We’ve all done it. You’re five strides away from the jump and don’t see a good distance, panic sets in and you CIRCLE! Do it too often and this frustrating tendency can develop into a bad habit, says USET veteran and EquestrianCoach.com president, Bernie Traurig.

“The habitual circler will be having a great round and then get confused going to a jump, become overwhelmed by indecision and circle out of the problem,” he says. “It’s frustrating for both the rider and trainer.”

Here Traurig shows you how to fight your way out of the circle. For this exercise, set a single cavaletti or low jump on the quarter line.

“You need a cooperative partner for the exercise,” he says. “The more obedient to hand and leg the horse is, the more productive the exercise will be and the more success you’ll have.”

Step 1: Tackle the circle zone

“Walk up to the spot where you might circle, about six strides or 78’ away from the jump. Ask for a prompt canter departure, immediately package the horse on a short stride and add as many strides as you can to arrive at a comfortable distance,” says Traurig.

On landing, ask for a prompt walk transition five to seven strides away from the jump. Change the rein at the walk and repeat the exercise from the other direction.

“The goal is to build your confidence so you can get comfortable in the ‘circle zone’ and make a distance happen,” he explains.

Step 2: Shorten the distance

Work the bottom range of the circle zone. “Walk a little closer to the jump—four to five strides away—and repeat the exercise, adding as many strides as possible,” says Traurig. “Make it work. Manufacture that distance.”

Step 3: Raise the difficulty level

Once you can execute the exercise comfortably over a low jump, raise the height up to a maximum of 3’ and repeat the exercise off both reins.

“If it doesn’t go well, lower the jump and start over,” he advises.

Step 4: Mix it up

The risk with only practicing adding strides to a jump is that you can train your eye to only see the short distance.

“You don’t want to develop into a ‘picker,’” says Traurig. “Mix it up. Walk five to six strides away, ask for a prompt cancer and execute the first forward distance you see. Then do it, executing a regular, on stride distance.”

Again, ask for the canter–walk transition approximately six strides on landing. “Keeping the horse packaged on landing will enhance its rideability,” he adds, “especially when executing the forward distance.”

Step 5: Alternate between distances

When you can do both distances well, raise the jump up to a maximum of 3’ and alternate between the short and forward distances. “Walk a little closer—four to five strides away from the jump,” says Traurig.

“The goal of the exercise is to make you reactive and to make the horse reactive. If you can walk up to a jump six strides away and execute two or three different distances at home, you should be able to do at least one distance in the show ring,” he concludes.

“And when in doubt, add the stride.”

For video footage of this exercise see “Help for the Habitual Circler” at www.equestriancoach.com.