Serpents and Serpentines

I always like using serpentines in my teaching as it switches both horse and rider on a little bit more and it’s easier to compare the evenness of the reins, but today I taught a lesson solely about serpentines.

My mature client warmed herself and horse up on both reins using circles and the traditional three and four loop serpentines before we focused on the first style.

The French Serpentine
I didn’t know the correct name for this, but it’s one I’ve used before with my horse. It’s based on the traditional serpentine but instead on going straight across the school you curve in a S-shape.
Easy. After all it’s the straight lines which are hard to ride. But appearances can be deceiving, as my client found out. In a traditional serpentine you go from right bend, to straight, to left bend, thus giving the horse and rider time to rebalance and change their bend. On the French serpentine you go right bend, left bend, requiring a greater degree of balance a and flexibility from the horse.
Initially my rider found her horse rushed say from her and came above the bridle, so I had her ride a more gentle curve the next time. We worked with the three loops and after a couple of attempts the change of bend was consistent and flowing, the circles were of a similar size (which is actually quite hard to do) and the rhythm was like a metronome. To make it harder I got my rider riding a circle in each loop, ensuring her horse waited for her to change the bend, and we progressed to a four loop serpentine. This meant the circles were smaller so required more flexion and greater balance from the horse.
As a further exercise I suggested we increase the curvature of each change of bend to further push both horse and rider. You could really see the improvement in the suppleness of the horse and how it evened up his work. My rider found that a straightforward change of rein was very easy after as she only had to think about the change of bend and her horse responded, meaning she rode across the diagonal in a much straighter and steadier line.

The Lengthways Serpentine
The next serpentine we looked at is quite tricky, as it involves smaller turns but also long sides, so the rider needs to control the shoulder and not let the quarters swing coming out of the turn.
This serpentine starts at either E or B and turns down the school. We started with three loops, which is about half a 7 metre circle at each end – quite tough. It took a few tries on both reins for my rider to correctly prepare for the turn and not override it. I think she was surprised with how far round she had to turn in order to help her horse. Once we’d established the serpentines my rider rode some transitions down the length. A good test of her straightness. We had a few wobbles, but soon mastered shoulder fore in the direction that he drifted before each transition.
Finally, to finish off my rider rode a four loop lengthways serpentine, which really engaged her horses hocks and hindquarters.

I was really pleased how something as simple as a serpentine could improve the horse and rider so much. The work they produced at the end of the lesson had definitely stepped up a gear, and her horse was rhythmical, balanced, active, and in self carriage.

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