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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr. 16, 2005
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    Default Lesson - Circle, Circle, Circle

    Let me preface this by saying I come from the Hunter world. Have dabbled a little bit in Eventing doing some low level stuff in the past. I took a break from lessons when I moved my guy a little over a year ago. I just started taking lessons from an Event trainer who moved to my barn and the lessons are flat work/Dressage driven right now. Kinda starting from scratch kinda thing. Being left to my own devices for over a year did not help us at all.

    Is it normal to have every dressage/flat work lesson on a constant circle? Coming from the Hunter world, we used the entire arena.... so I'm a bit confused. Trainer has me work on a constant circle at one end of the arena. Not 10m but maybe 20m? Every lesson so far (we've had 4). Now, we do change direction of course and she will have me do a figure 8 type pattern but only in that circle. And we have worked on different things as well, so it's not the same stuff over and over again in the circle. We aren't just going round and round.

    Why the constant circle? I'm used to using the entire arena and putting circles in along w/ changes of direction and serpentine's. My horse does much better if you change it up and also don't keep him in a circle constantly. Going down the long side helps him open up, etc. and think more forward. He has an old hip injury so I definitely don't do "tight" circles and won't allow anyone to tell me to do so and this size seems fine ...but for the entire time? I've mentioned to the trainer that he doesn't care for doing work in a circle but she just says he's fine and it won't hurt him. And that is true. I've tried to start my lesson by wandering off a bit to use more of the arena and I get, come over here in this circle. But I do feel he starts to think "backwards" when we are in a constant circle and doesn't have the chance to really just go straight, open up and relax a bit. I think the constant circle is a bit taxing on his brain.

    I had a past trainer do this and I was told later on by someone else that the reason they do that is so they can just stand in the middle of the circle and not have to move around while they teach.

    She does ride my horse as a training ride once a week as well. And I'm pretty sure she probably keeps him on that circle during those. I've seen her ride her horse and she does the same with him... occasionally using the rest of the arena during her ride. Before I started taking lessons with her I mentioned that I noticed she stays on one end and in a circle. She said since her horse is green (which he is), she keeps him there to keep his focus. She is an excellent rider and has done wonders for my horse. And she is very good at teaching as well and getting me to understand things. I just want to get out of the blasted circle!

    Someone please enlighten me... if there is a true necessary reason for it, okay. I'll just have to deal. But if not, help me find a way to say something in the correct manner so she understands w/o it coming across wrong. I don't mind the occasional lesson on a circle. Or even being on a circle every lesson... for only part of time and then using all of the arena as well. But not every single one and never leaving it! It's driving me a bit insane.



  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan. 6, 2008
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    Area II, the Blue Ridge Mountains
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    Default

    Hard to respond to this one... My experience is that the hunter people sometimes use the circle less than we eventer/dressage types. And I have had a lesson that was almost exclusively on a circle, with a young horse that was not correct. But that was one lesson on one horse. I think changing things up will help the horse focus more, but that's just my opinion. hmmm....



  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul. 19, 2003
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    Middleburg, VA
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    Default

    Well, it does definitely depend on what you are working on. I do find that when I'm riding a green horse and we're working on maintaining a rhythm, the quality of the gait, the bend, all really basic stuff, we may stick to one or two circles. Same if I'm getting harped on about my position mostly (I've also witnessed both examples with many different trainers. If you can't do it on a circle, where it is all easy to control and keep it together, how are you going to be able to do it out on the big, long straight away

    NOW (and this is true pretty much no matter who I ride with), I use a lot more of the ring because my horse does a lot of other "stuff". We have to leave the circle to do the stuff. BUT, if we're trying to fix a gait or rhythm or position or focus issue, then you can bet your sweet bippy we're put on the circle of doom until it gets better.

    I do the same thing in my schooling....if we're working on something like quality or focus, I do tend to circle, circle, circle.

