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How (And Why) To Ride Correct 10-Meter Circles

how to ride a 10 meter circle dressage

As you move up through the dressage levels, the circles that you are asked to perform will become smaller in diameter and you will, eventually, be asked to perform 10-meter circles.

Although these may sound straightforward, there’s more to this movement than you might at first think; both in riding it and the benefits it delivers.

So, in this article, we’re going to look at how 10-meter circles can improve your horse’s way of going, what other dressage movements require 10-meter circles, when and where to practice these circles, and finally, the steps you need to take to execute a high-scoring 10-meter circle.

How do 10-meter circles improve your horse’s way of going?

Correct and diligent training of 10-meter circles can greatly benefit your horse’s training and athletic development, and two of the most prominent benefits are as follows:

1. They improve your horse’s suppleness.

10-meter circles are excellent for improving your horse’s suppleness.

Although the main focus is on your horse’s lateral suppleness (his ability to bend uniformly from side to side), they also contribute to your horse’s longitudinal suppleness (suppleness over your horse’s topline) and the suppleness of his joints (the flexion and weight carry capacity of his hind legs).

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2. They contribute to your horse’s development of collection

Collection involves your horse taking more weight on his hind legs. This results in a shorter stride length, a taller stride height, and a lighter and more mobile forehand.

10-meter circles encourage your horse’s inside hind leg to step further underneath his center of gravity to help him balance. This then improves your horse’s engagement and helps to strengthen his hindquarters, both of which help to improve your horse’s collection abilities.

When teaching collection, you don’t simply ride around the arena trying to shorten your horse’s stride. Instead, you use various school movements and transitions to encourage your horse to shift more weight onto his hind legs, and a 10-meter circle is a perfect movement for this.

Related Read: How to Collect Your Horse

What other dressage movements need 10-meter circles?

Being able to correctly execute a 10-meter circle will not only enable you to score highly for the circle itself, but they will also benefit other dressage movements that you will be required to ride.

Simple changes and 10-meter circles

Simples changes are canter-walk-canter transitions, and when they are introduced in dressage tests, they’re usually asked for in between two half 10-meter circles.

For example, in collected canter, at E ride a half 10-meter circle right. Perform a simple change over X (canter-walk-canter), and then ride a half-10-meter circle to the left, finishing at B.

simple change and 10 meter circles dressage

If you and your horse are unable to perform correct, balanced 10-meter circles, then the above exercise will be very difficult. More than likely, the transitions between canter and walk will also be unbalanced and you won’t score highly for the movement in a test situation.

Related Read: How to Ride a Simple Change

Serpentines and 10-meter circles

A serpentine is a series of half circles that form S-shaped loops across the arena.

A four-loop serpentine ridden in a 20mX40m short dressage arena requires four half-10-meter circles to be linked together.

4 loop serpentine dressage

If you can’t ride a good 10-meter circle, then you’ll unlikely be able to perform this movement.

Related Read: How to Ride a Serpentine

Corners and 10-meter circles

A corner is a quarter of a circle.

If you are able to ride deeper into the corners, then you can effectively make your arena bigger and provide yourself with more valuable space. This gives you and your horse more time to prepare for the next movement, which is crucial in higher-level dressage tests when the exercises come quickly one after the other.

If you are able to ride good 10-meter circles, then you can ride your corners as a quarter 10-meter circle, helping you to balance and prepare your horse for what’s ahead.

Related Read: How to Ride Good Corners

Lateral movements and 10-meter circles

The bend that is required in lateral movements, such as shoulder-in, travers, renvers, and half-pass, is similar to the bend that is required on a 10-meter circle.

In fact, 10-meter circles are frequently used in the training of these exercises to help establish the correct bend and set the horse up for the lateral movement.

travers and 10 meter circles

If you can position your horse correctly on a 10-meter circle, then you have a better chance of being able to position your horse correctly for lateral movements.

Related Read: How to Position Your Horse for Lateral Movements

When should you ride 10-meter circles?

Although we would like to encourage you to introduce more 10-meter circles into your training, it’s important to note that they shouldn’t be ridden on every horse.

A 10-meter circle has quite a small diameter (10-meters, in fact!), and when it comes to circles, the smaller the circle diameter, the more difficult the circle is for the horse.

Where large 20-meter circles can be ridden on young and novice horses at the beginning of their career, 10-meter circles should only be ridden on horses that have already achieved a reasonable amount of balance and suppleness.

For the same reason, 10-meter circles shouldn’t be ridden during your horse’s warm-up, even if your horse is capable of performing them. This is because your horse’s muscles need to be warm, loose, and flexible for him to be able to execute the movement without the risk of injury.

During your schooling sessions, you should always start by working on large circles until your horse’s muscles warm up and loosen before progressing to smaller circles and tighter turns.

Where should you ride 10-meter circles?

