Figure it Out

Posted by in 10m circles, 10m circles walk trot canter exercises, accurate, Blog, body, canter execises, canter to trot, canter to walk, controlling the shoulders, even out your rein contact, falling in, falling out, figures of eight, keeping your horse busy, simple change, straightness, straightness in turns and circles, test riding, walk and trot exercises, walk exercises, walk trot canter exercises on May 19, 2012

How often do you moan that you’re bored or you can’t think of anything to do? Instead of trying to come up something completely new take a look at an old shape and see what new things you can do with it. Take the figure of eight for example. When was the last time you used one? They’re one of the best shapes to use as you can vary their size, your pace and you still work your horse evenly on both reins.


There are two ways to ride a figure of eight. Either you ride two diagonal lines or you link up two circles with a few strides in a straight line. You can vary their width from 20m down to 10m and their length from 40m down to 20m depending on your horse’s age and ability.


If you struggle to keep your horse’s attention it won’t be because he’s bored and it’s rarely because he’s just plain naughty. If he’s not listening it just means there’s too much space in his head. Fill it with your ideas and you’ll soon have his full attention. A figure of eight is the perfect shape to use. You can chop and change the size, shape and pace to make sure he’s never quite sure what’s coming next.


If you choose to use two circles joined in the middle then you’ll find 10m or 20m are the easiest to use. With 20m circles you have little choice but to start at A or C and join the circles in the middle at X. At this size, however, you can easily use any pace on any horse. In canter you need to change leg through X. Don’t be put off if your horse is young or inexperienced. Ask for trot as you approach X, change the rein onto the new circle and wait until he’s balanced and settled before asking for canter again.


Using 10m circles gives you more choice. You can ride a complete figure of eight across the school from long side to long side or up the school between the short side and the E/B line. In walk or trot you can actually work your way round the school by joining 10m circles at the centre line or the ¾ line. That should keep even the most inattentive mind busy.


A huge part of schooling is keeping your horse interested. Don’t allow yourself to get stuck on one shape. Join the two sizes together. Starting from A begin a 20m figure of eight. When you reach X circle left 10m and then right 10m (a complete 10m figure of eight) before continuing the 20m figure of eight. You can do the whole exercise in one pace but another great way to keep his attention is to change pace as you change circle size. Try trotting the 20m and walking the 10m or canter the 20m and trot the 10m.


Some horses may struggle to complete a full 10m figure of eight in canter. But never say never! If your horse can canter a 10m circle then why not have a go? Canter the first circle and trot the second until you feel he can cope with the change of direction. Introduce canter on the second circle when you’re ready and canter a complete circle before asking for trot and continuing the figure of eight. Gradually reduce the distance between canter and trot. If you can ride a simple change even better.


Figures of eight using two diagonals are just as useful. These are most often ridden using both long diagonals but dare to be different! Vary the width of the half circles at each end by riding between the track and the ¾ line (15m) or the centre line (10m). Ride the diagonals between the HGM line and the KDF line. You can also shorten the length by riding across the school from long side to long side.


Here’s a great exercise to try with any horse. The idea is to swap from a figure of eight with linked circles to one with diagonals. You can use 20m circles and the long diagonals or a 10m figure of eight between E and B followed by two diagonals ridden from ¼ to ¾ lines. If your horse is young don’t avoid the 10m one – ride it in walk! Walk is just as beneficial as trot and canter and it will really help you to get control of his shoulders.


The difficulty with this exercise is the change from circle to straight line. Focus on the turns onto the diagonals and the accuracy of your circles. Stay in walk or trot and avoid canter. Your horse has enough to think about without a change of leg as well.


Your body is the most effective aid you have. Yet it’s the most subtle. Your horse doesn’t need a flurry of arms and legs every time you turn or circle. Turn your shoulders and your hips onto the line you want him to take and he will do the same.


Your hands control your horse’s shoulders. Everything they do he’ll copy with his shoulders and mouth. Drop your left hand and he’ll not only drop his left shoulder and fall to that side, he’ll drop the left hand side of his mouth. If the right hand side of his mouth is higher than the left his nose will tip to the right. Sound familiar?


Imagine your hands are an arrow. Wherever they point your horse will go. As you turn your body make sure your hands come round together. Unlike you he doesn’t have a collar bone. His shoulders can move independently of each other. Keep your hands together and you’ll keep his shoulders together as one unit. Allow them to get too far apart and he’ll leave his outside shoulder behind and fall out.


If your horse is straight he can push himself forward correctly. Even on a circle he should be straight. His quarters should follow in the tracks of his shoulders (as yours do if you do a forward roll). By keeping your shoulders and hips in line with each other you encourage him to do the same. Your hands point him in the right direction. Your body tells him which line to take. Your legs push him along it. That’s something you can use on any shape with any horse.


There’s more than one way to school your horse but often it’s not how you do it it’s what you do that makes a real difference. Next time you moan that you can’t think of anything to do just stop, take a deep breathe and think again!


Good luck and enjoy your schooling.

There’s a new schooling guide in the shop this week. It’s all about how to learn, ride and practise a dressage test. Whatever your level there are some great tips that will help you improve your score in any test. GS 3 – Prepare to Improve Your Score

If you often feel as if you’re the last thing on your horse’s mind check out TY3 Your Attention Please. It will show you how to get him focused on you and gives you 5 progressive exercises to use.

If you have a problem with any aspect of riding or schooling your horse get in touch via The Forum or email me at Any advice is free so why not try me?

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