What this episode is all about & how it can help you:-
- How accuracy is key to riding a successful figure of eight
- The importance of rhythm all the way through
- The power of ‘straightness’ through the change
- Identifying where your challenges lie
The figure of eight can be a fantastic aid in your schooling of both yourself and your horse, if it is ridden correctly and given the focus and effort it deserves.
The humble figure of eight is one of those things that we learn very early in our introduction to horse riding. It can sometimes seem that it is too easy to really bother with, but the figure of eight is something you can use regardless of the level you are at in your riding.
It is an exercise that has lots of different benefits, depending on what level you and your horse are at in your training. For example, each of the different levels of the traditional training scale can we worked on when riding the figure of eight.
What is the Figure of Eight?
Simply put, the figure of eight is two circles, side by side so they look like the number eight. What trips many riders up is the fact that while it sounds simple, riding a single accurate circle is anything but simple and has a lot of potential for things to go a little off track.
When we put two circles together, this can lead to further challenges if not approached carefully and with a plan of how you are going to ride the movement. This is one of the reasons why the figure of eight can be so beneficial for your riding, by developing not only physically (you and your horse), but also mentally as well. You must be able to concentrate for the amount of time it takes to get you through the full figure.
Why Accuracy is Key to a Good Figure of Eight
Your circles must be well planned out. I am going to suggest that if you are not fantastic at riding a line to rather put markers out which will help keep you on track. Put more markers than what you would think you need out there. You are going to be thinking about so many other things when you are riding the figure of eight that probably the shape is going to be the part that ‘gives’. And you don’t want that.
In order for the figure of eight to be beneficial to your schooling, a correct bend must be maintained throughout the exercise. Your markers will help you to achieve this.
The second point to consider when speaking about accuracy with the figure of eight is the middle point where the two circles join. You must be very specific on where exactly that point is. I would suggest maybe putting two poles out that you have to go through each time to avoid the centre from moving!
Knowing its exact location is essential for a good approach and an equally as good departure from it and onto the ‘new’ circle.
Relaxation and Rhythm while riding a Figure of Eight
Both relaxation and rhythm are key while riding the movement, whatever gait you are in. Whether you are in walk, trot or canter you want to make sure that you have those basics in place.
The basic that is you are relaxed and your horse is relaxed, particularly when it comes to that all important middle point.
As well as the relaxation, you also want to notice that you are working to maintaining the rhythm. A lot of riders will find that when they are on the circle the rhythm is great, but as soon as they begin approaching that middle point. This is because you are preparing a lot of things to happen in order to successful change rein at this point, and it is easy to lose the rhythm (or / and relaxation) because of this.
Riding the Figure of Eight
When you are riding a circle on the left rein (circling to the left), you are riding in a particular way. Your outside leg is going to be slightly behind or back from where your inside leg is; they are definitely not equal on your horse’s sides.
The same applies to our seat bones and also our shoulders – our shoulders are going to be mirroring our horse’s shoulders, and they are not going to be ‘equal’.
However, when you are approaching the middle point of your figure of eight, all this needs to change. Your inside will become your outside and your outside will become your inside. A lot has to happen in a small space of time, so I suggest simplifying things by riding a couple of strides of straightness each time at the middle point.
Giving yourself between three and five strides where you are straightening things out will allow you to be more accurate and also help to maintain the rhythm and relaxation through the change as well.
Potential Areas for Things to Go Wrong
There are two key areas where things have a lot of potential to go off track when it comes to riding a figure of eight. The first is where the one circle ends, as you are approaching the ‘X’ or middle point (the point where the two circles intersect). That final quarter of the circle what can sometimes lose its shape due to your horse beginning to fall in.
To prevent this from happening, you must ride every stride. Even though you are thinking ahead and you are planning for those couple of strides of straightness, you are not ignoring that final quarter of that circle in order to get there.
The circle has to continue and you have to maintain the bend and stay on track in order to make that happen.
The second area where things can potentially go off track is when you have passed the intersection point (the middle ‘X’ point) and have started on your second circle. It is easy to ride off track by going too far out or a little bit too short. Basically, our horse either falls out, or falls in.
There can be a few reasons for this, but it is usually due to the rider not being very clear about where they want to go. The lack of clarity in the riders plan leads to a lack of clarity in the aids and the communication in general.
Keeping on Track
Again, the biggest reason most riders ride mediocre figure of eights is because they underestimate all that is involved in riding a successful one.
Focus on sitting tall in the saddle, having a good plan about where you are going to ride and how and then making it happen. Use markers to plan out that track that you want to ride on, and then as you get better at it you can take the markers away and start to use your own eye – your line – to ride it.
Begin in walk, building up to trot and later canter. In canter, you can transition through that ‘X’ back down to trot, or you can ride a flying change.
The beauty of the figure of eight is how versatile it is depending on your level of riding.
Riding a good quality figure of eight will lead to increased suppleness, which is the next step of that all-important Training Scale for both you and your horse. But in order to work on suppleness, the foundational pieces of the rhythm and the relaxation must be in place. Let them be your focus the next time you ride a figure of eight in the arena.
Links mentioned in the episode:-
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