Back to the Basics

Evaluating your horse through a basic circle can lead to higher level performance

Welcome to championship season. It is the time where begin digging deep and asking both ourselves and our horses to give it all in the arena. We have worked for months to forge skills that are refined enough to take us to the top of the score card. Now is the time to take a step back from high performance maneuvers and remember what it took earlier in the season to develop them. It is time to go back to the basics. Famed coach Vince Lombardi was known for valuing the basics, saying “Excellence is achieved by the mastery of the fundamentals.”

While the fundamentals of any sport can appear boring and time consuming, they offer valuable insight into the state of your horse’s mind and body. Multiple World Champion Troy Compton also believes in the power of going back to the basics, especially when it comes to horse training. One of his favorite maneuvers to really dial in the basics is to perform a seemingly simple circle with your horse. While riding your horse in a circle, ask yourself three things: does my horse follow his nose, does my horse have enough forward motion, and is my horse soft through his body? If the answer is no to any of these questions, your horse is not ready to move onto a more advanced maneuver. Let’s look deeper into the reasoning behind this.

Follow Their Nose

The first question to ask yourself when you are riding a horse on a circle is whether your horse is following his nose. “At the most basic level the horse should always be looking where he is going.” Troy said, “This will translate through the rest of his body, but it must first start by him following his nose.” Your horse should be looking into the circle with that slight arc continuing through his neck and rib cage. When you steer, he should respond and when you pick up on a circle, his face should connect to the front lead leg. “Ride the whole horse from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail.” Troy explained. A horse that is willingly guided is pleasant to watch perform any maneuver asked of him.

Forward Motion is Always the Answer

An often-overlooked element of many maneuvers is whether your horse has enough forward motion. “The answer to any problem with your horse is always going to be to add forward motion.” Troy emphasized. “If your horse becomes tight, adding forward motion is going to help loosen them up. This will drive their shoulders up to you, allowing for greater collection at any gait.” Forward motion can be added within a turnaround, at a walk, jog or lope. It channels the horse’s energy underneath us and gives them a place to go with it. If your horse has energy leaning left or right, forward motion will create straightness throughout his whole body. Straightness sets a horse up perfectly to wait on the rider’s direction as to where to place his feet.

Softness is Key

To really see your horse move to the next level, you will want your horse to be able to perform this circle with complete softness. Softness throughout your horse’s entire body means he is willing both mentally and physically to perform higher level maneuvers. “The ultimate goal is to have a soft and willing partner.” Troy explained. Adding forward motion and taking their nose will translate through their entire body to create the desired softness. Steering may expose stiff spots in their shoulders or rib cage. “When you can take control of their shoulders their hips will follow, so make sure to focus on their shoulders being your shoulders.” Troy added. Forward motion, or lack thereof, will expose stiffness within the horse’s mind. Adding forward motion will help to create a light and responsive partner. Softness will then allow you to move into maneuvers that require a higher degree of difficulty with ease.

Keep these three things in mind when you embark on your next ride. Feel what the horse is telling you need work on and take the time to address it. A willingly guided partner that is soft throughout his entire body is truly a joy a to both ride and watch. The time you put in with these basics will pay dividends when you step into the show pen and ask for that big run.

By Lauren Stanley