School figures are a huge help for riding instructors who want to keep their lessons interesting. Not only do they help you keep a group lesson organized, they prevent your students and horses from trotting endless boring circles around the arena.

The Layout

Using dressage markers or any kind of markers is helpful for giving riders a point of departure for the school figures. Here are the markers for a small arena.

A small rectangular dressage arena diagram with markers. A is centered at the short end. Going clockwise the first long side has K. E. and H.  The the next short end has the marker C centered, then the next long side has the letters M, B, and F.  There is a straight line drawn from A to C as the long center line and another straight line fromE to B as the short center line.  These letters are used to give places for riders to execute commands.,

Marker Placement

Change the Rein Down The Center Line

Changing the rein down the center line is a good exercise in accuaracy because the horse and rider cannot depend on the wall for straightness.

A dressage arena diagram with markers showing the path to change the rein down the center line. The track begins at A on the left rein. The path then goes down the long side of the arena through F, B, and M. Whehn the path reaches C on the short end it turns down the center of the arena. When the pat reaches A this time the path turns right and ends up on the right rein.

Change the Rein Down the Center Line

On the Short Center Line

This change is great for increasing the frequency of changes.

An arena with dressage markers showing a path from A. F. B, turning left at B and continuing to E then turning right

Change the Rein on the Short Center Line

On the Diagonal

Of all the school figures this is the one you will see used the most for extended gaits but it is also a good place for a small jump or trot poles. Place them before or after X so you can continue with the other changes and avoid the obstacles.

This diagram of an arena with markers shows the pattern going from corner to corner across the center of the arena in a huge X

Change the Rein on the Diagonal

Making Combinations

You can use these school figures of simple rein changes to make any number of combinations. And you can increase the fun and activity by having the students ride in pairs.

This diagram shows all the rein changes in use to form a pattern

Rein Changes Combined


School figures can change group rides from chaos to organized and they keep the riders' and horses' minds busy. Be sure to incorporate proper spacing and also correct turning aids to keep horses from dropping their inside shoulders , cutting turns, or following the horse in front of them. Change the leaders in your groups often so everyone has an opportunity to lead. If you are very creative, add a little music for rhythm and create a group musical ride.


For more on using school figures take a look at this article School Commands and Arena Figures for Every Discipline.

Your Turn

Do you use a favorite arena command or direction to increase interest in your lessons? Will you share in the comments?

Here's to great lessons, super students, and reliable lesson horses!

Barbara Ellin Fox 

Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
  • Good article. I own the 101 Exercises Books – Dressage, Western, English, Arena Exercises and have printed off a number of others off the internet. Anything to keep from riding around and around the arena 🙂

    • I love the 101 books. They have lots of useful ideas. It really takes a creative mind to keep lessons interesting and still get the good practice in. I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Thanks! Barbara

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