#SundaySchool: Justine Armstrong-Small on the importance of balance and control

  • Avoid motorbiking in the show ring with these 10-metre circle and loop exercises, as recommended by top show rider, Justine Armstrong-Small


    One of my favourite exercises in training is riding 10-metre circles in each corner of the school and five-metre loops down each long side.

    The purpose of this exercise is to teach both the horse and rider balance and control. In order to ride the circles correctly the horse has to be engaged through his hind legs and supple through his shoulders and neck.

    He has to go from a straight line to a small circle without losing rhythm and balance. It teaches the rider to use inside leg to outside rein, which so many riders struggle to achieve.

    The loops ask the horse to change the inside bend to outside bend — putting more pressure and control into the inside rein and making him soften through to the outside rein. This helps him to be more supple across the wither and will help loosen the shoulder to create more movement and elevation.

    The exercise

    1. This exercise can be done in both walk and trot. Start by riding your horse into an even contact and pace around the arena. For a novice horse it’s better to start in walk as this gives time to achieve the correct lines you’re trying to follow.

    2. As you approach each corner, steady your speed by half-halting and keeping your leg on to collect the gait. Think about the size of your circle, while being careful not to overshoot the centre line.

    3. Encourage the horse to soften down his inside shoulder by creating bend with the inside rein, while also taking more pressure onto the outside rein. Sitting trot helps the rider use their leg more effectively and keep better control of the horse and his direction.

    4. Maintain balance coming out of the circle and ride straight into the next corner, repeating the exercise with another circle. As you come out of the second corner approaching the long side, ride a five-metre loop off the track onto the three- quarter line of the arena and then back to the next corner.

    5. On returning to the corner, change the bend again to go into your next 10-metre circle. Repeat this exercise around the arena three or four times on one rein. Then do the same on the other rein.

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    Tips and pitfalls

    • Many riders use the inside rein to steer, which can create head flicks or motorbiking, and falling in on the circles.
    • The horse can lose balance and take uneven steps, hop into canter or trip up when not pushing from behind.
    • The horse can fall out of the circle through his outside shoulder if you don’t have enough outside rein controlling the amount of bend required.
    • If the rider uses more inside rein and no outside leg, it will allow the horse to banana and fall out of the circle.
    • If a horse is constantly ridden with one rein shorter than the other it will ultimately lead to the horse compensating by either lifting its head, or going on two tracks of the arena with the quarters coming in off the track rather than being in line with the front. This can make the horse appear lame.
    • Rushing the trot can accentuate the problems above.

    For all the latest equestrian news and reports, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday

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