Misconception of Circling the Horse

One of the most misused "techniques" I have found is how people present asking the horse to move around a circle. Whether it is for lunging, groundwork, riding one or otherwise, rarely have I witnessed a horse thinking and traveling around a circle in an intentional, soft manner. Often there is a degree of "driving" energy from the human, along with containment via the lead rope, lunge line, reins, the rider's outside leg, etc. I use the analogy of climbing stairs or any other "cardio" exercise. If you are experiencing mental stress or distraction or if you have physical injuries or soreness, how balanced or intentional will your movement be if attempting to exercise? You may mis-step because of mentally being elsewhere, or you may move in an unbalanced manner to protect the injured or sore area. This would lead to other parts of your body starting to move unnaturally and compensate for your lack of intention and balance. If you repetitiously did this, your muscle memory would kick in and it'd start to feel "natural" in the unbalanced movement, with your body immediately responding whether or not you were aware. Now imagine adding repetition at a faster rate of speed. So what would the outcome be? Eventually, there'd be consequences in other parts of your body for the unbalanced movement and there'd be stress towards the thought of movement or exercise because of the now associated discomfort with it. And this is what so often happens with a "common" practice such as asking the horse to circle. Go stand at any show warm-up, horsemanship clinic, or any other situation and watch how many horses are literally not even looking towards where they are traveling. Watch the unbalanced shoulders drifting or leaking outward, causing the horse to have two separate sets of tracks. Watch the breathing and facial expression of the horse. Then notice if there is softness throughout the horse's body and what the size of his steps are. If the horse's thought is not focused on thinking around the circle, no matter how many circles or how much speed is added, the circle devolves into mindless, and often a defensive task for the equine. If the human doesn't realize this, and they stay fixated on the act of the horse circling around them versus the quality of the Conversation, they are continuing to impose upon the horse, unintentionally "telling" the horse that every time he is asked to circle, it will be a mentally and physically containing experience. How long do you think it'd take for the horse to start to mentally shut down and check out or literally attempt to physically avoid circling? So as with everything we do with our horse, FIRST, the human needs to understand WHY they want their horse to circle. Then they need to understand what is the preparation in asking a horse to circle such as can they get their horse's thought and focus, can the influence each body part of the horse independently, can they increase and decrease the horse's energy without the horse becoming bothered, etc.? Then the person needs to assess if they "set up" the horse at the beginning of the circle and then go silent in their communication with the horse, or do they support their horse through and around the entire circle offering continuous specific instruction? Just as with your car, you cannot get in, turn the wheel once, and hope that the car will figure out what you want. Certainly, with the horse, there is no autopilot and the circle is a completely unnatural maneuver. So unless the handler or rider is specific in getting the horse's mind, emotions, and body, the circle becomes a hindrance rather than a support tool.

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