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Serpentine Without Reins with Buck Brannaman

Written by Buck Brannaman & Emily Kitching

This article originally appeared in Eclectic Horseman Issue No.36

If you have the goal of one day riding your horse in the bridle you need to be preparing for the future. Being able to guide your horse left and right with your legs, in proper form, is essential. In the snaffle bit it is easy to become overly dependant on guiding your horse right and left with a direct rein and no support of your legs. Many of you do not realize that you are pulling your horse’s head around the circle, but his body is not shaped properly as he travels around this circle.

When you are riding a circle properly, your horse needs to be round through the entire length of his body. Your goal is to have your horse make a circle because of how your legs are arranged. To start helping your horse to feel of your legs directing him, start by working a serpentine right and left with just your legs.

My horse needs to understand that my legs mold him left and right, and that he should bend around my inside leg.  To go to the right, my right (inside) leg is back, my left (outside) leg is slightly forward. To go to the left, my left (inside) leg is slightly back and my right (outside) leg is slightly forward. The outside leg molds him around the inside leg to arc properly around the circle.

I want him to change his body when I change my legs, if he doesn’t understand I will help him with my leading rein to show him what his response should be. When I switch my legs, he ought to change directions. To start, I want you to give him 5 or 6 steps to adjust to what you are asking before you come in with your leading rein. Work on a serpentine, changing from right and left. Don’t just waller back and forth, pick out a track that you are walking on and look where you are going. Don’t grip with your legs, just work them one way, then the other.

This is something that you might ask him with your legs a hundred times before he makes the connection and not need your leading rein, but it’s worth making the commitment because pretty soon it will click. Then when you go to collect your horse, the left and right is taken care of with your legs, and your reins can help with the collection. But if you were trying to get the left to right flexion exclusively with your hands, and then try to collect him, you will fail. So you have to get this going first.

You and your horse need to know that when you are directing him, the two of you are supposed to go together, and soon he will feel back to you. He will be less distracted by things going on around him. You are always riding with a goal and seeing to it that you get there. Then when you stop riding the horse, he doesn’t have anywhere to go, because he gets in the habit of not going anywhere without you.

In the half-circle exercise (EH #34) your legs were shaped the same way as the serpentine to go right or left, but I had you pick up your reins and direct because in that instance you were working on powering through the maneuver, reaching your horse’s front feet more than the hind. This movement is done on a completely loose rein because we are working on making a connection to our legs.

So any time you have a chance to practice this serpentine with no reins, put the time in. It’s quite a commitment to get this really coming through, but it is an investment in your future.

Photo 1

Photo 1

When I am not directing my horse right or left, he should be straight between my reins and legs.

Photo 2

Photo 2

If my horse doesn't follow the feel of my legs I might support for 5 or 6 steps then direct him with my leading rein to show him what my legs were asking for.

Photo 3

Photo 3

Guiding my horse in an arc to the left with only my legs. My right leg is slightly forward, my left leg is slightly back. You can see that he is shaped around the circle properly from head to tail.

Photo 4

Photo 4

Photo 5

Photo 5

Guiding my horse in an arc to the right. My left leg is slightly forward, my right leg is slightly back. I am looking where I am going. Right: This photo clearly shows the arc in his body to the right.

Photo 6

Photo 6

This article originally appeared in Eclectic Horseman Issue No.36

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Buck Brannaman

Buck Brannaman is a phenomenal cowboy and clinician travels the country conducting clinics. His skill in the saddle and with a rope is matched only by his ability to teach safe and effective horsemanship to riders of all ability levels. He has authored the books Groundwork and The Faraway Horses, and has produced many horsemanship videos. Learn more: www.brannaman.com