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Trouble Shooting: Circles

In this Training Article we have taken 3 Hub Members questions all about various issues they have with their circles. Whether that's they're too big, they're too small or they're not accurate enough. Ive shared quite a few test riding tips and tricks in this one so if you are looking to perfect your circles this is the one to listen to!

Question 1: 15m circles

Helen says: "Hi Jess, firstly thank you so much for your workshops. I have been working really hard to control the controllables after the 'competition preparation' workshop and its made such a difference to how i feel going into a competition and last show i smashed my personal best every score by 4%! So now i need to crack my circles! I am competing at Novice level and 15m circles have my mind in a boggle. I get 20m circles and have always been accurate with them but i just have no clue where i am actually aiming for with the 15m circles. The judges are saying that they resemble ovals rather than circles so i assume im not going deep enough but im not sure how far to go across"

15m circles are probably the hardest circles to know where you're going. With 20m, at least half, if not 3/4s of it is just touching the track and with 10m circles you just aim for the centre line. But when it comes to 15m circles it can seem odd. When you don't know where you're aiming for you its also basically impossible to be accurate because you're kind of just winging it around the arena in the hope that the area you somehow end up in is vaguely the right size and shape you're aiming for. It helps to know the length and width of the arena and break it down from there; i hate maths but this has really helped me know exactly where im aiming for so i can then be really accurate.

We went through all of this this in our accuracy workshop, so if you're a hub member i strongly recommend you go and check this out because we went through loads of diagrams of each circle in each size arena so its crystal clear how big the circles need to be, where they go, how to get there and so on. We did this workshop after Helen had sent in her question so we could go really in depth into where her issue was with the 15m circles and now im pleased to say she went out last week and got 7.5s and an 8 i think for her 15m circles which is great.

So, when it comes to 15m circles then: the arena is 20m wide and 60m long (or you have 20m wide and 40m long). Lets say were doing our circle at E. So Helens issue is the fact that her circles aren't deep enough or basically they're not wide enough across. Our circle needs to be 15m wide and 15m deep, so the furthest point of the circle needs to be (remembering that our arena is 20m wide); we need to be aiming for 5m in from the track. In other words, the 3/4 line. But when it comes to the 15m circles at C or A is when it gets more difficult. Here you need to think about aiming for 2.5m in from both sides of the arena. This can often be the trickiest to get, i always look for the 3/4 line and then aim for just past it and that seems to have always done me well.

But yes, 15m circles are hard, it can help to place poles or markers out in each quarter of the circle to help give you something to aim for and get the feel of a 15m circle and then you can slowly remove the poles or markers as you get comfortable.

Question 2: Circles too small

Michelle says: "I am so grateful you are doing a trouble shooting episode on circles as these have been the bane of my life! My circles are always too small. My instructor says that its because my horse leans on my inside leg but i have no clue really what that means. We do little leg yields and things and that does seem to help but I'm not sure why they work or how i can get the same result when I'm doing a circle in the test. Any help would be greatly appreciated!"

Every time circles are too big or too small we always bring it back to the inside leg to outside rein connection. Now if you have no idea what I'm talking about then we did do a whole episode on this which i will link in the description below but the short version is that the inside leg should be on your horse to create inside bend and the outside rein is there to turn the horse around the circle. If instead we used both reins and both legs wed end up with a horse that is straight which we obviously don't want on a circle so to create a bend but with control over the shoulders we use our inside leg and our outside rein.

Michelle's horse sounds like he falls in so for this we need to use more inside leg. Now when this happens you should feel your horse reacts by stepping more sideways. But, like if your horse doesn't react when you put your leg on to ask them to go forward, you may have to use more pressure or even a kick to get the reaction you want first. Leg yields are really helpful for teaching your horse to step sideways away from your inside leg which is probably why your instructor has got you doing them. They're really good at getting your horse to understand that when one leg goes on they need to step sideways. But then you've got to apply it back to your circles so each time you feel your horse tries to make the circle smaller use your inside leg and make sure you get that reaction where you feel your horses steps to the outside and makes the circle bigger.

