Riding Circles Will Improve Your Communication With Your Horse

Riding Circles will Improve Your Communication With Your Horse

Riding circles is one of five basic exercises that will help you communicate with your horse – no matter what discipline you ride.

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By AQHA Professional Horsewoman Carla Wennberg with Abigail Boatwright for The American Quarter Horse Journal
Illustration by Jean Abernethy

For the past 40 years, I’ve ridden many horses in many disciplines, but everything I’ve done has many of the same crossover elements.

At the basic level, the goal for every horse and every discipline is the same: balance, steadiness, rhythm and a quiet mouth. All of that beauty comes together because of training.

I’m sharing five of my favorite exercises. They’re from the classical dressage tradition, but you’ll find them incredibly helpful whether you’re preparing for an all-around event, getting ready for a ranch riding pattern or just working on improving your communication with your horse.

This article originally appeared in The American Quarter Horse Journal in September 2019. 

An illustration shows two sets of green lines spiraling in opposite directions. Jean Abernethy illustration.


The exercise:

An exercise I use a lot is a variation of the spiral. It teaches riders to really understand how to steer and guide from the leg. Moving into the lope, and getting the horse comfortable and balanced, you will then increase your speed to a gallop for two 100-foot circles. Not a barrel racing speed, just a nice, forward, ground-covering hand-gallop.

After those two circles, collect your horse using your outside leg and rein. You’ll spiral into a smaller, 80-foot cir­cle, but your goal is to drive your horse to the inside using your outside leg and rein aids for a couple of strides, balance him and then slow him down as you move into the smaller circle.

This exercise enhances collection, because you move the horse slowly into a smaller circle by using your outside rein and outside leg controlling the rib cage. These cues control the energy to move slightly inward, and therefore, the inside hock balances the horse. All balance comes from weighting the rear legs properly. The horse will tell you, if you listen and feel.

Why it’s helpful:

This exercise is helpful for horsemanship because many patterns call for a gallop and then a collected circle, an extended jog circle and then a collected jog circle. And, of course, reining patterns always ask for a change in speed and circle size.

Tips for success: You can do this at the extended trot and collected trot, as well. This exercise helps your horse respond with his ribs and shoulders to your outside aids. Once you start these exercises and work on them a few times, your horse will look forward to coming back to your cues from the faster gait, because it’s a lot less work.

Abigail Boatwright is a special contributor to the Journal. To comment, write to aqhajrnl@aqha.org. This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of The American Quarter Horse Journal. 

More Exercises to Try


AQHA Professional Horsewoman CARLA WENNBERG is from Laurinburg, North Carolina, where she is the coach of St. Andrews University’s western equestrian team. She’s a world champion rider, a high-point dressage competitor and a carded judge for AQHA and the National Snaffle Bit Association. She was an FEI steward for reining for 16 years and worked the World Equestrian Games in 2010. Now along with judging, Carla is an AQHA steward, and for past seven years a Certified Horsemanship Association instructor at Level 4 for English and western. She is a bronze and silver medal-earning dressage rider, and still rides an FEI-level horse.