In the last blog post, we talked about how to ride a correct 20-metre circle. This month we will be talking about the many common errors while riding a circle.
A correctly ridden circle should start and end at the same point and be round, not oval or egg-shaped, which can be caused by the horse falling in on the circle, drifting out on the circle, or being ridden too deep into the corners. While on a circle the horse must maintain his rhythm in whichever gait is called for.
A horse may drift out on the circle if the rider isn’t maintaining contact with the outside aids (leg and rein). A rider not turning with her body can also cause a horse to evade out of the circle. When a rider turns her body with the bend of the horse, the rider’s outside leg/thigh will be closer to the horse. The rider’s hands will also follow the body, opening more with the inside rein and closing against the neck/shoulder with the outside rein. The outside aids create a wall for the horse to follow.
The horse should be evenly bent through his body from head to tail. However, it is relatively common to see a horse traveling on a circle while being too straight. This may be caused by the rider’s body not turning on the circle, causing the horse to stay straighter in his body. It could also be due to a horse that is not supple through his body.
The rider’s body is not turning on the circle causing the horse to stay straighter in her body. As you can see by the arrows, both the horse and the rider are not bent on the circle.
Another common mistake is if the horse is overbent through his neck (folded) but straight throughout the rest of his body. This is generally caused by a rider pulling too much with her inside hand and not supporting enough with the outside rein. This causes the horse’s shoulder to ‘bulge out’ on the circle as the bend of the horse is mainly through the neck instead of through his body.
The rider is pulling too much with the inside hand and not supporting enough with the outside rein. The horse is over-bent in the neck, causing the shoulder to “bulge out” on the circle. The bend of the horse is mainly through the neck, instead of through the whole body.
If the rider is leaning into the circle and pulling too hard with the inside rein, but has a supporting outside rein, the horse’s shoulder may not be bulging as much, but it can cause the horse to tilt his head. Head tilt can be created by too much “pull” from either rein, along with a supporting rein. The horse should have his nose in line with the poll. If the nose is slightly to the left or right of this line, then the horse would have a noticeable tilt to his head.
The rider is leaning into the circle and pulling too hard with the inside rein. The outside rein is supporting so the shoulder isn’t bulging as much, but this has caused the mare to tilt her head.
A horse traveling on a circle with his haunches swinging out is often caused by the rider not using her outside leg to prevent the swinging out of the haunches or the rider’s inside leg has moved back causing the haunches to push out of the circle.
Another common mistake is when the horse is traveling counterbent on the circle, instead of in true bend. A counter bent horse will be bent opposite to the direction of travel. This can be created by too much pull on the outside rein or by a horse that needs more suppling to be able to maintain a true bend.
Rider position is very important in riding circles. If a rider is leaning into the circle, this will cause the horse to lean into the circle as well. The horse may push against the rider’s inside leg, making it more difficult for the rider to keep the horse out on the circle. If the rider picked up her inside shoulder and put a little more weight to the outside seatbone, the horse would maintain the circle much easier (see picture 4). A rider collapsing through the rib cage, leaning to the side, or turning from the shoulders only, will throw a horse off balance.
The rider is leaning into the circle with the outside hand slightly higher than the inside hand. The horse has a slight lean into the circle. This can cause the horse to push against the rider’s inside leg, making it more difficult for the rider to keep the horse out on the 20-metre circle. If the rider picked up her inside shoulder and put a little more weight to the outside the horse would maintain the circle much easier.
This article is the fifth one in a series of articles on Western dressage and is a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz. The articles appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis.