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.
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!