It’s well known that any horse, no matter what discipline, can benefit from dressage. But putting your horse into full dressage training isn't practical for many riders. So we’ve decided to bring the dressage to you: this new series of mini-lessons will give you dressage exercises you can work on with your horse at home to better develop his performance in your regular discipline.

Circles: The Round Balance Beams

Have you and your horse hit a wall in your current training? Don't worry; every rider has been there. Regardless of which discipline you want to master, incorporating basic dressage elements in your routine can help negotiate training “land mines” and get you to your goals.

One simple, yet very important figure to ride at any gaitfrom warm-up to cool down is the 20-meter circle. Riding circles can improve your horse’s balance and straightness, and increase his lateral suppleness, or side to side flexibility. To maximize these benefits, you will need to give your horse correct bending aids and ride to the reference points for accuracy.

To achieve straightness, you need to bend the horse evenly from his head to his tail. You may have heard an instructor say, “Bend the horse around your inside leg.” When the rider’s inside leg applies pressure at the girth, the horse’s barrel doesn’t really bend. In reality, the horse begins to step underneath himself with his inside hind leg, lowers his inside hip, and lets his ribcage rotate outward.

As your horse bends, your inside leg and outside rein must work simultaneously. As the inside leg encourages your horse to bend, the outside rein receives the bend, keeps the shoulders in line, and turns the horse. The inside rein maintains flexion at the poll and the outside leg, placed just behind the girth, supports the haunches.

For precision, let’s go back to geometry class. The standard dressage arena is 20 meters wide by 60 meters long (small arena 20x40). A 20-meter circle has a 20-meter diameter (10-meter radius) with a center and four equidistant points of reference. When the circle is placed over the arena’s centerline, it must touch the track on either side.  If you are riding a circle at either end, be careful not to ride into the corners and lose the roundness. It is helpful to remember these options when you are building stables and barns.

Geometry is important, since it gives you a measurement to make sure that your circles are even and that your horse is bending properly throughout the whole exercise. But other common errors can arise when riding a circle, reducing its quality and effectiveness. For example, centrifugal force can push the horse outward as he travels on the circle, causing his haunches to escape first. Applying your leg just behind the girth can help to keep your horse’s haunches in check.

Another frequent issue with the circle occurs when riders pull the horse around with the inside rein. This over bends the neck and can cause the outside shoulder to bulge. As you travel the circle, think PUSH rather than PULL.

Finally, keep an eye on your own position in the saddle. Even the slightest imbalance can affect your horse’s way of going. Whenever possible, enlist the help of a friend or reputable trainer to be your eyes on the ground.

Circles can greatly develop your horse’s balance, while making you a more accurate rider and giving you more awareness of both your horse’s and your own position. Now that you have become equipped with an essential training tool, you can tack up and soon gain more enjoyment and satisfaction from your time in the saddle.  Have a plan, demand a few quality strides, and reward often – Remember this tip; your horse will thank you.

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Original Source: Dressage for Every Discipline: The Circle

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Comment by Classic Equine Equipment on September 29, 2014 at 10:02am

Thank you Darla for sharing your interesting and insightful perspective on the world of dressage training.  You may also enjoy reading this article on Classic Dressage.

Comment by Darla McKean on September 26, 2014 at 6:09pm

Aaah! The pursuit of the perfect 20 metre circle, maybe that is why there is no beginning and no end, we are constantly striving for perfection.

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