Shallow loops - or 'rainbows' as we call them in Demi Dressage - are so often such an under-utilised movement! In a true dressage sense, they are a movement that improves suppleness and balance, as you are asking the horse to change bend repeatedly in fairly quick succession. They don't appear in BD tests until Novice level.
Why then are shallow loops in our Demi Dressage tests, which are designed for child riders/absolute beginners? The biggest benefit here is that they get both rider and pony OFF the track. Watch children riding - if left to their own devices they will walk round the track, trot round the track, maybe canter round. If you're lucky they might attempt a wobbly circle, and then they change the rein and do exactly the same the other way. In a standard arena, they use maybe 10% of the surface! Shallow loops encourage them to come away from the fence line - and that means they have to RIDE. They have to plan a line, they have to steer, and to get it right they have to use their corners and their outside aids. It's the beginning of understanding about their inside and outside leg, and the different roles they have.
Plus, 'rainbows' are so much more fun than just going round and round the track, right?
If introduced correctly there's no reason even very young riders can't try riding a rainbow. MiniD was 5 in the video below, and not all that long off the lead rein. Even on the lead rein it's a brilliant exercise for getting little riders to start steering themselves, and not relying on the fence or their leader! With all age groups, talk about the movement first - get them to draw it out, talk about how rainbows are smooth and flowing. Give them visual clues when they ride it: Here's the set up I use when introducing shallow loops for the first time - a cone at each of the corner markers, and a pole parallel with E / B. I use a pole rather than another cone partly as it's less confusing to explain to really little ones, and partly because it helps encourage the idea of a long, smooth loop, rather than anything abrupt or 'pointy'!
If you've got a very young rider, or one who needs a little bit more help getting off the track (a lot of children and especially ex-riding-school pupils are very 'track-bound'!) then you could use extra poles to make train tracks - but be careful that these can lead to a shallow loop made of turns and straight lines rather than the continuous smooth curving line it should be.
It can be easier to ride movements like shallow loops correctly in trot, because you've got a bit more forward momentum. I always introduce them in walk though (possibly with me walking in front of the pony the first time) so that there is time for the rider to think about what they're doing, and talk through any issues. Try to break down the movement - the corner is part one. Fairly quickly (especially in trot) the rider has to plan and ride their turn off the track and think about the first half of their loop, and how the bend of their pony should subtly change around the apex of it. Then they need to ride a balanced return to the track - it should be an exact mirror image of the first half of their loop. Finally, their corner after returning to the track completes the movement and sets them up for whatever is coming next.
For older riders, encourage them to think about how they should be keeping their pony balanced and engaged by using their inside leg around the corner (if riding on the left rein, as in the video below, the left leg is the inside leg through each corner). Around the loop, the bend of the horse and therefore what is the 'inside' leg, switches sides for that part of the movement - they should be using their right leg to ensure the pony is balanced and bending to the right through the apex of the loop. Then as they return to the track to finish their loop, their left leg becomes their inside leg again to ride correctly through the corner to finish. Turning their shoulders to mirror the path they want the pony's shoulders to take will encourage them to support the pony with an 'opening' rein aid through each change of bend. Above all, encourage them to think about the rhythm and balance - the aids should be subtle and the loop should look (and feel) smooth, flowing and balanced.
One of the most common issues - and the easiest to rectify by training using the cones/pole as props - is the rider cutting the corner before they start the loop. This inevitably ends up with an uneven loop, and will lose all benefit to the pony, as well as lots of accuracy marks in a test!
I use the set up of cones/pole on one long side, and let the rider get comfortable with that (on both reins - which rein do they/the pony find easier?) Then you can really test them by seeing if they can ride the same shape on the other long side, with no pole or cones to help them! Just like they will have to do in their test! 😃
You can see in the video how the cone at H encourages MiniD to ride deep into her corner C-H, she is straight as she comes past H and *then* she makes the flowing turn onto her shallow loop. The same is true at the other end - although Tangle drifted a little wide round the pole (because MiniD was not using enough of her new 'outside leg' - her left leg - to guide the pony to return to the track as she came around the pole) the cone at K ensures MiniD is nonetheless focused on her return to the track and a balanced and deep corner to finish the loop.
She then repeats it without any props on the other side of the school.
I hope you'll enjoy introducing your child to riding some rainbows with us in May, or if they've already come across this movement perhaps the tips here will encourage them to ride them even better! Our "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" dressage tests can be downloaded from the site now, and the closing date for your entries and videos is Sunday 31st May.