Amanda Brewer explains everything you need to know about how to ride that perfect circle.
Riding an accurate circle demands that you are in control of your horse's shoulders and hindquarters, and that the horse has the correct curve from nose to tail. Good riders will make it look easy, reality is anything but!
When a horse is bent correctly on a circle he is in lateral bend i.e. he has a regular curve from his poll to his tail like in Pic 2. His inside ribs are slightly compressed whilst the outside of his body is in an arc. In a lateral bend the rider's inside leg forms the centre around which the horse is bent. His neck should not be anymore bent than he is through his body.
A larger degree of bend is required when riding smaller circles and correspondingly less for the larger circles.
Every horse has a stiff side and finds it easier to bend on one rein than on the other. Although your horse may feel more difficult on the stiff side, it is should be remembered that his easier side requires just as much work. On his good side he will accept the rein and you can recognise this because this inside rein does not lie flat against his neck. On his stiff side the inside rein always lies close to his neck and he will not naturally follow the action of the rein.
As a trainer I want to achieve the same soft contact on both sides, improvement of the contact comes about through systematic training to make him supple and elastic on both sides. This is where the exercise of riding a perfect circle really comes into its own.
It is your inside leg on the girth that makes your horse go forward and is the centre around which he bends. Your inside leg also makes sure that your horse's body bends around the circle in addition it also ensures that the shoulders are prevented from falling in.
Your outside leg is used slightly behind the girth this will help prevent your horse's quarters from swinging out and therefore keeps his body following the curve of the circle.
The inside rein positions your horse correctly and indicates the direction in which he should look -this is your direction rein. To prevent his neck becoming more bent than his body you must support your inside rein with your outside rein. Too much inside rein will result in too much neck bend this in turn will cause the horse to fall out through his outside shoulder. (Pic 3)
The outside rein defines the size of the circle and softly prevents too much inside bend. You should aim to have a soft and elastic contact on the outside rein. As you achieve a correct circle and bend you should feel that your horse is stepping from his inside leg softly into the outside rein. He should not feel heavy or as if he is leaning on your contact.
I want you to feel as if you are supporting him with the outside rein and encouraging him to bend and step happily into it.
Start by using the tips opposite to ride an accurate 20m circle. Once you have achieved this, try to spiral your horse in and out taking care not to let him fall in through his inside shoulder or drift out through his outside shoulder.
Picture the exercise this way - once you have your perfect 20m circle imagine an 18m circle and bring your horse in 2m. This exercise can be repeated by stepping down in 2m steps until you reduce to a circle of 8m, then spiral out again in the same precise and correct way. Do one circle at a time, taking care not to let your horse fall out to the wall. Remember when riding this exercise never to make the circle smaller than the horse is ready for, and make sure that you keep the quality of the walk, trot or canter. There is no value in riding a small circle if your horse loses the rhythm of his movement.
With thanks to Sarah Hordern and Sparkle. Sarah has owned 1 year old Sparkle for 7 years and working with Amanda, throughout this time, has bought Sparkle from a just broken 4 year old to working at Medium level. They also evented very successfully but have concentrated on dressage since an injury necessitated a year off work for Sparkle. In 2000 they qualified for the Prelim Winter Dressage Championship. Sarah's second horse Market Moment is also trained by Amanda; he has recently upgraded to Novice Eventing and he also Show Jumps.
Amanda has competed at international level and trained with many of the world's leading trainers including Captain Mark Phillips for event training, Conrad Schumacher, Ellen Bontje and Nicole Uphoff for dressage. Amanda is based a East Soley near Hungerford and teaches all levels of riders.