate with my supercob Cokey.

    I’ve been to riding club dressage championships at novice level, but this was something different which required huge imagination and, most importantly, teamwork.

    Each team has to choose a theme and “act out” a story with a music soundtrack and appropriate programme, with matching costumes for the riders and horses.

    In 2017 I was a member of the Mary Poppins team which landed a first-ever win for CTG. I took on the role of producer and costume maker last year for the first time, to the amazement of my family who knew I had no previous crafting skills at all.

    The club runs tryouts in the spring and the team chosen was Cokey and me (pictured, in blue), Sprite and Emily Dunstan, Bill and Alice McKinnon. Jamie-Lee Ball rode Reggie for selection and her mother, Claire Tegg, took over for the final as Jamie was pregnant.

    We met weekly to discuss ideas and once we had a plan we introduced it to the horses to see what worked best. The horses have to enjoy the pampering and getting dressed up. Ours certainly do!

    The routine has an intro, beginning, middle and end. We try to pick moves we enjoy performing, then fit them around our story and music. You have to love your song choices as you’ll get to know them extremely well.

    Fellow CTG member Cathy Craddock produced our music. She’s passionate about quadrille, and being a perfectionist would tweak the music to exactly what we were after. It’s important to learn the cues and know your routine down to the second.

    Emily came up with a Moulin Rouge theme and I was driving past a convent and remembered the Sister Act film. Light bulb moment! Could we strip? The plan was to enter as nuns and then strip to become cancan girls and go into a Moulin Rouge routine.

    I wanted big, bold, colourful bling for the reveal, but had to ensure this was covered as much as possible with the nuns’ habits. I designed a rough costume to see if it was feasible. After weeks of thought and tweaking, I settled with a design that covered us all well, but was easy to remove quickly with one hand. Cokey was a very patient horse mannequin for my experiments. My priorities had to be safety, freedom of movement and comfort for the horses.

    It took nearly 30 metres of black material to make the horses’ habits with fastenings of tiny poppers and Velcro in only the optimal places. It took me a whole day to iron and pack our costumes for the 600-mile round trip.

    Fortunately, I only work part-time and was able to commandeer space above my husband’s business as a craft room. The horses wore wimples on their heads and then revealed feather plumes on top of their bridles. These were attached with a spring and had lain flat under the nun’s habit. The horses had two pieces to strip off and the riders one piece and a hat. I took it on as a challenge and loved it!

    It was definitely a gamble having two costumes. Each needed to be authentic but also stay in place. I felt hugely responsible for it to work.

    An unbelievable amount of work and dedication goes into quadrille, but the whole experience has been so much fun with amazing teamwork between us all. We’ve made memories to treasure and I’m so proud of our winning performance at the final. That lap of honour has to be the best feeling in the world.

    H&H 20 August 2020

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