Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Todays discussion, those pesky round thingies!

“Daddy, what are circles?”

“Circles are round”.

“Why are circles round?”

“Because they are not squares”

“Why aren’t squares round?”

“Because they are not circles”

“Daddy….what are squares?”

I was asked via email recently to talk about circles. I would have posted the email, however the great computer genius that I am, I deleted it.

But I will continue on with today’s topic on circles anyway.

The big question that was asked in the email was….when I am loping circles at home, my horse usually will either drift to the outside or cut to the inside. And to top it off he will not stay at a consistent speed. What can I do to fix the problem?

To answer that, I am going to break down how I like to approach a circle, and what I expect from my students as well as from my horses.

The reason that doing a nice clean circle is important is that it shows that that the horse and rider are balanced. And by working horses in circles we are able soften and supple our horses.

1) Starting to work horses in the circle.

When I start to work a horse in a circle there are a two factors that are important, and those factors are quite simply, the horse and the rider. Let’s start with the rider, the rider should be balanced and centered on the horse. If the horses shoulders are facing forward, then so should the riders.

The horse should be in line with the rider, and the horse’s shoulders should be upright and s/he should be perpendicular to the ground. (Obviously a horizontal horse would not be able to do a nice circle or any circle for that matter). The horse also, like the rider needs to be balanced. That means that all four feet need to be on the ground.

2) When we start the circle, it is important to remember that there are two ends to the horse. I find that too many people seem to focus on the horse’s front end and forget that though the hind end follows the front end it also works opposite. What I mean by that is, when we do circles the horses outside front leg crosses over the inside front leg. And the horse’s inside hind crosses over and in front of the horses outside hind leg. The more the horses outside front crosses over the inside, the more the hind end will slow down and the horse will start to drop his shoulder and cut the turns. The more the horse’s inside hind crosses over, the slower the front end will work. In other words the horse becomes heavy on the forehand.

3) The fix.

What is important to remember, is that we want the horse to be able to give laterally. The softer the horse becomes the easier it is to create that balance that we are looking for when we start to do our circles or teach the horse new things. Of course, teaching a horse to give laterally means that our horse is learning to do circles.

Once I feel that the horse is soft and supple enough then I will start to work on the circles. I am not going to worry about the horses head position, but I am going to ask the horse to tip his nose ever so slightly to the inside of the circle so that he follows his nose.

I am going to start at the trot and with my inside leg. I will turn my toe towards the inside of the circle to apply light leg pressure with my calf so the horse has to stay upright and engage his hind end.

My outside leg will stay at the cinch so I can get the horse to move his shoulders away from my leg pressure. I apply equal pressure on the outside leg as I do on the inside leg when I start out.

*Remember I want both ends to be crossing over equally.

If the horse starts to speed up, then I apply a little more pressure with my inside leg so that the horse has to cross over on the inside with the hind end thus slowing him down.

If the horse slows down, then I apply a little more pressure with my outside leg so that the horse has to cross over a little more in the front end.

When the horse starts to drift to the center, or cut his corners, then I lift my inside rein slightly and apply light pressure with my inside leg. If the horse drifts to the outside, I lift my outside rein slightly and apply light leg pressure with the outside leg.

When the horse is comfortable doing the circles at the trot, then I move onto the lope and repeat the process.

As far as taking hold of the horses and doing half halts to try to slow a horse down, that can have the opposite effect of what I am trying to accomplish. If I let the horse lope on a looser rein, and apply light pressure as needed there is less confusion and the horse will be easier for me to work with. I want the horse to always stay relaxed and comfortable. If I am always pulling in his face that will never happen and it will take a lot longer for the horse to catch on.


kestrel said...

Poifect...aaand ,ahem, an undignified FirsT!

Trainer X said...

LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!

fernvalley01 said...

Well said, JR, now how about a clinic in say... ALBERTA?

GoLightly said...


Much applause.

More applause.

Well said. Keep them perpendicular. Harder than it sounds;)

CharlesCityCat said...

To me, learning to ride a proper circle teaches you how to properly ride the turns on a hunter course.

Good topic JR.

Cut-N-Jump said...

Yes, GL- harder than it sounds. At least for some of us... Myself probably being the leader there.

He always tells me I think too much when I ride.

GoLightly said...

Yup, brains get in the way, CNJ.
No doubt aboot it.

JohnieRotten said...


We would love to go to Alberta.

CharlesCityCat said...

Sigh, I have always loved clinics. To me, they were between a regular lesson and a show. You know, a heightened sense of competition but not for ribbons or trophies. More for learning from the clinician and being able to put it to practice during the time you are there. Fun, Fun, Fun!!

JohnieRotten said...


maybe we could do a whirlwind tour throughout Canada and the US.

CharlesCityCat said...


I have plenty of room, come on!!!

JohnieRotten said...


it really would be a lot of fun. But we would have to promote the hell out of it and get people to show up.

Dena said...

I am right now and right here copyrighting my idea from reading this article.

Has anyone ever just said the heck with it and used a marker to put an L on the left shoe and a R on the right shoe when teaching your kids right and left?

I am going to market Is and Os.
I think my marker could be very useful.

Great thread JR!!!

Anonymous41yroldmarriedwoman said...

THANK YOU for this topic!! Very timely! And it also hammers home how important it is for horses to be taught to give laterally, it is a building block.

Great, imformative post - now I will picture this in my head as I'm working with my 3 yr old...

Drillrider said...

I was a "leaner", leaning to the inside of the circle until I had a lesson and was told this causes them to drop their inside shoulder.

Used to frustrate me that the trainer could get on my horse and get wonderful things out of it and I could barely ride, but it takes time, lots of saddle time, but I'm sooooooo much better after 13 years of having horses as an adult.

Thanks for sharing your knowledge about with us. So many horse people "hoard" their knowledge and won't share it without $$$$. I have horses....I have no $$$$ left!

cattypex said...

GOOD topic!

When you have short weak legs, riding a circle gets more challenging.

I am impressed when Western riders do good circles - I feel so unbalanced when riding with one hand, and I've been taught to use the outside hand as a gentle support and tool to keep the horse going correctly, with inside leg sort of scooping him into it and outside leg keeping his ass on the curve.

Accomplishing that? as an out of shape chubby re-rider? woooooo!!!!

I will re-read this carefully before I start lessons back up this fall. Like most folks, I have to be mindful of the dreaded lean.

NewHorseMommy said...

OT, but is this horse obese or just built strangely (I'm leaning towards obese).


I still don't know how to make links...

She's almost as sad as the skinny ones.

Too bad I have decided I am a gelding sort of gal (and my boy can only get along with one mare at a time-he hates the others!).

GoLightly said...

Looks like a HYPP horse.

Not obese, but very badly built. You can see ribs in one of the pics.

cattypex said...

Yeah, looks HYPP to me too... with that weird "melting" appearance, like her hindquarters are trying to shed a heavy layer of something.

Poor thing.

NewHorseMommy said...

Well that's depressing...

I assumed the photo with the ribs showing was an older shot.

Poor thing.

cattypex said...

Actually, I think the ribby photo might be an older shot... shes wearing a different halter....

At any rate.... all I can say is......

Poor thing.

cattypex said...

Besides the saggy butt, her pasterns are alarming, and I can't STAND that low a tail set.

It adds to the whole "I just looked into the Lost Ark and will soon be a puddle" illusion.