Balance, Self-Carriage, and Collection – some suggestions and thoughts

Balance, Self-Carriage, and Collection – it is a journey

by Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com

When I show up to give a lesson or teach a clinic, riders often ask me what my secret is too getting collection. Many times people call me and ask if I can come and help them get their horse collected better. After about 2 minutes on the phone – much of the time the person tells me they just want better collection and do not think they need to work on balance and self-carriage. There are times when I hear – well what bit do you use to get collection?

I know that I often frustrate folks when I tell them that to achieve collection…it is long hours of proper development of horse and rider … in terms of muscle and timing (and a great many other things) … to develop collection. I go on to tell them that collection comes after we learn and achieve balance and progress into self-carriage.  I also tell folks that no bit and no amount of pull by the riders hands is ever the answer to collection.

Balance is the ability to move or to remain in a position without losing control or falling and it is a state in which different things occur in equal or proper amounts or have an equal or proper amount of importance.

Self-Carriage is defined as a time when the horse is balanced (has independent balance as stated by Manolo Mendez) and self-maintains his own rhythm, tempo, stride length, straightness, outline and rein and leg contact and engagement.  The horse still needs guidance from hands and legs and core and seat of the rider — but the horse is taking care of balance to them be able to work in a dynamic way.

Just a quick side note — see how self-carriage relies on balance?

Collection Collection occurs when a horse carries more weight on the hind legs than the front legs. The horse draws its body together so that it becomes like a giant spring whose stored energy can be reclaimed for fighting or running from a predator. The largest organic spring in the horse’s body, and therefore the easiest one to observe in action, is the back, including the spine and the associated musculature that draws it together in much the same way that a bow is drawn by an archer. (Collection can only come from a horse allowed and able to move freely – having learned to carry himself through training which lets him develop his own balance and rhythm. – March 24, 2014 by Caroline Larrouilh in an article written and published on the Manolo Mendez website).

So let us get to the point.  I have stated that no amount of pull of the hands, size or type of bit, or even one or two lessons will ever get you perfect collection.  It takes development of balance, which in turn leads to self-carriage that finally allows you to work on the finesse of aids and timing that will help you and your horse achieve collection.

Here are five exercises that I highly recommend you master on your journey to collection. There will be days in which you are excellent in your mastery of these activities…and other days will not be as great…but it is the dedication to the work and development of the horse that will ultimately lead you to success.

Exercise #1:  Learn the footfalls of your horse.  Quite simply, from the ground or when you are in the saddle.  Be able to call out what each foot is doing at any time in the rhythm of the movement of the horse.

Exercise #2:  Learn to direct the footfalls of the horse. Once you know where the footfall is, then you can begin to direct it to change time in flight and landing placement. This ability will help you with developing the rear engagement of your horse that you will need to achieve before we get to collection.

As you do these two above exercises, in the first you are developing yourself as a rider. In the second, you are developing yourself and your horse to work in harmony and partnership.

Exercise #3:  Learn to do the first two exercises without the use of stirrups. You need to make certain that as a rider you can feel the horse and work with the horse and not have your balance compromised by using your stirrups as a crutch.  You need to be able to  balance with your whole body on the back of the horse. You also need to be able to post without your stirrups and achieve the goals of exercise 1 and 2 above (and yes for all the western riders – posting is encouraged at times). You cannot be heavy on your seat bones…you cannot be heavy on your legs…you cannot be heavy with your thighs.  You must be balanced.  (Just the other day Mark Russell said the rider needed to be like a champagne bubble riding on the back of the horse – yes that would be a nice picture of a balanced champagne bubble that did not have the rider leaning on seat or legs or feet or thighs…but rather, the rider would be in a perfect state of harmony and balance on the back of the horse).

Exercise #4: Do the above three exercises with the lightest amount of contact…and occasionally, release any of your contact and determine if your horse maintains the rhythm and tempo.  This exercise begins to tie in a measure of how much self-carriage you are achieving…and remember that self-carriage comes when you have balance.

Exercise #5:  Learn to do the first four exercises while working over ground poles and cavaletti’s. This simply adds a degree of difficulty that requires the rider to focus on balance, movement of the horse and changes in terrain (poles or cavaletti’s) that put the horse and rider into thinking mode.

Most importantly in all of the above – you must remember to breathe through all that work.

Once you have mastered those five activities … then you and your horse are ready to begin work on the exercises that will ultimately lead to collection.

Please feel free to share this blog.

