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Western Dressage – Simple circle combination exercise that moves up the levels with you! By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

February 2, 2020

Looking for an exercise that will put together many movements smoothly? Try this versatile combination that you can adjust for any level of horse and rider.

Throughout this exercise you can adjust the maneuvers as necessary to prevent the horse anticipating what comes next.

Begin at A and ride a 20-metre circle at a working jog on the left rein.


Riding the 20-m circle – working jog. – Jacklyn Hegberg riding “Maverick” – Photo credit Lisa Wieben

Complete the circle, ride through the next corner and continue halfway down the long side. At B ride a 10-metre half circle to the left. At the completion of the circle ride a line back to the long side. Just before getting back to the wall change bend, ride through the corner and at A ride a 20-metre circle to the right. Complete the circle, ride the corner and continue halfway down the long side. At E ride a half circle to the right, then ride a line back to the wall.


Bending on the 10-m half circle. – Jacklyn Hegberg riding “Maverick” – Photo credit Lisa Wieben

20-metre circle: looking ahead three to four strides, the rider turns her body onto the line of the circle, using her inside leg to maintain the bend. Feel the swing of the horse’s barrel. As the barrel swings out press with the inside leg. The inside rein maintains the bend and the outside rein supports, preventing the horse from overbending in, or with pressure on the shoulder prevents the horse from drifting out.

10-metre half circle: the rider’s body will rotate more on the smaller circle. If the horse drifts out use the outside rein against the neck and outside leg pressure to turn the horse. The inside leg keeps the horse bending and prevents the horse from falling into the circle.


Riding a diagonal line back to the wall from the half circle – rider should have her heels lower to be more effective with her lower leg. – Jacklyn Hegberg riding “Maverick” – Photo credit Lisa Wieben

Using pylons or markers for the circles will help both the rider and the horse maintain the size and shape of the circle.

Corners: in lower levels the corners can be ridden as part of a 10-metre circle. Turn onto the line of the corner, bending the horse around the inside leg. Feel as though you can push the horse from the inside leg into the outside supporting rein.

Combination exercise thumbnail

Leg yielding back to the wall from the 10-m half circle. – Lisa Wieben riding “Reno” – Photo credit Gary Wieben


Introductory Level:

Add walk transitions in the last quarter of the 20-metre circle. At the corner transition to the working jog, and/ or walk the 10-metre half circles.

Basic Level:

1) Transition to the lope in first quarter of the 20-metre circle, in the last quarter transition to the working jog.

2) Transition to the lope in the corner before the 20-metre circle, lope the circle, then transition back to the jog in the next corner.

Level 1:

1) In the jog ride down the length of the long side, ride a 10-metre half circle, change the horse’s bend and then leg yield back to the wall.

2) Lengthen the jog down the long side, then back to working jog before the half circle.

3) Begin lope through the corner. Develop lengthen lope in first quarter of the circle. Develop working lope in the last quarter of the circle. Bring your horse back to working jog in the next corner.

Level 2 and up:

1) After the corner perform a shoulder-in down the long side, or after getting back to the wall from the half circle do a shoulder-in the remainder of the long side.

2) Repeat above but with haunches in.

3) After the half circle half-pass back to the long side.

There are many combinations that can be mixed and matched to create variety in this exercise. Take your time and move through each element when you and your horse are ready.

To view a video of the exercise and the variations check out the YouTube link: (Circle Combination Exercise).

Video Link: Lisa Wieben riding “Reno” – Itsa Rio Snazzy Zip – Video by Gary Wieben

This article is part of an ongoing series of articles that appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis. The articles are a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz.

Lisa Wieben is a versatile and exceptional riding coach, balancing her skills as a Level 2 Centered Riding Instructor, Equine Canada Western Competition Coach, and Irwin Insights Level 4 Master Certified Trainer. Currently specializing in Western and English Dressage, she trains youth, adult amateurs, and professionals as well as coaching a local 4H group at her facility near Bowden/Olds, AB. Through dressage and foundational training she helps riders of all disciplines create stronger partnerships with their horses. Also, as a Hanna Somatic Instructor and Practitioner in Training, Lisa works with riders, in class or privately, learning movement exercises that target specific muscle issues in the body brought on by stress, injuries, surgeries, and overuse. Her approach, using Dressage, Centered Riding, Irwin Insights principles, and Somatics, all come together to develop a balanced rider and a balanced horse.

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, mentorship programs, intensive horsemanship courses, workshops, short courses and demos on various topics, as well as working student programs at Falling Star Ranch Academy of Foundational Horsemanship 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, biomechanics, as well as fundamental riding skills based on classical dressage.

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