To add variety to lessons I often throw in some shallow loops. Then the other week a kid asked me what was the point of them. Good question really, and it’s always good to know what you’re trying to achieve with an exercise.
Shallow loops are ridden on two tracks – they’re sometimes mistaken for leg yielding away from the track and then back to the track by riders who like to over complicate things – along the long side of the arena. Coming out the corner ride off the track towards the three quarter line, then after riding a couple of strides parallel to the track, riding back to the track in time for the corner.
The shallow loop can be made easier by not riding so far off the track, or harder by riding the shallow loop more steeply so that it reaches the centre line.
The shallow loop is very good at improving a horse’s suppleness because there is a series of changes of bend. For example, on the left rein, you have left bend around the corner and riding off the track. At the deepest part of the shallow loop you change to right bend. Upon returning to left bend for the corner. To execute a shallow loop well the horse needs to be balanced enough to switch seamlessly between bends.
I also find shallow loops very useful in checking that a rider is using their leg and not relying on their reins to steer. If they are cheating with their aids the horse will lose rhythm and balance, and swing through their neck as they drop onto the forehand. They will also get an exaggerated bend through the neck. A horse who relies on the fence for balance will wobble as they come away from the track and lose the quality of their gait.
Shallow loops are particularly useful in improving the quality of a horse’s canter because riding counter canter on the return to the track improves their suppleness and balance so the canter becomes straighter and the hindlegs more active.
In terms of jumping, riding shallow loops will improve your ability to ride dog leg turns smoothly and the horse will maintain a better quality canter so is more likely to jump cleanly.
From a teaching perspective, having these multiple changes of bend allows a coach to introduce the concept that outside aids are relative to the direction of bend as opposed to the direction of travel around the arena.
So add them into your warm up and it’s surprising the difference it makes to your horse’s way of going.