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a national clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in DR 4 Balance – to help horse and rider acheive goals.  Dr. Mike works with riders to enhance their performance based riding, Western Dressage and understanding and welfare and rehabilitation of the horse and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (www.coachscorral.com), an online Horsemanship Coaching program for competitors.

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Understanding Western Dressage Scores

Understanding Western Dressage Scores

Article co-written by Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com) and the leadership team of North American Western Dressage (www.nawdhorse.org).

In quite a few western disciplines (Reining, Ranch Riding, Ranch Versatility, Cow horse, etc.) the horse and rider begin with a score of 70 upon entering the arena. Based on the performance of each maneuver/movement, your score can remain the same or go up or down with a change of 1 1⁄2 points. Larger penalties of 2 or 5 points do exist.

Western Dressage scores are the same as Traditional Dressage, but are different from the scoring methods used for the more well known western disciplines. In dressage, each horse and rider team are given a numerical score on each of the movements in the test. The score for every movement can range from 0 to 10 points.

With the growing excitement in competing in Western Dressage, many western equestrians are looking to better understand what their scores mean.

Each movement is scored with the numeric value shown below. We can look at the numbers and what they mean to you as a rider in a little more detail by adding a few more descriptive words or thoughts.

10 Excellent­­­­­­: Very rarely given. It means as good as it gets or ever can get: horse is giving 100% of its potential.

9 Very Good: ­­­­­­Not often awarded; be very proud when they appear on your score sheet.

8 Good:­­­­­­­­­­­­ An appropriate level of engagement/carriage, straightness, connection, etc. for the test being ridden.

7 Fairly Good: ­­­­­­A good mark, horse still showing a need to mature in strength and consistency which will add “promptness” and precision to the movement or maybe a minor inaccuracy such as a misstep here or there that prevented a score of 8.

6 Satisfactory: ­­­­The movement was obedient and accurate, marred by outline or a slight lack of straightness or insufficient impulsion. The mark tells you, you and your horse are headed in the correct direction in your training and you just need some more time and practice..

5 Sufficient: ­­­­­­­­Horse was generally obedient, but maybe lacked impulsion, was too much on the forehand, showed irregular tempo at times (broke gait for a few steps), lacks balance (leans in curving lines rather than bending).

4 Insufficient: ­­­­­A serious inaccuracy occurred: counter bent, rough transition, head tossing, resisting the bit by carry his head high with neck inverted or over bending his neck so his nose is behind the vertical, geometry error.

3 Fairly Bad: ­­­­­­­A serious problem occurred; lack of control, very late or fluffed transitions, stumbling, horse never straight through body, avoiding rider control by swinging haunches in or out continually and excessively.

2 Bad: ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Now we’re talking severe disobedience; bucking; rearing; napping.

1 Very Bad: ­­­­­­­­­The horse must have bolted through the movement to receive this!

0 Not Performed: ­­­Self­-explanatory. Horse did not perform any of the required movement (for example ­­ failing to strike off in lope and continuing in a jog).

Western Dressage Scores may also include half points. A 0.5 can be awarded to any whole number. If the movement was better than a 6 but not quite the level of a 7, the judge is free to indicate it by awarding a 6.5.

What the numbers really mean

A “5” is a passing grade; the movement was performed, but it was slightly flawed or not overwhelmingly impressive. Think “so­so” or “just OK”.  A “6” is a bit above average and “7” is rather good. Anything of “8” and above are very good, with “9” and “10” being extremely rare scores. A “4” means “needs improvement” and below 4 typically indicates something went wrong.

A low score means you should practice that movement more.

How to use your score to help you decide when it is right to move up

If you are scoring mostly 5s, with some scores higher or lower, you are showing at the correct level. If you are scoring mostly 6s, with frequent 7s or higher, you should consider moving up a level and challenging yourself and your horse with more difficult movements. North American Western Dressage, with the NAWD Stars program, suggests that three scores of 65% or higher is a good indicator that you should move up.

At the end of the tests, the total points you received are divided by the total points possible for the test and this number is turned into a percentage and that is how your score is represented.

We hope this helps you to better understand the value of the numerical score on your dressage test.

Enjoy the ride!

