The figure of eight is a really useful schooling exercise you can use at home that’s also included in dressage tests from the lower levels upwards.
But how can this exercise benefit your horse, and how do you ride it correctly?
Check out this helpful guide for more information.
What’s the purpose of riding figures of eight?
The figure of eight exercise is designed to develop the horse’s suppleness to the bend, to make him straighter, and to improve his balance.
It’s also used in dressage tests as a test of accuracy and to allow the judge to assess the effectiveness and correctness of the rider’s outside aids.
What is the dressage judge looking for?
When the figure of eight movement is ridden in a dressage test, the judge will be looking for the following important qualities:
- the uniformity and exact symmetry of the size and shape of the two circles that comprise the figure of eight
- the equal bend of the horse throughout the exercise
- the horse’s acceptance of the rider’s outside aids
- the quality of the pace and maintenance of the correct rhythm and tempo
How to ride a figure of eight
Begin by riding a 20-meter circle from A.
Bend your horse around your inside leg, asking for a small amount of inside flexion through his neck and poll with your inside rein.
Keep your outside leg slightly behind the girth to prevent the quarters from escaping, and maintain an elastic guarding contact with your outside rein to keep your horse straight.
As you approach X, make your horse straight for a couple of strides.
If you are in rising trot, change your diagonal here.
Now change the bend before commencing a half 20-meter circle around the opposite end of the arena to finish at C.
From C, continue around the second half of the 20-meter circle, maintaining the new bend until you arrive back at X.
Over X, make your horse straight for a couple of strides, before changing the bend again and riding another 20-meter half-circle around to A.
TIP: When riding a figure of eight, you’ll need to be fully concentrating on timing your changes of aids to ensure that your horse remains balanced, straight and yet supple to each change of bend throughout the exercise.
How to increase the difficulty
Change the pace
The figure of eight exercise can be ridden in walk, trot or canter, depending on how well-balanced your horse is and on what level of training he has achieved.
If it’s your first time, it’s a good idea to begin riding this exercise in walk until you’ve had more practice. The slower pace allows you more time to think about what you’re doing.
When you ride the exercise in canter, you should bring your horse back to trot for a couple of steps over X and ensure you have the correct ‘new’ bend before asking him to strike off onto the new canter lead.
More experienced horses may be able to perform a flying change over X, but it’s best to keep things simple until you’re both able to perform the exercise confidently and in good balance.
Change the circle size
The size of the two circles comprising the figure of eight can also be made smaller or larger in order to increase or decrease the degree of difficulty of the exercise.
Link several figures of eight together
As you and your horse become more confident, you can begin to link figures of eight of different sizes together to create a more varied and challenging exercise.
The figure of eight is a very useful schooling exercise that you can use at home to help develop your horse’s suppleness, straightness, and balance.
It’s also good for helping both of you to focus on the aids!