Introducing the Trot Zig-Zag with Shannon Dueck

First introduced at fourth level, the counter change of hand in trot, or zig-zag, is one of the more difficult exercises in the trot work. T

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By: Karen Robinson |

Before you begin to train the counter change in hand, the horse must already be able to perform good single half-passes in both directions. I define a good half-pass as one in which I can maintain the horse’s throughness in the bend, while adding the haunches-in component (note: the horse doesn’t ‘lead’ with the haunches; half-pass can be defined as haunches-in on a diagonal line). In order to correct the most common problem in half-pass – a rider who hangs onto the bend while the horse presses against the bend – I school shoulder-in to half-pass on a frequent basis. The shoulder-in creates the correct bend, and as I go into the half-pass from there, I should be able to maintain the bend, and make corrections if the bend is lost at all. Assuming we have a good half-pass in each direction we can add the difficulty of the counter change of hand.

I have two exercises that are useful not only for introducing the counter change of hand; I also use them with my horses all the way to grand prix. I generally ride these exercises using the centre line and quarter line. I rarely go to the wall, because riding the counter change at a centre line or quarter line ensures that I am achieving my goal with my aids alone. In both of these exercises, it’s also important not to go to the next lateral segment until the horse is correctly performing the one before, whether it’s the first half-pass, a moment of straightness, or shoulder-fore in the new direction.

Before I introduce a change in direction in the half-pass, I combine half-pass with leg yield and shoulder-fore (diagram 1). I begin a half-pass right, for example, at the quarter line. As I reach centre line, I continue moving the horse right, but I change my aids to turn the half-pass right into a leg yield right. The horse changes from right bend to a slight left flexion while continuing to move to the right. I then ask the horse to stop moving toward the opposite wall, and put him in a shoulder-fore left position on the second quarter line. One important benefit of this exercise is that it addresses the tendency for the rider to hold onto the bend and lose the lightness of the contact.

Taking the concept that shoulder-in is a good preparation for a correct half-pass, I introduce the counter change of hand by riding shoulder-fore in the new direction before going into half-pass (diagram 2). If I am riding half-pass left from the centre line toward the quarter line, for example, when I reach the quarter line I ride straight for as many steps as are needed to be sure the horse is truly balanced in a straight line. I then ride shoulder-fore right, and if there is still room on the line, I will half-pass right toward the centre line. It is more important that you establish shoulder-fore in the new direction than getting to the right half-pass quickly. Wait it out until it’s really correct. If the shoulder-fore is not good, the new half-pass is not going to be good either. The goal of this exercise is to test whether I can maintain the horse’s lateral balance as I straighten from half-pass, change the bend and ultimately add the new half-pass the other way.