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3 Exercises for Riding Better Circles

Riding a good circle is not as easy as it seems. Riding circles places extra demands on the horse’s balance and riding accurately and in a consistent pace can help our horse negotiate circles with more ease. Here are my top 3 exercises for riding better circles that will put your riding skills to the test. They will help you assess the quality of your circles and give you building blocks for developing your skills and your horse’s balance and quality of paces.

1. Take the walls away

No need to panic, I don’t mean knocking your arena down or physically taking out the fence around your arena 😉 Riders often rely on the walls or fences of the riding arena and forget to ride the outside of the horse. Without having a connection with the outside rein (shoulder) you will never be able to turn the horse properly. On top of that, you will probably also be overbending your horse with the inside rein causing them to loose balance. When we have no walls next to us, we have no choice but to use the outside rein 🙂 

Here are a couple of things you can try:

  • Ride circles from E or B (middle of the long side). This is an easy way to test how much you rely on the natural boundaries of the arena.
  • Place poles just on the inside of the track where you normally ride (parallel to the fence or the wall) and ride the circles from the inside track (see the diagram below for examples of a set up).  This is a great way to still have a visual boundary but at the same time the horse can easily step over the poles and drift to the outside track if you are not focusing on controlling the outside shoulder.

2. Split the circle into four quarters

When riders just think about riding a circle, the circles end up being quite ‘messy’ (more potatoe-shaped). Splitting the circle into four quarter and riding each quarter the best you can improves the quality of the whole circle dramatically. Ideally use cones for visual aid – we are much better when we have something specific to aim for with our eyes (see diagram below – red dots are the placement of cones). 

As the next step, you can focus on the quality of your pace. Does your trot feel the same in the first quarter and in the next one or the following one? One of the easiest way to check for consistency in pace, is to count the number of strides or steps in between each set of cones. If you are riding with consistency, you should be able to be more or less the same number of steps or strides in each quarter. 

Once you have establish a consistent pace, you can then alter it. Can you now ride your trot or canter with and extra stride added (collect) or removed (extend) in each quarter of the circle? Or can you vary between collected/medium trot any time you enter the next quarter of the circle?

You will be surprised how much better your circles and your horse’s paces will become when you consciously focus on quality.

3. Ride diamonds instead of circles

This is a slightly more difficult exercise so feel free to skip this one if the above exercise are already a struggle or if your horse is at early stages of their training. But if you like a challenge or you have aced the previous exercises, read on. 

Instead of riding a circle, ride a diamond shape focusing on keeping your horse very straight on the straight bits and then on executing the turn at the end of the straight line before riding straight again (see diagram below). For the turn, think quarter pirouette ‘feeling’ – using your outside rein and outside leg to help you with the turn. This exercise works best in walk or canter but you can ride it in trot as well. You can start off with slightly ‘rounded’ corners 🙂  and progress to sharper turns as your training evolves. 

Remember that riding on circles is hard work for your horses so don’t overdo it and change the rein frequently. And always give your horses plenty of breaks – quality is more important than quantity.

I would love to hear from you if you have any specific horse and rider training questions or would like to see any other topics in the near future. And if you are looking for logical, evidence-based training for riders and horses in Hertfordshire, get in touch – it will be my pleasure to help you on your journey.

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