Western Dressage Exercise – Looping to a Better Horse

Years ago I traveled to Germany to train with the late Egon von Neindorff.  Aside from the chance to percolate in a rich dressage tradition, I recall riding so many shallow serpentines that I could see them in my sleep. Our group lessons rode dozens and dozens of these loops while master Neindorff reminded us to check our position, bend the horse, maintain rhythm. We rode them dutifully and relentlessly, although it would be years before I figured out why we should be so committed to these simple patterns.

While simple only in shape but less so in execution, shallow serpentines are quite sophisticated in terms of what they test and offer the horse. To perform them accurately, a horse must be balanced and symmetrical enough to maintain his rhythm exactly, keep his topline rounded, and change lateral flexion smoothly. Many times I prefer shallow serpentines over more complicated figures with steeper turns or multiple arcs because they preserve the horse’s forward energy and therefore keep his hind legs under his body. Often they are the simplest way to create more symmetry or suppleness and, in my opinion, the simplest training techniques are generally the best. Especially when a horse needs to overcome crookedness or stiffness, shallow serpentines are a fluid way to increase symmetry because they don’t require direction changes. This gets accomplished by alternating which of his hind legs is bearing more weight and by bending his spine back and forth.

This pattern can be ridden in walk, jog, and lope. Key points to bear in mind: ride an unchanging rhythm, be sure to clearly change bend when called for, prepare for and execute turns smoothly enough that the horse doesn’t raise his neck.

Western Dressage Exercise - Shallow SerpentineShallow Loops

  1. Begin in working walk or jog traveling right, clockwise.
  2. Ride a deep corner after A.
  3. As your horse’s nose passes K, bend right and peel off the track as if you were crossing the diagonal.
  4. When you reach the quarter line, straighten the horse for 2 strides…
  5. …then, immediately bend left and ride towards H.
  6. Intersect the track directly at H and then ride a deep corner between H and C.
  7. Repeat frequently and in both directions.


A.) Increase the arc of your loop so that you ride to X before turning back towards the rail.

B) Ride in the lope. When doing this, be sure to maintain your inside canter lead throughout entire loop and horse should remain flexed in the direction of his lead. Therefore, you do NOT change bend back and forth as you do when riding in the walk and jog.



Western Dressage Weekly Exercise – authored by Jec Ballou | Copyright © 2012


3 Responses to “Western Dressage Exercise – Looping to a Better Horse

  • jill cole
    5 years ago

    I don’t understand, and I NEED to as I am showing Basic #3 next week end. The loop goes through X, but is the same basic move. What I don’t understand is : coming out of K, heading for X, am I riding the horse straight….OR am I still on the right bend…OR do I get a left bend started even before I straighten at X for 2 strides. After that I think I understand. I would left bend out of X and right bend into the corner by H.

    I don’t know if we will end up in the small ring or the large one. If it is the small one the line to X is shorter and bends will need to be more extreme. And if I am not right it will show even more.

    • Jec Ballou
      5 years ago

      Hi there,

      In the instance of lope, as opposed to walk or jog, the horse should remain bent in the direction of his leading leg for the ENTIRE LOOP. This throws many riders off! In the pattern above for instance, if you were loping, the horse’s head/neck should remain positioned/flexed to the right throughout the whole loop. Keep in mind that this is only a slight bend throughout his body and you should not overdo it. But you do NOT change his bend to the left while you are loping on the right lead, even if your loop pattern moves that direction.

      Good luck!

      • j cole
        5 years ago

        in Basic 3 I am just jogging the loop. We will be in the larger 20×60 arena. have decided to come out of the corner bend and ride toward X without much bend or anything. Just ride like a “normal” person.

        Basic 3 is right at the upper limit of my ability, but we did very well at Intro, and I showed Basic 1, and didn’t like Basic 2. Thought I’d step up to Basic 3 and give it a try.
        I must say, I am grateful to have found Western Dressage. It’s a great chance for me and the little horse to learn and do something together.