Joyce Swanson Training Map – Riding Accurate Circles

We all know that dressage circles come in various sizes but not shapes.  Over the years, riders have tried to convince me and dressage judges, no less, that their interpretation of a circle was adequate.  The mathematical debates that suggest a perfect circle does not exist based on the imperfect π equation continues to elude rationality since it’s denotation in 1706.  A circle is the foundation upon which all good horsemanship rests.  It is a primary suppling and gymnastic tool.  Successfully creating its shape in your horse’s frame is a prerequisite for every dressage element.  So while the equation for the circumference of a circle continues to elude mathematicians, its application in dressage remains ubiquitous.

For practical purposes, an accurately ridden circle will start and end at the letter and maintain a consistent radius.  It is helpful to drop a cone at its center to help riders gauge accuracy by riding an equal distance from the marker.  Any loss of balance, bend or forwardness will degrade the desired precision.  Without such a standard, there would be no way to evaluate our horse’s performance on the circle and make ongoing corrections.

Many riders rely on the reins to ride a circle.  Typically they overuse the inside rein pulling their horse’s head over the inside shoulder instead of preserving his natural position directly in front of his chest. The neck is bent in favor of the ribs, compromising the horse’s balance and sending him careening through his outside shoulder.  This is very disturbing to a horse who relies on his head for balance.  Threatening one of a horse’s survival mechanisms leads to serious consequences.  Anxiety causes him to race through his cadence, resist in the bridle to regain his head position, stiffen in the ribs and swing his hips in some fashion to regain balance and straightness.  This is untenable as it will lead to a poorly executed shoulder in, half pass, pirouette and renvers, – movements that rely primarily on a horse’s properly shaped frame.

training-on-circlesA better way to ride the circle is to create the shape in your horse’s frame just before leaving the track with your inside leg and outside rein half halt and simply send him forward on the circle.  By focusing on preserving your horse’s shape with timely adjustments to catch him if he falls in or out, you will center him nicely on the aids.  There is nothing more fundamental in riding then good timing and proper use of the aids.  Once again inside leg, outside rein reigns supreme.   If you don’t aspire to perfection on a circle, how can you assess your horses understanding and responsiveness to your aids?  He will find relaxation couched in your expert guidance.  Resistance will dissolve in favor of soft, concave sides and engagement through a relaxed balanced frame.

Create a soft bend and visualize your horses bent frame on the circle. It is helpful to aspire to correctness on a quarter of the circle at a time.  By not overusing the reins, the forward energy will flow.  Ride with your large muscle groups like abs, legs and seat.  Hands should always have a secondary role. Straightness and balance is key.

Authored by Joyce Swanson | Copyright © 2013

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