The Serpentine drill is a great exercise for gaining body control through the ribs. It is also excellent for teaching the preparation needed for a turn at a barrel. You can also use this serpentine exercise to practice riding on the correct diagonal as well (see our last article on that topic). It will allow you the opportunity to really feel what a difference it makes in your corners and circles when you are posting on the correct diagonal. If you need to brush up on how to post on the correct diagonal you’ll want to read that article.
Start working this drill at a trot to make sure you can do it correctly before picking up speed. You will be working on your straight lines and rounding out your horses body for a corner. This is working on the preparation you need for each turn in the barrel race.
Pick up a straight line at a trot anywhere in your arena and head across to the fence where you will prepare your horse for a turn. Shape his body to the turn by using your inside rein and inside leg. Gather him for the turn and shorten his stride. Allow him to turn (some horses will require more placement to start than others) and look up and across the arena sending him across in a straight line. Keep him between your reins and legs while looking to your next preparation point.
To add another element to the drill you will change your posting diagonal in the center of the arena each time you pass the middle. You should be rising and falling with your horses outside front leg (for the corner/circle) you are approaching. If you are making a left hand turn you should be rising with the right front (and left hind since they move in a two beat gate). While posting on the correct diagonal you will notice it helps to keep your horse bent to the inside and his hip engaged and strong. Posting on the wrong diagonal can actually push his hip to the outside each time you rise. If you pick up the incorrect diagonal, just sit two bounces and rise with the next and you should now be on the opposite (should now be correct) diagonal.
Although I find this drill most effective at a trot, you can also lope it. In that case I would break to a trot in the middle of the arena to change leads so you can approach properly prepared. This drill is more about accuracy and precise body movements and less about speed.
This is great drill for getting in tune with your horse. Gaining suppleness through his body and going through the motions you would need for approaching a barrel, without using barrels. Some may choose to do an extended trot in the turns on a horse that tends to be short in the turns. If your horse is a free running horse you may do a sitting jog really emphasizing a change of speed for the turn. In either case you can still practice your diagonals at the same time in your straights.
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