Tag: horse

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.

Are You on the Correct Diagonal?

Are You on the Correct Diagonal?

It can be hard to know whether you are on the correct diagonal when you first start riding. It’s important to know the footfall of the horse so you know exactly which diagonal is moving when. When you are on the correct diagonal you are posting when the outside front leg and inside hind leg are on the ground. If you can’t feel when you should be posting then look down, you should be posting when the outside shoulder is moving forward and sitting when it is back. If you are on the left rein then you should be on the right diagonal. If you are on the right rein then you should be on the left diagonal.

Horse trotting diagonal.
This horse is on the right diagonal, the rider would be standing now.

It may help to get into the rhythm of saying “up” when the shoulder moves forward, that way you don’t have to constantly look down, you can just post when you say “up.” Eventually you will feel the horse’s movements and you won’t have to even think about when you should be posting.

When you want to change directions then you have to change diagonals too. All you have to do is sit for two beats then start posting again. When I say two beats I mean two strides of the horse’s gait. If you have the pattern of saying “up” then replace two “ups” with counting (“one, two”) instead, and then continue saying “up” in the same rhythm.

Bridling Solutions

Bridling Solutions


Bridling is a problem that a lot of horses have. Maybe they throw their head up to avoid the bit, back up, or block you. Sometimes it’s because they are head shy, meaning they don’t want to be touched on the head or face for a number of reasons. In a case like that you will want to desensitize your horse so they are comfortable with you handling their entire head and mouth, use approach and retreat to get this response. For example, if you can rub your horse’s neck by his cheek, start rubbing him there. Then slowly rub up to his cheek, and if he tries to get away, stick with him until he relaxes then rub his neck again.

Once the horse is fine with you touching their head and the outside of their mouth, they must then accept you handling the inside of their mouth. Put the tip of your finger in the corner of the horse’s mouth; they will most likely want to work their mouth which is normal, just let them get to a spot where they relax their mouth and lips and then release them. Eventually you should be able to manipulate the horse’s mouth and stick your fingers in their mouth without any resistance. This will help them to be comfortable with the bit when you put it in their mouth.

If your horse backs up while you go to bridle you need to change their mind, meaning that just before they begin to back up lead them one or two steps forward. It might take a couple of times but your horse will stand still while bridling.

One more important step is to have your horse in the correct position for bridling. You want their head low enough to see the top of their poll and their head slightly turned into you. Your horse must hold their head there until you are finished bridling; while teaching them this position if they move just put them back in the position and continue to bridle. Do not bridle them unless they are in the position, otherwise they will not learn to hold themselves there.

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