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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!

Before you can understand what a Musical Freestyle or Musical Kur (from German kur meaning “freestyle”) is, you must understand what Dressage is.

The word Dressage comes from the French word dresser, to train. To the untrained eye it looks easy but like many equestrian sports it is anything but. Dressage teaches the horse to be obedient, willing, supple, and responsive. The object of dressage is to achieve the harmonious development of the horse in both mind and body.  The graceful movements performed in competition may look effortless, but are the result of years of training.  The highlight of a ridden dressage competition is the Musical Freestyle or Musical Kur.

Musical Freestyle or Musical Kur is when dressage movements or paces are set to music to create a competitive “dance” whereby giving the impression that the horse is dancing to the music. Movements and figures are choreographed to meet the technical requirements of the particular level with carefully chosen music that highlights the horse that is being driven. The freestyle is a creative expression of the relationship between the horse, the driver, and the music.

The different gaits that you will see used in a driven Musical Freestyle or Musical Kur are:

Working Walk-the horse walks energetically, but calmly, with evenly spaced steps.

Lengthened Walk-this is a more ground covering walk and the horse is allowed to stretch out his frame and cover more ground with each stride.

Collected Walk-here the horse becomes more compressed and the balance is shifted to the hind quarter for more impulsion.

Working Trot-a regular and unconstrained trot in which the horse shows proper balance and remains on the bit with even elastic steps.  Your horse should sound like a metronome.

Extended Trot-the horse lengthens his stride to cover as much ground as possible showing greater impulsion from the hindquarters without speeding his steps up.

Collected Trot-the horse becomes more compressed while showing more impulsion and engagement while trotting.  You will see the horse’s neck and head raise higher and his center of balance will be shifted to the rear.  The horse’s steps become shorter and elevated giving the appearance that he is moving slower but he is actually covering the same amount of ground at the same speed.

Depending on the level that your horse is driving at, will guide you in picking the moves that you can do in your Kur at that level.  For example, at training level your Kur should include working walk, free walk, working trot and a 40 m circle.  As you go up in levels then more movements are required, whereby you will include some or all of the above listed movements as well as smaller circles and half circles, serpentine’s and deviations of various sizes along with some cantering in circles.

There are three sections that you are scored on.  First, your technical scores (total of 60 points) for how you execute the gaits, walk, trot, canter and lengthening.  Second, your movement scores (total of 40 points) for accuracy of circles or half circles, consistency of your serpentine’s and the final halt and salute at the end of the test.  Third, is the artistic scores (total of 100 points) for rhythm, energy, and elasticity, which includes impulse and relaxation. The harmony between the horse and you the driver.  The choreography, use of the arena, and inventiveness (phrasing of the music and movements into a cohesive pattern).  Degree of difficulty for the level that you are driving, and the choice of music and your interpretation of it throughout the test.

Now that you know what it’s all about how do you put it all together.  There are several ways of doing this:

1) Pick your music first and let it guide you as to what gaits and movements you need to do at certain places in the music.

2) Diagram your movements first using a scale layout of an arena   and put a movement in each diagram.  This will look somewhat like a                                traditional dressage test.

3) Connect the music to the movement that will fit it. A dramatic movement has a greater impact when the music crescendos’ and is best when                    prior movements are less compelling before and after it.

4) First design the choreography or movements, then find the music that will go with it. In this method one is able to fit several songs or pieces                    together to enhance the Kur.

This method is the way that I have always put my Freestyle together.  I think a lot depends on the individual and how you process things in your brain. No one way is better than the other, so choose the way that works best for you.

Probably the hardest thing to do is to pick music to use in your routine.  This might sound easy, but it’s not. First, you need to have someone video you while you are driving your horse.  They need to video the horses legs and feet so that you can count the number of foot falls in a fifteen second length of time.  If you put a colored polo wrap on one front leg, it will make the counting easier.  You will need to do this in all of the gaits (walk, trot, canter, as well as collected and lengthened).  Every time the front leg

touches the ground that is considered one “beat”.  Once you have done this for all gaits, you will then have the beats per minutes (bpm) you will need to pick your music.

The easiest thing to do now is to go to www.equimusic.com and put the bpm into their search option and it will give you music that matches your horses gait.  For example, when you put in 84 bpm for a walk you get a list of many songs that will fit that movement.  You are also able to see other songs by the same musician.  Then if you want to listen to the piece of music, just go to www.youtube and type in the title.

Once you have your routine down and your music picked out and pieced together, then go hitch up your horse and start practicing.  Sure along the way you might find that you will need to add or subtract some movement or bit of music to make it all fit.  But, of course this is the fun of doing a Musical Freestyle, and when you have it down perfect, start showing it to your family and friends and then, maybe do it at an event as a demonstration or even a driving competition.  The oneness that you obtain with your horse when doing this is as much fun for the horse as it is for the driver.  There is something about the music that really enhances the experience that you share with the public.

