It sounds relatively easy, yet I think people spend more time working on circles than any other maneuver. We have discussed much already to set the stage for super circles. We have worked on steering by riding Baseball Diamond and Daisy. You also worked on collection (or “framing-up”) to encourage your horse to be soft in the face while he drives from behind and keeps both shoulders “standing up” equally. Now, as you take circles a step further, it’s important to keep riding your horse up into the bridle more and more. You want him rounding up through the topline more quickly, needing fewer aids, and holding the framed-up position voluntarily for a few strides even after you “pitch him some slack” (give him the reins).
Sandy Collier –
We have also helped set the stage, where we worked on establishing a perfect circle while evening out the asymmetry of your horse.
What’s left now is to fine-tune the shape of your circle; to get your horse to “hunt the circle”; and speed control. You’ll work on each of these in turn, as well as continue to polish your steering, shoulder control, and collection.
For best results, work on three different sizes of circles: small, large, and extra-large. Small is about 60 feet in diameter; large is about 120 feet, and when you have the space, extra-large is about 150 feet.
Keep in mind that the smaller the circle, the more difficult it is for your horse to hold himself framed-up, so don’t push him on the small circles in the beginning. Give him some time to gain strength and understanding on the larger circles and work on the smaller circles only for short periods until he’s more sure of himself.
When you’re working on moving from a larger, faster circle to a smaller, slower one, it’s best to have your horse a little tired so he’ll be more open to the idea of slowing down (more of that “making the right thing easy,”). Always slow down in the large circle for a few strides before directing your horse onto the smaller circle. If you start a smaller circle as you’re slowing down or directly after, your horse will begin to anticipate it, and before long, he’ll drop his shoulder and lean in every time you ask him to slow down.
In the beginning, always gather your horse up a bit by bumping with your legs in neutral position to push him into the bridle while you’re on the large circle and before you ask him to slow down; this way, he won’t fall out of his lead. With a hot horse, slow down at the center of the arena on every circle, then “break down” (gradually go through the gears from the lope, to the trot, to the walk, then halt) and sit there quietly for a while. This trains him to be on the lookout for a slowdown and a rest at the center of the pen, which makes this a good place to be in his mind. This, in turn, will pay big dividends when you’re showing by helping to keep him from ignoring your slowdown cues or anticipating lead changes.
Obviously, ride your circles equally in both directions, so your horse develops the same on each lead.
Sandy Collier’s successful horse show record is reflective of her dedication, talent, and integrity as a horse trainer. She was the first and only woman horse trainer to win the prestigious NRCHA World Champion Snaffle Bit Futurity. In 2011, Sandy was inducted into The Cowgirl Hall of Fame. Learn more at SandyCollier.com.
This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 9, Issue 5