Banish Boring Circles

APRIL 2020. Books and articles are forever referencing just how mind-numbing “riding in circles” can be—for rider and horse. It would indeed be foolish to counter the idea that endless, pointless figures at the trot bring any particular joy or benefit to the riding experience. Here’s the thing: It doesn’t have to be that way. Each and every circle can have a life and purpose all of its own, turning every step into an engaging exercise and every ride into time well spent. 

Where You Go 

On the right rein, ride in walk on a circle just to the inside of the track. When you reach the open side of the circle, ask your horse to leg-yield his haunches away from your right leg. After a few sideways steps, ask your horse to go straight forward along the curved path of the circle again. Then, as you approach the closed side of the circle, ask the horse to leg-yield again. Continue alternating between leg-yield and traveling straight along the path of the circle several times around. 

Why You Do It 

By alternating between moving sideways and moving straight ahead, your horse will become more supple. This exercise improves flexibility in the horse’s poll, neck, and hindquarters. The inside flexion required in the leg yield will improve the horse’s flexion on the circle, and the constant change of positioning will teach the horse to react promptly to the aids (he will become more “through”). The rider’s coordination and the timing of her aids will also improve as she strives to ride the exercise with fluid transitions between the phases of straight and sideways movement. 

Here’s How 

1 Begin on the right rein, riding a circle in walk slightly to the inside of the track. 

2 Upon reaching the open side of the circle, prepare to leg-yield your horse’s haunches to the outside of the circle. Use an opening inside rein to guide your horse’s forehand inward, as if you want to ride toward the middle of the circle. 

3 Once your horse is positioned inward, bring your right (inside) leg slightly back, weight your inside seat bone, and drive the horse sideways to the left. 

4 The outside rein helps guide the horse sideways to the left and ensures that he doesn’t overbend to the right. 

5 Your left (outside) “guarding” leg prevents the haunches from coming out too far, which would cause the horse to move too much to the side and not enough forward. 

6 The inside rein should “give” as frequently as possible to allow the horse’s inside hind leg to cross over his outside hind leg. 

7 Each rein must continuously work in conjunction with the other: The inside rein guides the forehand inward to create sideways movement, and then lightens to allow the outside rein to keep the horse on the (circular) path of travel. Then, before the inside flexion diminishes, the inside rein comes into play again to maintain it. 

8 After several steps of leg-yield, let your horse glide seamlessly back to tracking straight ahead on the circle. Your inside leg returns to driving at the girth; your inside seat bone stops driving sideways; your inside hip is positioned only slightly forward, and your outside aids prevent the horse from drifting outward onto the track. 

9 After a few steps straight, ask your horse to leg-yield again off your inside leg. 

10 Ride this exercise for a few circles and then repeat in the other direction and at trot. 

The excerpt printed by permission of Trafalgar Square Books (www.HorseandRiderBooks.com). 

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