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Introduction to Serpentines

Serpentines are excellent exercises for young horses and novice riders as the frequent changes of direction require concentration from both horse and rider and accuracy in the aids.  These exercises are very good for improving the  balance of both horse and rider.

Basic Serpentine

Standard three loop serpentine
Commencing, for example, at the letter C, the rider will ride onto a  bend bringing them onto the track at M.  One the horse is opposite the midway point between M and B the rider should ask for straightness for a few strides before asking for the bend in the opposite direction.  Coming on the track at E, the horse should again be asked to go straight until the final bend to bring the horse on the track at F.  The rider then will go large.

The frequent changes of bend in a serpentine are important as they encourage alternate contraction and relaxation of the horse's main muscle groups used in bending.  It helps prevent muscular tiredness and strain which results from staying on the same rein. 

Variations of the Serpentine

Another variation of the three loop serpentine which is easier for horse and rider is that which consists solely of semi circles without the need to straighten the horse between loops.
Shallow bend serpentine
Once the basics of the serpentine have been mastered, variations can be introduced which keep the exercise interesting for both horse and rider.  The shallow loop serpentine, for example, is riden off the centre line of the school.  Because there are two changes of rein in a fairly short period it is not as simple as it looks.

three loop serpentine
Lightbulb Serpentine
The Lightbulb Serpentine is an exellent exercise requiring maximum concentration and control.  It is a very good suppling exercise. 
Serpentines can also be varied by working full circles, instead of half circles, before continuing on with the exercise.
A serpentine in walk is fairly simple, with the rider having to concentrate only on the leg and hand aids, and getting the correct degree of bend and straightness.

In trot the rider must remember to change the diagonal with each change of direction.  In the standard serpentine this should be done during the period of straightness. 

Canter serpentines should initially be performed with the horse returning to trot before the change of bend.  However, as rider and horse progresses this is a good exercise to show off those flying changes. 

Serpentine Paces

Other pages you might like:

School Etiquette
School Exercises
Figures of Eight

Serpertines can help both bend and straightness.  You can use a variety of serpentines which can help make schooling fun.  Once you've tried these examples you could make up your own.  Horses enjoy not knowing exactly where they are going and relying on you to show them change of direction - it makes it less boring and predictable.

The first serpentine that is usually introduced is the three loop serpentine.