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DieselPony 05-17-2011 01:42 PM

Riding circles
I've been riding for about 16 years now, but its been a lot of self learning and dealing with some questionable groups. I took some lessons, then started riding with a riding group, and well I wont go into that, I'll just say that was a disaster. Then to a different trainer and then onto a different instructor. They all had different ways of everything, so needless to say, I'm confused.

I have come to realize that I am not consistent with how I ride a circle and my poor mare is getting confused as well. I've been taught varying things like more inside leg contact with more inside rein contact or the opposite, more outside leg with outside rein. But my mare falls to the inside or sticks her nose to the outside and doesn't bend.

So what is the generally accepted way of riding a circle? What are your reins doing? Your legs? Your seat?

I ride western, but am direct reining. My mare is still fairly greenish.

Thank you if someone can clear up things for me.

Scoutrider 05-17-2011 03:39 PM

This is how I ask for a circle with proper bend (more dressage-y style):

Inside leg at the girth, asking for bend from the ribs by encouraging the "outward" swing with each step of the inside hind leg. By encouraging the out motion of the ribcage, you encourage overall bend around that inside leg.

Outside leg slightly behind the girth, supporting the haunches as well as preventing the circle from becoming too large.

Outside rein supporting with soft contact, helping to capture the energy created by that inside leg encouraging the forward and bend.

Inside rein is for "tweaking"; a soft hold to guide the nose if necessary, releasing/softening often to reward, a lifting motion to correct falling in on the inside shoulder, etc.

Also, be sure to look where you are going: this will bring your upper body into a balanced turning position and start the application of the aids. Think about sitting straight and not collapsing your own inside ribs/shoulder/hip around the turn. Sit tall and deep, encourage the horse to go forward, look around your circle, inside leg to outside rein.

Start with large circles at first - it takes time for the horse to build the muscles necessary to hold a tighter bend.

GeminiJumper 05-17-2011 03:44 PM

I'm not exactly sure how you support a western horse through a circle but here's what I do while riding english.

Inside leg at the girth and outside leg behind. Inside rein a bit open and contact with outside rein. Your inside leg is at the girth giving something for your horse to wrap around from your outside leg yet the inside leg also gives some support. You have the outside rein to help keep your horse from over-arcing the circle and popping his outside shoulder out. The outside rein and inside rein used together can also help him from dropping his inside shoulder.

Cherie 05-17-2011 10:36 PM

People that are having problems with circles are not 'letting' or 'making' a horse carry himself in a circle or any direction the rider is indicating. Western trainers put MUCH emphasis on 'self carriage'.

I started out training Hunt Seat and Dressage and soon was inundated with Western horses to train. My English background really helped me 'train' rather than force Western horses to learn. But, my Western training really helped me get a horse to not depend on the rider's hands to 'carry' it or 'hold' it in place. It is the constant 'holding' a horse in a circle (or a straight line for that matter) that totally makes them 'lean' on a rider.

I can generally have a green colt trotting or loping decent round circles within 30 days of riding. The straight lines, without a supporting contact on the reins, takes a bit longer. I can get this done because I refuse to use a constant contact anywhere to maintain a prescribed direction.

I have found that a constant contact on a green horse is only something for him to lean on and come to depend on. If you support a horse with an inside rein (to maintain bend) and you support a horse with a steady leg on the inside to keep a shoulder up and to keep a horse from chopping off the circle, the horse will completely 'fall in' to that circle the instant you take the leg off. A horse will never develop a direction independent of steady pressure.

We all acknowledge that a horse must be rewarded with a lack of pressure in order to learn something and then most of us apply constant pressure to get the horse to maintain a certain direction. It makes no sense to the horse to maintain a direction if the rider just keeps on pulling on the reins and pecking or pushing a horse in the ribs. What must he do to get you out of his face and out of his ribs? If you ride as most people do, the horse cannot do anything good enough to get you off of his mouth or ribs.

I suggest that you ride green horses with no contact until the horse has learned to go forward and follow his nose with ABSOLUTELY NO PRESSURE on either ribs or reins. You do this by lightly bumping the inside rein (not steady pulling or jerking) until the horse's nose is slightly to the inside (to the point where you can barely see the corner of his inside eye). If his nose is where you want it, leave it alone. Do not make a contact with his mouth unless he straightens out too much or over-bends. Then, you simply bump his mouth until he again achieves the amount of bend you want. Then, again, you reward that position by not pulling or bumping.

