Reining circles demonstrate control, willingness to guide and degree of difficulty in speed and speed changes. Circles must at all times be run in the geographical area of the arena specified in the pattern description and must have a common center point. There must be a clearly defined difference in the speed and size of a small, slow circle and a large, fast circle; also the
speed and size of the circles should be the mirror image on the second side of the pattern.

For credit earning circles they must:

Be accurate – meaning the pattern placement must be correct beyond just being mirror images from side to side, but also the slow down should be within the middle three strides (meaning one stride before, one stride dead center and one stride after the center). That goes for the lead change too. And, as if that’s not hard enough the circles should intersect within a few feet
of dead center.

Have degree of difficulty – The speed should be challenged with the big fast being big and fast and the transition to the small slow taking place smoothly with no resistance, within the middle few strides.

Have a smooth lead change – within that box (a stride before center, at center and one stride after), and within the same stride front and back change and again with no resistance.

Usually, a judge scores each circle in their head (for instance big fast + transition to small slow, then small slow + transition to big fast circle, then the big fast circle + lead change). Let’s say the first big fast and transition is +1/2, the small slow isn’t quite accurate for a 0. Then, the next big fast and lead change is a +1/2. That set of circles would be marked +1/2.

The more accurate you are and the higher degree of difficulty you perform them at, the higher your score for that maneuver.

Here are a few tips for credit earning circles:

  1. Have a Plan

It’s very important to pick landmarks out in the arena. Before you show your horse, plan where in the arena you are going to go.
While looking at the arena, pick out four points on each side of the arena you are going to try to hit when showing to ensure you execute the pattern accurately. For instance say to yourself, “when I lope off, I’ve got to go from this point to that banner right there to the back gate over there and then to that banner on the other side.”

You know exactly where you are at, and you’re always looking where you’re going.

  1. Look Up

To maintain the same size circles, you must be aware of the arena while you’re showing.

Remember a rider looking up is the sign of a confident rider. It will make you feel confident as well as show the judge that you are.

It will also help you navigate and hit your marks.

  1. Know Your Horse

Check in with your horse using subtle movements (closing your fingers around the reins or minute bumps on the bridle) to check and make sure your horse is listening to you. The best way to know whether a horse is dialed in or not is if his ear is perking back on you every now and then.

You’ll be surprised what those ears will tell you. Your horse will tell you if he is listening or not.

If you have a horse that is a little on the hot side, don’t challenge your speed too much. Go a medium speed. Keep him where he is comfortable and don’t push it. If you’ve got a horse you know you can run, then go ahead and show him off and ask for more speed.

Everyone has a certain way they like to sit for going fast and slowing down. Do whatever is comfortable for you and that helps your horse respond well.

Judges don’t have a preference. They want to see you show your horse. So, do what works for you. One thing that really helps me is to exhale audibly for my slow down for a few reasons. My horse can hear it, so it’s another subtle cue. It makes my body relax down into my horse (another subtle cue). And, it forces me to breathe and stay calm.

  1. Pick Your Speed

The circles should always start slow and controlled with you checking in with your horse as you move up in speed to be sure they’re listening to you.

However, sometimes when you lope off, you don’t have that feeling. Then you want to back off a little until you feel your horse come back to you and relax. Also, if you have a seasoned horse that anticipates, you’ve got to be able to adapt. If in that right circle, he gets excited and wants to take off, you need to back off a little. Get through that maneuver, and you can go a little faster on the other side.

I think non-pros are better off going a nice medium speed, a speed that they can master and feel comfortable. There’s nothing worse than seeing somebody trying to go 100 miles an hour when they aren’t comfortable with it.

  1. Practice, Practice, Practice

Practice your circles every day. You learn to run circles mostly from feel and practicing. So, you need to practice circles a lot.

Don’t be scared to practice those fast circles.

You can’t run away from any of the maneuvers, including circles. You’ve got to practice all of them.

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