Be honest. When it comes to schooling are you guilty of doing the same old thing day in day out? Do you think you’ve gone wild if you’ve put in a couple of figures of eight or a 10m circle? Is it any wonder your horse feels a bit flat when you go in the school? This week do him a favour and try something new. It doesn’t have to be difficult. A change of shape could be just the thing to get his attention back on you.
Serpentines are the perfect shape to play with. They’re just a series of half circles joined together with straight lines. The loops should be even. Plan your turns. Make the first too wide and you’ll run out of space for the others.
Horses can fall in or out on the half circles. This means the line across the school will be crooked. Push your elbows into your body, just in front of your sides. As you turn your upper body take your arms round with it. This keeps your hands together which will keep your horse’s shoulders together and stop him drifting one way or the other.
If your horse moves freely forward then you can use your leg to correct him. (If he doesn’t check out Be a Lazy Rider/December) A quick nudge with your outside leg will stop him falling out and the same from your inside leg will stop him falling in.
If your horse drops a shoulder as you turn don’t lift one hand up. Lift both! Raise one hand and he’ll lift up that side of his mouth. If one side of his mouth is higher than the other he’ll tip his head that way. Lift both hands together and push on. This will bring his shoulders up and keep them together.
Contrary to popular belief the definition of serpentine is ‘snake like’. It isn’t; three loops each reaching the side of the arena starting at A and finishing at C! A serpentine can have as many loops as you want and be any size that you want.
Ridden in walk or trot four loop serpentines are an ideal way to change the rein. They’re easy to judge too. Each loop is 10m wide. Starting at one end ride a half 10m circle. Straighten up and ride across the school. As you cross the ¾ line ride another half 10 which will put you onto the E-B line. This gives you exactly half the school in which to ride your last two loops.
Most riders have ridden a three loop serpentine in walk or trot but how about canter? There’s no reason why you can’t as long as you’re prepared and you take your time. Change leg over the centre line. Use canter to trot or canter to walk. Which ever suits you and your horse best. This is your session after all.
Transitions come up quickly in canter so take your time. Break it down onto stages. Ride the first and last loops in canter. Walk or trot the middle. This gives you more time to settle your horse before the next transition. It’s important to get him coming right back to you in the downwards transition. Use your thigh and knee to stop him running away from you. (See The Other Way of Stopping/ Dec) If he rushes you’ll struggle to find space for a transition in the middle loop. It may help to make a few transitions to halt just to back him off a bit.
Add in the middle loop when you’re ready. It doesn’t have to be the same day. You may find it helpful to ride a circle in the loop while you establish your canter. You can lose the circle when you get quicker with your aids. The main thing is you take your time. They can be fun for both horse and rider when you do them well. Rush and flap and you’ll defeat the whole object and spoil all your transitions.
Try riding three or four loop serpentines from the track to the ¾ line. You’ll need a strong outside leg on the middle loop. Your horse will expect to go on to the track.
Starting at A or C ride four loop serpentines from the ¼ to the ¾ line. These are just a succession of half 10m circles joined as you cross the centre line. Three loops are possible but the loops are harder to judge when the shape becomes narrower.
Most riders have ridden circles within the end of each loop. This is great to get your horse’s attention. An even better idea is to ride a 10m circle as you cross the centre line. Now that is guaranteed to make him sit up and listen!
Hopefully now a serpentine will mean more than the standard three loops you usually ride in trot once in a while. Use it to vary your schooling sessions. It will give you and your horse something different to think about. It’s true what they say. A change really is as good as a rest. Have fun.