The difficulty of a 10-meter circle is not only depicted by its size, but also by the location in which it is ridden.

For example, riding a 10-meter circle at C is easier than riding a 10-meter circle around X. This is because the circle at C is much easier to place and keep accurate as opposed to the one at X which is in the center of the arena. When there is no outer track to lean on, there is no hiding.

Once your horse can comfortably perform 10-meter circles from the outside track, you can up the ante slightly by riding the circles in more challenging locations. This is a great way to increase the difficulty without overburdening your horse, and also to test your horse’s balance and self-carriage.

What pace?

10-meter circles can be ridden in walk, trot, and canter. However, since 10-meters is a small diameter, the pace needs to be more on the collected side.

Do not try to ride a 10-meter circle in an extended pace.

What makes a good 10-meter circle?

For you to score high marks in a dressage test, the judge will want to see a circle that has the following seven qualities.

Quality 1 – Correct size

The circle should be 10-meters in diameter.

Diameter is the measurement from one side of the circle to the other, passing through the center. Think of diameter as the “width” of the circle.

Quality 2 – Correct shape

The circle needs to be circle-shaped.

We know that sounds obvious, but it’s very easy to ride a square, a circle with a corner, an oval, or an egg shape.

Quality 3 – Correct placement

For the high marks, your circle must start and finish at the prescribed marker stipulated by the test.

For example, if you are asked to ride a 10-meter circle at A, the judge wants to see you start and finish your circle precisely at the A marker, not 3-feet either side of it.

Quality 4 – Correct bend

You are expected to have an even and uniform bend through your horse’s body.

Think of an imaginary line running from your horse’s tail, centrally through his hindquarters, through his back and shoulders, through his neck, and finishing at his poll. That line should match the curved line of the circle that you are following.

Quality 5 – Straightness

Although this sounds contradictory to our previous point, your horse needs to be “straight” on the circle.

Straightness in dressage doesn’t always mean that your horse’s body needs to be in a straight line. In dressage, straightness simply means alignment. So, your horse’s body needs to be correctly aligned.

There should be no falling in, no falling out, no swinging quarters, no loss of the outside shoulder, no tilting head, and no crossing legs.

Picture a train of multiple carriages going around a bend. Each carriage follows behind the one in front and the train remains on one track. In this same way, your horse’s hind legs need to follow in the footprints of your horse’s forelegs and your horse should remain on one track.

Related Read: The Scales of Training: Scale 5 – Straightness

Quality 6 – Correct rhythm and tempo

Your horse’s rhythm and tempo must remain the same before, during, and after the circle.

The judge does not want to see your horse speeding up or slowing down, nor do they want to see an uneven stride length or any disturbances to the rhythm.

Related Read: The Scales of Training: Scale 1 – Rhythm

Quality 7 – Good balance and frame

Your horse must be able to remain balanced and connected through his back to the contact so that he maintains the correct frame without losing impulsion and dropping onto his forehand or coming above the bit.

NOTE: This will be judged based on your horse’s level of training. A horse working at a more advanced level will be expected to show a more uphill and balanced frame than a horse who is currently working at a lower level.

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How to ride a good 10-meter circle

Here are 5 steps that you need to follow if you want to ride a 10-meter circle worthy of scoring a 10.

Step 1: Understand arena geometry

To ride an accurate and well-placed circle, you must first understand the geometry of the arena you are riding in.

Most dressage schools are either a 20-meter by 40-meter short arena, or a 20-meter by 60-meter long arena.

We have included diagrams below showing the measurements of each area and some 10-meter circles placed inside.

20×40 short dressage arena

10 meter circles in short 20x40 dressage arena

20×60 long dressage arena

10 meter circles in long 20x60 dressage arena

When training at home, make sure that your arena is measured out properly and the letters are in the correct place to ensure that you can practice accurate circles.

You need to know where the “unmarked lines” are, such as the quarter lines, and how many meters are between the markers.

Step 2 – Visualize your “circle points”

To help you ride a circle of the correct size and shape, visualize your circle as having four points. You can then ride from point to point, bending your horse as you go, and these points will join together to form your circle line.

For example, to ride a 10-meter circle at A, here are your four circle points.

circle points dressage
  1. Your first circle point would be at A.
  2. Your second circle point would be 10-meters out from A. If you are riding in a 20mX40m arena, then you know that X is 20-meters from A, so your second circle point would be halfway between X and A.
  3. For your third and fourth circle points, you will be using the quarter lines since these are 5-meters on either side of A, and going from one quarter line to the other is 10-meters. These two circle points will be on the quarter lines halfway between the short side of the arena and your second circle point.

Before you get on your horse, it can be helpful to go into the arena and find your circle points. For additional visual aids, you can use upturned buckets or cones to mark them out.

