A ½ 10m circle from E to X and X to B crops up in many dressage tests. It’s a great way for a judge to see if a horse is staying soft in his back. Softness comes from relaxation. That’s something your horse can do if he’s sure where he’s going. He can only do that if you’re sure where you want to go.
You may think of two ½ circles joined in the middle as a ½ figure of eight, but don’t. A test will ask for each circle separately. That’s the way you should think about them. It will keep things simple and help you to avoid these common mistakes -
1. Over riding the first half circle simply because you think a ½ 10m circle is tight. You’ll ask your horse for too much bend, be too strong with your legs, ride a ½ 8m circle and find you fall short of the centre line.
Avoid this by turning your head and looking at A (from the right rein) before you reach E. This helps you to plan your line. Once you’ve turned your head use your upper body to turn your horse onto the correct curve of the circle.
2. When you reach the centre line you spend too long on it. The half circles should end and start at X. You don’t need to ride two or three strides on the centre line before you start the second ½ circle. Ride to X and get off it!
3. Because of the last problem the last ½ circle is often flat. Having spent too long on the centre line you then panic when you realise you’re miles away from B. You turn across the school with a half-hearted bend as opposed to riding out and round as you should on a circle. Get the first ½ circle right and this problem disappears.
4. You lift your inside hand because you want to stop your horse falling in. Don’t do it! Your hands affect his shoulders. If your inside hand is higher than the outside his shoulders will do the same. His weight will tip to the outside shoulder and he’ll fall out.
The best thing you can do is keep your hands level and the contact even to keep your horse’s shoulders level. Use your inside leg to push his body out and round the circle.
5. Instead of turning your body in the direction you’re going you collapse to the inside. Whatever you do with your body your horse will do with his.
Check the gap between your last rib and the top of your hip. It should stay the same on both sides. Turn your hips and body in line with the curve of the circle and your weight will stay even in the saddle. Your horse will feel this and stay balanced.
So those are the problems but what’s the solution? Try this -
Try riding 10m circles from E and B without changing the rein through X. Notice how much wider your complete circles are. Your furthest point is X. You’ll barely touch the centre line as you pass it. You don’t ride straight up the centre line for two strides!
With the feel of the full circle in your head ride one and a half 10m circles at E. Ride straight up the centre line when you reach X for the second time. By looking straight to A or C you’ll be able to judge your turn exactly.
Introduce the change of rein at X. It can be helpful to count the beats of your trot whilst you do this. With one word per step it should sound something like Right Rein Right Rein Through X Left Rein. It’s hard to react as quickly as that but it makes a big difference to the appearance of the movement. And it’s correct.
As you change bend turn your head and upper body to the new rein. Keep your elbows against your sides and take your hands round together. Keep hold of your reins! As your horse bends to the new rein you may let the outside rein slip longer instead of following him round. This makes the pressure in his mouth uneven. He’ll tip his nose to the inside. Sound familiar?
Finally ride the full movement. Remember your key points – the size of the first ½ circle and the speed of your change through X. You’ll find you have two clear ½ 10m circles not a flat, uneven ½ figure of eight. Your horse will be relaxed because he knows exactly where you want him to go and next time you’re out the judge will get the softness she’s looking for.
Good luck and enjoy your schooling.