This is a really useful exercise for improving your transitions between gaits and your horse’s responsiveness to the aids. I used it today with a teenager and her pony to get them both thinking quickly, and maintaining their standard, instead of letting the trot or canter fall flat until I intervened. The canter looked lovely after; much more three time and balanced, and the transitions were less on the forehand.
Begin by riding a twenty metre circle in working trot at A. Once your circle is established, ride a canter transition over X. Ride a full circle before making a trot transition at X. Simple? Good, it’s supposed to be at this stage.
Using the circle, increase the frequency of the transitions. So initially the transitions will be at A and X, but once your horse is staying balanced throughout the transitions and listening to your aids, add in a third transition within the circle. When this is easy, add in a fourth and then a fifth. I’d like to see if you can fit any more transitions in.
The benefits of this exercise are that the horse engages his abdominal muscles to stabilise himself through the transitions; the new gait becomes balanced immediately; the horse goes off the slightest aid; the inside hind leg is engaged; and the horse lifts his back more. For the rider I find it useful for refining the aids, improving their balance, and their responsiveness to the horse’s way of going – if the horse falls onto the forehand in the trot and another canter transition is coming up in four strides time, you need to correct the trot immediately. I also make riders take sitting trot, which also helps improve their position and the horse’s way of going. Another error that the circle exercise highlights is the horse drifting out in the canter transition, so the rider’s attention is brought to the outside shoulder, which when kept straight makes the horse take the weight of his body onto his inside hind leg.
This exercise is so useful in that it can be used with walk-trot exercises for the more novice horse or rider, and it can also be used with direct walk-canter transitions. You can also increase or decrease the difficulty level by adjusting the number of transitions you ride within one circle. The exercise is also harder when the circle is ridden at E or B, so with less fenceline support.
If you find it hard to be precise in the transitions (or cheat by waiting until the gait is truly balanced) then putting cones on the inside of the circle will help guide you.