How to Ride and Judge the Dressage Zigzags

Janet Foy explains the intricacies of this dressage movement.

Starting in the USEF Fourth Level tests, we see two half passes being put together. This is called a counter change of hand. When you have more than two half passes in a row, it is called a zigzag, and it is first required in FEI Intermediaire I. This movement is also shown in freestyles to enhance the degree of difficulty. Be sure you read the current USDF/USEF/FEI rules regarding this movement however, as in some tests it is not allowed. The zigzag can be performed in trot or in canter.

Three half passes
The Grand Prix half passes

Tips for Riding the Zigzag

The changeovers: This is an important part of the movement, as it will finish one half pass and set the horse up for the next one. Think of it as coming forward down centerline; don’t think of it as a sideways movement. As you finish the first half pass, move the horse’s shoulders into the new direction, but push the hindquarters one more step in the direction of the old half pass. Your half halt should put the horse up into the new outside rein. The changeover will then be straight, rather than have the haunches leading. If you start the new half pass with the haunches leading, you will lower the score and also harm the engagement.

Equality of half passes: Usually the horse will move more sideways in one direction than the other. You will need to be careful because if you allow the horse to go as much sideways as possible in the one direction, you will have difficulty riding a correct and balanced pattern. Even though the beginning zigzags do not have you counting strides, it is a good idea to do it in practice just to make sure your half passes are covering the same amount of ground in both directions. A word of caution: don’t practice them at home from centerline all the time. Use the rail and quarterlines. Horses are too smart and will soon take over and anticipate.

Three half passes: This is the simplest pattern. The requirement states that there will be three half passes from centerline. The first one will be 5 meters, the second 10 meters and the third 5 meters. The most important first piece is the geometry of the movement. Divide the movement in half. In other words, using X as the middle of the movement, you would see that the second half pass of 10 meters should pass through X. Depending on the length of your horse’s stride, this will determine when you would start the movement. A bigger-moving horse will need to start earlier and a smaller-moving horse would start later. Be sure to plan a good finish as well, as this is right at C, in front of the judge. Have a few straight strides on centerline before your last flying change and turn at C.

Four half passes: The next zigzag has four half passes. It can be ridden in two different ways, either as four half passes, the first of 5 meters, the second and third of 10 meters and the fourth of 5 meters or it can be required to count the steps: a 4-8-8-4. This means that the first half pass is of four strides, the second and third of eight strides and the fourth of four strides. The 4-8-8-4 will not only require you to place the movement equally from A to C, but also from side to side. The centerline will now be another marker for your geometry, and in the eight-stride half passes your fourth stride should put you on or near centerline.

The geometry again would divide the movement in half, using X as the halfway marker. So you would place the first two half passes before X and the third and fourth half passes after X. With this movement, you will need to start fairly quickly after the turn onto centerline. In the zigzag requiring the meters you would just touch the quarterlines and move into the other direction. Think of the quarterlines like a rail: you don’t want to go past them, as this will increase the difficulty of the movement. In the 4-8-8-4, you will need to make sure that both half passes have the same amount of lateral reach and that you can come right across centerline on about the fourth stride of your eight count.

The Grand Prix half passes: The 3-6-6-6-3 half pass is the most difficult movement in dressage due to the counting, placement and control required. There is a demand for equality of bend in both directions as well as uphill balance and control in the changeovers.

There used to be one more half pass of six strides in this movement. With a big-moving horse it was almost impossible to make it look easy. (Think U.S. Olympians Carol Lavell and Gifted.) Finally, when the FEI realized that not one judge had ever given a 10 on this movement, it was deemed too difficult and one half pass of six strides was removed.

The geometry will have the three, six and then three strides of the third half pass before X. Then you will travel through X with the second three strides of the third half pass. So there will be three strides and the last six and three after X. In the placement in relation to the centerline, you will always be crossing centerline at about the third stride. Remember to work on the equality of your half passes so that you can have control of the lateral placement and not go too far in one direction or you will lack the symmetry needed for a high score.

Tips for Judging the Zigzag

There are several ideas to keep in mind when judging this movement. First, does the horse show equal bending in both directions? Second, does the horse maintain cadence in both directions? The changeovers are modifiers, but a problem with a flying change or a crooked changeover will influence the score in a negative way.

In some of the half passes you must also count the strides. Do not count the first half pass. As judges we are not really certain where the rider started his or her count. So, start your count with the first flying change. I usually save my comments for this movement until it has finished just to make sure I can concentrate on the correct count.

If there is a counting mistake, you should mention it in your comments. Or you can say “several counting mistakes.” If there are none, then a comment such as “correct count” is acceptable. There should also be a comment for the quality of the movement. Here are some comments that may be helpful:

• Goes more to right than left
• Movement not well placed
• Ends very early
• Problems at the end; start sooner
• Must stay more uphill
• Changeovers lack balance
• Unable to control hindquarters in changeovers
• One late flying change
• One half pass on wrong lead
• Incorrect geometry.

If any of the above comments are used, you will not have a score higher than 6.5. For higher scores your comments would be:

• Well placed
• Uphill with good cadence
• Fluid
• Effortless. 

Janet Foy is an FEI 4* and USEF “S” dressage judge and an “R” sport horse breed judge. A member of the USEF international High Performance Dressage Committee, she also teaches judges’ training programs nationwide. Author of the book Dressage for the Not-So-Perfect Horse, she is based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. 






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