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Why to use Circles in your horse training – Part 2

This is the second part of an article Ben wrote recently. This part is about the purpose of circles in your training with your horse and how they can be used for problem solving.

To read the first part click here.


The Purpose of Circles in your training


Using circles to establish communication

Circles are an essential part of the groundwork foundation in training. Circles are a great tool for establishing basic communication within the three gates. If you have a young horse that hasn’t been started under saddle, or if you have a yearling, circles are a great pattern to help develop their confidence in being directed. For a horse to execute a circle correctly, on the ground, it needs to be able to back out of your space, turn its nose and shoulder in the direction that it’s going and then move willingly forwards. After the horse has completed the appropriate amount of laps it then has to be able to disengage, moving its hindquarters away and come back to the person directing it. For a horse to execute circles correctly, while riding, the horse needs to have a willingness to follow the pattern of a circle, without breaking out of the circle or carrying a brace against the arc of the circle. This all sounds fairly simple, but for many horse owners this can be a difficult task.

Good communication requires a clear understanding and dialogue between the horse and the human. A lack of clarity or ineffective communication usually leads to the horse developing resistance to one or all parts of a circle. Having said that, if your horse can execute a circle and maintain a soft and willing attitude throughout the circle, then it’s a sign that your basic communication is clear and effective.

There are three components that have to come together for the horse to do quality circles.

  1. The horse has to be mentally engaged and present with each part of the circle.
  2. The horse has to be emotionally engaged and invested in each part of the circle and respond with impulsion.
  3. The horse has to physically gauge and track the correct distance and arc of the circle with its whole body and stay on the pattern.




Using Circles for Problem Solving

Circles can be used as a tool to solve many different problems both on the ground and while riding, like the following:


Boundaries and respect Issues

When it comes to handling horses on the ground many people create problems by not establishing boundaries with their horse. Horses often learn that they can do as they please without any regard for their owner’s personal space. Often times the horse is leading the owner and not the other way round.

For a horse that has developed a lack of respect for personal space and boundaries teaching them to go on the circle can really shift the dynamic between the horse and its owner. If you can get your horse to softly and willingly back out of your space and go on the circle, maintaining a respectable distance while circling, and then respectfully turn, face and stop this says a lot about the horse’s attitude towards you as the owner.




Impulsion Issues

There’s a great saying to remember when you’re working with horses in relationship to developing impulsion:

“straight lines make them go, circles make them slow.”

Quite simply this means that if you have a horse that has more go than whoa then circles can be a great tool for helping them to manage their energy and slow down. If you have a horse with more whoa then go that means straight lines will be more useful for helping them to go forwards willingly and maintain gait. Due to the consistent nature of a circle, it can be very grounding and useful to help a horse relax and slow down both on the ground and while riding.

Highly impulsive horses can benefit from consistency of circles to help them manage their energy. Impulsive horses tend to want to break gait and go faster and faster or they will tend to want to race around within a gait. Doing circles allows these types of horses to learn to relax within any given gait and develop a pure consistent gait.


Getting Rid of a brace in your horses body

There are many situations where a horse will be travelling stiffly or bracing in their body which can make it hard to get anything productive done, while riding and on the ground. Circles combined with lateral softening exercises are a great tool for helping a horse un-brace its body and soften.

For example:

By riding the horse on the circle you can use your body position, inside leg and inside rein to cause your horse to soften. Once it softens you can release the rein and leg and see if it maintains the softness. After repeating this for a period of time, your horse should start to maintain the softness and have a natural bend in its body. This bend should follow the curve of the circle you are riding on.

The same result can be achieved on the ground with horses that brace and pull out on the lead rope while being circled. A horse can learn to let go of stiffness or a brace using pressure on the halter and sometimes a bump, if the horse is severely leaning on it. Using a similar approach to riding, you use the halter to ask your horse to soften, once your horse softens even momentarily you release. After a while your horse will learn to carry itself with greater softness and less brace.




Using Circles to establish willing upward and downward transitions

Being able to have willing and responsive upward and downward transitions is a really important part of developing your horse’s impulsion. Circles when used correctly are a great tool for establishing upwards and downwards transitions both on the ground and while riding. Circles allow you to maintain a consistent pattern that can cause your horse to become more balanced, therefore improving the quality of the transitions. When your horse is on the circle mentally, emotionally and physically it becomes easier for you to work on the finesse and subtlety of upwards and downwards transitions.  The continual correct use of circles for upwards and downwards transitions will also result in your horse becoming more elevated and athletic within the three gates. (walk, trot, canter)

Circles are an important building block in the foundation training, which allows both you and your horse to reach more advanced and refined levels of communication.


If you would like to see and learn how to use circles with your horse come along to one of our clinics or book a private or group lesson and let Ben show you…

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