Step 3: Prepare your horse

Once you’ve worked out the dimensions, placement, and accuracy of your circle, you can then start to think about riding it.

After warming your horse up, and before starting your circle, you need to prepare your horse.

You need to approach the circle in a regular rhythm and a suitable tempo (speed of the rhythm), with your horse working through a suitably raised back and connecting to the contact. If your horse does not fully understand how to stay into the bridle, this can cause mistakes in keeping the balance and maintaining even steps around the circle.

And lastly, just before starting your circle, ride a half-halt to let your horse know that something is coming and for him to shift a little bit more weight onto his hind legs in final preparation.

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Step 4 – Ride your 10-meter circle

Here’s a quick recap of the aids you’ll need to use to bend your horse around the circle.

  • Your inside leg should be at the girth asking your horse to bend through his body. This leg provides your horse with a pillar to bend around and can also be used to create forward impulsion.
  • Your outside leg should be positioned behind the girth. This guards your horse’s hindquarters, preventing them from drifting off the circle line.
  • Your inside rein should ask for a small amount of inside flexion at the poll and indicate the direction of the bend, but it should not be used to pull the horse around the circle.
  • Your outside rein regulates your horse’s tempo (speed of the rhythm) and controls your 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, whilst remaining sat up straight and central. (Do not lean to the inside.)
  • 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 around the circle, be sure to ride your horse forwards without rushing him. It’s your horse’s hindlegs actively stepping around the circle that helps to deliver most of the benefits. If your horse slows down and the impulsion is lost, then the hindlegs can disengage and trail behind.

Step 5 – Straighten and ride away

Once you have completed your circle you need to remove the bend and continue to ride straight.

When removing the bend, you do not need to pull your horse in the opposite direction. For example, if you were riding a circle to the right, you don’t then need to pull on the left rein to straighten your horse.

Instead, all you need to do is put your aids back to neutral. So, slide both of your legs back to their normal position at the girth, put your weight back equally over both seat bones, position your shoulders, hips, and head facing down the outside track, and simply ride forwards. Your horse will naturally straighten out.

After your circle, ensure that you maintain the same level of impulsion so that the benefits of the circle are carried over into your next exercise.

“Feeling” a 10-meter circle

By diligently practicing accurate and correct 10-meter circles, you will eventually develop a feeling for them.

You will know what a 10-meter circle feels like; how much bend is required and what position your body needs to be in.

Once you reach this level of mastery, you will be able to ride an accurate 10-meter circle in any place of the arena, even without any visual markers, simply because you’ll know what a 10-meter circle should feel like and you can default your body and aids to that position.

Problems with 10-meter circles

All problems associated with 10-meter circles are because;

  1. the rider is not aiding the horse correctly to create the desired bend,
  2. the circle size is currently too small for the horse’s current capabilities.

If you struggle to maintain accuracy, along with all the other necessary qualities we covered earlier, then make the circle larger.

If your horse lacks suppleness and/or balance, then it will not be possible to join the circle points, and trying to do so will only cause your horse to be crooked by his hindquarters and/or his shoulders falling in or out.

Circle errors also require you to have more sophisticated aiding, as you not only need to ask your horse to bend but you need to try and correct any faults. 

Rather than persisting with a 10-meter circle, a much more sensible thing to do is to go back to riding larger circles of 15 or 20-meters, allowing your horse to gradually improve his suppleness and for you to improve your aiding and coordination.

A larger circle ridden correctly is worth a hundred times more than a smaller circle ridden incorrectly.

Over time, you can gradually start to make the circles smaller whilst maintaining your horse’s balance, straightness, and quality in his overall way of going.

In conclusion

Riding a good 10-meter circle in walk, trot or canter is not as easy as it first sounds.

The circle needs to be the correct size and shape, placed correctly in the arena, show the correct bend, rhythm, and tempo, and demonstrate a good balance, relative to the horse’s level of training.

In return, an accurate 10-meter circle will help to improve your horse’s suppleness, especially his lateral suppleness, and will aid you in the development of collection.

Finally, the humble 10-meter circle is also a precursor exercise that is needed for other school movements, such as simple changes, good corners, and during the teaching of lateral movements.

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  1. I am delighted to have found this site. Everything in the information above is exactly what I am practising. I am working on the elementary 44 and that transition from canter down and back up is tricky. My horse is very forward going but I end up on the forehand I have an amazing instructor who has taken me to this point. Shoulder in is fine. Travers and haunches in are getting there. I will check out everything you have included Thznk you

    1. Hello Amanda,
      Thank you very much for your visiting our website and leaving a comment. We’re so glad to hear that you are finding our articles helpful in your training.
      With regards to the movement in the Elem44 test, is it a simple change? If so, you may find this article helpful –
      Alternatively, if it’s a change of lead through trot, check this one out –
      Hope that helps 🙂
      HTD x

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