WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #182
THE CONFIDENT RIDER
GET SOFTNESS AND CONTROL
From HORSE AND RIDER - JANUARY 2012
Use this figure-8-in-a-circle exercise to up your horse's
flexibility and responsiveness.
BY TOMMY GARLAND,
IF YOU CONTROL YOUR HORSE'S nose, you control his pace and
direction. This gives you confidence plus boosts his suppleness
What do I mean by controlling his nose? I mean you can flex your
horse laterally while moving him actively forward. In response to
minimal cues, your horse bends through his neck and body (while
keeping his head/neck level), and willingly changes direction as
My figure-8-in-a-circle exercise will develop all those skills
and enable you to feel, Wow -I have so much more control now!
Create a 25-foot-diameter circle inside your arena. (Draw the
circle in the dirt, or use cones or other markers.)
Outfit your horse in a snaffle or other mild bit (or bosal), so
you can communicate clearly without stressing his mouth.
Warm him up thoroughly before attempting the exercise.
If your horse is inexperienced at lateral flexion, work from the
ground and then mounted at a standstill to teach him how to give
his nose around smoothly, without raising his head, in response
to rein pressure.
Then try the figure-8 exercise, first at a walk, then advancing
to a trot.
Here's how. Enter the circle at a walk and guide your horse in a
figure 8 within the circle, trying not to go beyond the limits of
the circle as you do so. To create each half of the 8, take a
firm enough feel on the rein to initiate the small circle. Flex
your horse's head around smoothly, lifting the rein up to draw
his nose toward the point of his shoulder.
At the midpoint of the 8, in the middle of the circle, ask your
horse to change his direction and his bend by reversing your
cues. Release the pressure on the rein that created the first
circle, while smoothly picking up pressure on the other rein.
Change your leg pressure at the cinch (switching from one leg to
the other) to help change the bend in his body.
Initially, at the point where your horse's neck straightens out
before bending the other way to start the new circle, he'll want
to lift his head. Don't jerk or bump the rein; just keep the rein
pressure steady until he softens in his jaw, then soften your
pressure in return for an instant to tell him, "Yes! That's what
I want." Eventually, he'll figure it out and learn to keep his
head at the same level throughout the exercise.
Work on this exercise for about 30 minutes per day, allowing at
least two weeks to really get the hang of it.
The two halves of your figure S within the circle should be
roughly equal in size and as evenly round as you can make them.
Don't get discouraged if you go outside the limits of the circle
on some of your turns in the beginning. Your horse won't be
listening to your legs and bending as much as he needs to, and
you won't be cueing as effectively as you need to. Just keep at
it; you and he both will improve.
Also, don't bore yourself by staying at a walk for too long. As
soon as you begin to figure it out, go ahead and move to the trot
and continue to polish the exercise and your horse's responses at
that gait. You'll get better as you go.
When you and your horse are doing the figure-8 real good at a
trot, the next step up is the canter or lope in the figure-8.
Be patient, it takes time for your horse to learn it all, but he
will in time.
My horse Goldie once she figured it all out and what she was
suposed to do, what I wanted her to do, it was then easy for her.
I think now that when I put out the figure-8 with the red cones,
she says, "Oh I know what this is all about, easy as pie, watch