Sometimes we get stuck in a routine of repetitive circles when we ride. While circles are great, don’t get me wrong—there is so much more we can be doing with the precious time we have to ride. A good circle is perfectly accurate every go-around. Anywhere from one inch to 100 meters difference on a circle tells the horse they can go through your aids; that you want them on a circle, but you don’t really care where exactly. Wrong—you do care. Your horse needs to go EXACTLY where you tell him/her to, every time. Anything else is disobedient, and should be corrected.
As this is not always my strong-suit, I have found a great exercise that not only keeps the circles interesting for me and my horse, but also keeps them extremely accurate.
Four Poles on a Circle
For this exercise, all you will need is four ground poles. Put the ground poles down on the four points of a 20 meter circle. It is best to measure the circle to ensure accuracy. Start at a walk. Walk on your 20 meter circle, having your horse step over each pole at the very center. Striped poles work best here, as you can be sure to aim for the middle of the pole every time. Once you pick up the trot, you will see just how difficult it is to have perfect accuracy and keep the horse at the center of the poles. At the trot, you will learn a few things about your horse. You will find here that they try to go through either the left or right leg, depending on which side you have trouble hitting the center of the pole on. You may find they are stiffer in one direction depending on the difficulty of the exercise each way, which may have gone unnoticed when you were not holding them to such an accurate line.
Mix It Up
You have mastered trotting over the center of the pole with ease. But wait, there’s more! You can mix this exercise up in multiple ways. After you hit the center of the poles, work on the inside stripe as well as the outside stripe (or just the same spot each time if you do not have stripes). The inside of the pole will be smaller than a 20 meter circle. Also, after you step over the pole, quickly bend and turn right or left, do a 10 meter circle, and hit the pole again on the way out of the circle and continue on to the next pole. Each time you come to the next pole, go a different direction after the pole and throw in a 10 meter circle. This will make your horse more supple (as it is a tighter bend), improve their footwork with the pole, and ensure they are not going through your aids.
I hope you find this exercise as useful as I do! If you tackle this exercise at home, be sure to share it with the hashtag #OneStopEquineShop and/or me.
From one horse crazed human to another – Maria Holman