Dressage tests from British Dressage (BD) Preliminary level upward contain certain exercises that require you to ride a 15-meter circle.
That sounds pretty straightforward, but you would be amazed just how many riders struggle to ride an accurate, centered figure of 15-meters. It’s harder than it sounds!
Well, wonder no more! In this guide, we explain everything that you need to know about how to ride a good 15-meter circle.
What’s the purpose of the 15-meter circle exercise?
The 15-meter circle is included in dressage tests for a number of reasons:
- To show that the horse is laterally supple enough to negotiate a circle of that size
- To show that the horse is obedient to the rider’s outside aids
- To show that the horse is balanced
If all those boxes can be ticked, the horse should be able to complete a circle of the correct dimensions, in the correct place, in a good rhythm, and without losing his balance.
The exercise can be ridden in the trot from BD Preliminary level and in the canter from BD Novice level upward.
What the dressage judge expects to see
Dressage judges look for a number of things when judging 15-meter circles.
- First of all, the circle must be the correct size, and it should be circle-shaped. It’s amazing how many riders produce an 18-meter egg and then wonder why they are marked down!
- The circle must be centered at the prescribed marker, not a few feet to either side of it. Remember that for judging purposes, all dressage movements, including transitions, should happen when the rider’s body passes the marker. So, the starting point for your circle should be as your body is level with A, B, or whatever marker the test prescribes.
- The judge looks at the horse to see that he is uniformly bent through his body around the circle. The horse’s legs must remain on one track. He must not swing his quarters out or fall out through his shoulder or lean inward.
- The horse should swing forward through his back in a good rhythm with no change to the tempo. He should not slow down to negotiate the circle.
- There should be no hollowing away from or resistance to the rider’s contact.
- The horse should remain working forward from behind and in an uphill balance, rather than losing impulsion and falling onto his forehand.
If any or all of those ideals are not achieved, that tells the judge that there are problems with the horse’s suppleness, balance, or obedience to the rider’s aids, and the movement will be marked down accordingly.
How do you ride a good 15-meter circle?
Before we discuss the aids that you need to ride a 15-meter circle, you must understand how to ride one accurately.
As mentioned above, your circle must be the correct size, the correct shape, and in the correct place. So, make sure that you know the dimensions of the dressage arena before you start.
For example, in a 20-meter x 40-meter arena:
- When ridden from B or E, a 15-meter circle must touch the ¾ line.
- If the circle is ridden from A or C, both sides of the circle must touch a point 2.5 meters in from the track, and the point of the circle opposite the A or C marker should be 5 meters from X.
Sit down with a paper diagram of the arena, and work out where the circle should be placed for it to be accurate, according to the requirements of the dressage test that you’re preparing for.
Related Read: How to Accurately Set up a Dressage Arena
When you’re ready to begin practicing riding 15-meter circles from the saddle, set out some cones or short poles in your arena to help you keep the circle accurate. Now, think of the circle as a diamond shape. Each point of the diamond equates to the quarter point of your circle.
As you ride around the circle, make each of the points rounded off. Aim to touch each point and keep the whole thing smooth. That will keep the circle accurate and also guard against the dreaded “squircle” or egg!
What are the aids for riding a 15-meter circle?
Keep in mind that while riding the circle, your horse must continue working forward in a regular rhythm and suitable tempo, swinging through his back, and seeking an elastic contact. The horse’s frame should be round, and he should show uniform bend through his body around the circle while remaining on one track. The horse’s balance should tend to be uphill. In other words, the horse should continue to work along the dressage Scales of Training.
The aids for riding a 15-meter circle are:
Use your inside leg on the girth to maintain the impulsion, encourage the horse to “sit” on his inside hind leg, and establish the inside bend around the circle.
Keep your outside leg slightly behind the girth to guard the horse’s quarters and prevent them from slipping to the outside if the horse tries to evade bending around your inside leg.
Use your inside hand to ask the horse for some inside flexion and bend through his neck.
Don’t ask for too much neck bend or you will lose control of the horse’s shoulder and he will fall out.
Your outside hand prevents the horse from pushing through his outside shoulder and falling out, while also controlling the tempo (speed) of the rhythm.
As you ride, make sure that your shoulders and hips remain in line with your horse’s shoulders, don’t tip forward, don’t lean to the inside of the circle, and make sure that you look around the circle and not down at the ground.
By positioning your body in that way, you are actually helping to turn the horse, making it easier to keep the circle the correct size and shape. Visualize the diamond of the circle, look ahead, and ride a smooth curve around each point.
Practice makes perfect!
At first, it’s better to practice riding small circles in a walk. That gives you more time to get to grips with coordinating your aids and getting used to riding the circle accurately. As you become more confident, pick up working trot, remembering not to slow the tempo of the rhythm. Keep riding forward!
Once you’re confident that you can maintain the horse’s way of going around the circle, remove one of your cones at a time, keeping the line accurate.
When you can ride an accurate 15-meter circle in trot without the aid of cones or poles, try riding the exercise in canter.
Fifteen-meter circles are a deceptively tricky dressage movement that is seldom seen ridden well. However, you can maximize marks in a dressage test by making sure that you understand how to ride the exercise accurately, using our tips to help you.
We’d love to hear how you and your horse get on with 15-meters circles. Tell us about it in the comments box below.