Riding serpentine shapes during your schooling sessions helps improve your horse’s balance, suppleness, engagement and responsiveness. The exercise can also benefit the rider’s awareness of their own riding position, how they give cues as well as improving timing and feel.
All the following exercises presume you are riding in an arena measuring approximately 20m x 40m. This is illustrated in the picture to the right. However, the exercises can be adapted for different sized areas. You can also ride shallow serpentines that don’t go to the arena rail - try riding a shallow looped serpentine just a few metres either side of the centre line when you have successfully practised the exercises here.
Exercise 1: Three loop serpentine in jog
Concentrate on making each loop the same size and maintain a good rhythm. Check that you and your horse are straight as you cross the centre line each time and that you arc your horse around your inside leg on each loop. Does your horse fall in or out during the loops or does he stay upright and feel the same when looping left or right? Click here to view a video of this basic manoeuvre, illustrated by Judith on her 5 year old American Paint, Song's Bright Spark (Sparky).
Exercise 2: Three loop serpentine in jog with circles in each loop
Ride a 13m circle within the first loop before riding straight across the centre line, changing bend and riding another circle within the next loop. Continue to the third loop and complete the last circle before completing the serpentine. Click here to view a video of this manoeuvre.
Exercise 3: Three or four loop serpentine in jog with the same bend throughout
Startwith direct bend for the first loop and then maintain the flexion and bend as you ride the next loop with in-direct bend. Return to direct bend for the next loop.
Exercise 4: Three loop serpentines with transitions over the centre line
Each time you approach the centre line straighten your horse and make a transition to walk for 2 to 4 steps before resuming jog and continuing through the next loop.
Exercise 5: Lope a three loop serpentine
Lope the first loop and ride a simple change through jog or walk over the centre. Pick up the other lead and repeat for the next loop until you complete the serpentine.
Exercise 6: Jog three loop serpentines with poles
Place two poles over the centre line and one in each of the three loops. Ride the serpentine so that you jog over a pole as you ride the loop, and then another one as you cross the centre line and so on. Concentrate on maintaining a really consistent rhythm throughout the exercise.
Riding a serpentine may seem easy but there is a lot going on - you’re working on straightness, bend and change of bend, accuracy and consistent rhythm. These are all skills that will particularly improve your pattern classes at a show, so just remember that time spent schooling over the winter will pay real dividends!