Once you and your horse reach British Dressage Advanced Medium level, you will be required to perform 8-meter circles or voltes.
Of course, once your horse can perform 10-meter circles, there’s no reason not to up the ante in your training by demanding more in the form of 8-meter circles.
In this guide, we explain everything you need to know about riding a good 8-meter circle.
Why is an 8-meter circle included in a dressage test?
Once your horse reaches BD Advanced Medium level, you should be able to collect him in trot and canter. That engagement and collection enable the horse to be sufficiently balanced enough to be able to negotiate a small circle without falling onto his forehand and losing rhythm.
So, this exercise is included to demonstrate to the judge that the horse is developing a sound longitudinal and lateral suppleness, engagement, and collection in line with the dressage Scales of Training, enabling him to perform this more advanced movements with ease.
What is the dressage judge looking for?
When judging an 8-meter circle, the judge is looking for:
- A good uphill balance
- Good bend and suppleness around the circle
- Steadiness to the contact
The overall impression should be one of a relaxed and harmonious partnership.
The horse should remain light and uphill and clearly in self-carriage, without needing to rely on the rider’s hand for support and balance.
In the canter, the horse’s steps should not become labored, lack jump, or become earthbound.
Several common problems can arise when riding an 8-meter circle.
- The rider fails to prepare for the exercise, so the circle is too big or not centered on the marker.
- The horse is not supple enough to stay on the circle’s line, so his hindquarters swing out to avoid the bend.
- The horse is not supple enough to stay on the circle line, so he drifts out through his shoulder or leans inward.
- As a way of avoiding flexion at the poll, the horse may tilt his head.
- The horse is not sufficiently engaged to remain in self-carriage and falls onto his forehand.
- The horse struggles to negotiate the small circle, so he loses impulsion and rhythm.
- In canter, the horse’s steps lack cadence and balance, becoming labored and leaden. Sometimes, the canter sequence is corrupted, becoming four-beat, as if the horse is cantering in front and trotting behind.
When not to attempt an 8-meter circle
A circle of this size is a deceptively demanding exercise. Before attempting this with your horse make sure that he is sufficiently schooled, fit, and strong enough to work through this back to the contact, and able to take more weight onto his hindquarters.
If your horse can’t do that, an 8-meter circle will be too demanding for him at this stage of his dressage training.
As previously mentioned, accuracy is critical, so you need to understand the dressage arena’s geometry.
For example: Ride an 8-meter circle on the left rein at E.
Visualize your circle and know that it has four “circle points.” It’s your job as a rider to know where those points are so that you can ride the circle accurately.
- From the track, you know that the distance to the centerline is 10 meters. Therefore, two meters from the centerline to the track forms the diameter of the circle.
- Halfway from the track to the middle of the circle is the radius.
- Now, stand on the point. That marks the center of the circle. Face the short side of the arena, and mark out 4 meters.
- Turn around to face the other short side of the arena and mark out 4 meters again. Those two lines make the other diameter of your circle.
- Place an imaginary cone at both ends of the two diameters. Ride from point to point, and you have an accurate 8-meter circle.
Aids to ride an 8-meter circle
The aids for riding an 8-meter circle are:
- Place your inside leg on the girth to keep the horse going forward, encourage the horse to engage his inside hind leg, and maintain a uniform inside bend around the circle.
- Your outside leg should remain just behind the girth to prevent the horse’s hindquarters from swinging out. That happens if the horse is not yet supple enough to cope with the small size of the circle and the increased degree of bend that the movement requires.
- Your inside hand asks the horse to flex and bend to the inside at his poll and through his neck. Be careful not to overdo the neck bend or you risk the horse falling out through his shoulder.
- Your outside hand works to guard the horse’s shoulder and stop him from falling out and controls the tempo.
- Keep your shoulders and hips in line with your horse’s shoulders. Make sure that you don’t lean in or tip forward, and look up and where you’re going. Positioning your body correctly will help to guide the horse around the circle.
Improving the way of going
Now you know how to gauge the circle’s size correctly, and you know the aids, you can concentrate on your horse’s way of going.
As with all dressage movements, the horse’s rhythm and tempo are of paramount importance, and the horse must be supple enough to be able to keep his rhythm. A stiff horse won’t be sufficiently balanced to negotiate the small circle and will fall out or fall in or push his quarters out to avoid following a uniform bend around the circle.
An 8-meter circle is a difficult exercise to master and should only be demanded of horses that are secure in the correct way of going and supple enough to manage the small volte in a good rhythm and balance.
Do you have any top tips for riding accurate and smooth 8-meter voltes? Or do you have any questions about this post? If you do, please let us know in the comments below.
- 3 Exercises to Help Improve Your Dressage Horse’s Suppleness and Balance
- How to Improve Your Horse’s Straightness and Collection
- How to Ride a Good Circle
- How Your Horse Should Use His Hindquarters