    I can also see it being tough and unusual coming from the hunter world. I've spent the winter working with a h/j/eq trainer. She kicks my ASS on the flat, but we rarely do circles. And, in the really bad hunter barns, they never LEAVE the rail, never make a circle, never do anything except w/t/c in both directions (you can tell those barns because of the rut along the rail!). So, it IS a different mindset. She's not cheating you, she's not being lazy, it's just where you need to be for now.

    Also, my long time coach's favorite saying when fussing at riders who ride too much on the rail..."How many straight lines are in a dressage test?"


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  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar. 24, 2010
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    Tucson
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    It depends.

    What is she like in lessons with other people? If everyone only rides on a circle, I'd start to be concern.

    If, however, you have some of the same challenges as MANY of us who convert from hunterland, you very well may have suppleness issues you aren't even aware of, and the circle is calculated to get the lateral flexion you need prior to getting longitudinal flexion and elasticity you want for dressage work. She may be trying to get you focused on using the correct seatbones in a simpler manner, teaching you about using inside leg to outside rein. It may also be to help your horse learn about bending the hind legs, because it's easier for a horse to learn it on a curved line where only the inside starts to bend more at first, than a straight line where you'd want both bending and are physically challenging them more.

    I clinic with a biomechanics instructor who is AMAZING and tends to keep riders on a circle most of the time in her lessons for the softness it gives. She makes me go straight a lot because my horse has a tendency to suck back and start bucking, so we don't have to work on making him softer, but he's always one to return to forward, into the hand, don't come behind the bit. You may well think your horse is losing forward because of the difference in feeling, but in fact he's starting to bend his hind legs more and lift his front end - it's totally different feeling and if they haven't yet developed thrust from behind for more lofty gaits can feel as if you're losing gaits some.

    So basically, there are plenty of reasons it may be what your trainer feels is necessary. And there are plenty of other reasons why it could be a terrible thing. I'd look at other lessons and students and see what is going on with them, and then ask about it to see what your trainer is thinking.
    My horse is a dressage diva so I don't have to be.

    Quote Originally Posted by katarine
    If you have a fat gay horse that likes Parelli, you're really screwed


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  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar. 1, 2003
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    Happily in Canada
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    I ride a lot like yellowbritches, above. Also I don't have a problem with the instructor plunking themselves down on a chair and asking that you stay on a circle to be taught. My coach is arthritic and is much more comfortable in a chair.

    I also had an unexpected conversation related to this topic recently. I used to ride alone mostly, at my parent's or a boarding barn. Now I ride exclusively at my coach's. She got upset that the students were "riding all over the ring." I asked why. She said, then I have to harrow the whole darn thing, it takes 3 times as long and uses more gas & is harder on the quad.

    Now, I never thought of it this way, but where I used to ride, we didn't have the luxury of a harrow, except maybe once every couple of weeks. So we aimed to ride all over the ring in order not to create ruts!
    Blugal

    You never know what kind of obsessive compulsive crazy person you are until another person imitates your behaviour at a three-day. --Gry2Yng



  6. #6
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    Jun. 7, 2006
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    Read Lauren Sprieser's blog on COTH.

    She is a bona fide GP dressage trainer who has brought up 5 or 6 horses to GP by now and she is in her ripe old 20's.

    She writes about how people will think a GP dressage lesson is all about half pass and pi/pa transitions and tempis, when in fact she drives five hours and gets put on a 20m circle and they raise the neck, lower the neck, a little bit bigger steps, a little bit smaller steps, etc and so forth, on a 20m circle.

    If people who are sitting on one of the multiple dressage horses they have trained up themselves to GP can find things to work on on a 20m circle, probably you and your horse have not exhausted its possibilities.


    When I instruct people, especially those who need to learn about riding a horse with their seat and core, the first thing I do is put them on a circle. Then I have them ride mini circles at four points of the larger circle, with transitions thrown in. Suddenly they have to be organized and get their $*t together to get it all done. If you just let people fleetly flit about the arena they never put their horse together. It is easier on a circle than a straight line.