Now, if the horse's head and neck are where you want them, then you simply use just enough leg pressure to get him to properly 'follow his nose'. If he drifts out (usually shoulder first toward the gate or toward other horses, etc), you 'bump the outside rein while you give him a thump in the ribs. The intensity of the thump should match the amount he is deviating from following his nose. If he pushes out hard to the outside, you use a hard outside leg or a spur. Then, as soon as he brings his shoulder back where it belongs, you realign his head and neck and get off of his ribs and mouth again.

If a horse drops his inside shoulder and tries to fall into his circle (usually when he is farthest from the gate or his horse friends), NEVER 'hold' him out with an outside rein as you will be destroying his body curve or position, and NEVER 'hold' him out with a steady, supporting inside leg. Instead, DRIVE him out with a hard inside leg and make him get over and stay other.

The instant he achieves the correct body position and the correct direction, reward him by NOT pulling on a rein and NOT putting a leg on him. Once he figures out what he has to do to get you out of his face and ribs, it does not take very long for a horse to maintain a body position and a direction offering very little if any resistance.

Reining horses are trained in this way. They will stay on a circle with the exact same body position and will take the exact same track until the rider tells them to change that track. You can lope two or twenty 100' circles or two or twenty 50' circles on any trained reining horse and never have to tighten a rein and not have to bump him with a leg. This is the most exact example of having a horse 'stay between the reins and stay between the rider's legs'.

It is actually much easier to teach a horse to 'carry himself' around a circle than it is to teach him to trot or lope in a straight line without the rider having to push him over or straighten his head up. This has a much greater degree of difficulty.

My favorite maneuver to teach a horse to achieve perfect straightness is to ride 'squares' out in the pasture. You can pick up an inside lead and ride a 150 foot square with straight lines (not bowed out at all) between corners where the horse is guided into rather tight rounded corners (much like those ridden in a Dressage Test). Before the horse has time to 'learn this pattern, the square is ridden on the outside lead. Then, the horse can either be taught to 'counter-canter' the tight corners or a small 3/4 circle can be loped to the outside at the end of each straight line. With a small outside circle ridden at each corner of the square, a horse can be taught to 'guide' exactly where the rider wants it to go. The reins are kept loose and the horse is only 'bumped' with a rein or a leg to keep it straight. The horse is 'rewarded' by the lack of contact when it is staying on the prescribed track.

I hope this makes sense. It a lot easier to do than to explain, but I will try to answer questions as they come.


DieselPony 05-18-2011 07:42 PM

Wow, thank you for the thorough response Cherie. There is one thing I want to double check and clarify, and then a couple questions on some problems I'm having.

First: "If he drifts out (usually shoulder first toward the gate or toward other horses, etc), you 'bump the outside rein while you give him a thump in the ribs. The intensity of the thump should match the amount he is deviating from following his nose." The outside rein part kind of confusing, if she is drifting outwards pulling the outside rein, or her nose, towards the outside seems backwards. Or am I paying more attention to the bend than the actual invisible circle on the ground I'm walking? So in other words, I don't care how "pretty" my circles are just so long as she keeps a proper bend and doesn't shove her shoulder out?

And the problems:
Going to the left at a walk, she sort of nose dives. She is dropping her shoulder, but for the most part its because her head is well below her withers. She'll carry herself in the right amount of bend where I just see her the corner of her eye so I don't want to touch the reins, do I just use lots of leg?

What I have been doing was tipping her head with one rein while squeezing her forwards because she tries to hang on my hands when she drops her head so much, but after reading this that probably helped developed my next problem. I do believe she drops her shoulder so much more to the left because she has an old, was once very bad shoulder injury and just doesn't have the muscle like the right side.

My second issue, is major yo-yoing to the right. I ask for her nose and she swing hers nose until there is lots of slack and then swings it right back to straight. I blame it on the constant flexing to the sides I was always told was so amazing, but to never ever ask the horse to hold it. I have been asking for her to hold the flexes but she still does the jerk back for just slight turns.

What I was planning on doing was to hold my hand as steady as possible after asking for the bend and letting her catch herself in the mouth when she jerks her nose back. Will this work or cause her to get a hard mouth?

