When schooling your horse for dressage, you must be sure to work your horse equally in both directions.
If you ride on one rein more than the other, your horse’s muscular development will be asymmetrical, and he will become stronger and more supple in one direction than the other.
Therefore, it goes without saying that during every schooling session you must make numerous changes of rein.
To help keep your training sessions varied, and for added benefits, you can use circles to help you change the rein.
Here’s why and how to do it.
Why change the rein using a circle?
Changing the rein by riding a straight line across the arena (such as down the centerline, across the long and short diagonals, or via the half-school line between B and E) can have some negative consequences, which include the following:
- You could lose the connection from your horse’s hindlegs through to the contact. (Also known as the horse coming “off the bit.”)
- Your horse could lose his balance, and if in canter this could cause him to break into trot.
- The tempo can become too quick.
- The rhythm can become irregular.
- The horse could fall onto the forehand causing him to come against the contact.
In contrast, changing the rein using a circle has several benefits, including the following:
- It can help to control the tempo (speed of the rhythm) of a horse that likes to run on and get too quick.
- It helps to improve the horse’s lateral suppleness (side-to-side) as he must change from left bend to right bend or vice versa.
- It helps to keep the horse engaged and therefore prevents him from falling onto his forehand.
- It helps to keep the horse working into a secure and elastic outside rein.
- It helps to keep the horse working on one track (“straight“), which can be easier to do on a circle than on a straight line.
- The exercise tests the rider’s coordination and effective use of the bending aids.
- It helps to add variety to your regular schooling sessions.
How to change the rein using a circle
There are two methods you can use to change the rein using a circle.
- Change the rein OUT of a circle.
- Change the rein INSIDE of a circle.
Let’s take a look at both methods individually.
Exercise 1 – Changing the rein OUT of a circle
This method is very similar to a figure of eight in that you ride from one circle onto another circle.
The above diagram illustrates riding out of a 20-meter circle (red) and onto another 20-meter circle (blue) in the opposite direction.
After changing the rein out of the red circle, you don’t necessarily have to ride a full blue circle like you would do if you were riding a figure of eight. Instead, you could choose to just ride a quarter of the circle to re-join the outside track, or to only ride half a blue circle to C.
The standard exercise involves using two 20-meter circles, but you can link different sized circles together to create different exercise variations. For example, two 15-meter circles or two 10-meter circles.
Plus, the circles don’t have to be the same size. You could change the rein out of a 20-meter circle onto a 10-meter circle.
You can even link more than two circles together. For example, you could change the rein out of a 15-meter circle on the left rein, onto a 10-meter circle on the right rein, ride a full circle revolution, and then change the rein out of that 10-meter circle onto a 20-meter circle back on the left rein again.
How to ride the exercise
You can ride this exercise in the walk, trot, or canter.
For this example, we shall be using two 20-meter circles as depicted in the above diagram.
Start by riding a 20-meter circle at A on the right rein.
Here’s a quick recap of your bending aids:
- Your inside leg should be at the girth asking your horse to bend through his body, providing him with something to bend around, and creating forward impulsion.
- Your outside leg should be positioned behind the girth guarding the hindquarters and preventing them from drifting off the circle line.
- Your inside rein should ask for a small amount of inside flexion and indicate the direction of bend, but should not be used to pull the horse around the circle.
- Your outside rein regulates the tempo and controls the horse’s outside shoulder and the degree of neck bend.
- Your head should be up and looking ahead and around the circle.
- You should have a little bit more weight in your inside bone and inside stirrup.
- Your shoulders should be turned from your waist to the inside matching the angle of your horse’s shoulders, and your hips should match the angle of your horse’s hips.
As you ride toward X, you’re going to put all of your bending aids back to neutral and make the horse straight for a stride or two.
If you’re in rising trot, this is where you need to change your diagonal. If you’re riding in canter, ride a change lead through trot (canter-trot-canter), ride a simple change (canter-walk-canter), or ride a flying change over X, depending on your horse’s level of training.
You now need to ask your horse to bend left onto the second circle. To do this you’re going to use the same bending aids as above but in reverse, so what was your outside leg is now your inside leg.
NOTE: If you are changing the rein out of a 20-meter circle onto a smaller 15-meter or 10-meter circle, remember that you need to ask the horse for more bend on the second circle. This is because the smaller the circle diameter the more bend is required from the horse.
From here, you can choose whether you want to ride a full circle or part of a circle before re-joining the outside track and continuing with your work on the new rein.
Exercise 2 – Changing the rein INSIDE of a circle
This is very similar to exercise 1 in that you are riding from one circle line onto another circle line, but this time you are going to do it inside of another circle.
It’s best described as riding an S-bend through the center of a circle.
This is a slightly more advanced exercise that demands more suppleness and better balance from the horse.
How to ride the exercise
This exercise can be performed in walk, trot, or collected canter. However, it’s best not to attempt to ride the exercise in canter until your horse can perform 10-meter circles in a balanced, collected canter with visible ease.
Start by riding a 20-meter circle on the left rein at A.
Remember your bending aids from the previous exercise.
The change of rein through a circle should always begin on the “open” side of the circle facing the opposite end of the arena. Therefore, you should ride past A on the short side of the arena first.
As you reach the part of the 20-meter circle where you touch the outside track just after F, you need to increase your bending aids so that the horse transitions off the 20-meter circle and onto a half 10-meter circle. At the same time, look up and around your half circle towards A.
As your horse’s head touches the centerline (facing A), you need to smoothly transition your horse from left bend to right bend by switching your bending aids.
If you’re in rising trot, change your diagonal here. If you’re riding in collected canter, change the canter lead via a change the lead through trot (canter-trot-canter), a simple change (canter-walk-canter), or a flying change.
As you change the bend and your direction of travel, look up and around your new half 10-meter circle to the right.
As you hit the outside track a little after K, lessen your bending aids and ride your horse forwards as he transitions from a half 10-meter circle and back onto a 20-meter circle on the right rein.
To help you get the full benefit of these exercises, here are a few training tips.
- Ensure that your horse is bending uniformly through his body from nose to tail. There should be no more bend in the horse’s neck than what he can offer through his ribcage.
- Focus on keeping the circles circle-shaped. Don’t ride eggs-shaped circles or “squircles” (which is a mix between a square and a circle).
- The changes of bend and direction should be executed calmly and smoothly. There should be no abrupt turns or rough flexion changes.
- Note that the smaller the size of the circle the greater the difficulty of the exercise. This is because smaller circles require more bend, balance, engagement, and collection from the horse. If your horse struggles to maintain a uniform bend and a consistent rhythm, then make the circles larger.
- Always look up in the direction that you want your horse to go and plan ahead.
- The same tempo and rhythm must be maintained when riding from one circle onto another circle and throughout the changes of bend.
- Always ride the horse forwards without rushing him.
During every schooling session, you are required to change the rein numerous times to ensure that your horse develops equally on both sides of his body.
For some added training benefits, you can change the rein by using circles; either inside of a circle or out of a circle.
The exercises we have included in this article will not only help you to transition from the left rein onto the right rein or vice versa, but they will also help to improve your horse’s overall body suppleness and balance, and improve your coordination and effective use of your bending aids.