Spragues Orion Royale Herbie or Snoopy as he is called around the barn is an AMHA & AMHR (American Miniature Horse) gelding that stands 31″ tall.  I purchased Spragues Orion Royale Herbie as a foal and have had him his whole life. I guess you can call him the patriarch of the ranch as he turned 21 this year.  One would think that these little ones would not be good for much, but don’t let their size deceive you.  They are a very versatile breed.  I started showing Snoopy in hand when he was two years old.  He always placed in the top five in his classes. By the time he was three he was driving and he proved to be very good at it.

Over the years he has won many Pleasure Driving Classes as well as Obstacle Driving classes. When Spragues Orion Royale Herbie was four he did his first CDE (Combined Driving Event) with his then partner Sedona.  I drove this pair for five years and then finally in 2007 the American Driving Society  recognized Miniature Horses in Combined Driving. Spragues Orion Royale Herbieis very versatile, he is my lead horse in pairs, tandem and four-in-hand.  When his other team mates didn’t want to go something (like through water) all I have to do is tell him to go and if he had to he would pull the rest through.

Spragues Orion Royale Herbie was my driving horse in a Miniature Horse Drill Team for many years, doing parades and driving demonstrations.

I still drive Snoopy but now just for the fun of it.  His favorite thing to do now is as a therapy horse visiting nursing homes and children’s library programs here in the Prescott area.

Accomplishments:

Stared in The Nutcracker put on by the Prescott High School, at the Ruth Street Theater (2002)

Featured in the Miniature Horse World Magazine August/September 2007

Performed in the Mini Sensations drill team at the 2002 Equifest, Prescott

Show Career from 1996-present, he has won many 1st places in CDE’s and Show Ring Driving

Event Date Horse Place Level
Old Pueblo CDE, Tucson, AZ Dec. 2004 Snoopy 4th Prelim
SSC HDT May. 2001 Snoopy & Sedona 2nd Prelim
Arizona CDE, Coolidge, AZ Mar. 2001 Snoopy & Sedona 2nd Prelim
Pegasus CDE, Utah Jul. 2000 Snoopy & Sedona 1st Training
Arizona CDE, Coolidge, AZ Jun. 2000 Sedona & Snoopy 1st Training
Old Pueblo CDE, Tucson, AZ Mar. 2000 Sedona & Snoopy 1st Training
ADCS Mini’s CDE Jan. 2000 Snoopy & Sedona 1st Prelim
Old Pueblo CDE, Tucson, AZ Nov. 1999 Snoopy & Sedona 1st Prelim
California Classic CDE, Rollings Hills, CA Nov. 1999 Sedona & Snoopy 1st Training
Arizona CDE, Coolidge, AZ Mar. 1999 Snoopy & Sedona 4th Training

 

Daniel Dawson was an American Morgan Horse and  my Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) horse. I  competed in New Jersey at the last qualifying competition for the Show Ring Driving team that would go to the World Singles Championship in Italy in 2006. Daniel Dawson and I did not make the team but we were in the top 16 drivers in the United States.

Daniel Dawson and I over the course of six years competed at thirty- two events across the United States. We went as far north as Washington and as far east as New Jersey.  We traveled across the United States twice while trying for the 2006 World Singles Team. Daniel Dawson spent his last couple of years in retirement at a beautiful facility in the La Sal mountains in Colorado.

Accomplishments:

