Social media is chock-a-block with splendid dressage exercises! We've collated four of the top exercises, which hone in on an aspect that's not always thrilling to ride: the circle. These exercises are a great aid in encouraging you to remember - and want to - practise your circles, so your horse can develop balance, maintain straightness, and respond to your cues. These exercises are always handy to have up your sleeve!
The Dutch-Danish rider and grand prix rider, Anke ter Beek, has shared an exercise on her Facebook page where you alternate between a small and a large circle. It's a particularly useful exercise for those horses that aren't yet strong enough to perform many small circles in succession but still gives you the chance to train it.
Ride down one of the short sides of the riding arena and make a regular 20-metre circle. When you finish the circle at A or C, ride directly into a smaller circle of between 10 and 15 metres, depending on the horse's strength and balance. Here, you can alternate between the large and small circle.
Anke explains that the small circle is about shortening the horse. Because it's naturally more demanding for the horse, it's a good idea to return to the large circle after riding the small one to give the horse some respite. She points out that it's important not to force the horse into something it doesn't have the strength for:
"It might be tempting to keep riding the small circle to get to the "perfect feeling", but since it's usually a balance and strength challenge for the horse, it makes no sense to persist. The horse won't be able to respond positively when it (yet) doesn't have the strength for it. It becomes more manageable to alternate between the two circle sizes."
The Facebook page, Dressage Hub, has also published a really useful exercise. Here, you need to try to draw a neat loop by riding figure eights across each other. This exercise is designed to keep you aware of your horse's straightness and greatly improves the horse's balance and coordination skills.
It might look challenging, but it isn't at all. First, make a figure eight that turns one way, then continue into a half and twice as large figure eight that turns the other way. Then, continue mirrored on the opposite side of the riding arena as shown in the picture.
We suggest that you start by giving your horse - and yourself - plenty of room by performing the exercise so it fills the entire riding arena. Once you've got the hang of it and your horse feels strong enough for a greater balance challenge and higher degree of collection, you can make the loop smaller.
Also read: Creating the perfect halt
We found an exercise on Pinterest where you can combine the serpentines when doing a serpentine exercise, with circles. Firstly, it's a good way to make your horse wait over the middle in the arches, so it doesn't rush through the exercise. Secondly, the many small circles strengthen the horse's balance, if they are ridden correctly and on even tracks. And of course, it's a way to vary training of both circles and serpentines.
Ride your usual serpentine, but collect your horse extra well when you ride the arches and cross the centre line. Here, make a circle of 10-15 metres depending on your horse's strength level. Focus on the half halt and keep your horse straight, so it waits for you, before you ride on through the next arch.
Remember, you don't have to start by doing four arches with circles on each arch. You can also just start with a single serpentine with a good, large circle in the middle.
We also found the last exercise through Pinterest. It requires you to find at least four cones or something similar. The good thing about this exercise is that, like a normal serpentine exercise, you frequently change the circle, forcing the horse to use its balance and ability to coordinate its movements. So, here you get a chance to vary the familiar serpentine exercise a bit.
Place the cones as shown in the picture and start at A or C. Keep the horse straight and alternately make small circles around the cones in a sort of zigzag. Make each change from one cone to the next as a soft serpent line. If your horse isn't very strong yet, you can certainly make the circles around the cones larger than shown in the picture.
If you click on the picture and then on the link to the site where the picture originally appears, you can find even more ways to use the cone setup.