Q: Could you explain how to ride a circle decrease in the trot? To me, it seems to resemble the half pass as opposed to circle increase, which seems to resemble a leg yield. Is circle decrease an appropriate exercise for a lower-level rider? What exactly are the aids? What do I need to look for? What are the benefits of the exercise? —Name withheld by request
A: Spiraling in and spiraling out on a 20-meter circle are exercises I use a lot both when training horses and showing riders how to collect without a backward thought and ride positively forward from back to front. In both exercises it is useful to think of a shoulder-fore positioning as it is most important to control the outside of the horse’s body so that the inside hind leg is connected correctly to the outside rein.
In the circle increase it is important that the horse doesn’t just fall to the outside, which happens when you simply pull on the inside rein and push with your inside leg. This will leave your horse unbalanced. To increase your circle, first think shoulder-fore so that you are sure your horse is connected to your outside rein. Then, maintaining the feeling of the horse’s inside hind leg stepping into your outside rein, gradually increase the pressure of your inside leg so that your horse begins to spiral out to progressively bigger circles. It is important that this is gradual and that you maintain control of the size of the circle. If the circle gets big too quickly, you know you have lost the outside of the horse and he is simply falling to the outside and not truly moving off your inside leg.
To decrease the circle also requires a slight shoulder-fore positioning to prevent the horse from just curling around your inside leg and therefore losing the engagement of his inside hind leg. Once you have a slight shoulder-fore feeling, gradually increase the pressure with your outside rein and leg until you feel the outside of the horse start to come in. Maintain your inside leg as a guarding aid that doesn’t allow your horse to bend to the outside. Imagine that the earth is slowly crumbling on the outside of the circle and you must keep slowly coming toward a smaller 10-meter circle.
It is important to maintain the exact same rhythm in both the inward and outward spiral and not let the horse slow down. Only then will the horse maintain a correct, even push from his hind legs.
Spiraling in is a fantastic exercise to start to teach a horse collection. Spiraling out is great for teaching a horse to correctly leg yield and also to develop a good connection from your inside leg to your outside leg.
This exercise can be used on young horses and it stays relevant all the way through Grand Prix. It is also a great exercise for less-experienced riders to feel true collection and control.
Katherine Bateson-Chandler is a successful dressage rider and trainer who stepped into the world spotlight in 2010 when she rode on the U.S. team at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky. She trains each summer in Europe with British Olympian Carl Hester. Born in Britain, Bateson-Chandler became an American citizen and is based in Wellington, Florida (kbcdressage.com).