  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jul. 31, 2007
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    IME, the 20 m circle is great when the instructor needs to work hard on the rider. I have been put on the circle; I have (sadly) put others on the circle.

    I don't think its psychologically great for horses. I think it can feel like a 5 hour meeting dedicated to getting the legislative language of a bill Just. Right. In other words, the "better" and "worse" for the horse are very fine and the exercise goes on and on. Anyone would start playing with their cell phone at some point... if they had a cell phone or opposable thumbs.

    Also, for riders, switching directions can help them feel a lot since they have a "good" and a "bad" direction they can compare in quick succession.

    JMHO. I'll take some lessons on a horse on a 20m circle, but I get antsy if it's my horse. Maybe it's a problem that I haven't taught the horses I ride to concentrate on details that fine of that amount of time.
    The armchair saddler
    Politically Pro-Cat


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  8. #8
    Join Date
    Feb. 5, 2002
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    2,059

    Default

    Why not ask your instructor? Phrase it just like you did here, that you realize it's a change from your past way of doing things, and you just want some background on why and what the circles are supposed to accomplish. If you come across as being genuinely interested in learning about this new way of doing things, your instructor should be happy to expound (at length!) on the reasons. Or, at least, mine would. She's great if I come to a lesson with a question that starts, "I know we've talked about this before but I realized I didn't really understand it. Can you explain what you meant when you wanted me to blah-blah-blah, but I thought I was supposed to be doing such-and-so, and now I'm really confused." She smiles and rolls her eyes and does her best to straighten me out...



  9. #9
    Join Date
    Oct. 24, 2001
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    Virginia
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    Default

    Since converting from hunterland, it's been a rare flat lesson with my eventing or dressage instructors that I've just ridden straight down the long side, unless I'm warming up or cooling out. It's been a lot of serpentines, spirals, and circles, circles, circles. We're usually making one slightly larger than 20M, more the width of the arena, which both allows other people who may be riding to have arena to use, and keeps us in more or less one place, because it seems silly if you're working on a circle anyway to keep moving it around. Trainer can stand in the middle, or at one edge, or whatever, and set any exercises (cones, poles, etc) necessary on the one circle, rather than all over the place.

    I don't know that I'd be happy having every lesson on a circle, but I also try to mix up flatwork and jumping lessons, so we're doing something different, even if it's applying the same principles we were working on in the circle.



  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jan. 3, 2013
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    I come from hunter/jumper world and started taking lessons for eventing a few months ago and it's the same. My horse needs to learn how to really stretch and bend and lift up and use his hind end/topline. If I ride him on a straightaway of the ring he flattens out and goes back to his *hunter* trot. We don't always work on a 20m circle sometimes it's larger, half the ring or sometimes smaller. I understand that we need to stay in the circle to re-train him and me from hunter world. I've seen other lessons taught by my trainer and they are not always in a circle once you and your horse are where they need to be. I would just talk to your trainer about it. Maybe ask that you can take a walk break during your lesson using the entire ring to give your horse a break form the circle.


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  11. #11
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    Apr. 16, 2005
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    I am her only student there. It's a small private barn. Only 3 boarders (myself, her and one other girl who doesn't take lessons). All the other horses are either broodmares or retired. So I don't know if she does this with other riders. I've only see her ride her own horse and she mostly keeps him in the circle. The 2 times I've seen her ride my horse, she rode him in a circle as well.

    When we started lessons, the first thing we worked on was getting my horse more reactive to my leg. He is a bit dull. So the first 2 lessons were... add leg... then big smack if he didn't move off promptly. Halt. Try again. Did this for all 3 gaits. He is getting much better about this and only needs a reminder smack going into trot the first time instead of multiple smacks throughout the ride.

