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Exercises to improve your circles

Updated: Mar 25, 2021

In our Learn section we talked about why working on our circles is so important, the benefits that using smaller circles can have and the common problems riders face with their circles. If you haven't read out Learn section yet you can find it here.


Problem 1 – horse drops off contact and loses the rhythm

This problem generally arises from a lack of impulsion so our main focus is getting our horse to take us forward. As your horse becomes more forward you should find that they start to take the contact more and the rhythm then improves. Your aim then is to maintain this on a circle.

1. Ride down the long side in a forward or medium trot thinking about pushing your horse forward and into the contact.

2. As you come to your corner think about bringing your horse back to a working trot so he is balanced for the corner but keeping the secure contact the forward/medium trot helped you to create.

3. At A or C ride a 20m circle focussing on maintaining this contact and rhythm.

4. Ride down your long side again in a forward/medium trot remembering to collect back to a working trot for the corner.

5. At A/C ride a 15m circle again focussing on maintaining this contact and rhythm.

6. Continue this exercise making the circles progressively smaller each time.

Tip: If you find you lose the rhythm or the contact becomes inconsistent again then go back to a bigger circle and make sure your horse is consistent and established in his rhythm and contact before making the circle smaller.

Problem 2 – horse slows down and leans

This problem comes from the horse not wanting to take their weight onto their hind leg. The 10m circles are great for building strength and creating engagement and push. Going large makes sure you are able to keep this positioning in your normal trot.

1. In each corner of the school ride a 10m circle. Really think about your horse keeping a shorter, more collected trot, taking more weight onto their hind quarters and becoming lighter in the hand.

2. As you come out of the circle ride along the long side aiming to maintain this trot with sit in the hind quarters and lift in the shoulder.

3. Repeat the exercise using the 10m circles to create the compression, sit and lightness of the forehand and the long/short sides to aim to maintain this trot.

Tip: Use the contact as your judgement of how well your horse is pushing. If you feel the contact comes lighter, you feel your horses bum go down and their shoulders come up. You’ve got it.

Problem 3 – too much neck bend but no body bend

The square is a fantastic exercise because it teaches you as the rider to not over bend your horse. Really think about the straightness as this is the key!

1. Ride a 20m square instead of a circle. Focus on keeping your horses neck straight, imagining their head neck and shoulders are in a box.

2. You will find you have no bend on the circle. Use your leg to create this. Apply just your inside leg and ask your horse to bend in the rib cage around your inside leg, you’ll find the neck will bend along with it but you won’t be applying a lot if any inside rein.

Problem 4 - Horse falls in or out

Option 1:

This exercise is great because it works both on your straightness on a straight line and your straightness on a circle. The pushing forward part is very important as this is the correction you will use to straighten out your horse when they become wonky.

1. Ride down your 3/4 line focussing on your straightness. Each time you feel your horse isn't straight push with both legs forward into the contact. Imagine its almost like your squeezing a tube of toothpaste.

2. As you get to the middle of the arena, ride a 15m circle. Pay attention to whether you feel your horse is straight and balanced. As soon as they dont feel balanced use both legs to squeeze them forward.

3. After riding one circle return back to your 3/4 line to the end of the arena before repeating the exercise again.

Challenge: You can progressively make the circles smaller as your horse becomes stronger, straighter and more balanced,

Option 2

This spiralling is fantastic for getting your horse to bend around your inside leg and not fall out through the shoulder. Its all about control so play around and see where you have control over your horse and where you lose control. Its a great indicator of where you need to put more work in, in your training.

  1. Start on a 12m circle in the middle. Pay attention to whether your horse falls in or falls out.

  2. If they fall in, apply more inside leg and expect your horse to step away, if they don't react give them a quick sharp kick. If they fall out, take more of a hold with the outside rein. Imagine it almost as creating a wall that your horse cant go past or through.

  3. Once you feel like you can maintain the size and shape of your 12m circle you are going to use your inside leg to push your horse out to a 20m circle. Really make sure your horse steps sideways out to the track and doesn't just drift.

  4. Once on the track aim to maintain this feeling of your horse bent around your inside leg.

Challenge: play around with this exercise. Ask for a lot of sideways stepping and then less; ask for a few steps sideways and they ask your horse to go straight or even try riding a few walk trot transitions whilst working through the exercise. You can really test and challenge your control over your horse by adapting this exercise as much as you like!

Problem 5 - Accuracy

A great practice for your circles is to ride the snowman exercise. Not necessarily very season friendly at the moment as we’re coming into spring but nevertheless still a good one. It’s a great exercise as it works as both an accuracy check and a great suppleness exercise with the changes of direction and bend.

1. Start at C and ride one and a half 20m circles to the right

2. On your second go round as you get to X ride one and a half 15m circles to the left

3. Again, as you come round the circle the second time as you cross the centre line ride a 10m circle to the right.

Tip: Get someone to video you riding this exercise from the C end so you can see it from the judges perspective. Are you really being as accurate as you think you are?

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