Grandson of Alydar – Starving in a Creek Bed – Saved by a Rescue – 2nd life in Western Dressage

Grandson of Alydar – Starving in a Creek Bed – Saved by a Rescue – 2nd life in Western Dressage

Grandson of Alydar – Starving in a Creek Bed – Saved by a Rescue – 2nd life in Western Dressage

by Dr. Mike Guerini, Ph.D. (www.dunmovinranch.com)

The story of any great Thoroughbred might begin with talks of Man O’ War…some people may immediately think of Secretariat and of course many will think of Seabiscuit.  Hollywood has done a fabulous job of sharing with us the greatness that comes with a Champion Thoroughbred.  Not every story is full of wins, accolades and trophies…many have what we might call lesser stories and on this day I would like to share with you a different story – a magical story – one in which the participants play with “Cover Magic”.

In November of 2014 I met two ladies and an Off the Track Thoroughbred.  Cover Magic is his racing name – Chandler is what we call him at the barn.  The story begins with the great Alydar who went on to be a top sire in the late 80’s and early 90’s — Alydar’s progeny won at a top level for so many years.  Well as a top line, it was bound to be well represented throughout the thoroughbred racing industry.

Cover Magic, a grandson of Alydar, has over $200,000 in career earnings…yet, when he came to the end of his racing career…there was no fanfare when he retired.  Cover Magic was sold and his trainer moved on to the next horse in the barn … all the while thinking and believing that Cover Magic had gone to a good home.

Our story jumps to just a few years ago.  Laura and her team from Perfect Fit Equine Rescue in Morgan Hill California were called to the local Humane society.  A large horse had been found abandoned and in very poor condition in a creek bed.  He was not using his right hind leg very well.  Part of Laura’s team consists of a deeply knowledgeable horsewoman  …Ruth who just recently turned 70. Ruth immediately jumped in and saved the tail on Cover Magic when the human society officer thought it would be best to cut it all off.  Ruth spent hours getting the tail combed out.

Perfect Fit Equine Rescue brought Cover Magic home and cared for him and adopted him out…but it never quite worked out.  What to do with an Off the Track Thoroughbred (OTTB) that wants to run and has energy.  Nobody was quite sure.  After the third trial adoption did not work, Angie, a friend of Ruth’s looked at Ruth with stars in her eyes and said “Let us co-own this lovely horse” and Ruth stepped in and said “Enough – he is now mine and Angie’s.”

You thought the story was pretty good so far…it gets way better.

Ruth and Angie continued to rehab Cover Magic.  Lots of Groundwork and Round Pen work.  A Dressage trainer spent some time working with them on getting that partnership these two ladies desired.  About 18 months ago, Ruth hit a point in her life where the right knee had become useless and she had a choice – To have the knee replaced so she could ride again – or to just let the knee continue to deteriorate until she had to have surgery and likely hobble around.  One evening, Ruth had a conversation with Cover Magic and the two decided that surgery for Ruth was the best option. Her family could not convince her to have surgery…but the Love of this OTTB – helped her decide.

Ruth rehabed her knee and Angie continued to work with Cover Magic.  The first few rides for Ruth on Cover Magic after her surgery were not the most successful —  a few slide off’s, a near fall, and what seems like a clear fall and bump.  Was this story to come to an end? Had the knee surgery been for not?

 A friend of mine at the rescue called and asked me to see if I had anything I could figure out to help give Ruth the chance she wanted. I pulled out Mom’s new Saddle from Charles Wilhelm that was set up right to help mom with her balance (mom is 70+) and went and told Ruth I had a plan.  We got Ruth on Chandler and she had a successful ride, followed by another successful ride and another success.  Before I knew it Angie was also riding (Ruth and Angie purchased a saddle from Charles) and we were all making plans…  – These plans were to get Cover Magic into his second career…..a career as a dressage horse.

In comes North American Western Dressage (NAWD) and the Virtual Show format.  Because virtual shows allow you to show at home and these ladies did not have a trailer we had a plan. NAWD is a leader in virtual shows and along with Cover Magic making his debut, other riders at Perfect Fit Equine Rescue all made their first Western Dressage rides…and they plan to be back with more rides in July 2015.

Angie and Cover Magic made their show debut with the North American Western Dressage May 2015 Trailblazers show.  Using the Level 1, Test 1 from North American Western Dressage, Angie and Chandler scored a very respectable 61%…both had never been in a dressage show in their life.  Now you may be asking — how about Ruth’s ride.  Well she sat on the sidelines watching and coaching because just a few days after the show, she had to go back to the hospital for surgery yet again (she is doing great and itching to ride)…and the reason she went back in is because she and Cover Magic had a conversation once again about their dreams…and they still have a dream to show in 2015.

