The ability to bend and become supple in both directions is one of the key qualities of all lateral work and ultimately helps to straighten the horse and enhance collection. Schooling the horse’s bend in both directions is paramount. Riding a circle helps the horse and rider achieve this goal.
When a horse moves in a circle he is bending his body to match the curvature of the shape. It is important when asking for a circle that the rider pictures the figure on the ground and follows it. A circle is perfectly round, not oval, egg shaped or D shaped. This is easier said than done.
The horse must not drift to the outside and make the circle too wide or drift inward and make the circle too small.
To ride a successful balanced circle, the rider must be positioned correctly while properly maintaining bend in the direction of travel. Perfecting one’s ability to ride a circle will improve the rider’s ability to utilize corners, prepare for lateral movements and ride more accurately. As the horse develops balance the circles can vary in size.
To achieve the correct position, the rider needs to have some awareness of their body and their own natural tendencies. Ideally, when riding a circle, the rider should be balanced slightly over their inside hip with their shoulders pointed in the direction of the turn, carrying both hands directly over the withers pointing in the direction of travel, with their outside leg slightly behind the girth as the inside leg remains at the girth. This position will give the horse the best chance of being balanced in the direction of the circle. It also allows the rider to frame the horse for a correct bend.
A rider needs to have a good balanced independent seat. When learning how to ride a circle correctly and effectively riders may struggle a bit. As a rider progresses, the true coordination of the rider’s ability to feel enhances their effectiveness to make adjustments in the amount of pressure and timing to get a better result. While working toward the goal of riding a perfect circle it’s common for riders to make an endless number of substandard circles and that’s ok as long as the rider learns from each mistake, and continues to have an open willing attitude.