Riding good circles achieves many things; stretching and strengthening the horse on both sides; starting to engage their inside hind leg; placing them round the rider’s inside leg; developing balance, suppleness and strength. Good trainers never underestimate the importance of riding correct circles.
Nuno Oliveira always rode a few circles on each rein at the start of a training session regardless of the level of the horse, and the always had to be
“a correct geometric circle, not a potato or a egg.”
Different trainers use slightly differing aids for circles, but some general points to consider are:
Start with some basic exercises, beginning with some circles on each rein. Make them small enough so that your horse makes a little more effort, but not so small that he loses his balance.
Then come into the middle of the school and ride some changes of bend from one circle to another. Try to feel how your horse copes with the changes and adjust the size of the circle accordingly. Keep the changes of bend in balance; have a few steps straight before asking for the new bend.
Throughout the session, use circles to help re-balance and engage your horse to set them up for the next exercise.
In the pictures below, the chestnut horse on the left is correctly positioned round the rider’s inside leg and is bending though his body to create a balanced circle. In the picture on the right, the rider has pulled the inside rein back, blocking the horse’s inside hind from coming though and pushing the horse onto their outside shoulder with braced ribs.
Diane Followell Classical Dressage Trainer