Are you ready to ride? Can you see yourself having fun with a little showing? Did you think your dream of showing was falling apart — well Perfect Fit Equine Rescue and North American Western Dressage have shown you the way.  Rescued horses, Western Dressage tests .. and some good old determination….this is what good horsemanship is about….this is what great Thoroughbred Race Horses accomplish…this is what two young friends can do when they set out to make the world better for at least one horse….this is what a 70 year old lady can do when she still wants to ride as she did when she was 16….this is what YOU can do with a virtual show opportunity.

If you are pursuing your dreams and Western Dressage is one of your goals, make sure to seek out a Western Dressage Professional (CLICK HERE) to assist you and your horse on the road to success.

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Angie with Chandler (aka Cover Magic)

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Ruth riding Chandler (aka Cover Magic)

— If you enjoyed reading of  this success, consider working with your local rescue and seeing how you can help them or consider donating to Perfect Fit Equine Rescue so they can continue to serve the horses in need.

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician and Lifetime Founding Pioneer of the Western Dressage Association of America, Professional member and Licensed Judge from North America Western Dressage, 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.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (http://www.coachscorral.com/), an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program.  Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (http://www.hydrot.com/).

10 Common Mistakes in Western Dressage Tests

10 Common Mistakes in Western Dressage Tests

by Dr. Mike Guerini, Ph.D. (www.dunmovinranch.com)

As a Coach and Judge for our growing discipline of Western Dressage, and as we get deeper into the show season for 2015, I thought I would share with you the 10 most common mistakes I see in Western Dressage tests.

1) Incorrect Geometry.  Circles that are not the correct size or shape.

2) Lack of Impulsion.

3) Lack of a free walk.

4) Lack of straightness on entry or final approach down centerline.

5) Lack of consistent cadence/speed.

6) Halt not square or falling to the left or right.

7) Rider late or early in transitions.

8) Horses that are behind the vertical or carrying pole too low.

9) Rider seat position in chair seat or leaning to far forward rather than in correct position.

10) Not knowing where you are in the dressage court and not understanding the difference/spacing for a 20 x 40 vs a 20 x 60 court.

If any of these are causing you issue, make sure to seek out a Western Dressage Professional (CLICK HERE) to assist you and your horse on the road to success.

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician and Lifetime Founding Pioneer of the Western Dressage Association of America, Professional member and Licensed Judge from North America Western Dressage, 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.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (http://www.coachscorral.com/), an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program.  Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (http://www.hydrot.com/).

Four Ways that Dancing WILL Improve your Horsemanship

Four Ways that Dancing WILL Improve your Horsemanship

by Dr. Mike Guerini, Ph.D. (www.dunmovinranch.com)

Ballroom dancing with the Cha-Cha-Cha, Rhumba, Tango, and Waltz are just a few examples of dances that we all recognize.  Many of us know how to Line Dance, Square Dance and I bet a few others are very skilled at other dance forms.  Archeological evidence for early dance includes 9,000 year old paintings in India at the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, and Egyptian tomb paintings depicting dancing figures, dated c. 3300 BC. Though there is controversy over the exact date horses were domesticated and when they were first ridden, the best estimate is that horses first were ridden around 4500 BC.

With Horse riding and Dancing –  we are dealing with two activities that have stood the test of time.  We hear and read about people “Dancing with Horses” so the merging of these two activities is known.

Here are four reasons that a little Dancing goes a long way in helping you with your Horsemanship.

Footfalls – Dancing has much to do with footfalls.  Your feet need to work independently, taking metered steps, change with the time and the tempo, and your feet need to flow across the dance floor.

In riding horses, one of the major keys to success are knowing and working with the footfalls of your horse.  When we take the time to learn to dance, we learn how to control our footfalls and we learn the biomechanics of how our body works.  By understanding how our body works – we are better prepared for riding correctly and using our rider aids to influence the footfalls of the horse.

When we are doing ground work – having proper footfalls helps us get in time and in tune with our horse. We succeed in our ground work, when we put our feet in the correct position to aid the horse in the movement.  If we are off balance or our feet are in the way—the horse cannot move correctly.

Coordination – Riding a horse or working with your horse from the ground takes coordination.  By learning how to dance – we learn how our body moves and we build better coordination.  Our hands and legs and seat all might need to move independently in a dance routine…much like what we might need to do when riding with finesse.

Mind – When we dance, we must learn a routine or plan (sometimes in the moment) how we are going to move. If we are dancing with a partner – we certainly must plan what we are going to do or we wind up bumping into each other.  Dancing helps us use our mind to think and plan our next move.  If we are standing on our left leg and need to go left, we have to plan how to shift our weight and move our body….. and we need to have this same level of planning in our horsemanship when we ride or do ground work.

