Circles

I stress circles for the fact that from circles you can build to other training maneuvers. Circles will build great foundation for anything you want to do with your horse.

        From circles you can teach correct body alignment and body control. I need to have a horse that can lopes in circles in a very precise way. Not cutting off the corners or coming across the middle of the arena or ducking to the right or left. I need a horse to listen to me real well and lope circles perfectly. By staying correct in the circle your horse will learn discipline, and build muscle from the circles. I want my horse to lope with a small arc in their body and their nose pointing inward toward the circle, not outward. As they lope I want them to learn to lope soft and relaxed, I keep this training very simple. If the colt is having a bad day, I will back off, there is always tomorrow.

        As your horse lopes, keep feeling for a shoulder or stomach getting out of line, if it does, put leg pressure on the side that is out of line, until it lines up. If the shoulder is out of line pick up the rein on the out side of the circle and with your leg and hand push your horse back in line.

        I spend a lot of time loping circles. It is a big part of the reining horse training and barrel horse training. In fact, I had a well-known barrel racing clinician ask me if I would help some of the ladies locally get their horses to lope circles better. It isn’t that tough to do, but you have to be consistent. You can not lope circles one day and then forget to lope them for another two-three weeks and then just go to running barrels or reining on them, and wonder why your horse could not lope circles well. Remember “consistency builds confidence in your horse” and “discipline creates better performance in your horse.”
I start out with small circles. When I start a colt, I like to start them in the round pen in the beginning. Horses learn to lope circles correctly in the round pen. Then I move from the round pen to the arena. This is a tough area for young horses at first.

        At the beginning, in the arena, young horses don’t lope circles quite as well. One of the biggest problems that I see with people loping circles, is that they start loping and the horse starts “leaking out of the circle. What I mean by this is they start moving from a perfect circle to moving out of the circle.

        When I’m loping circles on young horses, I want them to pick up the correct lead. If they don’t pick up the correct lead I don’t make a big deal out of it. I stop the horse and start again, until they pick it up. If a horse does not pick up the lead after a few starts I will let them lope in the wrong lead, with their head in the circle and I will keep pumping my outside leg. Most colts will change to the correct lead for balance.

        I start on a 20 ft. circle and pretty soon come around to a certain area and it becomes an egg shaped circle where one side is 5 ft out of line, and then they come back in to that 20 ft. circle. You need to keep that horse within that 20 ft circle consistently. If the horse leaks out. Let’s say that I am riding to the right and it leaks to the left, I will use my left leg and left hand to move the horse back in to the circle. I don’t have to go all the way back into a 20 ft circle by pushing that horse back. All I want the horse to do is to move away from my leg and go back, maybe only ½ foot. I just want to show that horse that it is not allowed to leak out. I catch them right at the beginning of their leaking out.

        I don’t let them end up into a 30 ft circle before I catch them. If they start to move out I immediately move my left leg into my horse, straighten up the shoulder, and push them right back into the circle. Eventually the horse realizes, “I can’t leak out, if I do the rider is going to move me with his leg, and I don’t like to be moved with a leg, it doesn’t feel comfortable, so I will move back in there myself.”

        As I lope circles I don’t get in a fight with a horse. Once you fight with them and scare the horse you make your job harder because the horse won’t relax and stay in the circle, it will run out of the circle from fear. I will lope a 20 ft circle every single day. It is that way in my training with every horse until they are about a year and a half along and then I may not lope a circle each day.

        I may walk to the middle of the arena and start a big circle using half the arena. This is because of what I do for my training. If you are just loping circles to teach your horse to run barrels, then lope your horse and teach them to lope a circle and go from a big circle down to a smaller circle. The biggest problem you may have here is that we put too much pressure on a horse when they are down into a 10 ft circle. It is hard for a horse to lope a tight circle in the beginning. If you are patient and if you wait on your horse and let your horse get used to loping into a tight circle, your horse will get much better and comfortable in loping into a smaller circle.

        Within a week or so your horse will like to lope down in the small circle, because you will bring your horse down into a trot after you have loped in a 10 ft circle. Let your horse break to a trot, then to a walk and let it relax down into a 5 ft circle. Now, if you were a horse and I was making you travel in a 20 ft circle and I brought you to a 10 ft circle then to a 5 ft circle and you got to walk, relax and catch your breath, you would begin to ‘search’ for the smaller circle. Wouldn’t you.

