This simple exercise provides many benefits for both horse and rider, creating more suppleness, starting to engage the inside hind, teaching the light connection to the outside rein and beginning to move away laterally from the rider's inside leg.
A basic spiral exercise can be started once your horse understands how to form a correct circle. The circles don’t need to be perfect, but the rider needs to be able to correct any mistakes well.
The variations for this exercise are many, and you can decide what to do during the exercise depending on how your horse feels. One thing that is important to remember is that if you have planned to do a specific series of movements, but your horse does not feel ready, change your plans for something easier. If your horse feels better than you expected, change your plans to something more advanced!
All variations improve the connection from inside leg to outside rein if ridden correctly.
In last month’s blog I wrote about the benefits of in hand work with your horse and how to start and stop when working in-hand. This month covers the next stage, circles.
Once your horse is walking on and halting with confidence, you can start to go around circles. Begin by walking on a straight line and then start to bring yourself round the circle and your horse should follow you.
If your horse continues down the side of the school, don’t try to pull him round the circle as this could make him push his outside shoulder out and fall more away from you. Instead, gently indicate to him that you want him to follow you with a soft give-take on the lunge line to bring his head round.
The hardest part is for you to make a correct circle shape, usually riders step to the inside, so move slightly towards your outside shoulder to avoid this.
It is important that your horse starts to curve round the shape of the circle, so initially don’t make the circle too small, give both of you a chance to understand what you are doing.
Keep your space: if he crowds you by falling in through his inside shoulder, use your hand against his shoulder or the whip gently on his side to invite him to move away.
If he drifts away from you, make sure the whip is quiet and gently give-take on the lunge line to bring him round. Keep walking backwards to draw him round the circle.
Stay in front and to the side of him.
After you have completed the circle go on to a straight line making sure you give your horse enough space between you and the fence, and halt. You can then build up to more circles and, as your horse becomes more supple and balanced, you can make the circles a little smaller.
Diane Followell Classical Dressage Trainer