Joyce Swanson Training Map – Circles

Joyce Swanson and World Champion Cedar Creek Quartermaster

Joyce Swanson and World Champion
Cedar Creek Quartermaster

A brief history:  Federigo Grisone, a post Middle Age equestrian, must be credited with writing about the physiological significance of correct work on the circle.  I am inspired by his prowess at providing valuable visualizations with his words during an age sans (oops, he was Italian) DVDs.  Visualization of your horse’s anatomy is essential to executing correct dressage elements.  Your horse’s mental capacity must also be taken into consideration as you travel the dressage training road map.

Visualization of a circle and your horse’s seamless bent frame on the circle is a starting point.  But, also consider that your horse has four legs that track in parallel lines.

js-circlesNow, consider that the outside of the horse’s frame is stretched around the larger bend and the inside legs are tracking on a smaller concentric diameter creating a more acute bend of the inside of his frame.  This anatomical fact, in turn, causes the inside hind leg to track further underneath the horse’s body mass.  Voila!  Circle work is an invaluable suppling tool and automatically engages the hindquarters.  The size of the circle determines this overall effect.

Twenty meter circles vs. 10 meter circles:  The rider’s aids are more functional on a curved line than on a straightaway.  This is why dressage tests have the long sides constantly broken by circles and lateral movements that ensconce the horse between the rider’s legs, seat and hands, affording much more control.   Riding centerline places a lot of emphasis on using your legs to hold your horse on a straight line and between the reins.  The rider sits square in the saddle and hands have a fairly neutral role.  Circles afford a greater connection to the outside rein and greater bend control with the inside leg.  As you leave a straight line on to a circle, be mindful of the greater presence, connection and functionality of the outside rein.  As you ride smaller circles, this connection increases-especially with the inside leg sending the horse slightly laterally and forward toward the outside rein, as it achieves a tighter bending of the frame.

As you work your horse step by step through the tests, your horse will mentally accept the increased confinement of the aids.  Physically, he will achieve improved overall athleticism, balance and strength of engagement. A horse is, by nature, very claustrophobic because his survival depends on roaming free to the next feeding or watering opportunity.  You must gradually place higher demands to “fence him in”.  I designed the WDAA Western Dressage tests to very carefully increase demands on your horse.  The Introductory Level, Test 1 introduces just a half of a 20 meter circle for your horse to tolerate.  Test 2 introduces a complete 20 meter circle and a 10 meter circle is not introduced until seven tests later in Level One, Test 1.   The same is true of how transitions and halts are introduced but we will save that for another time.

Authored by Joyce Swanson | Copyright © 2013

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One Response to “Joyce Swanson Training Map – Circles

  • I hadn’t thought about the suppling effects of the circle work. I assume the same would be true of doing ground work in the round pen?