In a previous article, I covered Reining Essential 1 (giving his face). When your horse is responding well to that, begin work on Essential #2, walking a perfect circle. This one sounds easy, but it isn’t! Once you achieve it, you’ll understand the basics of maintaining control over your horse’s entire body.

Perfect circles will serve as the foundation for the circles and spins you’ll see in all patterns. 

In perfecting your circles, you’ll also discover and overcome your horse’s magnets—that is, the things (like the barn or the trailer or his buddies) that draw him from the circle you have in mind. 

The Goal 

A perfect circle is a symmetric circle, meaning precisely round as opposed to oval, oblong, or egg-shaped. As your horse travels this circle, he should stay soft in your hand and flexed slightly to the inside through his neck and body, with no deviations in speed. His hind feet should follow in the tracks of his front. He should be equally soft and responsive in either direction. 

TIP: Work on freshly groomed ground so you can easily see your horse’s tracks. 

Walk your horse forward, using both your legs in neutral position to move him in an energetic rhythm. Keeping both your legs active, and with your hands 12 to 24 inches apart, apply light, direct-rein pressure on what will become the inside rein to tip his nose to the inside of the circle (so that you can just see the corner of his inside eye) and begin the circle.

Use leg pressure and the outside rein as needed, to keep the circle round. Horses tend to be asymmetrical; going to their “hollow” or right side (clockwise), they tend to bend too much.  Going to their “stiff” or left side (counterclockwise), they tend to resist bending. You’ll need to compensate for this and help them become ambidextrous. 

Dealing With the Hollow Side 

Circling to the right, your horse may tend to tip his nose in easier and bend too much, cocking his rear end into the circle while the circle gradually enlarges (see Diagram 4).  

 

To correct this, apply your inside (right) leg behind neutral position to push his rear end back out onto the track of the circle. At the same time, keep enough tension on the outside (left) rein to keep his shoulder from drifting out to the left, straightening out his neck a bit so you can just see the corner of his right eye. Apply your left leg at the cinch; that will also help to keep that shoulder from drifting.(see photo 1) 

Dealing With the Stiff Side 

Circling to the left, your horse may tend to resist bending, keeping his body relatively straighter and resisting bringing his nose to the inside (see Diagram 3). Instead, he’ll lead with his inside (left) shoulder, letting his hind end drift out while the forehand somewhat collapses the circle. 

To correct this, pick up his inside shoulder with a move I call “key in the ignition.” (See photo 2) Bring your inside (left) rein hand close to his neck, then twist your wrist as if you’re turning a key in an ignition, so that your palm comes to face upward, making your pinkie finger closest to the neck (do not bring your hand over the neck or withers, a common error). This tightens the rein slightly while giving a “lifting” motion that helps lift the shoulder on that side. 

At the same time, apply pressure with your inside (left) leg in neutral position (that is, directly behind the cinch) to encourage more bend, while pulling your outside (right) rein slightly outward to the right, moving his shoulders out to the right to help stop the forehand from collapsing in on the circle. If necessary, use your right leg a few inches behind neutral position to keep his hindquarters from moving out. 

As you strive to keep him aligned to the arc of the circle in either direction, remember also to keep him giving his face (that is, staying soft to your hand) and using both your legs to keep him moving forward at a steady pace.