Western Dressage Exercise – Change Through the Circle

This is a maneuver that lots of riders make to change direction, but rarely do I see it ridden correctly or balanced. When the horse changes direction by a tight turn like this, he needs a stride or two to re-organize his spine and balance on what will be a new inside hind leg. Also, his pelvis needs to get organized as well. Involved with this: lowering his new inside hip, stabilizing the outside hip, stretching across the outside quadriceps and adducting the turning leg. I don’t want you to over-think the biomechanical working of a balanced turn, though. I want to discuss how to ride this exercise well, so it helps strengthen and supple your horse. This exercise is, after all, a superb test of his suppleness.

The first step of this direction change is the horse turning his poll in the new direction. Unfortunately, many riders start by wheeling the horse’s shoulder s toward the new direction and then asking the horse to turn his neck, like an afterthought. Unless a horse positions his poll for the new direction, his only option is to lean on his inside shoulder as he tries to catch his balance. A horse can only draw his shoulder back—and therefore lighten its load—when his neck is bent in its direction. This is the piece I want you to focus on in this exercise. Rather than making a prompt but unbalanced direction change, I want to see you flexing the horse towards the new direction and then turning.

Your aids will need to be quickly administered and your horse responsive to them. Otherwise, as you will discover, this exercise gets tricky!

change-circleChange through the Circle

  1. Develop your working jog rhythm on a 20-meter circle, going left or counter clockwise.
  2. Ride at least twice around the circle to establish your rhythm and bend.
  3. Then, as your circle crosses over the center line of the arena, turn left as though you intend to ride a 10-meter circle inside the larger circle. Ride half of that 10-meter circle….
  4. And then change your horse’s bend to the right and ride half of a 10-meter circle.
  5. Now you will have arrived back out at your 20-meter circle traveling to the right, clockwise.
  6. Ask yourself how it went. Did your horse jerk his head up? Did he change speeds? Did you get a BEND on both turns or did it feel more like wheeling around on a bicycle?

You should be able to ace this exercise after a few attempts. If not, return to a walk and try it, especially if you are on a green or older stiff horse. If you are still struggling, practice some turns on the forehand to sharpen up your horse’s response to your leg aids. Then tackle the pattern again.

Western Dressage Weekly Exercise – authored by Jec Ballou | Copyright © 2013

One Response to “Western Dressage Exercise – Change Through the Circle

  • Great exercise, this maneuver becomes a 1st level movement in the USEF 1st Level Test 1. Bend and flexion are so important for all our our dressage horses, Western, English and driven.
    Thankyou for these suggestions.