    Currently we have been working on rhythm. Learning to keep it steady in each gait and also learning to slow it down and speed it up w/o changing the rhythm. Also working on inside leg to outside rein and getting him to use his hind end to help build it back up. We are also working on me as well. I've picked up a lot of bad habits and we are working on my core, etc.

    So what you all have said, makes sense of why we are in a circle.

    She is really good about me asking questions of why we are doing something. I'm one of those "learners" that needs to know the mechanics behind it. I'm also a visual learner, so just barking orders out to me doesn't work either. I'm sure I'm a tough student for her.

    Thanks for the responses... it has definitely helped me see it from another angle. I'll ask her about it next time. And will see about doing walking breaks all around the ring. To give me and my horse a break. We have been just staying in the circle.

    When I ride on my own, I don't stay in the circle. I do some circles on each end along w/ serpentine's. etc. To mix it up. Maybe that's where I'm "messed" up. I'm used to doing lots of transitions and working all over the ring. Staying in one gait and going around the same way in a circle is foreign to me.
    Last edited by LSM1212; May. 9, 2013 at 02:50 PM.



  12. #12
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    Nov. 13, 2009
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    I'm a hunter person, now in an eventing barn, and previously in a barn that had a lot of dressage riders. YES, they definitely spend a lot more time on a 20m circle in lessons and outside of lessons than I do!

    I do make circles and serpentines and so on during my rides, but I really, really rarely just stick my horse on a 20m circle and stay there. I've done it once or twice in a lesson (with an eventing trainer), or if Mr. Personality is exceptionally rambunctious on a given day...but I really try hard to use the WHOLE ring when riding. I honestly think it is hard on them physically and mentally to just stay on a 20m circle all the time - I think of it in much the same way I think of lunging, actually.

    My horse has some physical challenges, and he really does do best if he has a mixture of no-fuss, minimal contact work using the whole ring and more focused, on contact work with tighter turns, spiraling, etc.

    I did have one terrible lesson once with a former h/j instructor of mine where she made me trot on a 15m circle to the left for 45 minutes straight while she just SCREAMED at me that he wasn't engaging his left hind enough. Eventually, she let us walk when I started coughing so hard that I was dry heaving (I was really sick at the time). When I was ready to start again, she asked if I thought I was ready to canter yet or if we should just keep working on that left trot circle. OMG. I opted to canter (of COURSE I did!), and my horse, whose brain was completely fried at this point, just EXPLODED into a huge bucking fit.

    Anyway, as it turned out, he wasn't engaging his left hind enough because he was in need of hock maintenance. So, I'm sure that the 45 minutes on the 15m circle really helped him feel fantastic.



  13. #13
    Join Date
    Oct. 16, 2008
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    Central Oklahoma
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    Quote Originally Posted by meupatdoes View Post
    Read Lauren Sprieser's blog on COTH.

    She is a bona fide GP dressage trainer who has brought up 5 or 6 horses to GP by now and she is in her ripe old 20's.

    She writes about how people will think a GP dressage lesson is all about half pass and pi/pa transitions and tempis, when in fact she drives five hours and gets put on a 20m circle and they raise the neck, lower the neck, a little bit bigger steps, a little bit smaller steps, etc and so forth, on a 20m circle.

    If people who are sitting on one of the multiple dressage horses they have trained up themselves to GP can find things to work on on a 20m circle, probably you and your horse have not exhausted its possibilities.


    When I instruct people, especially those who need to learn about riding a horse with their seat and core, the first thing I do is put them on a circle. Then I have them ride mini circles at four points of the larger circle, with transitions thrown in. Suddenly they have to be organized and get their $*t together to get it all done. If you just let people fleetly flit about the arena they never put their horse together. It is easier on a circle than a straight line.
    You know, sometimes I think meupatdoes is nuts or something, but when it's about dressage, she is normally quite spot on.


