The three loop serpentine is a straightforward pattern that, to be ridden correctly, requires not just good riding but also the rider’s good understanding of dressage arena geometry.
The horse should be straight as they move from one half circle to the next. Riders should be aware of their own position and movement, as well as their horse’s, in order to make a smooth ride through the whole serpentine.
One of the reasons why we start with serpentine in the first place, is to teach the rider to change the aids to ride from the new inner leg to the new outer rein.Ruth Hogan Poulsen
Prefer to Listen? Hear Ruth Explain Riding Three Loop Serpentine
Uneven Loops in the Three Loop Serpentine
The first, and most common, fault that I see when watching people ride the serpentine is uneven size loops.
That’s pretty predictable because on the horse’s stiff side, they usually like to make a too small of a loop, and on the horse’s hollow side, they usually like to make too big of a loop.
So, the correction for this is that the rider really needs to clarify the exact layout of the lines and the spaces of the arena, and just by disciplining that line, the rider is going to be better in controlling the horses stiff side and weak side to make them more equilateral.
Planning Your Corners: Three Loop Serpentine
The second problem that I often see is that riders go deep into the corners in a serpentine.
You should go into the corner before you are at A or C starting your serpentine. But, there are no corners on a 20 m half circle or a 20 m circle at all.
So, you have to teach the importance of coming off the track and meeting your three loop serpentine, your four meters after the corner letter, which is where your circles would be shown.
Regular Practice of Three Loop Serpentine to Improve Coordination
The third problem is a coordination issue.
I see that the rider is just getting a little bit confused between left and right, or which direction they’re traveling and which direction they should be sitting and where the inner leg and the outer leg should go.
So, again, it’s a coordination issue. That is also one of the reasons why we start with serpentine is to teach the rider to change the aids to ride from the new inner leg to the new outer rein.
Rider’s Body Position in Three Loop Serpentine
So, to clarify where the rider’s body and position should be: the rider’s weight should be slightly more to the inside seat bone and sitting in the direction of travel.
If they’re on the right-hand side of the loop, their right seat bone will be slightly forward and sitting slightly to the inside.
- Inside Leg. As you’re traveling to the right, the inside leg will be at the girth, like a pole to the ground, which helps maintain the bend and the forward of your horse and pushing from the rib cage to your outside rein.
- Outside Leg. The outside leg should be slightly behind the girth as it’s the outside leg of opposition and should be helping you wrap the bend of the hind quarters around your inner leg. And, also be there to catch a hind quarter that might like to slip to the outside.
The inside leg connects the horse to the outside rein, but the outside rein is your supporting and balancing rein.
- Inside Rein. The inside rein’s only job is to ask for the positioning of the poll and to supple the jaw. So, we’re talking flexion and very little bend in the neck as the bend should come from the rib cage.
- Outside Rein. The outside rein’s job is to contain the degree of the bend, it’s to contain the line, it’s your steering rein. It’s also to help you keep the horse connected.
So, your outside rein at this point always has four jobs in the three loop serpentine: steering, containment to bend, speed control and roundness.
Your inside rein only has two jobs in the three loop serpentine: initiation of flexion and initiation of bend.
Impact of A Correctly Ridden Three Loop Serpentine
What is the impact of correctly riding a three loop serpentine?
- The horse becomes more supple from left to right and right to left
- The rider learns to change the direction of their weight where the inside leg goes, what the inside leg is doing and changing from the new inside leg to the new outside rein as you come across the center line in those moments of being parallel to the short side.
Remember, never ride a diagonal. Instead, ride moments of straightness where you’re changing the bend that your horse is traveling a moment straight across the center line as you’re changing from one circle to the other.
Riding a serpentine not only helps the horse become more supple from left to right and right to left, but it also teaches the rider to change the direction of their weight, where the inside leg goes, what the inside leg is doing and changing from the new inside leg to the new outside rein as they come across the center line in those moments of being parallel to the short side.Ruth Hogan Poulsen
Serpentines for All Dressage Levels
Serpentines are never ridden enough.
We ride serpentines a lot.
Depending on the level of the horse, we might increase the difficulty from the three loop serpentine by decreasing the size of the loops or changing the gait of the movement.
Ways to increase the difficulty of the serpentine in the large arena:
- Increasing from a three loop serpentine to a 4 or a 5 (or even a 6 loop serpentine in a large arena.)
- Changing gait from walk to the trot and the canter.
- Moving from simple changes through the trot or walk to flying changes over the center line when changing directions on your half circles in the canter serpentine.
I hope you find this helpful. Thank you for listening / reading.
Want to read more about serpentines? The U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) published this helpful guide: https://www.usdf.org/EduDocs/Training/Serpentines.pdf