Novice Test – The 20 Metre Circle

HeartThe Crystal System is all about finding clarity in your approach and keeping things simple.  By simple I don’t necessarily mean ‘less’ but actually finding the heart of the matter.   Reducing what you need to do to its very essence ensuring nothing more could be taken away without it becoming ineffective, likewise, anything that you add is unnecessary and would only really create clutter and confusion.

All that we aspire to do will go through an evolution; a cycle of development until the process finds its ‘essential state’.  Learning something new usually creates some seemingly chaotic input, making it hard to separate the relevant and essential elements from the irrelevant.  As you learn more you start to set the pieces of the puzzle together for yourself, eventually arriving at the mastery stage.

HeartI thought you might like me to look at some of the most straightforward subjects in Dressage training and try to find the heart of them – beginning with riding a 20 metre circle.

Let us ask … “What is at the heart of this?”

The 20 metre circle is one of the most important training figures in Dressage, from the introductory tests through to Grand Prix, in fact it could be said that the 20 metre circle is at the heart of all Dressage. It is one of the first figures taught to beginner riders and young or green horses. Due to its size, it doesn’t require that the horse or rider have incredible skills to be able to ride moderately well, but one thing is for sure, if you don’t pay attention to perfecting your circle work, with the goal of unconscious competence (mastery), you will not become sufficiently skilled to move up the levels.

The 20 metre circle is a test of your ability to accurately ride a basic pattern

20 metre circleNow I really don’t want to be stating the obvious, but I feel I must – the 20 metre circle should be round!  NOT egg or pear-shaped.  Each side of the arena (where the circle touches the outside of the arena) should only be met at a single point (as shown in diagram).  This means that you do not ride along the outside of the arena for any period of time.  There are absolutely NO straight elements to a circle and your horse should bend throughout.  Touch the sides and immediately off.

Many inexperienced riders tend to go too deep into the corners of the arena, creating a bulge in their circle. This indicates that the horse is not correctly bent on the circle, or that he is leaning, falling in or out through the shoulder.  Ensuring that the shape of your circle is correct forces you to control the horse’s balance, if you make a wishy-washy circle, you give him permission to fall in or off the track.

The 20 metre circle is a test of the horse’s suppleness.

20 metre circleThe 20 metre circle is a primary exercise to improve your horse’s ability to bend, to improve his overall suppleness and to encourage him to engage his hindquarters. Finding the heart of the matter relating to bending your horse will be the subject of another blog.  For now you need to know that it is YOU that CREATES the bend.  It doesn’t just happen when you decide to ride a circle!

The 20 metre circle is a test of the rider’s ability to keep the horse on the aids.

Incorrect position or application of the aids will often become apparent on the 20 metre circle.

  • Make a connection between inside leg and outside rein.
  • Control and channel all of your horse’s power on the direction of the circle
  • Make sure you have the correct bend (that is to the inside of the circle)
  • Ensure you have correct lateral flexion of the poll (that is to the inside of the circle)
  • You must be able to see the horse’s inside eye
  • It is the alignment of your hips and shoulders on the circle that regulate and show your horse where his hips and shoulders should go.
  • As with all exercises, forward, rhythm and relaxation, tempo and straightness are the building blocks.

So, to summarise, the heart of the matter with a 20 metre circle is really very, very simple; it must be round, your horse must be bent and you must align your hips and shoulders to the line of the circle.  Master these three elements and you’ll be able to ride your 20 metre circles for a 9!

Next time we’ll look at creating and keeping the bend.  So important for your horses ability to flex and allow the energy to flow, yet so many riders fail to work on this basic, essential element of their training.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

4 Responses

  1. This is such good advice for the beginner rider and yet so many of them have difficulty with this. They stay on the 2 outside points too long.

  2. Hi Patricia, can you help me with exercise to encourage rounding over the back in the stretchy trot? My young horse is forward but just needs to stretch further. Free walk also… Bit of a pattern… His trot and canter just need a little softness to score better, thanks Wendy

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