“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.
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!