The figure eight is made up of two circles of equal size, joined by a short, straight juncture. The middle of this juncture is known as the “center point” of the figure. You should initially establish the center point by approaching it at the sitting trot, then posting as your shoulder crosses it to begin the figure at the trot, or by picking up the correct lead as your shoulder crosses the center point if you are going to perform the figure eight at the canter.
The most important aspect of performing the figure eight is having a plan. Select markers throughout the ring, such as a patch of dirt or the wing of a fence, to help you establish the center point and the quarter marks of each circle. Consider where you would like to go and what might be in your way, so that you’ll end up with a plan that will allow you to have two even circles approximately 50 to 60 feet in diameter.
Once you have completed the first three-quarters of the your circle, start collecting the animal and aiming for the centerpoint you previously established, so that your horse is in a collected frame and absolutely straight from head to tail as it crosses the center point. Then, gradually bend your horse the second direction and press it forward so that it lengthens its stride to a medium step once more.
Your eyes are extremely important during this test. Look to the centerpoint when you are halfway around each circle, so that you have plenty of time to make the necessary adjustments to reach your predetermined marker. (Being deadly accurate to the center point is particularly important during competition if the judge is standing on the centerline.)
The figure eight is a wonderful suppling exercise for the horse, as well as a means or developing the rider’s leg coordination. When traveling clockwise, the horse should be bent on the circle with a right indirect rein, a right leg in at-the-girth position, and a left leg in behind-the-girth position during both the trot and canter. The aids are reversed when traveling counterclockwise: left indirect rein, left leg at-the-girth, and right leg behind the girth. The inside rein and leg bend the horse, while the outside rein and leg prevent the horse from drifting outward with its shoulder or hip. Be careful not to clash your aids by keeping too much pressure on the outside rein, for this is a common error–the rider pulling on the inside rein to ask for a bend, yet not releasing enough on the outside rein for the horse to be able to bend.
Either the walk or sitting trot is acceptable during the simple change of lead in a figure eight at the canter, but the walking steps indicate a more advanced level of training. (Of course, during the figure eight at the trot, you simply change diagonals at the center point while continuing to trot.)