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Riding Circles

How to ride Corners, Circles and Serpentines

By Walter Berger © 2002

This article does not go into the finer points of dressage with regards to flexion, bend, impulsion or half halts. Rather it is just trying to help the rider to identify the points in the dressage arena that should be ridden to for Circles, Serpentines and Corners. This article was written originally for the Horse Riding Clubs Association Victoria (HRCAV) based in Australia, but the principles remain the same regardless of where or at what Level you are riding.

The most important thought to start with is that you need to plan where you are going to ride. It will not work if you get to a marker and suddenly expect the horse to execute a perfect circle.  So you need to know at what point you will start the turn and where you are going to turn to. Again, how you are going to convey that information to the horse I will put under the category of “finer points of dressage” and won’t discuss here.

  Most turns are based on twenty, fifteen or ten meter circles or parts thereof. For instance a turn up the center line will usually be half a ten meter circle, a three loop serpentine will be a series of three half ten meter circles joined together. A corner will be a quarter of a circle of either the 20 meters for HRCAV Level 5, 15 meters for HRCAV Level 4, 10 meters for HRCAV Level 3 and 2, and 8 meters for HRCAV Level 1 and Advanced. Even a whole circle comprises four quarters of a circle, and should be ridden as such. The next quarter should always be planned before you finish the current one that you are riding.

This theme continues up to a four loop serpentines, where you end up riding a series of fifteen meter quarter circles joined by five meter straight sections as you cross the center line.

The big thing is practice makes perfect, so keep on practising each size of turn as you go so you understand the concept and develop an eye for distances and sizes. All this practice should also help the communication between you and your horse.

 The next thing you need to be aware of is the size of the arena you are riding in and the positions of the markers. Most tests are ridden in a 20 x 60-meter arena, whereas there are some tests that are ridden in a 20 x 40-meter arena.

When you compare the two arenas you will notice the spacing between the markers varies. The forty-meter arena has 14 meters between markers, and the sixty-meter arena has 12 meters between them. This makes a big difference when using the markers to guide you while riding.

In a forty meter arena most turns and corners are based on the 20-meter circle. Serpentines aren’t ridden, and the only tighter turn is turning up the center line, which can only be ridden as a half 10-meter circle.

Corners and turns up the Center Line

All dressage tests have corners and turns up the centerline. All corners are a quarter of a circle, the diameter of which varies from 20 meters for HRCAV Level 5, 15 meters for HRCAV Level 4, 10 meters for HRCAV Level 3 and 2, and 8 meters for HRCAV Level 1 and Advanced. The red lettering indicates arena sizes.

20 Meter Corner

The most basic turn. It really is half a 20-meter circle. So the way it would be ridden at the end of the arena is over two quarters, starting the turn 4 meters before the last marker on the long side. The next point is either A or C, with the final point being the point on the long side 4 meters past the first marker

15 Meter Corner

This turn is slightly more complex as you don’t get the luxury of starting or finishing turns on markers. If approaching the short side on the left rein you would start making the turn 1.5 meters from M and finish the turn 2.5 meters before C, or 7.5 meters from the long side. Another way of thinking of where the finish point should be is to divide the 10 meters before C into quarters. So the point on the short side to aim for for the finish is three quarters from the long side. All this means that you have a 5-meter straight section before you start to turn again.

10 Meter Corner – Turns up the Center Line

This turn is the size turn you need to make when turning up the centerline regardless of what level you ride at. If approaching the short side on the left rein you would start making the turn 1 meter past M and finish the turn 5 meters before C, or halfway between the long side and C.  This means that you have a 10-meter straight section before you start to turn again. Unless of course you are turning up the center line, in which case you would just ride another quarter 10 meter circle, the end of which is 1 meter before the M – H line on the center line. 

8 Meter Corner

This is a fairly tight turn for which you would need a well-balanced horse in order to execute it well. If approaching the short side on the left rein you would start making the turn 2 meter past M, or one third between the marker and the corner of the arena. The finish point of the turn will be 4 meters after the corner. This means that you have a 12-meter straight section before you start to turn again. If you are going to be turning up the center line, you would ride in a straight line for 2 meters before starting the next quarter circle the end of which is 2 meters before the M – H line on the center line.

Forty Meter Arena Circles

The first example is a 20-meter circle being ridden in a forty meter from B or E. You cross the center line twice, once 4 meters from the M – H line and once 4 meters from the F – K line. So if you are riding a 20-meter circle from B the four quarter circle points you aim for are the center line 4 meters from the M – H line, E, the center line 4 meters from the F – K line and B again.

When riding 20-meter circles from C or A in a forty meter arena you would aim to hit the track 4 meters past the M – H or the F – K lines. The center line is crossed at X. So if riding a 20 meter circle from C on the left rein the four quarter circle points you would hit are C, 4 meters past H, X, 4 meters before M and then C again.

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Sixty Meter Arena Circles

20 Meter Circles

If a 20-meter circle were ridden of B or E in a sixty-meter arena you would cross the centerline 2 meters from the R – S line and again 2 meters from the V – P line. So the four points you would aim to ride to for your quarter circles are B, E and the two points on the center line.

So if you are riding a 20-meter circle from B the four quarter circle points you aim for are the center line 2 meters from the R – S line, E, the center line 2 meters from the P – V line and B again.

When riding 20 meter circles from C or A in a sixty meter arena you would aim hit the track 4 meters past the M – H or the F – K lines. These are a third of the way to the R – S or the P – V lines. The center line is crossed 2 meters past the R – S or the P – V lines.

