The long term goal of Straightness Training is achieving flexibility, gaining strength, build muscle and improving your horse’s overall health and maintaining it for a lifetime. This goal is achieved through a logical system of progressive exercises.
The circle is one of the first important exercises the horse should learn in this system. The first exercise in movement is the circle, and you’ll realize that this is not easy!
Because if you have a right bent horse, it will be very difficult for him to bend to the left. And vice versa.
Teaching a horse to turn is about lengthening his short side and contracting his long muscles. Only when a horse can do that, the inside hip can come forward and then the horse will be able to step under the center of mass with the inside hind leg.
Antoine the Pluvinel (1555 – 1620) wrote in his book that the circle is the most difficult exercise for a horse. He wrote that it’s not the fancy exercises that are the most difficult for a young or a crooked horse, but actually, the circle is the most difficult! If we see young horses running, we can see them perform collected gaits and high school jumps. We also see quarter or half voltes, but we never see young horses perform an entire circle.
The reason a circle is so difficult, is the natural asymmetry of the horse. A left bent horse has the tendency to lean in to the circle on the right and to lean out on the circle to the left.
The goal of the circle is to teach the horse the first three keys of Straightness Training. On the circle a horse has to ‘turn’ on a circle finding his balance on the inside hind leg and he should not lean in or out on one of the shoulders.
The circle is an exercise on one track. The inner front and hind leg make a smaller circle, than the outer front and hind leg.
What we strive for on the circle is the so-called LFS:
1. L ateral bending of the body
2. F orward-down tendency of head and neck
3. Stepping under with the inside hind leg under the center of mass.
So the L is for Lateral bending, the F stands for Forward-down and the S for Stepping under.
When the LFS is correct, the horse moves in a balanced way, without leaning in or out on the circle.
Teaching the exercise to the horse
In Straightness Training, all exercises are first taught to the horse in hand and on the longe line. This teaches the horse to move on the circle in all different gaits, and to find its balance without the additional weight of the rider.
Later on, the horse will find it easier to learn and execute the circle under the rider, first under guidance of a helper on the ground.
Also at liberty and with a cordeo a horse has to ‘turn’ on a circle, finding his balance on the inside hind leg, and he should not lean in or out the circle.
– You can ride big circles (20 meter) or smaller ones (10 meter)
– You can increase a small circle to a big one
– You can decrease a big circle to a small one
– You can change the lead through the center of the circle (2 small sized half circles)
– You can ride serpentines, to make the horse supple in the bendings
– You can ride tempo changes on the circle
– You can ride transitions on the circle
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