Teamwork – Many forms of dance require a partner.  Horsemanship is the ultimate dance where both partners communicate with subtle touches, changes in contact, and often times — silent communication.  With a human dance partner we work as a team with one partner leading and the other following that guidance.

Want to improve your horsemanship – grab your husband, wife, boy/girlfriend, or find a willing friend or stranger and learn to dance and practice your dancing.  You will notice improved control of your own footfalls, a better understanding of how your body moves, enhanced coordination with your body, better mental planning, and improved teamwork.  Your horse will thank you for doing your homework and you just might enjoy the time.

Thanks for reading this blog and please share.

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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.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (http://www.coachscorral.com/), an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program.  Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (http://www.hydrot.com/).

Arena Geography – Preparation for Excellent Scores

Arena Geography  – Preparation for Excellent Scores

by Dr. Mike Guerini, Ph.D. (www.dunmovinranch.com)

As we prepare to compete, one part of our planning is to look over the arena geography so that we can make a solid plan for where we need to be riding our horse.  For Dressage tests, movements are performed at exact locations in the arena.  For other events, we need to plan our movement or action based on where certain markers are located.  These handy printouts (HERE) can help you plan your ride.  I have designed PDF files that you can print out and draw on to plan and prepare your ride.

 

Slide1 Slide2 Slide3 Slide4 Dimension Conversions

So next time you are getting ready to show…take a few moments and plan your ride.

Click on the link HERE for my website to retrieve PDF printouts of different Dressage and Show pen arenas that you can use to plan your rides and improve your scores.

Thank you for Reading this blog.  Share this Information!

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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.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (http://www.coachscorral.com/), an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program.  Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (http://www.hydrot.com/).

Western Dressage Circles – How they benefit you and your horse in other Horse Show Events

Western Dressage Circles – How they benefit you and your horse in other Horse Show Events

by Dr. Mike Guerini, Ph.D. (www.dunmovinranch.com)

A few weeks back I wrote a blog on Western Dressage (WD) called “Western Dressage and the One Trick Pony.”  In that blog I commented on the need for Western Dressage to reach beyond the normal WD test and educate/reward/encourage/empower/celebrate how people can use WD to build a better horse that is able to excel in many different areas.

This blog begins the journey of sharing with you all how I think WD can help us build better horses that can compete in multiple events.  There are many key elements in WD, many of them come from lessons learned from Classical Horsemanship, and used in Classical and Competitive Dressage.

The first topic of discussion is the Circle. The circle comes in 20m, 15m, and 10m sizes.  There are also half circles that can be included in this category for now.  Okay, first lesson – the sizes in a measurement we use in our daily life.

20m = 65.62 feet diameter circle

15m = 49.21 feet diameter circle

10m = 32.81 feet diameter circle

Second lesson — The key to learning how to ride a perfectly sized and shaped circle is to look TWO POINTS AHEAD and “connect the dots.”

We need to realize that riding the perfectly shaped and sized circle helps the horse’s physical development (circles help develop lateral flexibility and engagement of the inside hind leg). On the mental side of things, riding accurate circles helps develop obedience.

What does the Circle in WD teach us as a rider and horse team that we can use in other horse show classes?

ARENA LOCATION/PRESENCE – This is all about knowing where you are in the horse show class. Are you near the rail, in the center, how far to the end of the arena – all this comes because you know where you are located with your horse at any time.

When you ride the 20m circle, and do it with the correct size and geometry, you learn to view the surrounding area where you are riding with much more clarity.  Centered Riding by Sally Swift has taught us to have soft eyes. With soft eyes, we are aware of our horse and the rest of the riding area with greater ease.  When we focus on a point, and our eyes are not soft, we get fixated and lose the ability to plan our ride and prepare for the next maneuver. When we do not know where we are in the arena and how to navigate the area, we are forced to make big changes that disrupt our horse and our rhythm.  Guess who always looks when we make those big changes – that is the exact moment in time the judge looks at us.

In which Horse show classes is arena location/presence important?  ALL OF THEM!  I need to know where I am so that I prepare for the next trail obstacle, I need to know where the other riders are located, I need to know where center is for reining, I need to know where the end (or side) of the arena is when I want to turn a cow.  We need to have nicely controlled circles for running barrels as well. For those who ride equitation – this is critical for you to know where you are in the arena — presentation matters.

Good quality Circles help us to achieve success by planning, preparing, and making small changes as needed.

