If you are like me, you have the phrase “inside leg to outside rein” drilled into your brain. Riders across disciplines are taught that our inside leg creates the bend or shape in the horse’s body, while the outside rein moderates this shape, ensuring the horse maintains straightness and doesn’t reach a degree of “over bend”. This is most commonly achieved through corners and circles, where the horse’s degree of bend matches the size of the circle. Circles are, of course, an integral part of every ride’s warm up. However, if you are like me, you might not always be 100% certain of what a perfectly round circle really feels like. I often accuse my students of riding irregular potato shapes instead of a true circle. I know I am guilty of this too. Lucky for us, this is an exercise to really “idiot-proof” the circle to ensure you and your horse achieve the perfect bend and suppleness.
Behold: The Square
Unfortunately, my Official Director of Photography and I forgot to take an actual picture of the exercise in all its glory, but this is my artistic depiction of it. Essentially, we constructed a square with poles making a right angle in each corner. The circle within it is approximately 15 metres in diameter. The size of your arena and athleticism of your horse will dictate the size of your square- feel free to start with a bigger one!
What To Do:
Before we tackle the circle, I give both horses a moment to warm up. I have the opportunity to borrow my friend’s horse, Norman, for a few days. As a big, easygoing hunter, he is Aleva’s polar opposite and thus quite the challenge! His large, loping canter stride is incredibly comfortable but I sometimes have difficulty putting it together into a round, bouncy package – enter the circle exercise. For both horses, our warm up consists of moving forward with a lot of transitions- “leg into hand”, after all.
Some of you may recall Kiirsten’s great post, 6 weird ways to ride better. Sometimes I like to ride with “driving hands” for Aleva’s warm up. I find it really helps keep my elbows soft and following her sensitive mouth, which she appreciates. This is a picture of me in the process of flipping my hands around into “driving hands”. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a good picture of correct driving hands, but Kiirsten does a great job of demonstrating!
Once I feel the horses are sufficiently warmed up, I enter the circle. I focus on riding as close to the poles as possible. The goal is to ride consistently deeply into every corner, while your horse stays as straight as possible.
Essentially, your inside leg pushes them into the corner, and your outside rein keeps them from stepping outside of the poles. The visual of the poles ensures your circle is a consistent and perfectly round shape, while connecting that elusive “inside leg to outside rein”.
I complete the circle several times both ways in trot and canter, until their steps feel round and bouncy. I know they are truly bent and not over flexed because their polls are the highest point of their body.
This exercise is a great way to establish the bend and suppleness that is key to more advanced flat exercises- a must for every rider’s toolbox.
I’d like to extend my sincerest gratitude to Norman and Aleva for being absolute troopers working in the heat, as well as my Official Director of Photography, Christine! Check out her Facebook page: CBudzak Photography.
What’s your favourite flat exercise? Comment below! Happy riding, everyone!