I’ve been working hard on my horse’s balance and suppleness this winter, and I recently had an epiphany. You see, I never thought my 14-year-old Thoroughbred gelding had a lot of “turn and burn” – the ability to turn on a dime that some horses seem naturally blessed with. But I was wrong. My coach helped me realize that I haven’t been asking for tight turns correctly. When I asked for a tight turn on the jumping course or while schooling at home, I wouldn’t support my horse properly. Feeling unbalanced, he would either slow down or drift outward to make the turn a little easier.
My horse can turn on a dime – I just have to apply the correct aids to help him find his balance. My coach gave me this exercise to practice. It takes a lot of leg and patience to execute it successfully, which is why he has named it, “The circles of doom.” Here’s how to ride it:
Pick up a rising trot and ride a big circle in the centre of the arena, using your inside aids to ask the horse to bend around your inside leg. When tracking left (like in the diagram above), you want to see the left corner of your horse’s eye while on the big circle.
At E, slow your horse down to a sitting trot and apply your outside legs to ask him to turn sharply left. Take a good feel of your outside rein (the right rein in the diagram) and apply really strong outside leg aids (right leg in the diagram) to get the turn. The diagram is exaggerated – you don’t need a lot of outside bend to enjoy the benefits of this exercise. The goal is to keep your horse’s shoulder upright through the turn, which will keep him balanced. If you can see the corner of your horse’s right eye while executing the small circle, you have enough outside rein.
Once you complete the small circle, pick up a rising trot, ask your horse to move forward and bend around your inside leg. Ride forward to the next tangent point, then slow down to a sitting trot and ask for another tight turn. Keep alternating large circle – inside bend, small circle – outside bend. The many changes in bend will soften your horse’s pole, and the many changes in pace will develop your horse’s impulsion.
Expect your first few small circles to be uneven and clumsy. Be patient with your horse and apply the aids consistently. He will soon catch on and respond quickly to your outside aids when you ask for a small circle. Once you’ve mastered this exercise at the trot, practice it at the canter (I suggest starting with two small circles instead of four). You’ll be turning and burning in no time.
Give this exercise and try and let me know what you think!