Driving a serpentine, what is it and how do you drive it properly?  No, I am not talking about those wily creatures that crawl on the ground and generally scare most of us.  This serpentine is the one that is in a driven dressage test from preliminary through advanced.

Don’t go thinking all serpentines are the same, they are not:

Three loop serpentine that is done in the 40m x 80m arena.

Shallow three loop/quarter line serpentine in the 40m x 80m arena.

Four loop in the 40m x 80m arena.

Four loop with two quarter line loops and two side line loops in the 40m x 80m arena.

Five loop in the 40m x 100m arena.

With this many variations, it can be daunting at times to figure out how to properly drive each one.

The American Driving Society gives this short description of what the judge is looking for.

Serpentine: This is a series of half-circles from one side of the arena   to the other, connected by straight lines.  Starting and finishing by driving into the corners is incorrect. The number of loops is prescribed in the tests. Quality of the trot and figure along with a consistent rhythm and suppleness is your objective.

So, all this tells you is that at the beginning and end of the serpentine, you are not to drive into the corners.

The first thing you need to do when you are looking at the serpentine on a test is a little bit of math:

  •           Three loops in an eighty meter arena (80 divided by 3 = 26.7 meters)
  •           Four loops in an eighty meter arena (80 divided by 4 = 20 meters)
  •           Five loops in a hundred meter arena (100 divided by 5 = 20 meters)

Bottom line is, that four and five loop serpentines are 20 meter half circles and three loop serpentines are 26.7 meters or one third the length of the arena.

Example of a three loop serpentine found in a dressage test for Combined Driving

When you are driving a serpentine with the three loops you will start your curve at the quarter line.  Remember, you are not driving into the corner, as this is a half circle not a square. You need to aim at a point along the length of the arena between the first corner and the center (E), this will be where you will start curving back around and crossing the arena to the opposite side. You should finish your first loop by the time you reach the quarter line, where you will drive straight until you hit the quarter line on the opposite side of the arena.  Once there, you will start your next loop going towards (B) for the first half of the second loop. To finish this loop, you will curve aiming for a point half way between (E) and the corner past (K).  Again, when you get to the quarter line, you will be going straight until the quarter line on the other side, at which time you will start your third loop. When you get to that point between (E) and the corner, remember that you need to finish this third loop, so you will be aiming at the quarter line between and not driving into the corner.  You should hit the quarter line at the rail before letter (A).

What I do with the three loop serpentine, as I walk the arena at a Combined Driving Event.  I will hunt for a focal point where that 26.7 meter or 1/3 down the arena would be for all three loops. The center loops center, should fall at letter (B or E).   This will give you focal points outside of the arena, because hunting for the 1/3 point on white boards or chain is impossible.

All of the preliminary serpentines start at (C), the intermediate has three that start at (A) and four that start at (C). This gives the driver who is not familiar with the serpentine a chance to really practice with all of the serpentines at preliminary level, starting at the same place.

The preliminary test (4) is the shallow serpentine. You will start your first loop as you get to (C) and you will track your circle to the quarter line for all three loops. The biggest difference is that you will probably only have one stride of straight between loops depending on the size of your horse and carriage.

The intermediate test (3) has two loops that go to the sideline and two that go to the quarter line. This is a four loop sequence, so they are twenty meter loops. The first loop starts at (A) and goes to the sideline, so you will start your curve at the quarter line.  The two center loops will only go to the quarter line and the fourth loop goes to the side line.  This is probably the hardest one to do, as one has a tendency to make the two middle loops too deep.  The center of your second loop, at the straight stride point, into the next loop, should go right over (X). This is very easy for the judge to see, so it needs to be right on!

Now, that you know how to drive the serpentine, you need to teach your horse to do it correctly.  Most horses have a tendency to slow down as you go into the curve of the loop, but you need to keep them moving forward at the constant pace.  The judge is looking for a constant rhythm, like a metronome, while still showing suppleness as you go in and out of the loops.

The judge is also looking for uniform loop size throughout the entire sequence.

Remember when you are driving a serpentine you are being judged from the first step into the serpentine until you leave the serpentine at the other end of the arena.  The serpentine is probably the longest movement that you do, in any test, for that possible ten points!

The Festival of Driving with Shrimp Scampi started with our arrival at Dale Creek Equestrian Center on Friday March ninth. I found our parking space and a stall for Scampi and got her settled in for the weekend. As the afternoon went on more and more competitors arrived and by nightfall the grounds were pretty full.

With the arrival of dawn I was up feeding Scampi and figuring out my approximate time of my first class.  Being that it had been four years since I had shown Scampi, that she was now nineteen and she was diagnosed with PPID last year, I picked the classes that would be the best for her.  We had scheduled four classes for Saturday and four classes for Sunday as not to over stress her.

Four of the classes were arena, there was a super reinsmanship class and the other three were cones classes.  Now Scampi has always loved cones so I figured that she would do the best in those classes.

Of the three arena classes on Saturday morning of The Festival of Driving we placed a fourth and a fifth.  I had some time after the morning classes to have lunch and Scampi was able to have a rest before the first cones course in the afternoon.  The course was called Reverse Psychology.  The horse and driver drives the course of ten cones in order with red on your right, then once you go through the number ten set of cones you turn around and go through the set starting with ten down to one with white on your right.  It sounds easy but the driver has to rethink the red on right to white on right, and for as driver who has done a lot of cones courses it is a lot to rethink.  As it turned out my memory was working well and we ran the course in the second fastest time.

The second day of The Festival of Driving with Shrimp Scampi was met with damp ground from some overnight showers.  As the sun rose the day turned bright and sunny.

Our first arena class of the morning was the Red Hat class and there were a lot of red hats to be seen.  We pulled it off and took first place!

Then it was on to the Super Reinsmanship class where we drove the pattern that we had practiced at home ahead of time.  It was a fun class and we placed third in the pony division.

After a break for all involved for lunch, I was looking forward to the two cones classes coming up.  The first class was Fault and Out, where you keep running through the ten sets of cones until the whistle for times up is blown. I don’t think any made it further than set one after the first time through.  We pulled out a second place so I was pleased.

Out last cones class of the day was Your Route/My Route.  You first drive the ten sets of cones as set and then you drive them in any order or direction that you want a second time for a total of twenty sets of cones.  I think Scampi put it on full throttle and we won the class with a time of 02:45:62!