Are You Missing the Point?
Are you struggling to ride accurate circles? If you think about it the chances are your other shapes are probably ‘not quite right’ either. Think about riding a circle from A. When do you actually start having trouble? Most riders would say as they approach X or as they try to return to the track but that’s the end result of something that happened as you started the circle.
Shapes should start from the first marker but a lot of riders don’t really start riding correctly until they leave the track (when things start to go wrong). Until that point they’ve only been riding the inside of their horse; focusing on where he’s looking and just how much bend they have; allowing the fence or boards to control the outside.
Lack of preparation and control shows up most often as you leave the track when your horse falls out and the circle has a bulge or falls in and flattens the curve. If you do arrive successfully at X you’ll probably relax as you head back to the track mistakenly thinking the worst is over. At that point you’ll lose control of your horse’s shoulders and find yourself either reaching the track two strides too soon or missing it completely.
Does any of this sound familiar?!
Think back to when you first learnt to ride – all you had to do was ride from one point to another. The chances are you managed it too! As you improve it’s easy to get so focused on the `clever stuff` that you forget all about the basics – straightening up and steering!
There are some other posts on riding both sides of your horse below – all of which will encourage you to think more about straightening your horse up rather than worrying about inside bend which actually causes more trouble than anything else. (Other than canter transitions …)
Whatever your horse’s age the problem of accuracy lies with one source – you! He can only do what you tell him. That can be easier written than ridden of course. What you need is an exercise to help you to feel and appreciate exactly what is going wrong and where.
This exercise can be used on any shape – serpentine, circles of any size and figures of eight – the idea is to straighten out the curves so you start to think about the points you should be riding towards. For this explanation imagine a 20m circle at A, start in walk and ,move on into trot and canter when it suits you. Make sure you use both reins equally – you may think one side is easier but this exercise may well surprise you. Often the stiffer side is easier to control.
A circle at A has four tangent points – A, X and two points on the track 10m from the ends of the school or E/B. Remember that the corner markers are only 6m from the track not 10m as commonly thought.
With those points in mind ride a straight line between each of them. To do that you need to keep your horse’s head and neck straight in front of you. Make sure the pressure is even in both reins – throw all thoughts of looking to the inside out of your mind! Use both legs in their usual place to drive your horse’s quarters up behind his shoulders – remember he should be straight so all you have to do is keep both hips in line with both shoulders.
The less you do the easier it is for your horse to understand. Remember he hasn’t got a clue what you’re about to ask him to do. Use your body to tell him where you want him to turn. Your contact and legs just keep him moving forward in a straight line. It’s your body that shows him where to move forward to.
Make sure you turn your shoulders as well as your hips so your horse does the same – riders often turn their shoulders and forget to turn their hips. When your horse does this his quarters swing out wide of the line his shoulders have taken which is why you spend your life bringing your outside leg back to correct him. Get him lined up before the turn and you can sit still which is better for both of you.
Looking up and straight through your horse’s ears will show you where your horse is looking. If he’s not looking at the next tangent point then that’s not where you’re going to end up. And bear in mind that his body doesn’t always follow where he is looking so keep the pressure even on your reins and from your legs.
Once you’ve got the straight lines sorted start to introduce curved quarters to the circle. Do one at a time – try riding a curve from the track to X and then straighten up from X back to the track. Be firm with yourself so you focus hard on your position and contact. If your horse doesn’t straighten up you’re not riding both sides of him.
When you introduce two quarters do them at opposite sides of the circle. One quarter straight and the next curved. It isn’t easy but it will show you just how much you need to concentrate and prepare. There’s no such thing as ‘just a circle’ but it’s your mind that has to work not always your aids.
This is a method you can use on serpentines – ride the half circles as straight lines from the ¾ line to the track and back to the ¾ line. When you introduce the circles again do it half at a time. Start with the second half so you ride onto the straight line to cross the school – this is a great way of telling if you got it right – if you’re focused on the inside you’ll find you’re not on the correct line.
Remember your horse can only do what you ask him to do. The next time you get frustrated that he’s falling in or out on a circle make sure you ask yourself why.
Good luck and enjoy your schooling.