Here’s the deal. If you work with horses, circles are your friend. Use them. Abuse them. Incorporate them into every activity you can. If something isn’t working, circle. And when you get dizzy, keep on goin’.
What is a circle? A circle is round-ish. Depending on what you’re doing, you may be in the center of the circle or on top of the horse while the horse circles. Let’s count the ways you can use these fancy things called circles:
Circles with a Lead Rope
Teach a Horse to Respect Your Space: We want horses to learn to mind our space. They weigh 1000 lbs, and this kinda weight can squish a person. So “please don’t step or stand on me” is the basic idea. When you’re teaching a horse to not step or stand on you and to just stay out of your space, use circles to move his butt away from you. Walk toward his flank and Push him away, keeping his head close with the lead rope until that backend releases and he swings that butt away. Respect.
Lunging: The whole purpose of lunging is to be somewhere close to the horse so you can give signals and they can listen. It’s all about Driving the horse forward. If you tried this without a circle you’d be running. A lot. So drive that horse and make him circle with a lead rope.
Teach a Horse to Follow: When teaching a horse to follow on a lead, walking in a straight line is pretty easy, and a horse can get pretty bored with it. But when you turn, you’ll either turn in toward the horse (to the right) or move away from the horse (to the left). If you move away from the horse he’ll have to pay attention and Follow. When you move in toward the horse he’ll have to pay attention and move out of your space.
Check out Pushing, Driving and Following for a full description of what the heck I’m talking about here.
Circles on the Ground (Free)
Similar to lunging but without a rope, so you can no longer rely on the lead rope for giving commands—which is great because it forces you to be precise and to refine the way you communicate with the horse. For beginners, this works best in a round pen. As you progress, you can try these exercises in larger and larger arenas, working on getting the horse to follow commands in a more challenging setting with fewer restrictions. Check out the last video in Entropy and the Inevitable Decline into Disorder for a demonstration.
Circles while on the Horse
Teach a Horse to Turn: For a horse learning to turn, the best thing is to circle. And circle a lot. This circling will help him learn to bend with the turn so the circle basically does all the work for you. Cool huh? Keep that circle going, using your legs to help the bend and the reins to teach his neck to bend. Circle, circle, circle.
Teach a Horse to Stand Still: Somewhat counterintuitively, circles can help a horse learn the benefits of standing still. For example, if a horse is thinking about doing something dangerous like running off or dragging you down a hill, make him circle. Not only will it redirect his forward movement into a more controllable shape, it will help him learn very quickly that standing still is much easier and uses less energy. And you can do it over and over and over, just don’t let the horse stop until you ask him to. Turn a bored horse who wants to walk or run away into a horse that is being driven away then asked to stop. Works every time.
Trail Riding: A trail ride is one big circle. Starting and stopping in the same place. No matter where you start and how far you go, you have to come home eventually. And these adventures are so important. You leave home on a mission—a mission to explore the world. Along the way you encounter mountains to climb, rivers to leap and valleys to investigate. You do this together—as a team. Conquer the circle on a trail ride.
Life to Death
Same as a trail ride, just hopefully takes a bit longer to get to your destination. Enjoy the many amazing experiences and unforgettable stories that will come out of this life along the way—live that circle to the fullest.
Big shout out to Maddy Pasqualini for her awesome-stupendous horses, Hooper and Xavier. They circle like crazy.