Western Dressage – Common errors on the circle. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz
In the last blog post, we talked about how to ride a correct 20-metre circle. This month we will be talking about the many common errors while riding a circle.
A correctly ridden circle should start and end at the same point and be round, not oval or egg-shaped, which can be caused by the horse falling in on the circle, drifting out on the circle, or being ridden too deep into the corners. While on a circle the horse must maintain his rhythm in whichever gait is called for.
A horse may drift out on the circle if the rider isn’t maintaining contact with the outside aids (leg and rein). A rider not turning with her body can also cause a horse to evade out of the circle. When a rider turns her body with the bend of the horse, the rider’s outside leg/thigh will be closer to the horse. The rider’s hands will also follow the body, opening more with the inside rein and closing against the neck/shoulder with the outside rein. The outside aids create a wall for the horse to follow.
The horse should be evenly bent through his body from head to tail. However, it is relatively common to see a horse travelling on a circle while being too straight. This may be caused by the rider’s body not turning on the circle, causing the horse to stay straighter in his body (see picture 2). It could also be due to a horse that is not supple through his body.
Another common mistake is if the horse is overbent through his neck (folded) but straight throughout the rest of his body. This is generally caused by a rider pulling too much with her inside hand and not supporting enough with the outside rein. This causes the horse’s shoulder to ‘bulge out’ on the circle as the bend of the horse is mainly through the neck instead of through his body (see picture 1).
If the rider is leaning into the circle and pulling too hard with the inside rein, but has a supporting outside rein, the horse’s shoulder may not be bulging as much, but it can cause the horse to tilt his head (see picture 3). Head tilt can be created by too much “pull” from either rein, along with a supporting rein. The horse should have his nose in line with the poll. If the nose is slightly to the left or right of this line, then the horse would have a noticeable tilt to his head.
A horse travelling on a circle with his haunches swinging out is often caused by the rider not using her outside leg to prevent the swinging out of the haunches or the rider’s inside leg has moved back causing the haunches to push out of the circle.
Another common mistake is when the horse is travelling counterbent on the circle, instead of in true bend. A counter bent horse will be bent opposite to the direction of travel. This can be created by too much pull on the outside rein or by a horse that needs more suppling to be able to maintain a true bend.
Rider position is very important in riding circles. If a rider is leaning into the circle, this will cause the horse to lean into the circle as well. The horse may push against the rider’s inside leg, making it more difficult for the rider to keep the horse out on the circle. If the rider picked up her inside shoulder and put a little more weight to the outside seatbone, the horse would maintain the circle much easier (see picture 4). A rider collapsing through the rib cage, leaning to the side, or turning from the shoulders only, will throw a horse off balance.
This article is the fifth one in a series of articles on Western dressage and is a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz. The articles appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis.
Lisa Wieben is a Level 2 Centered Riding Instructor, Chris Irwin Platinum Certified Trainer, and Equine Canada Western Competition Coach. She works with youth, adult amateurs and professionals as well as teaching a local 4H club at her facility near Bowden, AB. Western and English dressage has become her main focus, but many of her students compete in open competitions as well as obstacle challenges. Lisa has also added Somatics to help her students maintain and create further body awareness as it works to release muscle patterns in the body brought on by stress, injuries, surgeries, and repetitive movements that can be work related. Getting riders in correct balance helps horses develop correct balance. www.mountainviewtrainingstables.com
Birgit Stutz is an Irwin Insights Level 4 Master Certified Trainer and offers horse training, riding lessons in the English and Western disciplines, horsemanship clinics, workshops, short courses and demos on various topics, mentorship programs, as well as student programs at Falling Star Ranch in Dunster, BC. Birgit’s passion is to help humans have a better relationship with their horses through understanding of equine psychology and body language as well as fundamental riding skills based on classical dressage. www.fallingstarranch.ca.