Straightness through the circle.
The definition of a circle is "a plane curve everywhere equidistant from a given fixed point, the center." In other words, a circle is round, starting and finishing at the same place. The circle is not shaped life an oval, an egg, a teardrop, or a loop. The 20 meter circle, the full width of a standard dressage area, is the first gymnastic figure you ride at Training Level Dressage. As you and your horse become stronger, and your horse suppler, more responsive to your aids, the circles you are asked to ride with be reduced to 15 meters all the way down to 6 meter voltes! So, why does the circle figure so prominently in training our horses?
The circle is just so exciting and variable...you can create all sorts of figures and movements with the circle. You can attach it to another to make a figure eight. You can use circles to change directions. Within a circle you can ride two small half circles for a change of rein. Add in frequent changes of rein and tempo while you are schooling your horse and you can keep your horse from getting bored or restless. Circles develop balance, suppleness and obedience of your horse.
In order to accomplish balance, suppleness and obedience and also get good scores on your dressage test, you need to ride your circle accurately. Sorry, no ovals, eggs or riding an 18 meter circle when the tests says a 15 meter circle. Your horse needs to be straight, his body evenly bent from poll to tail on the particular curve of the circle you are riding. His hind feel must follow exactly in the tracts of his front feet with a little more balance on his outside shoulder.
It can be difficult to ride the perfect 20 meter circle in that one big curved line. A tip in riding a perfect circle is by first riding the circle as a diamond. A square with four straight sides and four 90degree corners. Ride the diamond point to point using cones to act as visual aids to mark the corners. You will also apply all the skills explained in previous lessons: seat, legs and balance, flexion and bending and half-halts. When you have mastered the diamond and you feel comfortable with it, turn the figure into an octagon with eight straight sides and eight corners. Again mark all corners with cones. When the octagon feels good to ride and you ride that correctly you'll blow out the octagon's sides to form that perfect circle!
A dressage horse is not supposed to think for himself or decide what to do. He is supposed to volunteer his intelligence to you, his partner and he should enjoy what both of you are doing. He is not supposed to tell you how to be creative about riding that circle. He should also not use crookedness, resistance, or a lazy response to avoid the difficulty of a movement that is developed to build straightness, suppleness and strength. Pay particular attention to your horse's shoulders. Does he bulge one shoulder out on turns? Does he throw one shoulder toward the middle of the circle? Always ask these questions as you do your training and you will be on your way to develope symmetry in your horse.
Well ridden circles and transitions are the cornerstones of classical riding. The transition to a square halt in the middle of the circle is a test of straightness and balance.
Developing straightness means asking your horse to travel differently than he normally does. We already know that every horse prefers to travel with his weight distributed unevenly throughout his body. To make your horse straight means to make him symmetrical by balancing his one-sidedness which requires you to fine tune your sense of feel to recognize the way your horse is traveling. The exercise below is designed to create a circumstance that will highlight your horse's attempt to lean in one direction so you can begin to notice that crookedness and start to address it more regularly.
Being in a sitting trot on a 20 meter circle. On the circle, transition up to a working canter. Halfway around the circle at the canter, turn down the middle of the circle coming to a halt at the center of that line, the very center of the circle. Proceed in trot, changing directions and beginning a new circle. The difference of this exercise, you will halt in the center of the circle before you change rein. Remember the halt in the middle of the circle is a test to see if your horse is straight and balanced.
This exercise, even though seemingly simple, requires a great deal of concentration and quick aids. In the halts, do not let your horse dump his weight on the forehand or leak through your halt aids. He must stop promptly and squarely. Maintain a working pace in both trot and canter, without letting him rush or be sluggish.
Good luck Larissa.