Western Dressage Exercise – Serpentine Three Ways

Serpentine Three Ways

Blending arena figures together allows us to shape our horses’ bodies under us. Whether we want more bend or impulsion or roundness, we should remember that well ridden figures are our sharpest tools. By well ridden, I mean accurate and rhythmic. More often than not, riders end up with vaguely defined figures: wobbly circles, wandering turns, and so on. The downside of this, aside from being unclear to the horse, is that the rider loses communication with the horse’s hind legs and the horse adopts poor alignment, usually getting crooked in the direction of his dominant side since horses are as naturally crooked as their human partners.

My solution has always been for riders to practice figures that force them to pay attention to this. The following is an excellent tool to coordinate a rider’s aids. It requires making subtle but clear shifts in geometry that bring more control and engagement to the horse’s hind legs. When this happens, other delightful things start happening such as collection, self-carriage, and lightness.  Practice alternating between the following figures during a session.

3 Ways to Serpentine

Western Dressage Exercise 3 loop serpentineA.      3- Loop Serpentines

  1. Begin in working walk or jog, tracking right.
  2. At A, begin a 3-loop serpentine. (for an accurate 3-loop serpentine, you ride three 20-meter half circles connected together).  Be sure to touch the rail at the apex of each loop. If you are not reaching the sides of the arena, your loops are too small.
  3. Be sure to change flexion/bend through your horse’s entire poll and spine each time you start a new loop; do not just turn and drift in the new direction.
  4. All three loops should be EQUAL size and shape. Arrive at the end of your serpentine with the SAME rhythm that you started in.

Western Dressage Exercise square serpentine B.      Square Serpentine

(image only shows how to make your corners, does not necessarily follow the instructions below)

  1. Ride the above pattern again, except in the place of rounded loops, make box turns across the arena.
  2. Begin at A in working jog traveling right.
  3. Between K and E, ride a square turn to the right.
  4. Proceed straight across the arena to the opposite rail.
  5. Turn left and ride straight down the rail.
  6. Half way between B and M, ride a square turn left and again ride straight across the arena.
  7. At the opposite rail, turn right and proceed along the rail.

 Western Dressage Exercise 5 loop serpentineC.      5-Loop Serpentines

  1. Again begin at A in a working walk or jog, tracking right.
  2. Begin a 5-loop serpentine. If you are in a standard large dressage arena, this means each loop will be like riding half of a 12-meter circle…
  3. … then proceed straight for 2-3 strides while you change your horse’s bend. Then begin a new 12-meter half circle the new direction.
  4. Carry on like this until you arrive at the end of the arena at C, having ridden 5 equal sized loops.
  5. Be sure that each loop touches the track of the arena.


Remember to support your horse with your outside leg during each turn or loop. Many riders struggle to create an adequate bend with their horses due to not getting their own outside leg far enough back and against the horse during the moment of the turn. Think of your outside leg like a guardrail. It keeps the horse’s haunches aligned, maintains his momentum and defines the amount of bend or sharpness of turn you want.


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


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