Thanks so much if you can answer these. I probably do sound way under qualified for a greenie, but I trying my best to learn here. And from the sounds of things, I finally found a good instructor. The stuff I learn from reading this forum matches her methods. But after a few bad apples its nice to have others to ask if its the best way.

Cherie 05-18-2011 10:24 PM


First: "If he drifts out (usually shoulder first toward the gate or toward other horses, etc), you 'bump the outside rein while you give him a thump in the ribs. The intensity of the thump should match the amount he is deviating from following his nose." The outside rein part kind of confusing, if she is drifting outwards pulling the outside rein, or her nose, towards the outside seems backwards.
The reason you bump with the outside rein is that most horses get to this point by a rider trying to get them more to the inside by pulling on the inside rein. So, the horse just learns to 'over-bend' which helps them push the outside shoulder out and actually makes them drift out. If you lightly bump the outside rein, you help in keeping the outside shoulder where it belongs. You bump with the inside rein if the horse tries to straighten out too much. You don't bump hard enough on that outside rein to actually take the horse's head to the outside.

We all strive to teach a green horse to follow its nose. To do that, we need to perfect shoulder control. A horse does not have to follow its nose but it does have to FOLLOW ITS SHOULDER. So, shoulder control (by preventing over-bending) helps teach a drifting out horse to follow its nose. The outside leg insures that it does. Once the horse is in the correct body position (nose slightly to the inside), you should not EVER pull any more on that inside rein. It has already done what it needs to do. It is up to the rider to use a crop or a spur or a bare heel to make the horse follow that nose.


What I have been doing was tipping her head with one rein while squeezing her forwards because she tries to hang on my hands when she drops her head so much,
This is why you bump them rather than giving them something to lean on. While they are green, giving them 'support' only causes them to turn it into more resistance.

The Yo-Yo thing or any form of a busy, unsteady head is fixed by you bumping them any time there head in NOT where you want it for the maneuver you are trying to perform. If you are trying to go in straight line, then you want the horse's head straight in front it. If you are going in a circle, then you want a slight bend the direction you are going.

As a green horse gets more trained, you need to get more critical of where the horse keeps its head. I call it the 'sweet spot' or the 'sweet zone'. I bump the horse's mouth any time the horse goes above or below the 'sweet spot' and give it relief when it has its head in an acceptable spot. Again, the horse learns from what it does that makes you leave it alone. Again, getting off a horse's head and out of its ribs is the only reward it needs for doing the right thing.

IPHDA 05-20-2011 10:02 AM

Many times as riders learning we get confused not from the lack of knowledge from the instructor or clinician but from the terminology used.

I would suggest that you pay more attention to your horses shoulders and the alignment of his face and shoulders when in a circle. (Alignment of his face and shoulders is keeping the horses face on the same vertical plane as his shoulders.)

Next I would give yourself a visual to assist you in feeling what part of your horse is not on the proper arc of the circle. Draw lines in the dirt around a center marker. Start with a 12 foot circle that is 6' from the center cone then draw an 18 foot circle 9' from the center marker. then ride your horse between the lines if his outside front foot steps on the line his outside shoulder is drifting if he steps on the inside line with his inside foot his shoulder is dropping and if he steps on the lines with his hind feet they are not arcing at the shoulders and hips. Hands control the shoulders and legs supply forward motion. Forward motion will usually fix the hind end if you have the horse between your reins.

Couple things to remember between your reins and legs means you need to use 2 it is impossible to stay between one. Use your hands and legs in rhythm with your horse, let them find their own release and when they do do not continue pulling.
In a circle the shoulders are the most important part of the horse to ride, get the shoulders standing up and the feet moving around the circle and push the hind quarters to follow.

Here are a few video's that talk about some of the things I mentioned, There are others that talk about alignment and separating control of the shoulders and hips,Rod Miller PHD Professional: All-round foundation - Training tips

Good luck and walking trotting a perfect circle is one of the hardest things to learn and teach our horses. it requires separate control of the body parts and the ability of the horse to accept our hands and legs and go forward into contact.

Rod Miller

SissyGoBob 05-20-2011 04:07 PM

I didn't read the whole thread, but I have ridden my entire life and I still have trouble with circles. Sounds dumb, but I set up cones on the ground until I got the feel for a "correct" circle. Like the bend and leg cues and what not. I have gotten much better. Just my little 2 cents :)

Hope I help some

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