What are they?

School commands have their basis in the military where the need to move many minds in one direction at the same time requires a standard set of simple instructions. 

School commands are instructions and movements for direction inside and outside of an arena. A way to navigate. Perhaps a more modern term is arena figures

Put in the simplest terms—go somewhere and do something when you get there. Example: when you reach the brown gate turn right. Then when you get to the end of the arena turn left.

School commands help avoid confusion by giving: 

  • execution points: At A (or the brown gate)
  • command: Change the Rein 
  • direction: down the center line

When put together, these simple school commands form the patterns for riding.

You will need visuals:

For convenience, my diagrams look like a small dressage arena. You can be just as efficient in your live riding area with one of the following suggestions.

In an arena you can use:

  • Dressage markers
  • Paper plates with letters or numbers drawn on
  • Different colored bandanas 
  • Ribbon
  • Colored construction or foam paper

In a pasture or field without fencing, try:

  • Colored buckets (use a variety)
  • White buckets with numbers or letters in electrical or duct tape
  • Cones with numbers/letters in colored tape
  • Jump standards with markers, paper plates, or bandanas
  • Barrels 

The point is that you don’t need a formal set of dressage markers or a formal arena to teach and practice school commands. Use names of favorite horses. Names of pieces of equipment. Use your imagination and see what you have. The idea is to place markers that differ from one another in strategic spots to give riders, horses, or yourself a point at which you’ll do something. Or you can use a simple dressage arena configuration.

Here are three elementary school commands.

There are many more school commands, so I’ll cover more under a different post. These are simple diagrams in a basic arena to demonstrate execution points. They are not examples of round turns or what your arena should look like. Teaching Ideas using school commands will be available in a future post.

  • Change the rein down the center line

a diagram of an arena with a line down the center
  • Next, change the rein on the diagonal
a diagram of an arena with a diagonal line through it
  • Finally, change the rein on the short center line
A diagra of an arena with a line drawn right to left through the middle

What do they do for teaching?

  • School commands organize your students 
  • give you more control over a group of students. 
  • Help you hold your students’ attention by keeping lessons interesting. 
  • They train riders in spatial awareness. 
  • Teach control. 
  • Give opportunities to use aides.
  • What do school commands do for riders?

    • give riders a focal point which helps with concentration and execution. 
    • They keep you aware of your horse. 
    • help riders measure the success of a move and give you a place to return for improvement. 
    • Because you know where a movement will be executed you have time to prepare your horse.
    •  Helps you work on precision.
    • Works on aides for turning and straightening the horse.
    • Increase the harmony with your horse.

    What do they do for the horse?

    • They add variety to his training and keep his mind fresh. 
    • Teach him to come away from the wall.
    • Improve his balance 
    • Will make him more responsive to your aides. 
    • Will teach him to travel straighter.

    How do they work for my discipline?

    There is a long list of school commands from changing the rein to reverses and serpentines, or circles to roll backs and pirouettes. Patterns are based on school commands and arena figures, whether it is a jumping course, a dressage test, reining pattern, equitation test, or ranch riding. Drill rides are designed using school commands and figures.

    Often, riders worry that their horse will anticipate or sour if they practice the exact test they will compete. By using school commands and figures you can practice the same moves in a different order. This helps sharpen your horse and prevents anticipation that normally comes from practicing a test.

    Every time an instructor teaches school commands, or a rider practices them with their horse, they are working toward better control and more finesse. Control and finesse go a long way toward executing good rides whether they are trail rides, foxhunts at speed, or in competition. 

    Be sure to check out The Riding Instructor on Instagram for a simple pattern using these three basics.

    Your Turn

    Do you have an imaginative way to set up the markers in your arena or riding area? How do you use school commands and figures?

    Thanks for joining me at The Riding Instructor today.

     Barbara Ellin Fox


    Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
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