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My horse looks out when Hooking onto a Circle. Also Anticipating Flying Changes.

Original Question

Great video ‘Hooking onto a Circle’.

My question is when I’m practicing this exercise my mare sometimes looks out of the circle and loses her bend but doesn’t entirely leave physically but has left with her mind.

Should I treat this like she has left the circle?

It’s way more noticeable at the canter. 

At the canter she is always anticipating a fly change which we can’t do consistently and I don’t practice flies often as she loses her willingness to extend at the canter on the circle as she thinks we are going to attempt a fly.

This problem has held us back for a looong time, like years as I stop attempting flies to sort out what has become undone by attempting a fly. When I can outsmart her by just slipping a fly request in when she has once settled back to working well, she changes beautifully however it starts the same problems again so I stop.

Hope you can make sense of my dilemma. 


John and Angie’s Answer

There are two parts to this answer.


  1. To answer your HOOKING ONTO A CIRCLE ISSUE;

    Hooking onto a circle exercise is a mental training exercise for your horse. It’s to help teach your horse how to concentrate in the direction you are focusing or guiding in. If your horse is too straight (you say looking to the outside) you can help shape and bend your horse around your inside leg.   Then when you reward your horse by letting your horse go from this bend, your horse should hook back onto the circle again. If they lose concentration you can add shape again.  Really exaggerate your body position when you are adding shape and also when you leave them alone so they learn to follow your body suggestion.  

    We use this exercise a lot on horses that are one sided or stiff in one direction to determine whether it is a physical problem or a mental problem or whether or not a horse is concentrating and wanting to be in that direction when they are circling.
  2. As for the LEAD CHANGE ISSUE;
    I try and make sure my horses doesn’t anticipate a flying change by riding a lot of inside and outside flexion at a canter. If my horse is anticipating a lead change when I flex them to the outside it means they are anticipating a change of direction with a flying lead change.  So to address this problem, I will practice going from inside to outside flexion while riding my horse in a collected frame and staying soft in the bridle as I smoothly change flexion, while I do this my horse should keep their neck level, NOT elevated or raise up in their frame while I change flexion. My horse should also stay relaxed and calm off my aids as I change from inside to outside flexion smoothly while riding a canter circle.


When I do this exercise it shows me whether my horse is responding well to my leg aids.   I need to use my legs to keep their forward as I tip their nose to the outside of the circle.  If I tip my horse’s nose to the outside of the circle and my horse loses its forward OR raises its head up out of the bridle it is telling me that my horse is not responding well to my legs and there’s holes in the foundation.   


Once you can do this exercise at the canter and your horse stays soft, relaxed and in the bridle your horse should no longer be anticipating a change of direction with the change of flexion or direction with a change of lead. Then occasionally you can ask for the lead change. 


I spend WAY more time on my preparation getting my horse relaxed and responsive to my aids then I do doing actually lead changing.  It’s all in the preparation. 


Also, keep in mind if your horse is anticipating a lot then they probably aren’t as relaxed as they should be, so also work a lot on being slow and smooth with your aids, work a lot on your body control exercises at the walk and trot too, then work on inside and outside flexion at the canter.  Keep offering your horse to respond and relax to your aids.

Preparation, preparation, preparation!

Hope this helps,
John and Angie



Angie Wicks

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