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How to Ride a Good Circle

How to Ride a Good Circle dressage


Every dressage test throughout the levels asks the rider to perform circles of various sizes.

Circles are designed to test the horse’s balance, suppleness to the bend, and straightness, and as such, should form a major part of your schooling programme at home.

So, how do you ride a good circle?

Circle accuracy

When riding circles in a dressage test, it’s important to be accurate.

If the test asks for a 15-meter circle, it doesn’t mean an18-meter egg, ridden two meters to the left of the prescribed marker!

And there are reasons for this…

The judge is looking to see that your horse is responsive to your aids, that you are able to ride a circle of the correct shape and dimensions, and ride it in the right place.

The horse should be supple enough to be able to negotiate the circle accurately, whilst maintaining his rhythm and balance.

He should show an adequate degree of bend without losing his quarters to the outside of the circle.

If you’re going to ride accurate circles, you’ll need to know the dimensions of the arena and the positioning of the letters.  From this, you can work out where to position your circle.

Circle examples

If your arena is 20-meters wide and 40-meters long and you were asked to ride a 20-meter circle from ‘A’, you would aim to have your horse make a couple of steps on each long side and over ‘X’, in order to achieve the correct dimensions of the circle. In other words, you would use the full width of the arena.

For a 15-meter circle from ‘A’, you must aim to touch a point that is 2.5 meters in from each long side of the arena, and 5 metres towards ‘A’ from ‘X’.

Think of riding a diamond shape where each point of the diamond touches the quarter point of the circle.  Now ride the diamond and round-off each point.  This will help you to position the circle accurately and keep it round!

The aids for riding a circle

Your horse should continue to work forwards, in a good rhythm and showing a clear uniform bend along his body around the circle.

The smaller the circle, the more bend the horse must show.

  • your inside leg on the girth keeps the impulsion, develops the engagement of the inside hind leg, and asks for bend
  • your outside leg slightly behind the girth prevents the hindquarters from escaping to the outside of the circle and generates some forward movement
  • your inside hand asks for some bend through the horse’s neck
  • your outside hand controls the pace and prevents too much neck bend which would allow the horse to drift out through his shoulder
  • keep your hips and shoulders parallel with your horse’s shoulders, keep your body upright, and look ahead of you around the circle

When practising smaller circles, it can be helpful to position cones or buckets in your arena at home to mark out where each ‘point’ of your circle should be.  This will show you just how supple your horse really is, and helps you to be more accurate.

In conclusion

Circles form part of every dressage test.

Learn the dimensions of the arena and work on making your circles accurate.

Keep the rhythm and impulsion, and ride lots of circles at home to make your horse more supple and balanced.

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