Circles and Fence Exercise

With Richard Caldwell

This is an exercise that works on both circles and turnarounds. All I want my horse to do is follow me. I’m not his boss, but I am the leader. When I ride I want him to follow my feel. I don’t want to be mechanically keeping him on a circle, or pulling him around a turn. So when I am working on these exercises, I am always going to look with my head and position my body first, as the first way of asking him, then follow up with my reins or my legs.

The following exercise starts from a circle. So first, work on some symmetrical circles. Try to have your horse stay on the circle without your holding him there. Work both sides, and if he has a weak side, you may want to work more on that side. Once your circles are feeling good, you can use the fence to help you work on turnarounds. The fence just helps your horse learn to rock his weight back over his hocks, which frees his front end to come through more easily.

Circles

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Photo 1

1. When I ride my horse, I want to ride with feel. So to ride a circle, I look where I want my horse to go.

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Photo 2

2. If he takes his nose to the outside, I'll just bump him back to the circle. But I won't try to hold him there.

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Photo 3

3. My reins are long; he needs to stay on the circle until I ask him to change. I use my legs to drive forward.

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Photo 4

4. If I need to correct my horse, I do it with my legs. If he's pushing on my hands, I use my legs to get him soft.


From Right Circle to Left Circle

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Photo 1

1.From my symmetrical circle, (in this photo a circle to the right) I stop, at an angle to the fence, by lifting my outside (left) rein straight up.

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Photo 2

2. With my left rein, I'll bump, bump, bump, and ask him to turn over his hocks, to his left.

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Photo 3

3. I want him to turn all the way around, back onto the original tracks of our circle.

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Photo 4

4. Then I'll drive him out of the turn, back onto our symmetrical circle, but now we're walking to the left. When I get to the fence, I can stop and turn back again.

From Left Circle to Right Circle

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Photo 1

1. Here, I'm walking a circle to the left. To stop, I'll lift my outside (right) rein when I'm at an angle to the fence.

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Photo 2

2. When I'm ready for him to turn, then I take my outside hand back to my hip.

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Photo 3

3. Taking my hand to my hip will keep his body round all the way through the turn.

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Photo 4

4. Remember to look with your whole body where you are going so your horse follows your feel.

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Photo 5

5. I keep turning over his hocks until I'm back on my original tracks from my circle.

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Photo 6

6.Now I drive him forward onto the circle to the right. When I get to the fence, I'll stop and turn back again.

Common Mistakes

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Photo 1

1.A common mistake I see riders make when doing this exercise, is to ride parallel to the fence and then try to turn. That might be all right for an advanced horse, but to start with that might be too much of a bind to put him in. The angle gives him more room to get turned around. Give him all the advantages you can when you're getting started, and build up as he gets further along.

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Photo 2

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2. The other main mistake I see in this exercise is that when a rider comes through the turn, he lets his horse get flat. They haven't kept their horse's nose to the inside of the circle, and so by letting him get flat, they do not come back to their original circle. I always want my horse hunting the inside of that circle, so no matter what, I'm going to stay on the same tracks as the circle we were walking. So don't start your turn and quit riding. Make it all the way back to your circle.

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Photo 5

This article originally appeared in Eclectic Horseman Issue No.45