Phoenix and I did a really useful exercise in our dressage lesson this week, which I subsequently used for some lucky clients and found it to be really useful.
In trot, ride a twenty metre circle at A on the left rein. Once the circle is established, at X ride a ten metre circle on the right rein, before continuing on the larger, left circle. Repeat a few times and then on the other rein.
The horse needs to stay balanced through the change of rein and onto the smaller circle, so you’re looking for the rhythm to stay consistent. This is a good suppling exercise for your warm up, but is also useful for checking your aids because if you use too much inside rein your horse will lurch onto their inside shoulder through the change of bend.
Now that the exercise is familiar in trot, it’s time to add in the all important canter transition. As you exit the ten metre circle, and rejoin the twenty metre one, ask for canter. You should find you get a very active, snappy transition with a good quality canter.
Now here’s the reason why.
Let’s say we’re asking for left canter. In the strike off, the right hind leg steps first, and then the diagonal pair of left hind and right fore steps forward before the left fore and then the moment of suspension. The right ten metre circle engages the right hind leg, as it’s the inside one, so when you return to the left lead the right hind leg is under the horse’s body, and then they really utilise it during the strike off, which is why canter feels so much more powerful and correct.
All of the horses and riders I used this for had a straighter transition and had a cleaner change of gait, and were less likely to drift into the canter so it was a more established three beats. Riding the transition after a change of bend and away from the fence line also meant that the riders had to be clear with their aids and the horse responsive to them.