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Basic Riding Patterns Part 2

Riding patterns are great for any discipline or skill level. Patterns teach horses to be more focused on their rider and teach the riders precise steering, speed control, and to have a plan for their ride.  


Serpentines are made up of a combination of straight lines and half circles. The most basic kind of serpentine consists of three loops around the arena. Add more loops as you get better at the exercise. This exercise can be ridden parallel to the long or short side of the arena. When riding a serpentine along the long side your turns will be sharper, and when riding the pattern parallel to the short side your loops will be bigger with gradual turns.

A serpentine pattern parallel to the short side of the arena.

To Ride a Serpentine:

  1. Start at a walk along the short end of your arena.
  2. Make a half circle to the left. Look up where you want to go.
  3. Use your turning aids to bend him around the half circle with your right outside leg slightly back behind the girth, your left inside leg at the girth, using left inside rein pressure to reinforce your seat and leg cues.
  4. Once you have completed your half circle, straighten your horse by looking ahead and bringing your outside, right leg forward beside the girth, with your hands and reins even.
  5. When you get to the center of the arena prepare for your next loop to the right by looking in the direction you want to go.
  6. Make your next half circle, and continue down the arena riding even loops until you get to the other side. Ride the pattern in both directions.
  7. After you and your horse understand the pattern, get the horse listening even better by turning him in the opposite direction that he it thinking about going. If you are making a turn to the left and you feel like the horse is falling in on the circle or anticipating the turn, start making a circle to the right and then continue the serpentine, or start making a serpentine to the right.
  8. You may not do an entire serpentine at first and that’s ok. Doing this exercise keeps the horse focused on you and teaches him to be straight. Every time he tries to turn you turn him in the opposite direction and eventually he will track straight and wait for your cue.

The trot is the best gait to practice serpentines in. It’s a great pattern to learn and work on posting diagonals, bending, and steering.  Riding serpentines at a canter is good for working on simple and flying lead changes as well.


The cloverleaf pattern is great for all horses because it’s easy to ride at any gait, as all the turns are in the same direction. It speeds up lazy horses through the straight lines of the pattern, and slows down hot horses through the turns.

cloverleaf pattern 1
A cloverleaf pattern to the left.

To Ride the Cloverleaf Pattern:

  1. Begin in the middle of your arena. Pick a direction to make your pattern; for example say you will be going to the left.
  2. Ask your horse to go forward looking up for your turn. Continue around your turn then straighten your horse, travel across the arena, and make your next turn to the left.
  3. Continue on the pattern in both directions.
  4. When you feel like your horse is listening to you, stop him in the middle of the arena. Stopping him here will teach him to stand quietly in the center when standing in the lineup at a show.
  5. When you both understand the pattern, start turning the horse in the opposite direction he wants to go, just as described above in the serpentine exercise but on the cloverleaf pattern.
  6. You probably won’t complete an entire pattern at first, but once the horse focuses on you he will easily guide anywhere you’d like.
  7. If there is a certain area of the arena that the horse doesn’t want to be in, such as a spooky corner. Always rest him or end your ride in that area, or as close to that area as you can get. Soon the horse will associate that certain place with rest and he will no longer avoid it. However, once the horse isn’t worried about that place stop resting him there. Instead stop him as far away from the gate or where ever it is he wants to be on each individual ride.