Pri­vate Les­son: Jill New­comb and Mur­ray Griggs on best cir­cles.

Don’t dis­count cir­cling as an easy ma­neu­ver that doesn’t need prac­tice.

Horse & Rider - - Table Of Contents - By Jill New­comb and Mur­ray Griggs, With Jen­nifer Paul­son Pho­tos by Jen­nifer Paul­son

Cir­cling might seem like one of the most ele­men­tary ex­er­cises— re­ally, who can’t travel a cir­cle on their horse? The an­swer might sur­prise you. It’s one of the top things we spend time work­ing on at our clin­ics and at home with our am­a­teur and youth rid­ers. Be­cause most of them com­pete in all-around events, cir­cling is im­por­tant to each and ev­ery class they en­ter. Even bar­rel rac­ers and rein­ers can ben­e­fit from this cir­cling ex­er­cise.

For this drill, use a bit your horse re­sponds to well, whether a snaf­fle or a shanked bit. Ride with two hands for the best body con­trol. (You can ad­vance to one-handed prac­tice af­ter mas­ter­ing it with two.) Be­gin at a walk, then pick it up to a work­ing jog once you’re com­fort­able. If pos­si­ble, drag your arena just be­fore you prac­tice, so you can get a pic­ture of what your cir­cles look like be­fore and af­ter us­ing our tips. →

1 Jill is rid­ing her horse at a trot in this photo to best demon­strate the ex­er­cise. It shows the over­all look of her body po­si­tion paired with her horse’s. Her hands con­trol the front of her horse’s body, and her seat and legs keep the horse’s back end on track. As Jill rides along in this po­si­tion, her tracks will fall on top of each other with each cir­cle.

2 Hand po­si­tion is crit­i­cal for this drill. Jill has her reins crossed over the horse’s neck and holds them in an un­der­hand po­si­tion. This lets her jig­gle her in­side rein to slightly tip her horse’s nose to the in­side of the cir­cle while hold­ing her out­side rein steady to sup­port her horse’s shoul­ders on the path. Other hand po­si­tions can be used if this isn’t com­fort­able, but be sure to keep your hands gen­tle for the best re­sponse. You don’t want to scare your horse by jerk­ing the reins. Also, keep your reins as close to in front of your sad­dle horn as pos­si­ble. Think “low and close to­gether.”

3 Jill uses out­side-leg pres­sure to keep the horse’s hindquar­ters to the in­side of the cir­cle. If her horse leans to the in­side of the cir­cle, she’ll use in­side leg to square him up, along with a jig­gling in­side rein to help lift the horse’s shoul­ders. Her body po­si­tion al­lows her to adapt to what­ever her horse needs: more sup­port for the out­side hip, more guide from the in­side rein, squar­ing up from the in­side leg, or push­ing the out­side shoul­der to­ward the cir­cle with the out­side rein.

4 With her hands too wide and high, Jill in­ad­ver­tently guides her horse off the cir­cle. Her horse’s nose is turned too far into the cir­cle, and Jill’s hand po­si­tion pushes her horse’s shoul­ders off the path. He’ll have to swing his hips off the cir­cle, too, to ac­com­mo­date for her overuse of her hands. That’s why the body and hand po­si­tion dis­cussed in Photo 3 is ideal for cir­cle work.

5 Jill holds her horse’s in­side shoul­der up by jig­gling her in­side rein ( her right in this case) to pre­vent lean­ing into the cir­cle. She sup­ports his out­side shoul­der with a steady left hand. If he starts to lean out­side the cir­cle, she can use more left-hand rein pres­sure to stand him back up squarely. With her legs, Jill drives her horse for­ward with her out­side leg and can push his hips into the cir­cle if he starts to fall out there. Her in­side leg sup­ports his bar­rel and helps him arc his body on the cir­cle. With this po­si­tion, they’re set up to work per­fect cir­cles.

6 You can see here that even af­ter only a few times around the cir­cle, Jill is mak­ing tracks that can tell her a story. If the tracks form a nice, round cir­cle, then she and her horse are do­ing a good job with the drill and can try it one-handed. If she sees that her cir­cle is lop­sided or that the foot­falls don’t fol­low the path, then she can ad­dress whether her horse needs more sup­port with her legs or hands to get him track­ing cor­rectly.







Mur­ray Griggs and Jill New­comb com­bine their strengths as all-around train­ers and ex­pe­ri­ence as ac­tive judges to coach all-around rid­ers and train their horses in San Mar­cos, Cal­i­for­nia. They both grew up rid­ing and com­pet­ing and have earned top ti­tles them­selves in var­i­ous events, as well as coach­ing cham­pi­ons. Learn more at jil­land­mur­

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