The figure eight pattern looks like an easy enough exercise to do - or is it?
How is it that an online figure eight pattern alludes horse and human?
The pattern seems innocent enough considering all your horse needs to do is go around two barrels in a figure eight pattern.
Over the years helping humans and horses gel their relationship and take on a more dance partner theme, I’ve noticed on-line figure eights can look very bracey and resistant, resembling little to a dance partnership. It’s a task that doesn’t get better with time and repetition when done with force (even if the force isn't intended to be force).
Achieve understanding, confidence and trust and you will receive harmony. What I’m saying here is, when a horse understands the task, is confident doing the task and has a trusting relationship with his human, the figure eight takes on a whole new look.
Harmony verses Brace
What is your vision of a perfect figure eight pattern? But first, before you answer this question, lets look at what the horse gets out of such a pattern; why do I put such importance on this one exercise?
When we break the figure eight down into little pieces, chunks, or ingredients, we realize there is potential to put a lot of pressure on our horse. Think about it, we send them away from us not only a little bit but a lot so they can get around the barrel. Then when they go around the barrel, we bring them in towards us, then suddenly there's pressure to send them out once again around the second barrel.
The right brain horse, looses the feeling of being safe and comfortable, the left brain horse, feels he is being picked on and bossed around during the process.
How do we bring each quadrant type comfort performing this pattern?
Once a horse achieves success at this exercise and can do it in a way that is harmonic and willing, he would have achieved understanding of the exercise, developed trust with his human, and bravery going out of his comfort zone. Then there's the feeling of success once you go to him and tell him he's the best thing since chocolate, he's done a fabulous job.
Remember anyone can get a horse to go around two barrels, it's how you want the horse to feel when he's doing it that counts. Every exercise we ask of our horse has the potential to contribute rhythm and relaxation. Achieve success with the figure eight pattern will undoubtedly set you up for more success with new exercises.
My vision of a figure eight looks like -- at liberty, with a point of my finger and a rise in my life energy, my horse leaves me to move around two barrels in a figure of an eight pattern with the flow and grace of a bird in flight. Walk, trot, canter with lead changes, and possibly with more than one horse becomes easy.
The opposite picture of my dream is to see a horse bracing throughout the exercise,
What is The Horse experiencing?
Pressure, Pressure, Pressure...
Think about this exercise from the horse’s point of view. You send him away from you with force, so he will go out and around the first barrel. I don't believe anyone is putting pressure on their horse intentionally. Unfortunately, when working towards a goal ( in this case figure eight) we sometimes are more direct line thinking in our approach, so we tend to use force to get the task done, and then if the horse refuses, we feel it's necessary to put more force, thinking the horse will realize what we want, he'll do it , and bob's my Uncle.
Force turns into mental and emotional stress. You then bring him in towards you. Unless he has a good relationship with you, this may be no easy task for him to accept, since he's feeling this intense stress within himself, and you are the one at the end of the rope, why would he want to come in? Once you convince him to come in, you immediately need to prepare him to go back out and around the second barrel. More force. For most horses achieving this task becomes impossible to do with lightness and grace. Instead the human looks like a lion tamer cracking his whip.
Achieving success with the figure eight is easy. It starts with breaking the task down like I mentioned above into small chunk size pieces, so your horse can drink in the knowledge in little pieces, small enough for him to disgust and process. He chews on what was asked of him for a bit, and then he's prepared to engage in the exercise.
Set Your Horse Up For Success !
Breaking down the pattern is as simple as me asking my horse to walk up to a barrel and greet it. I have a list of Can You’s that I hope to check off. Can You : ( with confidence and understanding)
- walk around the barrel and come into me, stop and wait for further instruction. Have a party !
-walk around a second barrel, come into me, stop and wait for further instruction. Have a party!
-walk around whole figure eight pattern come in to me, stop. Have a party!
When each pattern is going well, I have my horse's attention and he is confident and willing ( I don't move foreward until I see a positive change in my horse), After a few days of building on success with each one of the 'Can You', I then may ask for the same exercise at a trot, then a canter with a drop to trot lead change, to eventually a flying lead change. Then the ultimate doing this exercise at liberty with one or more horses.
I have two or three videos of my horses together and on their own at liberty performing the figure eight pattern. They've learned that this pattern is comforting and fun, and it makes me happy to see them do it.
To watch my horses in action with the figure eight pattern, please go to my youtube page.
4700 Charlie Spruce Place, Abbotsford, B.C.