Patterns: Circles

A quick note before I dive in to today’s blog. I try to write and schedule my blog posts ahead of time as much as possible. I have a baby, a busy job, and a busy life so I write and schedule whenever I can. I wrote the next few weeks of lesson plans before the COVID-19 pandemic happened so you will not see any references to it in these posts. For my thoughts on the pandemic and how the therapeutic riding industry is stepping up, see my post here.

Back to our regular programming… The next few weeks will focus on patterns. We use a lot of pattern work at our center because it is easily adaptable to any client and it is the basis of all horseback riding. I rode dressage for years so I love pattern work! One of my favorite patterns is the basic circle.

I previously posted about the benefits of circles here and different ideas on playing with shapes here . Circles are the simplest pattern to set up, but can be one of the most difficult patterns to ride. Circles should be even and round. The horses hoof prints should fall on the same track each time around the circle. Riding circles requires independent use of all the aids and proper balance. It also requires spatial awareness from the rider (and volunteers!) to make the circle even.

Circles are versatile and can be adapted to each rider’s skill level. A beginner level may be circling around a single object like a barrel. Having an object to circle around gives the rider a focal point for the center of the circle. Once a rider gets comfortable with circling, you can level up for a more precise circle. I like to use cones for this. Set up cones in a circle and ask the rider to ride the outside of the cones. This keeps a circle from getting too small and a rider from pulling his horse’s head around in more of a sharp turn then a bendy circle.

One of my favorite ways to circle is over poles. I set up four poles in a circle pattern and have the riders aim for the center of each pole. Tricolor poles are great for this because riders can aim for the center color of each pole. This helps create a more even circle, provides a different movement for the rider over poles, and works on hand-eye coordination to steer correctly. It can also keep the horse engaged if you have a more independently-minded horse.

Circles are the basis for a lot of other patterns and figures we use in horseback riding. Figure 8’s are two big circles; barrel racing patterns require circles; serpentine’s should be ridden like half circles. Mastering the circle requires strong riding skills and repetition. I return to circles every few months in my lessons and am still never tired of them! Remember, repetition is important. It is okay to have the same lesson plan for a few weeks in a row or to bring back a lesson plan weeks later!

Do you use circles in your lessons? What other patterns do you find yourself returning to time and again? Let me know in the comments below.

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