Sounds like a basic movement- we all work our circles don't we? The answer is no, or not enough.
There's the thing, it is not only about moving in a form of a circle, it is about the feel (yes, it is always about the feel).
When we walk a circle on the ground, by foot, without a horse in our hand (get up and try it!)- we face a little bit towards the middle point, our inside shoulder is up, and mid-section of the body (ribs etc.) is rotated just enough for our shoulders to line up with our circle, and our hips to stay parallel to the ground- maintaining balance, creating a little tension in our legs and hips.
The circle makes us engage all of our body in order to perfect the movement.
What you will do with your body- the horse will feel and imitate.
Yes. Our posture, from the ground or from the beck affects the horse immediately. The way we carry our self will transfer to body language that will transfer to movement, to feel.
It seems alright isn't it?! After all, if I want my horse to pick up his shoulder I will try to avoid from putting all of my weight on that specific part- in order to help him.
Back to the circle- The circle makes us engage all of our body in order to perfect the movement, it is will also affect the horse the same way.
In order to perform a "perfect" circle our horse needs to do the same things we had too- face a bit to the inside, creating awareness to the middle, lifting the shoulder and crossing over the front leg, flexing mid-section (banana shape)- rounding up around the rider's leg- picking up the hip and shifting the weight to the hind quarters- while maintaining balanced forward motion and soft feel (feel is not a one-way street- when we lack of feel our horse will become the same).
The same thing happens- the horses engages all of his body for one (not so simple after all) movement. And, we are obligated to do the same and suit our body to the movement.
All great up until now. The hard part is how? What exercise can we do to improve our balance? To create awareness, posture, to sync both our body and the horse's body, what can we do to create feel in a circle?
There are plenty of things to do, and most if not all are beneficial for both sides. I will focus on 2 great ones today.
1. La Garrocha- What is it? And where it is originated?
The Garrocha is used in Doma Vaquera exhibitions and also in Cowboy Dressage. The Doma Vaquera is a horsemanship style originated in Spain on cattle ranches and also known as Vaquero. Working with the Garrocha was needed for handling semi wild cattle. It requires great skill and a high level of training, it can be a beautiful demonstration of artistic skill and astonishing level of training.
The Garrocha is a long wooden pole, about 3.70 meters.
Though it is an impressive and historical art the Garrocah is useful for our daily rides and training- it teaches the rider to be more aware and balanced, working on riding one handed, performing small circles, turning and pivoting, etc.
Creating you own verse of it is quite simple, and preferable- the wooden pole are heavy and make it a lot more difficult for everyday use.
One way is buying a telescope pole used for pool cleaning or wall painting (just look for one in the closest hardware store)- make sure it is at least 2 meters for your own good.
Another way- is to attach (in any way you see fit) 3 broom sticks- that will get you to 3.70 m' without a doubt.
I can keep on all day- but just get creative, and make sure it is not to heavy, that you can grab it easily and it is not flexible.
A few pointers:
While working the garrocha the first couple of time lay one tip on the ground and hold the other in your inside hand- and walk around it trying to maintain the same distance from the mid-point (tip on the ground) while not having to move your hand or dragging the pole with you.
Try to use your whole body to guide the horse, not only hands.
If struggling- lay the pole aside and try to work on it without it while keeping in mind the end goal.
Keep the hand holding the pole parallel to the one holding the reins. Use short reins to begin with.
Try to do it at different gates and speeds- even if you drag it with you a little bit- regroup and try again.
WATCH THE VIDEO!
2. Rope work - my preference is to rope a barrel and circle around it, while collecting or releasing coils from my rope- it is beneficial for learning how to control your rope while still riding your horse.
If you are not into roping or need more practice you can start with a 3 m' rope/ long- just find a pole or a barrel you can attach it to, and circle around it.
Both ways are meant to help you while riding, and demands high focus from both you and your horse.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, but will help you create a softer feel, balance and cooperation with your horse. Both exercises are important and beneficial for many disciplines, horses and riders.
I'm here for you, let me know how your circles are going.