1995 MOTHER LODE ALL MORGAN SHOW – 1ST, 2ND

1996 GRAND NATIONALS – 3RD, 10TH    Top Ten in Country

1996 TULSA MORGAN EXTRAVAGANZA – 1ST, 1ST, 3RD

1997 GRAND NATIONALS – 10TH, 10TH  Top Ten in Country

1997 OKLAHOMA STATE FAIR MORGAN/ARABIAN–3RD, 6 – 1ST places, 2ND,3RD, 2ND, 1ST, 1ST

1998 GRAND NATIONALS – 8TH  Top Ten in Country

1998 WHEAT STATE – 3RD, 3RD

1999 GRAND NATIONAL & WORLD CHAMPION – 10TH  Top Ten in Country

1999 CIRCLE J MORGAN HORSE SHOW – 4TH, 4TH, 4TH,

1999 WHEAT STATE – 2ND, 2ND, 3RD, 4TH

1999 OKLAHOMA CENTENNIAL – 2ND, 2ND, 3RD, 3RD, 3RD

1999 TULSA SUMMER CLASSIC – 1ST, 2ND, 4TH

2000 OKLAHOMA CENTENNIAL HORSE – 1ST, 2ND

2002 ARIZONA CDE, COOLIDGE – 10TH

2002 RAM TAP CDE, FRESNO CA – 4TH

2002 CAL WEST CDE, DEL MAR CA – 8TH

2002 PEGASUS CDE, TOOELE UT – 5TH

2002 HIGH PRAIRIE FARMS CDE, PARKER CO – 6TH

2002 OLD PUEBLO CDE, TUCSON AZ – 4TH  

2002 YEAR END MORGAN  CARRIAGE DIVISION HI POINTS STANDING – 18TH IN THE US

10/2002 ADCS ADT – 2ND

1/2003 ADCS ADT – 1ST

4/2003 RAM TAP CDE, FRESNO CA – 4TH

5/2003 ADCS ADT – 4TH

9/2003 ADCS ADT – 2ND

10/2003 CALIFORNIA CLASSIC, ROLLING HILLS CA – 6th\\TH

11/2003 OLD PUEBLO CDE, TUCSON AZ – 3RD

1/2004 ADCS ADT – 2ND

3/2004 ARIZONA CDE, COOLIDGE AZ – 1ST

4/2004 RAM TAP CDE, FRESNO CA– 5TH

5/2004 ADCS ADT – 3RD

6/2004 TRINITY CDE, HAYFORK CA – 1ST

6/2004 HAPPS CDE, ETHEL WA – 2ND

8/2004 USEF SINGLES CHAMPIONSHIP – RESERVE CHAMPION, PARKER CO

10/2004 CALIFORNIA CLASSIC, LODI CA – 5TH

3/2005 ARIZONA CDE, COOLIDGE AZ – 6TH

5/2005 ADCS ADT – 2ND

8/2005 PARKER CDE, PARKER CO – 3RD

9/2005 LAURELS CDE, WEST GROVE PA – 14TH

9/2005 GLADSTONE CDE, GLADSTONE NJ – 13TH

10/2005 OAK HILL CDE, LEXINGTON VA – 7TH

12/2005 OLD PUEBLO CDE, TUCSON AZ – 2ND

5/2006 GARDEN STATE CDE, ALLENTOWN NJ – 22ND

5/2007 ADCS ADT – 1ST

6/2007 TRINITY CDE, HAYFORK CA – 4TH

6/2007 HAPPS CDE, ETHEL WA – 3RD

Daniel Dawson

6/30/1992 – 6/23/2013

Sire: Oak Creek Noble King

Dam: Rosalie Dawson

Bred by Old Dawson Ranch, Santa Rosa, CA

When Daniel came to us in December 2001 he was already a champion in the show ring.  He was shown by his previous owners in driving classes as well as English pleasure and park saddle.  He went to the Morgan National where he placed in the top ten in driving in 1996, 97 and 98.  In 1999 at the Grand National & World Championships he placed in the top ten in English Pleasure Amateur Gelding.

At Davis Ranch his career would change to Combined Driving which he seemed to really enjoy. After several months of training we took him to his first CDE in Coolidge Arizona.  Over the next couple of years we traveled and competed all over the western states.  Then in May 2003 Daniel was confronted with a bout of colic which required surgery to untwist  his colon.

He made it through  and by October we were back on the road again.

2004 turned out to be a banner year for Daniel and a real turning point in his Combined Driving career. By August we were traveling to Parker Colorado for the US Singles Championship in Combined Driving.  This was the first time that they were being held west of the Mississippi river.  I figured why not just go for it so we did.  And Daniel with his can do attitude did the show of his career and placed Reserved Champion.  Considering colic surgery just a year earlier this was quite a testimony to him.

By the end of 2004 we found ourselves on the long list for the 2006 World Singles Championships that would be held in Italy.  Being this was a chance of ones lifetime we spent August through September on the East coast at the trial events for team selection.

The last selection event would be in New Jersey in May of 2006 so back across the US we traveled. The event went well but there were many top drivers there.  When all was said and done politics chose what teams would be going and we were not one of them.  But that was ok because Daniel gave his whole heart and soul into trying.

That following August Daniel had another bout of colic and had to undergo surgery again for a twisted colon.  By mid 2007 Daniel was back to driving and we tried two more events but unfortunately this second surgery was the end to him competing.  He no longer had the stamina for the marathon portion of Combined Driving.

We kept Daniel here at our ranch here in Prescott, Arizona until  February of 2010 at which time we found a retirement ranch in LaSal Colorado where he could walk around twenty-four hours a day with other retired performance horses.  Daniel lived out the rest of his days there.

Daniel will be remembered for all that he had done for his prior owners and especially what he has done for me.  Daniel loved to work especially when it involved driving and he always gave it everything he had.  He will always be in our hearts.