OK, I’m repeating myself here: A 20-meter circle is 20 meters across. Not 17, not 24. And, it’s round. It’s not an oval. Or an egg.
Do I sound cranky? Sort of. A frequent blog topic of mine is the geometry of circles, and I see lots written about the same subject online. Circles that are 20 meters and set in the middle of the ring are especially easy to see for a judge sitting on the side, which happens at championships. When I judged at a championship show recently while sitting at E, I suspected I’d see some of the riders fudge the geometry a bit, but not most of them.
I’m talking about a class of 20 really good riders doing Training Level Test 2, which has 20-meter trot circles at B and E. About midway through the class, I remarked to my scribe that the person who would win the class might be the one who could actually make a round 20-meter circle. All of the riders, except maybe two, clearly crossed the centerline between R/S and V/P or even beyond. That meant the “circles” were 24-meter (or bigger) ovals. No question about it. This was a very competitive class, with eight scores above 70 percent and no one below 63 percent. If you scored below a 69, you didn’t get a ribbon, and ribbons went to 10 places. The top placings were close. Losing a point or two for no good reason on those circles may well have meant dropping down in the placings.
I keep wondering why this mistake is so prevalent (and often a topic of conversation among judges at championships), despite all the attention paid to it. Do riders not realize that it’s 12 meters between the markers on the long side? Does that line between R/S and V/P have some sort of magnetic effect that lures the riders out?
I can understand when riders have trouble sorting out a 15-meter circle that doesn’t have an easy reference point, but the 20-meter circle at B/E should be a no-brainer: Aim inside the line between R/S and V/P, not at the line. I can also understand when a circle might not be precise if a rider is dealing with other concerns, especially tension. But these were good riders on capable, well-trained horses. The correct 20-meter circle shouldn’t have been an issue at all.
There’s more involved here, of course, than just geometry. A truly round 20-meter circle is one of our most basic training tools – if the circle is truly round, it’s easier for the horse to remain balanced and reliably connected through his topline since he won’t be falling in or leaning out, which is why its geometry is emphasized on tests, starting with Intro Level.
I wonder, as well, if maybe judges aren’t calling out riders enough for this mistake. Of course, if there’s a single judge sitting at C, it’s not so easy to see the geometry of the circle further down the ring. You’re watching a lot of other things, like suppleness, tempo and connection and you can’t also always see (or have time to comment) whether the circle drifts out. Someone recently said to me that the comment “drifts out” isn’t clear to riders (isn’t it?), and they don’t realize that the circle being described is actually an oval. “Crossing centerline 12 meters from X on both loops” would be more precise, but there’s not that much time to say it or room in the comment box, and it would be tough on the scribe.
Of course, geometry can be secondary to more basic issues, such as relaxation and suppleness. However, a loss of geometry also indicates a loss of control to a certain extent. And, if everything else is going well and you want to get 8s on those circles rather than 7s — and thus find points that other riders are fuzzy on and maybe winning the class — well 20 meters is 20 meters, not 17 or 24.