It seems like a simple thing – riding an accurate circle. But sometimes the simple things aren’t so easy and in our training they can easily get overlooked. However riding accurate circles in your dressage test can really make a difference to your score especially at the lower levels. Twenty and ten meter circle becomes much more obvious when ridden poorly since there is a lot of time for the judge to observe how accurately you are riding.
While you may try to ride accurate circles sometimes it is difficult. If your practice arena isn’t perfectly square, is larger or smaller than a dressage arena you may be practicing the size that fits in your space. But this will not be accurate when you get into the show arena. You may think you are riding a good shape without realizing the size isn’t accurate. Maybe you have trouble visualizing a circle as you are riding. You know it is important but you have trouble ‘seeing’ where to ride in order to make a nice round shape. Finally you might simply have show nerves and forget to breathe as you are riding your test. Holding your breath makes everything harder!
Figure out the figure
First make sure you know the exact size of a 20m and 10m circle. To do this, get some bailing twine. Tie several pieces together to make a long string. Mark 4” from the end by putting a piece of tape on the twine. Next measure down 5m and place another piece of tape. Finally measure down another 5m and put a 3rd piece of tape. You have now marked the radius of a 20 and 10m circle with a little bit of twine (the 4” piece) to hold onto.
Take your piece of string and go out to your arena. Place the 4” mark on the track at “A” (or anywhere you want to ride a circle). Walk down the centerline with your string until you get to the 10 m mark. This is the center point of your 20m circle. Place something heavy on the string at the center point so that it stays in place. Then pick up the end at “A” and walk a circle keeping your string taut. You will be walking an accurate 20m circle. If you do the same thing with the weight at the 5m mark you will be walking a 10m circle at “A”.
Get a feel for the size and shape of your 20 and 10m circles on foot. Next return the arena with your horse (and hopefully a helper). If you have someone to help have them hold the string standing at the center point holding the 10m mark while you hold the other end (the 4” piece). Walk, trot and canter your 20m circle. If you stray you will either pull your friend over or if they are centered enough they might pull you over. Be careful! Continue to ride the circle until you can keep the string taught without touching the ground. Then repeat the exercise with your helper holding the twine at the 5m mark. When you have the feel for the circle size and shape ride the same circle without the string. This will help you develop the feel for accurate circle. You are well on your way to riding accurate circles!