A 20 meter circle at Training Level is the first dressage movement that you’ll do to make your dressage horse more athletic. The goal of riding a round 20 meter circle is to create flexibility.

Flexibility refers to your dressage horse’s ability to bend laterally through his side. Here’s what you should know about lateral bend:

1. The bend through your horse’s side should be equal from poll to tail.

2.  Your goal is to help your horse become ambidextrous. In other words, he can bend as easily to the right as he does to the left.

3.  As a dressage movement, correctly ridden circles teach baby engagement (the bending of the joints of the hind legs).

4. Circles also develop straightness. By definition, a straight horse is straight on lines and bent along the arc of a circle.

As a “Dressage Movement“, why is it so Important to Ride 20 meter Circles Accurately?

1. Physically, accurate circles help develop lateral flexibility and engagement of the inside hind leg.
2. Mentally, riding accurate circles develops obedience.
Always keep in mind that horses are herd animals. When you ride, you’re part of a two animal herd. Your horse is happy to be a follower if you’re a leader, but he’ll take over if you aren’t the leader.

If you don’t ride accurate circles, you’re letting your horse take over and make decisions. Once your horse learns to take over on a circle, eventually he’ll make more and more decisions on his own. Letting him make his own decisions can escalate into disobedience.

So, you always need to be the leader of the herd. It’s up to you to tell your horse where to go, how to go, and when to go there.

What Do You Need to Know to Ride an Accurate 20 meter Circle at Training Level?

To make an accurate 20 meter circle, do two things:
1. Bend your horse.
2. Ride to specific reference points.

If you’re circling to the left, the bending aids are as follows:
•    Weight your inside seat bone (left) to encourage your horse to engage his inside hind leg.
•    Place your inside leg (left) on the girth. It acts both as a pole for your horse to bend around and also to maintain the activity of his inside hind leg.
•    Put your outside leg (right) behind the girth to help bend your horse’s body around your inside leg and prevent his hindquarters from swinging out. For a  20-meter circle, place your outside leg 1-2 inches behind the girth.
•    Ask for flexion to the inside with your left rein. You should just see your horse’s left inside eye and nostril.
•    Keep your outside rein (right) steady and supporting. Think of it as a side rein that limits the degree of bend in his neck. It also functions as your turning rein to bring your horse’s shoulders around the curve.
Create  a marriage between your inside and outside aids. You need both sets of aids to bend your horse while you turn him along a prescribed line. Your inside aids bend your horse, and your outside aids turn him.

What Are the Reference Points for a 20-meter Circle in a large arena?

To make an accurate circle in a large arena at Training Level, you need four reference points.
•    Start your circle at A or C. This is your first reference point.
•    Your second reference point is 4 meters past the corner letter (this is 10 meters from the corner). The biggest mistake riders make when starting a circle, is that they aim for the corner letter. If you do this, you’ll end up with an oval. So aim for 4 meters beyond the corner letter.
•    Your third reference point is the spot where you cross the centerline. If you drew a line between M and H (or F and K), that line is 6 meters from the short side. The imaginary line between the next set of letters (R and S or P and V) is an additional 12 meters. When you add 6 meters and 12 meters, you get 18 meters. So in order to make a round 20-meter circle, cross the centerline 2 meters above the line that runs between R and S or P and V.
•    Your fourth reference point is on the other long side. Touch the long side 4 meters before the corner letter (10 meters from the corner).

Important: The key to learning how to ride a round 20 meter circle is to look TWO POINTS AHEAD and “connect the dots”.

Remember that all of the dressage movements are not an end in themselves. They’re a means to an end. And “the end” for a 20-meter circle at Training Level is developing flexibility in your dressage horse.

Click here for more info on riding 20-meter circles