The five-star eventer shows how the figure-of-eight jumping exercise can help develop balance, rhythm and the ability to land on the correct canter lead
This is a very versatile exercise because, depending on the experience of the horse and rider, it can be started in trot with just poles on the floor and built up to canter over a variety of fences, including oxers and skinnies.
It is also great for overly fresh or erratic horses as the rider has to concentrate quietly on the rhythm, balance and line of the circle, which maintains the horse’s focus. Additionally, the rider has to think ahead, always looking up and forwards to the next fence or risk missing it, as it is only a handful of strides away.
The exercise can also stop horses anticipating the route, because you can change the course by continuing straight down the long side occasionally instead of staying on the circle.
1. Set up the poles on the circle as shown in diagram one (above). Ride over the middle pole at X and continue on a circle. Begin with poles on the floor, then when horse and rider are confident with the exercise, build the poles up into small fences. Start off on a 20m circle on each rein, then progress to changing the rein over the fence at X to ride a figure-of-eight.
2. Aim to keep the horse balanced and rhythmical to the middle of each fence by staying central in the saddle; keep the line of the circle by steering with your legs. The horse should be encouraged to land on the correct lead if you keep your weight in the inside stirrup; allow the outside leg back and open the inside rein slightly as the horse takes off. He should switch leads when changing the rein over the fence at X.
3. To increase the technicality, you can add a further fence at A and C (as shown in diagram two, below), or change the fences down the long side to skinnies or make the fence at X into a parallel. The fences don’t need to be big — I keep the height to around 80cm — although the fence at X could be increased if you want to incorporate something a bit bigger as you master the exercise.
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Tips and pitfalls
- Make sure that your horse is properly warmed up before starting, especially in colder weather.
- Keep the exercise simple — don’t increase the difficulty too soon.
- Ride from the inside leg to outside rein to bring the horse’s shoulder round on the turns — don’t pull the inside rein or you’ll lose the shoulder to the outside of the circle.
- Keep your hands down and soft, using your legs to keep riding forwards to the poles or fences.
- When changing the rein, step into the inside stirrup, looking up in the new direction. To aid the change, you can slightly open the inside rein out to the side.
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