“The most difficult exercise for a horse is the circle.” (Pluvinel)
A circle is an unnatural exercise for the horse. In the wild they mainly move in straight lines or zig-zags. Why do we need the circle as an exercise then? To make the muscles supple and stretched, and to make the horse moveable. A horse that cannot bend properly (lateral crookedness, see post on straightness training), will cut corners, fall onto the shoulder, speed up in turns, lift its head, or refuse to turn to one side.
In a circle, the horse is bend, moves forward on a bended track, and steps under the point of weight with its inside hind leg. The inside hip comes forward and all 4 legs step into the direction the horse is moving.
The horse is hollow on the inside, and the inside ribs rotate downwards. The inside hind leg can carry more weight, and the outside shoulder will become more lifted.
It is important to change the hand frequently. Working one hind leg at a time, the horse can relax the other hind leg. This exercise is first done in hand and later on it is done on the longe in walk, trot and canter. Finally, the circles are done riding. When this goes well, the circles can be made smaller and bigger. In the end, circles are done in different sizes throughout the arena. This improves the coordination of the inside hind leg. The shoulder-in is then created from making these circles. This exercise trains the increased bending of the inside hind leg.
To ride pleasantly, we need a horse that is capable of collection, lightness in the front and manouverability. The horse needs to be in balance under its rider, and carry the weight in a way the horse will not get damaged.
This we want for any riding horse in any discipline!
All horses are slightly asymmetrical from nature. This natural crookedness can be compensated by training muscles. This training is called ''straightness training'', resulting in the end in a horse that:
Straightness training is therefore a basic training for any riding horse, and is also the basic of the Academic Art of Riding. It means to balance the horse in all dimensions:
In nature, the horse puts more weight on the front legs. When we ride it however, our weight also is placed on the front legs, which can damage them. The ultimate goal of straightness training is to get more weight on the hind legs, in order to protect the fragile front legs during riding. The horse must develop from a natural balance to a riding balance.
Straightness training is done in three parts:
In every part we want to see a correct lateral bending, a forward-down tendency and the stepping under of the hind leg(s). This way, we train towards suppleness and bending in the body and the hind legs. First separately, later combined.
I like to share my thoughts on the Art of Riding with you here. Topics related to training and keeping horses and reports of my own experiences you can find here. Enjoy!