A 5-meter loop is a shallow serpentine and is a very suitable figure to ride during warm up, and on young horses, as it demands changes of bend without too extreme a change of direction, so minimizing the likelihood of loss of balance or alignment to the figure (straightness).
The shape of a 5-meter loop
First, you should understand the desired shape of a 5-meter loop.
Obviously, it will be different riding it in a short (20m x 40m) arena to riding it in a long (20m x 60m) arena.
In the large arena, it is a very simple exercise, as the bend and minimal direction changes are spread out over a great distance, so come up on you less quickly.
In the short arena, you will have less time to make any bend and direction change aids, so you must be more on the ball.
First, let’s revise the dimensions of the arena to arrive at the figure shape.
The loop will begin at one of the quarter markers – F, K, H or M. The goal is to travel from there to arrive at the quarter line, which is 5-meters in from the track, and 5-meters m from the centre line, directly in front of one of the half markers, E or B.
You then return to the track, taking care not to arrive more than one stride before the next quarter marker, so that your inward and return lines are symmetrical in shape and length.
The exercise should be a series of gradual curves, not a straight line to a sharp turn.
How to ride a 5-meter loop in trot
Let’s take an example of riding on the left rein, a loop between F and M.
Begin the movement by riding off the track directly from F – do not allow your horse to cling to the track and drift past the marker; you should be leaving the track by the time your own body passes F.
Make the turn by turning your torso to the left a bit more than you did during the preceding corner, and putting a little more weight into your left stirrup.
The turn of your upper body will have brought your left (inside) hand slightly away from his shoulder to lead him inward, and your right (outside) hand inward and forward, to control the shoulder while allowing the bend.
Aim at a point just a couple of meters before your midpoint, which is 5-meters in from B (on the quarter line, halfway between B and X).
About halfway between leaving the track and arriving at this midpoint, change your diagonal and begin to change your horse’s bend until he arrives at the quarter line already in a right bend and performing a gentle right-hand curve at the peak of your loop. Ask for this by reversing your upper body position so it is now turning towards the right, and your weight is slightly more in your right stirrup.
As you arrive at the halfway point between the peak of the loop and your end goal (M), change your diagonal again and once more reverse your body position – shoulders turning left and weight in the left stirrup, so that you arrive at M in left bend, all ready to travel around the next corner.
Changing your diagonal
There is no absolute rule about changing diagonal during this shallow loop – it is not absolutely essential, but I find it logical to do so as you are asking the horse to change bend and direction, so making the change of diagonal as well as changing body position helps to make the whole thing more clear.
How to ride a 5-meter loop in canter
In Elementary level dressage tests, shallow loops are included in the canter. The idea of this exercise is to introduce more challenging counter-canter work on a curve rather than simply on a short straight line as you do in Novice level tests.
The object of the exercise is to stay in true canter, ride off the track toward the midpoint between the track and X, still in true canter, and then return to the track at the prescribed marker before the short side.
A shallow 5-meter loop’s relative straightness helps the horse keep the power in his hindquarters while changing the bend to the counter and then back again.
When riding loops in trot, you would change the bend when you hit the loop’s midpoint. For example, if you began with a left bend, you would change to a right bend over the loop’s midpoint. However, in the canter, you would keep a slight left bend as you hit the midpoint to help the horse maintain the left lead through the counter-canter part of the exercise.
What are the aids for the 5-meter loop in the canter?
This exercise requires that you travel in canter around a series of bends, so the aids you use will be the same as those you would use to negotiate turns.
- To prevent the horse’s shoulders from falling in, keep your inside leg on the girth.
- Keep your outside leg slightly behind the girth to stop the horse’s quarters from swinging out.
- Your inside rein stays slightly open.
- Your outside rein stays on the horse’s neck to help control the outside shoulder and to give balancing half-halts.
- Your weight stays on your inside seat bone.
- Your shoulders remain parallel to the horse’s shoulders.
Problems in canter
There are two main problems that riders experience when riding the 5-meter loop in canter.
1. The horse breaks the canter
A common problem with the 5-meter loop in the canter is that the horse loses his balance at the loop’s midpoint and breaks the canter.
If that happens, simply rebalance the trot and put the horse back into a canter. Next time you ride the exercise, use your outside leg to ask for more engagement, and create more activity of the horse’s outside hind leg.
- How to Stop Your Horse Breaking out of Canter
- How to Develop Your Horse’s Engagement in the Canter
- How to Activate Your Horse’s Hind Legs
2. The horse does a flying change
Some horses change leads through a flying change at the midpoint of the loop. That’s because it’s natural for the horse to change leads to correct his balance. The better balanced your horse is, the less likely he is to change leads.
If your horse performs a flying change while you’re riding around the 5-meter loop, ride a smooth transition to trot, rebalance the horse, and ask for a true canter again.
In both the above scenarios, the most effective way to prevent the problem is to make the loop shallower. A shallower loop makes it easier for your horse to remain in balance so that he’s less likely to break or perform a flying change.
As the horse improves with the exercise, you can gradually move the loop back out to reach the 5-meter quarter line.
A 5-meter loop in trot is an ideal exercise for young horses or for more experiences horses during warming up. It should not include any straight lines or sharp turns, but instead be a series of gradual curves and changes of bend – the degree of bend required will differ depending on the size of the arena.
In the canter, a 5-meter loop is an ideal exercise to help improve the horse’s balance, carrying capacity of the hindquarters, and to introduce counter canter.
- How to (and Why You Should) Ride on the Correct Diagonal
- How to Ride a Serpentine
- How to Ride Counter Canter
- What is the Difference Between Bend and Flexion?