By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)
Recently I was giving a riding lesson and I asked the young lady to walk then trot then lope a circle with her horse. Well she started out and I noticed her walk circle was not very uniform, her trot circle was even less so and finally when she reached the lope circle, it looked more like a “D.” So I stopped and I asked her how she planned her circle. She told me that she set out to “kinda go around a cone or dirt clod and try to make the horse work around that in a circle.”
I smiled and asked her why she thought it was necessary to use the words “kinda” and “try.” She responded that it did not seem important to ride the shape perfectly. So I logged that in my brain for a few minutes and asked her to ride a square and then ride in a triangle. All three of her primary figures were not crisp, not even sided, not even close to what we all learned back when we played with blocks and shapes.
Just as a refresher for our discussion here — circle is represented by blue, green is our triangle and red is our square.
This next panel shows us all some of the circles I have seen ridden over the course of my career.
The lesson continued with the pursuit of getting a nice circle (and we succeeded). I reminded this student that circles must be circles and they are not squares, not octagons, not ovals or any other shape. So we put out some cones and I drug my feet and made a nice circular line with the student holding a rope at a fixed point and I kept the rope tight and made the “impression to follow.”
Now when this student and I worked on the perfect circle some really cool things happened. Her consistent circle (shape and size being the same) helped her get the horse into a nice bend, and achieve rhythm and relaxation. The horse started to pay attention to the rider because she was giving good aides and had set the horse up for success by asking for consistency and taking the guesswork out of the riding.
This client told me one issue she was having with the horse was that the horse liked to drop its shoulder, charge through the center of the reining pattern, and anticipate lead changes, sometimes changing leads when it was not the correct time. So I asked the rider to keep her circle consistent and change to a trot….and we did this for a few minutes — then I asked her to lope and she did so.
Some great things happened:
1) Horse quit dropping its shoulder
2) Horse quit rushing/charging through the center
3) Horse quit trying to make lead changes without the rider aide
I then asked the rider to go back to her old ways of riding a “D” type circle and immediately the horse charged, dropped its shoulder and made a guess as to when to change leads. Good circles and success verses “D” circles and failure all happened in the span of 5 minutes. The rider stopped and asked me — “Why were we good just a few minutes ago and all of a sudden we got so awful again?”
I gave her two answers — 1) When she reverted to her old “circle,” she also picked up her old habits of not being consistent with the aides, not looking ahead of where she was riding, not planning and talking (“connecting”) with the horse through the reins and she quit using her seat and leg aides; and 2) the horse had learned some really bad habits when the rider did not actively ride and as soon as the rider “reverted” the horse went back to her old ways.
Success in riding can come from practicing good geometry so next time you ride, keep your circles as circles, squares as squares and triangles as triangles and notice how your horse begins to listen to you and respond to your aides rather than trying to guess what you want. So the moral of this story is that consistency can help you achieve a better connection with your horse and that by having that connection, the horse learns to wait on your aides and listen for and to your guidance.
Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).