Jeff Cook’s Zig-Zag Flatwork Exercise

In the August 2004 issue of Practical Horseman, Jeff Cook helps you school your horse on the flat with six progressive flatwork figures. Here’s a seventh figure that uses the skills you’ve built in the first six.


What You Do: Ride the length of the arena on a continuously curving series of loops that reach from the rail to the centerline. A zig-zag — like a broken line and unlike a serpentine — never has a straight stride. You smoothly change your inside and outside aids without making a big, obvious move; your horse smoothly changes his bend without speeding up or slowing down. And whether you do 2 loops or 7, the pattern should be perfectly symmetrical, with a rhythm and flow.

Why You Do It: To increase and accelerate your horse’s responsiveness and the refinement of your seat and leg aids. You’ll be amazed, as you repeat this exercise, to feel your horse get so light and responsive about turning that you can pretty much do it all with just your seat and legs.

Your Key To Success: Sit the trot. It’s especially important as you start to increase the number of loops and so decrease their size. If your sitting trot isn’t secure, go ahead and post, but stick with one or two big loops. Better yet, put this exercise on the shelf and instead spend your time improving your sitting trot so you can come back to it.

How to Ride It: Tracking right at the sitting trot, come around the short side of your arena past A. As you come through the corner, look toward the centerline where you plan your first loop to touch (since I don’t know the size of your arena I can’t give you a number in feet). Come off the rail keeping your horse slightly bent to the right with your inside right leg at the girth and a slight direct inside right rein. Use your outside rein and leg to bring him around on a slightly curving right-bend track to begin the zig-zag. As you arrive at the quarter line midway between the point where you left the rail and the point where you plan to touch the centerline, smoothly change his curve to the left (new inside left leg and rein and outside right leg and rein) and start following the slightly left bending line back toward the centerline.

Approaching the centerline, turn your head and look toward your next spot on the rail. Touch the centerline for a split second, and continue on around. As you arrive at the quarter line, smoothly change the curve back to the right, touch the rail for a split second, curve back around toward the centerline and continue in this fashion all the way down the arena until you arrive at C.

Trouble-shooting Tip: Keep your horse between your legs! Is he leaning in? More inside leg. Is he bulging out? More outside leg. And remember that the basics — eyes, pace, track, not over-bending left or right, coordinating your aids — still apply.

For the six flatwork figures that precede the zig-zag, see the August 2004 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.

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