Ever Decreasing Circles

An article a read yesterday, talked about schooling consisting of “ever decreasing circles”. For some, it might be true, but I see schooling as full of half circles, triangles, squares, complete circles or any other shape you can think of and made more interesting when they are linked together or combined.

However, you should never underestimate the power of riding a good circle, and this is what today’s exercise is all about.

Starting at A (or C) ride a twenty metre circle, and then immediately ride a fifteen metre circle, and then immediately ride a ten metre circle from the same point. This exercise can be done in walk, trot or even canter for the brave.

It sounds easy, but give it a go. I think you’ll be surprised, and be critical here, how your second and third circles have drifted from your starting point. Additionally, you’ve probably ended up with egg shaped circles and a deteriorating gait because the inside handled hasn’t increased it’s workload to carry more weight on the smaller circles.

I used the exercise with a client today, and whilst the twenty metre circle came easily to her she did need to watch that the corners didn’t draw her horse in, distorting the symmetry of the circle. It was fairly easy to maintain the rhythm throughout the circle, and keep her horse straight (hindquarters following front legs) with the correct amount of bend.

However, when they moved onto the fifteen metre circle it began to go askew. The first quarter began on much the same track as the twenty metre circle, before she corrected herself at the halfway point, however they had lost their rhythm and balance. To begin the fifteen metre circle more correctly, she just had to prepare for it whilst riding the last quarter of the twenty metre circle and have her outside aids ready to increase the bend through her horses body as they reached the starting point. It helped when she imagined the letter A to be a tangent, only touching the very edge of the circle for one stride. 

In much the same way we looked at improving her ten metre circle. To help, I got her to ride each size circle a couple of times so she was secure with them before changing the question. Changing the amount of bend and engagement of the hindquarters with different circles really tests the suppleness and strength of the horse as the rhythm needs to stay the same, and the impulsion shouldn’t drop on a smaller circle.

Once this is mastered on both reins it can be tried at the letter E or B so that the rider has to gauge the correct size circle in different areas of the arena. Improving the eye for circles helps enormously in dressage tests, where you don’t have your personal visual cues (the pink flower along the fenceline for example), which means you’ll gain accuracy marks.

A harder version, which I may try tomorrow with one of my rides, is to go from a twenty metre circle directly onto a ten metre circle and then back again. This requires a higher degree of control and accuracy by the rider and a more supple, balanced horse.

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