How to Find and Own the Circle – Try to Try, Part 4

Over the last few months we’ve discussed training your horse in a way that encourages him to “try to try”. We want to train in a way that influences your horse to choose the thinking part of the brain rather than the reactive part when faced with everyday decisions. At the end of the January/February article, I promised to give you one of my favorite exercises called Find the Circle, Own the Circle. This exercise helps the horse to become more focused on the rider. It also helps the rider to stop micromanaging, allowing the horse to search for answers instead.

Find the Circle, Own the Circle
Place one cone in the middle of the arena and another cone in the middle of a circle at one end of the arena. The cone in the middle of the arena will be the edge of your circle. The cone in the middle of the circle will be a target for this exercise.

Start your horse out on a circle, either trotting or loping. Take him around a couple of laps, steering him as much as necessary to show him the circle that you want. Once you feel that the circle has been established, set your hands down and go into what I call “guiding mode”. This is where you are using mostly seat, legs and focus to stay on the circle. The reins are just a small suggestion at this point—they should be no more than two inches off center towards the inside of your circle, down on the mane. You may find that your horse will circle the back side (short side) of the arena just fine, but as he approaches the center, he will tend to be drawn towards the other end—especially if there is a gate or another horse at that end.

This is where the cone in the center of the arena becomes necessary as it lets you gauge whether or not you are still on your circle as you approach the center of the arena. If your horse chooses to go wide around the cone, let him commit to this mistake for a few strides, then turn him 90 degrees up the middle of the circle (up the centerline of the arena) and speed him up a little with your legs. This is where the cone in the middle of the circle is important. It will help guide you in a straight line across the middle of your circle.

Once you get to the other side of the circle, simply turn back onto the same size circle and go back to your guiding—not steering—posture. When you get to the middle, your horse will normally go wide again. Simply repeat and direct him up the middle. After a few repetitions, your horse will look for a different answer and will eventually come across the middle, attempting to stay close to the actual circle. If he does, continue for only another quarter to half circle and stop quietly.

Allow your horse to rest for a while and enjoy a nice release for having chosen the right answer. Repeat this exercise just a few more times for the day. Repeat it at a later time during your next few rides. You will find a huge change in how your horse circles. Once your horse is holding the circle pattern on his own for a few days in a row, you can then adjust for any issues of head or body position. Since he is now on the circle and has ownership of it, he will be more likely to listen to your other signals for head and body position.

On occasion, the horse may start to lean into the circle. If this happens, allow him once again to commit to the mistake of coming in too far, stop him and then roll back to the outside of the circle, loping off in the opposite direction. Once your horse decides to recommit to the circle, rest him just past the area where he was leaning in.

It’s important to fix the lean-out first, then the lean-in, and soon your circles should shape up nicely. This exercise should help get you one step
closer to the process of going with your horse, having your horse go with you and then ultimately going together as a team.


See this article in the March/April 2022 online edition:

March/April 2022

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