Improve your reining scores with AQHA Pro Horseman Matt Mills’ tips on making perfect circles.
4. Pick Your Speed
The lead departure is where you choose the speed for your circle. When you pick up the bridle and push the horse’s hip over to lope off and the horse is right there with you listening, you can probably push for more speed.
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 in the pen. 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 left side.
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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. They haven’t practiced it and just haven’t ridden it enough. It’s much more offensive to me to see somebody going too fast when they can’t handle it than someone that is going too slow.
Whatever speed you choose, it’s got to be correct. I think it’s great, if you can go fast in a high degree of difficulty, if you’re prepared to do it. But if you’re not ready to go that fast, don’t do it. You need to pick a speed both you and your horse are comfortable with.
5. Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice your circles all the time, every day. You learn to run circles mostly from feel and practicing. So you need to practice circles a lot.
A lot of people are kind of wary and think if they practice going fast too much, their horse is going to like it and will want to run off and not slow down. That’s not true. Don’t be scared to practice those fast circles.
You’ve got to practice. You can’t run away from any of the maneuvers, including circles. You’ve got to practice all of them.
The National Reining Horse Association Handbook categorizes circles as maneuvers at the lope, of designated size and speed, that 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 small, slow right circles should be similar to the small, slow left circles; and the speed and size of the large, fast right circles should be similar to the large, fast left circles.
In evaluating a maneuver, a judge uses the same scale for evaluating each maneuver in a pattern and considers the performance based on the following hierarchy of concerns:
- On Pattern – The judge must ensure that the maneuver being performed by horse and rider is the correct maneuver as dictated by the pattern.
- Correctness – Having ascertained that the horse and rider are performing the maneuver required by the pattern, the judge must then ascertain whether the maneuver is being executed correctly. In the instance where horse and rider have failed to correctly perform the maneuver, the judge will deduct for substandard performance from -1/2 to -1 1/2.
- Degree of Difficulty – Having ascertained that the horse and rider are on pattern and have performed the maneuver group correctly, a judge must evaluate the degree of difficulty in completing the maneuver. The judge can credit +1/2 to +1 1/2 to the maneuver. Credit for degree of difficulty is given for using smoothness, finesse, attitude, quickness, authority and controlled speed while completing the correct maneuver.
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- Starting or performing circles or figure eights out of lead will be judged as follows: each time a horse is out of lead, a judge is required to deduct one point. The penalty for being out of lead is accumulative, and the judge will deduct one point for each quarter of the circumference of the circle or any part thereof that a horse is out of lead.
- Running away or failing to guide where it becomes impossible to discern whether the entry is on pattern: no score.
- Jogging in excess of one-half circle or one-half the length of the arena: no score.
- Break of gait: -2 points.
- Starting circle at a jog: -1/2 point.
- Jogging beyond two strides, but less than half the circle: -2 points.