Arena Figures

What are Figures?

Figures are “prescribed paths a horse is ridden on in a riding arena…[which] provides markers that can help indicate the correctness in the size or shape of a figure” (wikipedia).


  • gives rider feedback about their own skills (a poor circle may indicate the rider sits crooked)
  • gives rider feedback about their horse’s training and weaknesses (a poor circle may indicate the horse pops out a shoulder)
  • figures are used in dressage tests, reining tests, jumping courses, and some equitation classes
  • encourages development of core strength – “By guiding the horse through geometric figures and changes of tempo or gait, the patient must make adjustments to their own posture in order to maintain an upright, balanced position.”(source)


  • practice both directions so the horse builds muscle equally on both sides
  • use for visuals cues
    • letters
    • points on the walls
    • cones
  • use progression
    • from easier to more challenging (for steering)
    • from less curvy to more curvy (for core strength and balance) – example: weaving, to serpentines, to circles

List of Figures

  • Full-school = whole arena, on the rail
    • for warm ups, to get the horse thinking forward
    • for the basics, such as posture, rating speed, and arena spacing
  • Half-school = half the arena, cut across the middle
    • for small classes
    • to practice straightness across the middle
  • 20 meter circle
    • improve horse’s suppleness
    • improve rider’s ability to keep the horse on the aids and use the outside rein
    • “Bulging or falling in both indicate that the horse is not correctly bent on the circle, or that he is leaning against the rider’s leg and falling in or out.” (wikipedia)
    • work on transitions, extension and collection
  • 10 meter circle
    • requires horse to be more balanced and bend extra, therefore revealing any imbalance via falling in with his shoulders
    • requires rider to have a very balanced even seat
    • used to teach shoulder-in or haunches-in by keeping the bend and continuing along the side of the arena instead of on the circle
  • 20 meter circle, spiral in to 10 meter circle, spiral back out
    • requires horse to be kept correctly bend
    • improves horse’s engagement since he much step under himself as he changes the circle size
  • Change direction across the long diagonal (K to M, or H to F)
    • the rider doesn’t go from corner to corner, but rides a straight few strides after the corner before turning across the diagonal, and before riding the opposite corner
    • teaches control and precision
    • works on straightness, crossing “x” across the centerline
    • used to change direction via shallow turns and without a large group running into each other
  • Change direction across the short diagonal (for example, K to H)
    • more challenging version, since turns come up faster
  • Reverse Directions (Half-volte to wall)
    • used to change directions in the show ring
    • goal is to make a tear drop shape
    • use to progress leg-yielding skills and increase horse’s engagement
  • Reverse directions through a circle via an S curve
    • ride a 20 m circle, then ride a 10 m half circle until you reach the middle of the 20 m circle, then change bend/direction, then ride a 10 m half circle from the center back to the 20 m circle
    • works on precision – horse maintains rhythm, forward, and equal bend and size of shape
    • points out rider/horse problems quickly via the quick change of direction
  • Centerline (A to C)
    • works on straightness
    • can be used to change directions
    • works on timing, planning when to turn, looking in advance the direction you want to go
    • used often in dressage tests, for salute
  • Quarterline
    • works on straightness
    • prepares rider to practice leg-yield
  • Figure 8
    • combines 2 20 m circles
    • used to change directions via half a figure 8
    • works on even circles, bend, and smooth change of direction
    • works on maintaining forward while going in both directions
  • Serpentine – full arena
    • S shape down the arena, with several loops of equal size and shape, often with several strides of straight between each bending phase
    • works on bending, and riding straight through the center
    • used in some dressage tests
    • progression for steering skills
    • to practice changing posting diagonal
  • Serpentine – to centerline
    • the more loops, the more changes of directions, the more core strength required
  • Weaving
    • shallower than serpentines
    • used to start off riders with poor balance, progress to full serpentines as able
  • 4 10m circles down the wall
    • 10m circle back to wall, go straight a few steps, repeat
    • works on balance
    • if rider has a weak/collapsing side, use circles away from the weak side to encourage it to lengthen and support itself


What figures do you like to use?


Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgement!

2 thoughts on “Arena Figures

  1. Thank you, once again for some excellent and user friendly advice. Thank you too, for the diagrams of patterns…. very helpful. Happy Riding. 🙂 Always!

  2. Good post. I learn something totally new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon every day.
    It will always be interesting to read articles from other writers and practice
    something from other web sites.

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