Friday, July 10, 2015

Dressage Exercise: Zigzag 10 m circles

You may remember my posts on the ground pole and cavaletti exercises I've done with my riding instructor during the winter months.  I decided that I'd like to do similar posts for dressage exercises that I particularly like or that have been really effective for us.  During my last lesson, my instructor had us do an exercise that was actually kind of fun (gasp! dressage and fun in the same sentence?) and worked really well to loosen Nimo up, so I thought I would share it with you.  I played around with several different ways of drawing it, and finally gave up on producing anything that looks professional, but hopefully, you will get the gist of it from the diagram below.

In dressage-speak, here's how the exercise is ridden:

1. C to M: Working trot
2. M: 10 m circle right, working trot
3. M to E: Change rein, working trot
4. E: 10 m circle left, working trot
5. E to F: Change rein, working trot
6. F: 10 m circle right, working trot
7. F to A: Working trot

For normal people, here's how I would describe it.  At C (or before), ask your horse for a working trot, which is a forward, engaged trot that is comfortable and sustainable for your horse.  As you turn the corner toward M, half-halt and prepare your horse for a 10 meter circle.  At M, do a 10 meter circle to the right, while maintaining the working trot.  (Nimo has a tendency to fizzle during the second half of the 10 meter circle, so I have to really ride him forward.)  As you come around to M again, turn toward E and trot across the short diagonal of the arena, making sure you really keep all the energy you generated during the circle, so your horse's trot is even more engaged then when you started at C.  When you get to E, do a 10 meter circle to the left.  As you approach E again, turn toward F, and again try to really capture the energy from the circle and get even more engagement from your horse.  When you get to F, do another 10 meter circle to the right.  As you pass F, continue working trot until A.  You can either keep going and do the pattern again on the other side of the arena or change direction and do the pattern in reverse.

I would say this exercise is appropriate as written for horses working at First Level because of the repeated 10 meter circles.  However, I think you could modify it to make it easier by enlarging the circles to 15 meters or you could make it more difficult by riding smaller circles (think 6 meter voltes) or do it in the canter with simple or flying changes on the short diagonals.

What I like about this exercise is that it includes frequent changes of direction, which really help Nimo loosen his neck and shoulders.  Alternating between the bend of the circle and the straightness of the diagonals is also great, because it helps with loosening and suppling.  When I was doing this exercise, my instructor had me think of using each circle to build energy and then almost sling-shotting out of each circle across the diagonal.  While you could do lengthenings on the diagonals, our goal was really to just improve the quality of the trot with each diagonal, so my instructor was looking for increased engagement and power, rather than an actual lengthening of the stride.

I hope this exercise is useful to at least a few of you, and I think it will become a regular part of my dressage work in the future.


  1. My dressage instructor in FL had me do a *very* similar exercise in our much smaller arena, so it was basically just one half of your zig-zag. I LOVED this exercise and it has become a regular item in my toolbox. :) Thank you for sharing!

  2. I "found" your blog through your saddle post. Love the stylish, informative format!