The Importance of Riding Accurate Figues

After a weekend of training judge candidates and watching repeated mistakes in ring figures, it seemed appropriate to discuss the importance of correct figures which effect the balance of the horse, and hence the score!

Knowing the dimensions of the arena and placement of the letters should be part of every riders’ early education. For the purposes of this article, we will be talking about the full size 20  X 60 meter arena.

Unfortunately there has to be some math involved! Knowing that the corner letters are 6 meters from the actual corner and the next letters are spaced 12 meters further down the long side, as well as the corresponding centerline letters (D, L, X, I, G), is crucial to knowing where to place figures and movements. Let’s take the 20 meter circle for example, when placed at A or C, on the open side of the circle, the line should cross the center line 2 meters beyond L or I (6 + 12 + 2 = 20 meters). And even for the visual learner, it is necessary to see where the centerline letters would be and to be able to gauge and develop the feel for the correct bending line as it crosses the centerline. And consequently the 20 meter circles when placed at E or B, need to cross the center line at the same point (2 meters inside from L and I). A mistake we often see are riders crossing the centerline at L and I, which for the A and C circle would make only 18 meters, and for the E and B circle would make it 24 meters! And hence making it impossible to maintain uniform bend and balance in the horse as the circle is no longer round.

Developing the awareness and feel for the correct size and placement of these circles is then crucial to riding the perfect 3 loop serpentine. The rider must understand that the serpentine consists of the halves of the three 20 meter circles, connected by a brief straightening where the horse is parallel to the short side when crossing the centerline into the new loop. Keeping in mind as you begin your serpentine at A or C, that it begins as a 20 meter circle which means it does NOT go into the first corner, and consequently as the serpentine ends at A or C, it does NOT go into the prior corner, which seems to be a common mistake we often see!

To improve a riders feel for the placement of the circles, cones can be an extremely helpful training tool. By placing cones along the center line in pairs (about 1 meter between the cones) at the appropriate crossing points, will give the rider a visual point to learn how to make the horse straight before the bend of the new circle begins.

The correct precision of these figures paves the way for developing balance and correct bending necessary to build engagement and suppleness as you move up the levels. Flaws or details skipped in the basics only lead to awkward movements later on. As an example circles which are never round and the haunches falling sideways to the outside lead to balancing issues in shoulder in. Another example:

Canter serpentine without correct alignment in the horse due to an unbalanced figure will not develop the correct balance (collection in counter canter) which can then create difficulties for the next step of a correctly executed flying change.

It is also important to understand the importance of correct balance of all corners as they connect and lead the rider to another line or as the tests progress they lead into a movement. A corner is ridden as a quarter of a circle or volte. At Training and First level a correct corner is ridden like a quarter 10 meter circle. As the levels progress the demands of the corners increase. Second and Third Level ridden as 8 meter quarter voltes (developing and increasing collection), Fourth Level and above is ridden as 6 meter quarter voltes. One common mistake that we often see in the show ring is a rider cutting the corner and losing balance and connection with little preparation for what comes after the corner. Also at the lower levels when a rider tries to make a deeper or sharper corner than necessary when the horse has not developed the balance to achieve this, leads to the same negative result. Pay attention to DETAILS…………they will help lead horse and rider more smoothly up the levels as well as earn higher scores in the performance on the show grounds.

See you on the Center Line!