The Perfect Circle

When you learn to ride a horse you suddenly discover that riding a circle is harder than it seems. Nigh on impossible for a beginner!

I’ve been working on improving circles with different clients recently, and have found a few common errors.

Firstly, for many people a circle starts brilliantly but when they reach the halfway point it all goes to pot as horse and rider return to the track as fast as possible! I found that the easiest way to improve this circle is to divide it into quarters. Then at every quarter mark the rider can check their aids are correct and the horse is correctly positioned for the next quarter of the circle. Then of course the rider can ensure the horse is balanced for the next quarter. If the circle goes awry then it is easier to pinpoint the problem and to correct it for the next quarter, which means the problem shouldn’t occur next time round. Riding each quarter also encourages the rider to continue riding the whole circle, instead of giving up on the last part, which is so common.

Another problem I commonly see is that people often don’t know what a 15m circle looks like, or where it is positioned in the school. A twenty metre circle at B often causes problems.

To solve this problem, I found a really useful diagram.

The final flaw of riding circles that I’ve been working on with clients is the distortion of circles when meeting the sides of the arena. The little horse who had this problem used to be in the riding school. Initially I split the circle into quarters to establish my riders vision of her circle. As a visual learner, it helped her to have physical objects to aim for. 

Then we discovered the mare’s tendency to get stuck on the track and go four strides before responding to her riders leg and crossing the arena towards X. By this time there was no arc to the circle, rather a shallow curve. Once at X, the mare took the quickest route back to the security of the track. So our main aim became to ride just one stride at each object, so the mare had to become responsive to the leg and independent to the arena fence line. 

It took a while, but with forward thinking and being two steps ahead of the mare, my rider managed to get beautifully symmetrical circles in trot and canter on both reins. To help overcome track-hugging syndrome I suggested my rider only ever uses the inner track when she schools, and with her new eye for circles they will keep improving. Then of course I’ll ask for a circle around X, and work towards circles of different sizes!

Proof that you can ride a decent circle, I feel, is when you ride a circle allowing the horse to stretch. Here you’re really using your seat and leg, and it’s much harder to make subtle adjustments, or at least it’s easier for a minor error to become a bigger problem.

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