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Serpentines, Part II

Published: 10/21/2015
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Editor's Note: Amy Skinner is a regular guest columnist and a horse gal since age six. She runs Essence Horsemanship, rides and teaches English and Western. Skinner has studied at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Spain, with Buck Brannaman, and many others.

Read more about Amy here.

Read more Journals & Journeys here

By Amy Skinner

Read Part I

After some thought and experimentation, here is a list of aids in order I find the most helpful for producing a horse that is light in the hand and to the leg. I often ride my horses one handed while I pony another horse, or carry something while I ride, and I've found better success with this at keeping a horse not just turning, but staying correct through a turn, with one hand or no hands.

1- Walk horse forward on a straight line. Rider's hips, shoulders, and toes are even and facing forward. Weight is even in the saddle on both sides, and rider looks forward with a following feel in the hips.

2 – Curved line to the right – initiating the turn: Rider slides left seatbone forward while turning shoulders evenly to the right, looking right, and opening inside leg a bit. The left seatbone helps the horse bring his outside shoulder to the right, the rider's shoulders initiate the turn, and the inside leg opening helps the horse to bring his body into that space. Make sure your ribcage is lifted off the hips and you are looking in the direction of your turn.

3- Curved line to the right – completing the turn: Rider continues all the aids as mentioned before, but as the curve is coming onto the second half, rider slides the tailbone over to the left. When the right hind is getting ready to step up and under, the tailbone moving to the left helps the horse bring his hips over to set him up for a straight line, pushing off his hind end and keeping his shoulders light.

4- Straight line – see step #1

5- Curved line to the left – initiating the turn: Rider slides right seatbone forward while turning shoulders evenly to the left. Rider looks up and opens inside leg a little. Make sure your shoulders are not dropped one direction or the other and the weight in your stirrups is even. Having someone help on the ground can be very valuable.

6- Curved line to the left – completing the turn: Rider takes tailbone to the right as horse's left hind is coming up under him. With the haunches underneath him, rider then takes hips straight and looks forward to keep the horse moving straight, not falling on one shoulder or the other.

Some pitfalls to watch out for, illustrated by bottom two photos.


Shoving with the seat : many riders as they experiment with using their seatbones to send a horse forward, sideways, or around a turn try to use them in a “shoving” motion. This blocks the horse further. Try to keep the hips and legs relaxed, but think of sliding the seatbones as if on a wheel, smooth and slow.
Crookedness through the body/Trouble moving the hips without the shoulders coming forward, or trouble isolating different body parts: Many riders find it hard to move their hips independantly of their torsos. Practice standing in “rider position” with toes hip width apart and knees slightly bent in front of a mirror. Practice isolating your rib cage, moving it side to side without your shoulders moving, practice moving your hips back and forward and side to side without your shoulders or rib cage moving, and practice moving your shoulders and rib cage together side to side without your shoulders dropping, like a barber pole. All these movements should be done slowly and smoothly, and with great care to stay in alignment.
Horse not turning or staying straight – always feel free to come in and help the horse with a rein or leg aid, or both. Do whatever it takes to help the horse understand your meaning, but offer the “featherlight deal” everyone talks about with your seat.




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