From a judge’s point of view, a good stretchy circle demonstrates both a correct training foundation for the horse and correct riding technique on the part of the rider. Your horse must be correctly connected in the bridle and accepting your aids unconditionally to follow the bit to the ground, reaching his neck down and his nose forward as you quietly feed him your reins to begin this movement. His longitudinal balance is crucial here, as we should see approximately 50% of his weight balanced on his hind legs and 50% on his front legs when he is performing at Training and First Level. If his weight shifts forward, the rhythm or regularity of the trot alters, if his length of stride changes or he wanders on the circle, he’s telling you there is a problem that needs addressed. To finish the circle, you need to gently and smoothly re-establish your contact, again without altering the quality of the trot or disturbing the horse’s balance and prepare to ride the next test movement. Understood this way, the stretchy circle is snapshot of your horse’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as a test of your balance, dexterity and ability to ride off your seat and not just your hands. In my book, that makes it an Acid Test - a challenge so big that completing it successfully earns you not just kudos, but cake and ice cream too!
So tomorrow when you head out to ride, consider the benefits of schooling a correct 20-meter trot stretchy circle where your upper body stays back, your weight remains evenly distributed down both thighs, your seat is light, yet maintains a regular 2-beat trot rhythm and your abdominal core muscles are engaged and encouraging your horse’s back to remain lifted up underneath you. Then have a friend or your instructor videotape your trot circles and critically watch what your horse does as you move from trotting on contact to trotting a stretchy circle. Listen to your equine partner and ask what he is trying to communicate to you by evaluating his balance and posture, the softness and stretch across his entire topline, the position of his ears, the look in his eye, the length and tempo of his stride. The list can seem endless I agree, but he is telling you what is or is not working correctly and it is your job to decipher the lesson he is teaching. Don’t forget that we’re learning to speak horse here, a challenging language for sure.
Susan Moody, IEO President