The last article in this series is called the Responsibility Circle. This is a great exercise to help any type of horse gain more focus and responsibility – meaning the horse stays mentally in a manoeuvre without you having to micromanage his speed and direction. It is especially useful for horses that anticipate, don’t stay committed to a circle or want to go too fast. It follows the principle of causing the wrong thing to be difficult and allowing the right thing to be easy.
The Responsibility Circle: To Start
Begin trotting your horse on a circle about 40 feet (approximately 12 metres) in diameter. The circle can be any size, depending on your needs, but 40 feet is a good size to start with. Most arenas are at least 70 feet or wider, so a 40 feet circle will allow you to not rely on the arena walls or fence for too much support, which would take away from the learning aspects of this exercise.
Once you have established a good circle for a few laps, you will then allow your horse to travel on a loose rein. You will still be riding the circle with your intention, seat and legs – you will be “guiding” not “steering.” If your horse is listening, he should continue on this circle. However, most will not, so don’t be surprised when he veers off, or speeds up.
When this happens, try not to panic and grab the reins, instead allow your horse to actually make the mistake for several strides, then make a 90-degree turn up the middle of your circle using both outside and inside rein. If you can, drive your horse a little stronger with your legs through the middle of the circle to increase speed, which makes the task slightly harder for him.
Once you get to the other side of the circle, guide him back onto your original circle and loosen the reins again. With the reins once again loose, your horse will be tempted to either speed up or drift from the circle. When this occurs, again turn 90 degrees up the middle of the circle, then guide him back onto the original circle and loosen your reins again.
If this exercise is done correctly (allowing your horse to make mistakes), almost all horses will need to be turned 90 degrees up the middle several times, before finding the answer. You will find that your horse will probably veer from the circle when you are headed toward the gate, his pen or other horses. However, it should only take a few repetitions before you feel a slight improvement. For example, if you have been turning up the middle of the circle each time you approach the gate area (because he wants to go out the gate) and on the fourth lap he does not drift as wide, you would not turn up the middle, but instead stop and rest him, once past the gate. At first you will rest and reward for any slight improvement so he understands what you want by rewarding his effort to stay on the circle.
If your horse manages to stay at a consistent speed and not drift for an entire lap, let him rest for a couple of minutes before repeating the pattern again. Once you and your horse get the hang of this exercise, try it at the canter.
The key to getting the most out of the responsibility circle exercise is to not cover for your horse’s mistakes. With an exercise like this, it is tempting to try achieve the goal (circles) by only doing just enough to keep the horse from having to search for the answer. Instead, be aware of the true goal, which is to stay on a circle on a loose rein. Keep in mind that any deviation from the goal that leads you to turn up the middle of the circle is still a learning opportunity, as it allows you to see what your horse is thinking. For example, that he is focused on the gate instead of you.
Through this exercise, you are trying to let the horse learn to make the right decision by giving him a choice, instead of covering up the mistakes and having to micromanage our circles, which can be frustrating and exhausting for both of you.
The responsibility circle is a basic manoeuvre. No matter what type of discipline, you will probably do a lot of circles with your horse throughout his career. Wouldn’t it be nice if he could be very proficient at them, with or without your help? How great would it feel to ride a circle without using your reins – maybe even bridle-less? Would you trust your horse more?
When an exercise like this is combined with some of the other circle exercises (in other articles over the last three years), the results are amazing for both the horse and the rider.
Benefits of The Responsibility Circle
• Helps create better shoulder control when you guide your horse across the centre of the circle
• Simple correction with a simple answer
• Teaches rider to not micromanage
• Teaches horse to search for the answer
• Gets your horse to focus on a circle
• Teaches your horse to maintain speed and direction
The end goal is for your horse to willingly accept your guidance and to maintain focus, cadence (or speed) and rhythm.