So if riding a 20 meter circle from C on the left rein the four quarter circle points you would aim for are 4 meters past H (or a third from H to S). Then the centerline 2 meters past the R – S line, 4 meters before M (or two thirds from R to M) and then C again.

15 Meter Circles

Now for some smaller circles. These are usually only ridden on a 60 x 20 meter arena, and the same principles apply, plan at least a quarter of a circle ahead. I’ll go through a circle from the long side first. The measurements will remain the same regardless which marker the circle will be ridden from. A 15-meter circle will not be ridden from M, F, H or K, as it will not fit in.

As you ride towards B from P start to prepare for the circle. The first point to ride to on the circle is 4.5 meters from the R – S Line and 2.5 meters before you cross the centerline. The 4.5 meters means that you will be 7.5 meters from the B – E line. So if you aim for a point a little bit more that two-thirds from the B – E line you will be pretty close. The next point is on the B – E line, halfway between X and E. Then you will be riding to a point 2.5 meters past the center line, or a quarter from the center line to the long side, and 4.5 meters (or a bit more than two-thirds again) from the P – V line. The last point will be B again.

For a circle from the center of one the short sides, in this C, try the following. Having just come around the corner you will be riding straight for a few meters before starting the circle at C. The first point of the circle will be 1.5 meters past the M – H line and about 2.5 meters from the long side. This is about three-quarters from the center line to the long side. The next point will be on the centerline 9 meters past the M – H line, or three-quarters from the M – H line to the R – S line. This is followed by a point three-quarters from the center line to the long side, or 7.5 meters from the center line and 1.5 meters from the M – H line. The last point to ride to will be C again. From here you will be riding straight again for a few meters before starting to turn for the corner

10 Meter Circles

By this stage you should be getting pretty good at working out distances, sizes of circles and how to ride them. 10-meter circles while being harder to ride, are actually easier to work out as you are working with whole meters.

This time the first circle I will explain will start from V on the left rein. As you approach V plan to turn left towards the first point of the circle. This point is halfway between the centerline and the long side and 5 meters from the V – P line. Then you will be riding to L, a point on the center line halfway between P and V. Again before you get there you should be planing to aim for the next point, which is halfway between the center line and the long side, and 5 meters from the V – P line. The last point to ride to will be V again.

For a 10 meter circle from A again you would have been riding straight for a few meters having just come around the corner from K. The first point to aim for having started the circle at A will be halfway between the center line and the long side, and one meter from the F – K line. The third point to ride to will be 1 meter past the F – K line and halfway between the centerline and the long side. The last point will of course be A.

Serpentines

Now that you know all the easy stuff, it’s time to string some of these quarter circles together to ride a serpentine. Serpentines are usually ridden in sixty-meter arenas, and are usually ridden at HRCAV Level 3 and above. So you will always be riding straight for a few meters before starting the turn for the beginning of the serpentine. The most important things to remember are to pre-plan where you are riding, and to prepare your horse properly for all turns and changes of direction.

As before on the diagrams the red measurements indicate arena sizes and distances between markers. As you probably would have followed through some of the simpler examples, I will just run through the serpentines and the points to aim at for each of the quarter circles. In my opinion Serpentines are a great warm up for horse and rider.

3 Loop Serpentine

For a three loop Serpentine, all turns are based on 20-meter quarter circles. This Serpentine is being started on the left rein. You have just ridden around the corner after K and have straightened out the horse again. You know where you have to start the turn and are preparing the horse for the turn, while also looking for the first point of the first quarter circle to ride to.

The turn for the first quarter circle starts at A. The next point to ride to is 4 meters past R, or a third from F to P.  You then cross the centerline at a point 2 meters past the P – V line.  Before you get to this point you have to plan to change to the right rein and the change of aids that goes with this. As mentioned at the very start of this information I will put this under the category of “finer points of dressage” and not go into details here.

The next two-quarter circles are ridden on the right rein. The next point to be ridden to is E. You then cross the center line again 2 meters before the R – S line, where again you change rein. The next point to aim for is 4 meters before M, or two thirds from R to M. The final point in the Serpentine is C, where you get to ride a straight line for a few meters before turning the corner.

4 Loop Serpentine

For a four loop Serpentine, all turns are based on 15-meter quarter circles. This will mean that during the changes of rein across the centerline you will be riding in a straight line for 5 meters. This Serpentine is being started on the right rein.

You have just ridden around the corner. Ride past A. The turn starts 2.5 meters past A, or one quarter the way from A to the corner. You touch the track again 1.5 meters past K. The next point is 3 meters from the P – V line and 2.5 meters from the center line. This is important, as you have to ride straight while changing the rein for 5 meters, only starting to turn again 2.5 meters after having crossed the center line. The next quarter circle point is on the outside track 4.5 meters past P. This is roughly one third of the way from P to B (I say roughly, because exactly one third will be half a meter out).  You will then be riding to a point on the B – E line 2.5 meters from X. Again another 5 meters straight across the center line and you are halfway.

Again 2.5 meters after the center line start the turn, aiming to finish the quarter circle on the outside track 4.5 meters from S, or about two thirds from E to S. Keep on turning towards a point 3 meters past the R – S Line, 2.5 meters before the center line. Straight again until 2.5 meters after you cross the centerline starting to look for the next point. This quarter circle finishes 1.5 meters before M. the last quarter circle finishes on the short side 2.5 meters from C or three quarters the way from the corner to C.

Another successful ride as long as you keep on pre-planning where to ride to.

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