The Straight Dope on Bending, How to Ride a Circle

Correct Way to Turn a Horse

You can tell when a horse is straight when the hind legs follow the path of the front legs. A horse is considered straight when it is bending on a circle. A horse which is bending is straight!


Dressage (Photo credit:

Confused? Don’t be! A simple explanation is the horse’s inside hind will follow the path of, and track into the horse’s inside fore leg.

On a circle, the horse will, in a perfect world, follow his nose and turn in the direction of his nose. However, when turning, this is when physics takes over and we engage the magic of the outside rein.

Anatomy of A Turn

As we perform the turn the horse will shorten his neck in the direction of the turn. For example if we are turning or circling left, the horses left side will get shorter and his right side will get longer.

The Reins

When we use a direct rein to the left, for a left hand turn or circle, our outside (right rein in this case) will become firmer on the neck of the horse. So now there are two rein aids acting on the horse.

Pensacola Hunter Jumpers

Pensacola Hunter Jumpers (Photo credit: The Latest Slub:)

  1. The first is a direct rein, asking the horse for the direct turn.
  2. The second is the outside limiting rein, supporting the horse from spilling out to the outside of the circle over his shoulder.

The horse will take the path of least resistance and it is the riders responsibility to get the bend according to the arc of the circle. The smaller the arc of the circle, for example a 10m circle versus a 20m circle, the more bend the horse has to execute. The horse, who would like to take the easiest route possible will evade and try not to bend.

For this reason, a 10m circle is considered a more difficult movement than a 20m circle. The arc of a 20m circle is shallower and would be an easier movement to perform as compared to a 10m circle.

Practice your circles and have someone identify if your horse is straight on the circle by have them watch the path of their hooves. If the inside hoof follows the path of the inside for leg then your horse is supple and traveling straight.


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About Laura

Laura Kelland-May is the founder of Thistle Ridge Skill Builders Development Program. She more than trains horses, she trains people to train their horses. In addition she is a Sr. Judge and can offer insight into What the Judge Is Looking For. Follow her here and get more tips.
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One Response to The Straight Dope on Bending, How to Ride a Circle

  1. Great, easy to understand and implement post on proper bending. Thanks for the quick and simple tips, Laura.

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