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  14. #14
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    Jul. 31, 2007
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    Quote Originally Posted by LSM1212 View Post

    When we started lessons, the first thing we worked on was getting my horse more reactive to my leg. He is a bit dull. So the first 2 lessons were... add leg... then big smack if he didn't move off promptly. Halt. Try again. Did this for all 3 gaits. He is getting much better about this and only needs a reminder smack going into trot the first time instead of multiple smacks throughout the ride.

    Currently we have been working on rhythm. Learning to keep it steady in each gait and also learning to slow it down and speed it up w/o changing the rhythm. Also working on inside leg to outside rein and getting him to use his hind end to help build it back up. We are also working on me as well. I've picked up a lot of bad habits and we are working on my core, etc.
    That's all good. If she's fixing a horse that's dull to your leg and doing that at low gaits, via the contrast of leg vs. some whip, that's a good way to do that-- clear and fair to the horse.

    Also, the "bigger" and "smaller" trot or canter is something dressagists work on more than hunter folks. Getting this from your body rather than bigger moves with hand and leg is great, too.

    It sounds like your instructor is giving you a great foundation in dressage. If you do your homework in between rides and insist on getting the same responses, I think you'll get of the ol' 20 m circle faster.
    The armchair saddler
    Politically Pro-Cat



  15. #15
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    Jan. 5, 2013
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    I just like that someone upstream called it the "circle of doom"

    I'm taking dressage lessons with my girl right now. Last Sunday, she let the clinician and I know she was done with the circle to the left by refusing to turn and when she faced the rail she decided to do about 10 mini rear / hops down the fence line. This was 35 minutes in to a 45 minute 20m circle lesson. The clinician actually laughed hysterically at us and informed me that she was well practiced in this form of circle evasion and had this happened before...not with me, but I've only had her three months. Sigh.

    Back on the circle we went and at the next possible opportunity where she did not engage the bunny hop evasion tactic and finally submitted... we quit.

    Skye and I HATE the circles equally. The problem is that they are really helping me train her (7 yrs old, needs finishing), they force her to focus and they force me to actually rider her with purpose and clarity, so, unfortunately I don't see us getting off the circle of doom anytime soon. I keep looking at all those cute little cross rails I want to pop over... patience is a virtue. Sigh.


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  16. #16
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    Dec. 27, 1999
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    Midland, NC, USA
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    Short answer: If you are on a circle, you can focus on certain points (forward, straight, balance, rhythm, etc) without the added challenge of constant changes of bend and direction (going around the whole arena involves four straightaways, four quarter circles, and eight changes of bend!). When the basics are solid on a circle a change of figure (going large, doing a change of direction) is a test/exercise.

    Jennifer



  17. #17
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    Mar. 12, 2006
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gloria View Post
    You know, sometimes I think meupatdoes is nuts or something, but when it's about dressage, she is normally quite spot on.
    *snork* I was just thinking the same thing. Sometimes people are on a totally different planet.
    "All top hat and no canter". *Graureiter*


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  18. #18
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    Jun. 7, 2006
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gestalt View Post
    *snork* I was just thinking the same thing. Sometimes people are on a totally different planet.
    Yeah, feel free to join the rest of us back on earth when you're ready. Welcome mat is always out!


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  19. #19
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    Nov. 18, 2004
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    Catonsville, MD
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    I have a friend who calls it the 20m Circle Gulag.
    I tolerate all kinds of animal idiosyncrasies.
    I've found that I don't tolerate people idiosyncrasies as well. - Casey09



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  20. #20
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    Apr. 16, 2005
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    Thanks again for all the responses. Glad I'm not the only one. I'm not a big fan of indoor arenas (claustrophobic, big time)... I call them the "Box of Hell". So I guess I'm in the "20m Circle of Hell".

    I see why we are in the circle... just want to figure out a way to take a few breaks during the lesson and get out of the circle (walk and maybe trot a little) so we don't both go insane.



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