A great exercise for this is to start on a 20m circle and then bring your horse into a smaller circle by reducing the pressure with your inside leg and increasing the pressure in your outside rein. If you get an outside bend then you need more inside leg and less outside rein to get that body bend back. Then you ask your horse back out onto the 20m circle by increasing the inside leg pressure and reducing the outside rein pressure. This is a great exercise because it helps you to work out what is the perfect amount of pressure that you need with your inside leg and outside rein to create a soft bend to the inside through the whole body but keeping control of the shoulders.

Question 3: Circles too big

Sarah says "Hi Jess, my circles are always too big. unless i have a wall there stopping me i guarantee they will be huge, it normally ends up that i turn but i end up a good 5m down the arena from where i was aiming. Im not quite sure whether its me or my horse, if i try and take more inside rein to turn more it just gets worse. What should i do?"

Okay so this takes us back to the inside leg to outside rein again. The problem is that when we are taught to ride we are taught that you turn by pulling on the inside rein and that is a hard habit to undo. If you pull on the inside rein you will generally create neck bend, create too much neck bend and your horse will have to push out through the outside shoulder to keep themselves balanced, hence the falling out through the shoulder.

So, if your horse is making the circles bigger than he will be falling out through the outside shoulder. So, to fix this all you need to do is take up more pressure in your outside rein. If you have too much inside bend you can also imagine keeping your horses neck straighter as this will help you to take up more pressure with the outside rein. If you look down to the inside you should just be able to see the corner of your horses eye and that is how much bend you need, if you see their whole eye or you start to see their nostril you've got too much bend.

One last thing that really helped me with this is that someone once told me not to turn head or neck but to turn the shoulders. We know a horse has an ability to bend and move their neck but keep their shoulders still; so a horse can move their neck without moving their shoulders, but, if you move a horses shoulders, their neck has to follow. So think about turning the shoulders and front feet rather than the neck and it will help you put your horses body in the right position that you'll be able to keep control over that outside shoulder.

Question 4: Accurate circles

Emily says: "Hi Jess, my circles are really letting me down in my test so i am hugely grateful that this is this weeks topic! I am constantly losing marks for accuracy of my circles, are there any tips or tricks to think about when riding accurate circles?"

So when it comes to riding accurate circles in a test it comes down to two parts. The first part is the training side and that is all about do you have that inside leg to outside rein connection that we spoke about. So basically, is your horse always falling in and making the circle smaller or falling out and making the circle smaller. If one of these two is your problem than your issue is in your training and you need to either focus on using more outside rein or more inside leg on your circles.

But, i know Emily and i know she has been working on this like a champ in training and i have seen how much this has improved to the point where her circles are near on perfect at home. So, this is where the test riding part comes in.

Because i know Emily can ride good circles at home, there are one of two things happening. The first is that old habits are creeping back in when the competition atmosphere is there, or shes a bit nervous, or anxious, the bad habits creep back in and it happens to everyone. We run through a test at home and its great and then somehow at a show there are all these little mistakes that creep in that we never had an issue with in training.

And that is why test riding is such a helpful thing to do. Practice running through a test and, if circles are your issue, pick a test with loads of different size circles, if you can find one with 20m, 15m and 10m circles in then that is ideal, i think the championship novice test is a good one for that! So, yes practice and assess. Ride through the test and either have someone video it or reflect back and think about the quality of those circles. If your horse fell in or out, go back and ride them again and see if adding more inside leg or outside rein fixes the problem for you. Or was it that your horses trot got a bit faster so he lost balance, or was it that your horse got a bit slow and unsupple meaning he was harder to turn? There are lots of reasons why a circle might not pay off how you want but test riding will help you figure out what it is that is causing the issue, and the more you test ride, especially if you can do it in competition atmospheres, the more practice you will get at performing perfect circles. Its all about you being able to set up the right trot or canter for a good circle and then being able to execute that circle well.

One really helpful trick that i tell my clients though is to think of your circle as 4 quarters. Break down your circle into 4 points, before you do your circle have those points in your head of where you're aiming for and then when you start your circle just focus on creating a soft arc to your first point, and then your second point and then your third point and then back to the track. It works so well because it keeps you focussed on the job at hand, riding an accurate circle, but it also means that, by breaking it down, you pick up any issues and change it a lot quicker. So, if your horse falls out and makes the circle bigger on the first quarter of the circle, you will overshoot your first point, you'll realise this and then will be able to fix it in the second quarter; rather than doing the whole circle, finishing it, then realising it was too big but you cant do anything about it by that point.

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