Now when some read the title of this article, I am sure more than a few of you rolled your eyes at the idea of a circle being analyzed in depth. After all, they are all over the place in life and what could be easier than riding a horse in a circle? Believe it or not, a very well ridden circle is lovely to behold but not frequently seen. There are two aspects to the circle, how the HORSE is being ridden on a curved line as well as how the FIGURE is being ridden geometrically. If you would like to learn how to ride a horse better in a curved line you must first learn to bend the horse correctly. If you would like to learn about the riding of the horse then click here. In this article we are going to discuss the riding of the figure itself.
First and foremost there is a temptation within the ring to look at the letters for reference. We will begin with riding a twenty meter circle. When you are riding this figure from A or C most people believe that the opposite point of the circle is between the letters on center line two rows down (aka R and S or V and P). That would make sense, right? WRONG! BLAME! DOOM! Actually the dressage gods have decreed that the first set of letters are six meters from the rail and the second set of letters are twelve meters from the first set, so if you pull out your abacus you will discover that the second set of letters is only eighteen meters from A or C. Trixy, trixy letters. The ‘top’ point of your circle is actually located two meters beyond that point on center line.
Rather than following the letters and thinking, ‘two meters beyond this’, 1.67534 meters before that, it is better to look at the dressage court as a whole. The length of the ring is sixty meters long (or forty if you are using a short ring, but let’s assume yours is standard). That means a twenty meter circle goes a third of the way down the ring and a three loop serpentine should be three twenty meter half circles. Just as riders in the hunter and jumper world need to learn their distances to a jump, we dressage riders have a ‘distance’ learning all of our own. Rather than learning to count the strides, we instead learn to count the meters.
So length-wise there are sixty meters in a ring. The width of a ring is twenty meters and it never gets narrower, no matter if you are in a long or short ring. We split this up be the center line and two quarter lines. Here the temptation to ride by the letters instead of beginning to figure out your distances again rears its ugly head. After all, a ten meter circle means to center line, right?
And a fifteen meter circle means to quarter line! Yes, you are correct, but if you ride a fifteen meter circle at A or C then we get back into the funky 2.5 meters away from the rail on either side counting.
Now I am not saying that you should not check your geometry with your letters, or not know where your letters are at all, but it is best to have an independent sense of distance so if you were in an open field you could still ride an approximation of a twenty, fifteen or ten meter circle.
Great, now let’s move on to some common mistakes. In a twenty meter circle, especially with circles at A and C there is a tendency for the gravitational pull of the corners to thwart our circling attempts. Remember, in a circle you should NEVER NOT BE TURNING. Another mistake is often a student will be doing a great job on the short side and then cruise along the rail of the long side for a few strides, you know, enjoying the day, listening to the birds chirp. Then they realize they need to
hit their next ‘circle point’ and veer sharply off the rail to make it to center line in time. Now they have made a twenty meter amoeba instead of a circle, with some flat sides and some sharply angled sides. Think of it like this, if you have ever seen tennis balls inside their plastic packaging container, you will notice that they only just touch
the edges of the ‘long side’ and ‘short side’ of their container without ever mushing up against it. A circle in a dressage ring is the same, with us always having to ride into, onto and out of every contact point, no matter the size of the circle. If you are striding on the rail for more than one or two strides (perhaps two if you have a pony or small horse) then you have been at that point of the circle for too long and are now creating an amoeba.
I know that it sounds like I am being a tad neurotic in all of these explanations, but truly, it is easy to forget that dressage is a sport of precision. Even at training level with the twenty meter circles, the judges are expecting PRECISE twenty meter circles. I cannot tell you the number of points being given away from a nice horse and rider combination who rides a fifty meter circle from A, or a twenty meter square. If you have the bending aids down pat then creating this circle will be a matter of practice. If you do not, then you will most likely have some issues with the precision of the figure.