BALANCE – This is about having your horse able to work out in space and not lean on the rail.  When we ride a 20m circle (or 15m or 10m), there is at least some part of the circle that does not have a rail to hold up our horse.  Horses and riders get to leaning on a rail and they rely on that for balance. An un-balanced horse and rider that depends on the arena fence/wall for success is one that is not as athletic as possible. With a well-balanced horse, the circle geometry is perfectly round.

In which Horse show classes is balance important?  ALL OF THEM!  Again – each class benefits when we ride a balanced horse that can show his/her athleticism. Ride the perfect 20m, 15m, or 10m circle without an arena fence and you will learn how to ride softly and with more feel. Reining (and reined cowhorse) especially benefit from balanced and well-rounded circles.

Once again — Good quality Circles help us to achieve success by planning, preparing, and making small changes as needed. When we ride these perfectly shaped and sized circles, we have our horse mentally and physically balanced and ready for whatever comes next. A horse that is balanced is responsive to the aids – it is NOT leaning on one leg or one rein.

FLEXIBILITY (Bending and Straightness) – One of the goals of riding a round 20m circle is to create flexibility. Flexibility refers to your ability to bend laterally through his side. The bend through your horse’s side should be equal from the poll to the tail. With a flexible horse you are developing one that is ambidextrous (that is he/she can bend just as easily on the right as on the left). Correctly ridden circles also teach the basic/beginning elements of engagement (bending of the joints of the hind legs) and circles also develop straightness. By definition, a straight horse is straight on lines and bent along the arc of a circle.

In which Horse show classes is Flexibility (Bending and Straightness) important?  ALL OF THEM!  A flexible horse is an athletic horse.  In my time I have had some horses come in for training that the rider described to me in these words “My horse is great.  She goes really straight but we are having trouble getting around the corner.”  I mentioned that likely half the time in any horse show class the horse was needing to be bent (turns, arena corners, etc). A few of these riders have looked at me and said they had never thought about that.

For every horse show class we will ever compete in we will need a horse that is flexible and can answer our call for action. Riding a perfect 20m circle will help you develop a horse that is ready to answer your request and help the two of you look good in the show arena.

RHYTHM – Rhythm of the gait of the horse is so important in WD circles. We want to establish a rhythm, timing, cadence to the gait and hold that the same throughout the circle.

In which Horse show classes is rhythm (timing & cadence) important?  ALL OF THEM!  IF we are in western pleasure, ranch versatility, reining, or trail, we need to maintain an even rhythm of the gait. We want our horse traveling at a gait that has consistency because when the horse is consistent, the presentation looks better, but more importantly, the horse is ready/prepared for the pre-signal and aid you will apply to make those changes necessary to show smoothness.  In Equitation classes, we want to have a nice rhythm because that is pleasing to the eye and accentuates your rider form and smoothness with the horse.

So far I have mostly concentrated on the benefit to the horse.  HOW ABOUT THE RIDER AND THE BENEFIT FROM RIDING THESE CIRCLES? Well the rider benefits greatly from learning those perfect circles. The rider improves his/her arena location knowledge as I said earlier.  But the rider also improves the use of his/her seat and legs, and balance and softness of the hands when riding these circles. By riding these perfect circles, he/she learns how to make small changes and it is these small changes that tell the horse you are competent and trusting.  Any time we make abrupt and physically reactive changes we tell the horse that we are not very trustworthy.  Soft and small changes keep that trust and harmony in your ride.

There are also a few life lessons in learning how to ride the perfect circle.  I still work each ride to make that perfect circle.  Some days I succeed and other days I  break a few circles….but each time I get better and the life lesson is that with patience, planning, calmness, and time – I  can be a better rider…better person…better equestrian and along the way I get the benefit of learning these lessons with a horse!

Hopefully this has expanded your awareness of why and how these circles in WD can help you build your all around horse and develop a better foundation of training. You do not need to ever take a WD test, although there is a great benefit and feedback that comes from taking one of these tests (you get a score and written remarks), but if you ride in a western saddle and you do not take the time to see how well you can ride that perfect circle – you are missing out on a learning opportunity for you and your horse and you might be keeping yourself out of the winners place in your western show events.

The circles we learn and ride in Western Dressage (tests, clinics, lessons, etc.) – or in the Cowboy Dressage world – help us to build a better western horse.

Thank you for Reading this blog.  Share this Blog and Share your Thoughts!

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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.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (http://www.coachscorral.com/), an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program.  Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (http://www.hydrot.com/).