Figures for improving balance: figure 8

I hope you enjoyed my last post on the bow-tie manoeuvre. Here’s another exercise you can use to help your horse find his own balance. I learned about this exercise on the Horse Listening blog, and I must warn you: it looks simple but it’s not easy. It’s a figure 8 with a trot-to-canter transition thrown in the middle. Here’s what to do:

Pick up a left-lead canter at E. Proceed as if you’re going to ride a large circle, but as you approaching X (the very middle of the arena both latitudinally and longitudinally), ride straight for a couple strides, transition down to the trot and then change direction and track right. Stay trotting. You can reverse the pattern to start on a right lead canter.


Success is “flowing” from the trot to the canter – it will feel like your horse carries himself into the downward transition instead of falling into it. And trot that follows your downward transition will feel extra springy and floaty – this means your horse is using his hind legs to reach underneath himself and lift his back. Here are a few tips to help you find success:

  1. As you’re cantering past A, prepare your horse for the turn by looking to the middle of the arena. The goal for this exercise is to maintain a gentle bend in your horse’s body the entire time, and to do that, you need to ride a fairly accurate circle.
  2. As you come off the wall between F and B, think “trot” and try to slow the horse down by sinking into your saddle and slowly closing your fingers around the reins. You don’t want a sudden transition – you want to flow into the trot as smoothly as possible. If the horse doesn’t pop his head up during the transition, you’re on the right track!
  3. During your downward transition, keep your eyes up and look to C so your horse knows he’s changing direction.
  4. The trot that immediately follows the transition will feel extra bouncy. That’s a good sign! Try not to block the energy flowing from the horse’s hind legs up into his head. Keep a very soft feel on the reins and use your inside leg to ask your horse to bend around the new circle to the right.
  5. Keep that bouncy trot going as long as you can – praise your horse verbally so he knows he’s doing the right thing. Your horse might be trotting a little faster than usual, but if his head is low and he seems relaxed, allow him to keep up the pace.

Here’s a video of me and my horse Moe attempting the figure 8. We have a nice bend on our circle and a quality trot, but Moe’s head pops up during the downward transition. I need to sit up taller and keep my leg on to encourage him to carry himself smoothly into the trot instead of falling into it.

What kind of exercises do you use you improve your horse’s balance? I’d love to hear from you. Please comment below.

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