Author: Eclectic Horsemanship

Serpentine Exercises

Serpentine Exercises

We all get into ruts sometimes. If you are bored of riding the perimeter of the arena, here are some serpentine exercises to keep time in the arena interesting and progressive. These serpentine exercises will especially help horses who are rushy, anxious, and who have trouble with lope transitions. For the sake of description I will use a dressage court as a basic arena setup. Follow along on the draft of a Cowboy Dressage court, which is a modified Dressage court. Remember to make your loops full, instead of going diagonally to each letter. Refer to the pictures here for examples of 10 m and 20 m circles, and shallow and full loop serpentines.

Horse and rider trotting in serpentine.

Warm up Serpentine

A good warm up to start with is a simple four loop serpentine. This can also help to settle a horse if anxious, just repeat the loops until they are relaxed. You can do this at a walk or a trot. Starting on the left rein at the F begin to serpentine to the E, changing bend and diagonal (if applicable) in the middle of the arena. From the E loop to the M and continue to the H. Repeat on the opposite side of the arena looping from H-B-K. From K continue to F and go diagonally to H. Repeat this exercise going the other way, starting at M-E-F and from K-B-H. From H continue to M and go diagonally across the arena to K.

Shallow Serpentine

This three loop shallow serpentine is great way to practice changing bend. It is easiest to get the full benefit at a trot, posting or sitting. Just remember to always change diagonals when you change bend. Starting at F make your first loop to X, changing from left bend to right bend. From the X loop to the M, changing bend from right to left. Continue from M to H and repeat on opposite side, H-X-K. From F go diagonally across arena to H and repeat from M-X-F and then from K-X-H. Go diagonally across arena from M-K.

Serpentine with Lope

Horse and Rider loping in circle.

Now that you’re all warmed up and have been practicing bend, it is time for some loping. These serpentine exercises are great for horses that have trouble taking a nice lead departure, have trouble taking their lead, or are rushed and anxious in the lope. Starting at F make your large serpentine pattern again going from F-E-M. At M take your left lead. Don’t worry if your horse doesn’t lope instantly, this exercise will help teach them to transition and lope calmly, eventually they will be able to lope off more promptly.

Lope one 20 m circle, or one circle at that end of the arena, and transition back to trot around M, continuing your serpentine at H. Loop from H-B-K. At K take your left lead once more and lope another circle. Transition back to trot around K, and go diagonally across arena from F-H. At M start serpentine pattern again M-E-F. At F transition to lope on right lead, lope on circle and transition back to trot around F. Loop from K-B-H. H transition lope right lead and lope one circle. Transition back to trot and go diagonally across arena from M-K.

Shallow serpentine with Counter Trot and Canter

This serpentine exercise will help the rushy horse and help create bend and better steering. Do this exercise at a trot, until the lope cue. Starting at F begin your shallow serpentine changing bend to X. At X stay on right bend and loop to M. At M go onto 10 m counter trot circle and before you get back to M, leg yield to the rail. You should still have your right bend and once you get to the rail, or just before, transition into lope and lope down to F. You can continue to lope a 20 m circle and then stop, or you can stop and rest, then go to the other side of the arena and repeat the exercise again. At K loop to X changing into left bend. At X do not change bend and loop to H. H 10 m circle counter trot, leg yield back to the rail and transition into lope.

Serpentine Exercise Example Pictures

Serpentine Exercise Example Pictures

4 loop serpentine. Note: each loop is full not diagonal, and you should be changing bend on the X line down the center.
Shallow loop serpentine.
20m and 10m Circles.
Mounting Solutions

Mounting Solutions

Person mounting horse

It might not seem like a big deal, but having your horse stand still and wait is extremely important, especially while you are mounting. If every time you are half mounted they walk off, even if you stop them when you’re half mounted, it can lead to a bigger problem like an eventual runaway.

Before you try and mount make sure your horse’s feet are square, that way you know they can bear the weight of you and aren’t moving because they are unbalanced. To get their feet square grab the horn and cantle on your saddle and pull back and forth, swaying the horse’s weight side to side. That will get them to balance their feet and distribute their weight evenly

One way to teach your horse to stand still while mounting is to use counter conditioning, this method works if you are using a mounting block or the ground. If using a block just never stop standing on the block. If the horse moves while you are getting on, get back on the ground and get them in a trot circle around you. Have them trot a circle and then stop them roughly in the same spot they were in before. Try and mount again; if your horse moves again do the same thing but make it two circles. Continue to increase the amount of circles by one every time the horse moves. Do you realize why this is counter conditioning? Because your horse is made to work and then rested while you get on, this makes mounting the reward.

Signs of Relaxation and Stress

Signs of Relaxation and Stress

This post will list and describe some some signs of relaxation and stress. It is important to know what signs to look for in our horses so we know when to take stimuli away if we are desensitizing them, or even just to know how they are feeling. Two, three or more of these signs of relaxation or stress are a good indication of how your horse is feeling.

Signs of Relaxation

Sign of relaxation


When your horse starts to relax they will start blinking repeatedly and their eyes will be soft and relaxed.

Yawning and Snorting

A relaxed horse will yawn; it is usually followed or started by the horse breathing out long and long making a snorting noise.

Low Head

Relaxed horses hold their head low. Depending on what breed your horse is their low head position may be higher or lower than other breeds of horses.

Soft Nostrils and Lips

Horse relaxed
This horse’s bottom lip is lower than it’s top, and it’s nostrils are relaxed and even.

A horse’s nostrils are usually wrinkle free while they are relaxed, there should be no tension in them and the tops of the nostrils should be even with each other. The horse’s lips should also be loose and wrinkle free, they should not be holding their mouth tight. When the lower lip is even, or overlapping the top lip, that means the horse is relaxed.

Licking and Chewing

When your horse starts chewing the air and licking his lips, he is beginning to relax.

Signs of Stress

High Head and Tense Eyes

A horse who is holding their head high is usually alert and stressed. Some breeds of horses may hold their head high compared to other breeds, keep that in mind while observing yours. The horse’s eyes may also be alert and tense, with some whites of the eye possibly showing.

Tense Nostrils

If the nostrils are tight, uneven or have wrinkles.

Sign of Stress
This horse has tense and wrinkly nostrils, a high head, and alert eyes.

Tense Lips

Tight wrinkly lips are a sure sign of stress. It may be hard to get your finger in the horse’s mouth due to the tightness, and their bottom lip may be farther back than the top.


A stressed horse may exhibit vices if they have any.

Horse related activities are inherently dangerous and caution should be used at all times.