Zigzag Cone Pattern Progressions for Lateral Balance

I have several riders this session that are working on lateral balance, not leaning, and initiating or helping their horse turn by using their eyes to look in that direction and eventually the reins. The other day I started using this pattern and discovered a whole lot of progressive uses for it. This time I even have a lesson plan at the end!

P.S. Look at me trying to be fancy with a special intro image…I tried it in Halloween orange to be festive, but mint looks way better!

Zigzag Cone Pattern Progressions for Lateral Balance


  • 4-8 cones (an even number)

Arena set up:

  • place 4 cones in a zig zag pattern down the arena (you can use more if you want)
  • place 2 pairs of cones at A and C to designate turning onto the centerline

Pattern Progression:

Challenge the rider’s lateral (side to side) balance by progressing from less sharp turns, to more sharp turns, to longer turns.

1) A small narrow zigzag from cone to cone, staying inside the cones.

2) A large sharp zigzag from cone to cone, staying outside the cones.

3) A large circle around the cone, from the center line.

4) A small circle around the cone, from a zigzag. Same as above but the smaller the circle the more the center line turns into a zigzag.

5) 1.5 circles around the cone, from the outside/wall.

Example Lesson Plan

Rider 1

  • Long Term Goal 1: Sam will improve social engagement through eye contact.
    • Short Term Goal 1: Sam will ask his horse to walk on by looking up at the instructor (with eye contact) 8x during the lesson.
  • Long Term Goal 2: Sam will improve lateral balance.
    • Short Term Goal 2: Sam will ask his horse to turn left and right by looking up at the instructor (with eye contact) in the direction 4x each direction during the lesson.

Lesson Plan

  • Greet horse and volunteers
  • Mount
    • croup, from lift, with assistance
  • Tack Check
  •  Warmups
    • walk 1 lap each direction
      • to let rider settle in and let the horse’s movement engage/focus/calm him
    • halt and walk on 2x each direction
      • Short Term Goal 1, and preps rider for Short Term Goal 2 looking to steer through the pattern
  • Tack Check
  • Skill
    • What – steering
    • How – look the direction of the turn, to turn the horse, making eye contact with the leader
    • Why – looking where you go helps you balance correctly for the turn; the horse feels your balance change and it tells him where to go
    • Where – first we’ll practice turning across the arena, then we’ll go through the zigzag pattern!
    • Explain the skill briefly while walking on the rail, as this rider prefers to be moving
  • Practice
    • Steer from E to B by looking at the instructor
    • Instructor prompts by asking Sam to look at her, verbally, waiting 5 seconds between prompts, then adding a hand wave if needed
    • When Sam seems comfortable with this, progress to pattern
  • Pattern & Progression
    • First, steer through the zigzag pattern going to the outside of the cones, 2x
    • Second, steer through the pattern doing circles from the quarterline, 2x
    • If time, progress to even smaller circles
    • Alternate the direction the horse enters and exits the pattern to keep the number of turns each direction as even as possible
    • This totals at least 4x he will turn/circle each direction, as in his goal
    • This totals at least 7x he will look up to walk on (including mount and tack checks), so make sure an 8th is in there to meet his goal
  • Trot
    • If time add a trot, or do so in the middle, as Sam benefits from the movement and it may help focus him for steering
  • Cool Down
    • Walk a lap each direction to give the horse and his body a break from all that turning
    • Halt and stroke the horse’s mane, high 4 volunteers
  • Dismount
    • Crest to ground, max assistance
    • Thank volunteers



Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgement! If you would like to contribute an activity or article, please contact me here, I would love to hear from you!

2 thoughts on “Zigzag Cone Pattern Progressions for Lateral Balance

  1. I tried this one out– and it was fabulous! I loved the different versions which made it so easily adaptable for various levels of riders! Thank you!

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