        After doing this for a while, your horse may create a problem and become too eager to get down into the circle. Your not helping the horse if you permit them to run down in the circle too soon. Your horse needs to lope out there in the 20 ft circle and come down when you tell them to come down, not when they want to come down in there. You need to be careful of this and be in control all the time. There are times when I will lope from a 20 ft to a 10 ft circle and bring my horse back out to a 20 to a 30 ft circle. I want the horse to know that I will move them in and out of the circle not them move themselves in and out. It is a drill that I use to teach my reining horses, and I use it to condition the horses mind to be able to move them where I want them to go, not where they want to go. I constantly work at keeping control of the horses mind so that it is with me, listening to me, and not listening to themselves.

        One of the other things that you need to do is look at where you are going. I am sure you have heard this a lot. If you look down into a 5 ft circle and the next time you look out to a 20 ft circle, you will constantly have your horses not making a perfect circle. Make sure you look at the circle size that you want. Don’t look down into a smaller circle unless that is where you are trying to go. Always know where you are going. Where you look is where your horse will go. Later, when loping in the larger arena I use half the arena and lope across the middle of the arena. This is where you may have trouble with your horse. They want to cut the corner. Let’s say that you are loping across the arena with a grand stand on one side. When you come to the side with the grandstand and your horse cuts the corner instead of going straight to the grandstand. You need to fix this and keep your horse honest.

        I like my horses to lope straight across the arena, stay where I ask them to stay until I ask them to go left or right. Now if your horse cuts off a corner to the right side and I feel that horse moving its body before I get there to go to the right I will automatically take them off to the left and do what is called a counter canter to the left. I will bring that horse back around a couple of times in the counter-canter and I will sit and wait for this horse to see if it quits anticipating going to the right. I want the horse to wait, listen to me and not go to where it wants to go. I don’t want a horse to cut off the circle. There are good reasons for this. If you can’t teach a horse to run straight across the arena you will also have trouble running straight to the barrel and run-downs. You need to keep control of your horse. Teach them that you are in control.

        Sometimes you must confuse your horse from anticipation, so that they don’t second-guess you going to the right, even though you are in the right lead. If your horse starts to cut off the circle, take them back to the left so that you keep them honest. That is probably the biggest challenge we have in the horse business. Keeping horses honest. Once you have done that you can come back and go the other direction and lope to the right and come back around and constantly work at loping straight across the arena into circles. It is very important to me because, I want to keep a horse honest. The other thing that you can do is to lope straight down the middle of the arena. It teaches my horse how to lope straight. Not all horses know how to do this. When I get to the end of the arena after say 250-300ft I will lope a circle.

        I will start at maybe a 20 ft circle. I will bring the horse down to a 10 ft circle, 5 ft circle, walk and let my horse rest. If I do this consistently, within a couple of weeks you will have a horse loping much better.

        I believe that we do not lope circles enough and then we ask a horse to lope around tiny little barrels and we wonder why they have lost their alignment. We don’t practice this exercise enough to help them build their confidence. Learn to dance with your horse when you ride, I am not the best dancer in the world by any means. I am probably not any good at all because I can not stay on a pattern. But once I have learned a pattern I can dance a lot better. Horses are the same way. Once your horse learns how to balance it’s body in a circle and as it gets smaller and smaller, they build their confidence and they get better and better all the time.

        You must remember to sit up correctly in the saddle. Don’t lean into the circle. That drops your shoulder down when you lean down. If you find a horse dropping its shoulder, then you need to pick it up as you are loping circles. But don’t pick the shoulder up so high that you move the horse way off balance and out of your circle. A shoulder doesn’t have to be picked up in the air 10 feet. If you pick a shoulder up and you only move your hand two inches, you are still picking that shoulder up. A lot of times I see people trying to pick up a shoulder and they overdo it. All you are asking a horse to do is pick its shoulder up by lifting its rib cage back up and tilt the horse back up straight so that it lopes a circle standing straight up. Not leaning to the left or right. Well, good luck. I hope this helps you. Circles are very important in everything you do with a horse and in every event. You must have a horse that can handle circles. You should be loping a lot of them. Let me know if this helps you.

 


Training a straight circle


by Bob Logan

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