The Circle of Death

Tonight (Thursday) was Val’s first ride under the lights for the season. He’ s normally very up and looky, and super tense for the first ride, and many after once we start getting into Daylight Savings, but true to the grown up horse he’s been of late, he was quite good. Still a little looky, and it took some time for him to really relax, but we were still able to have a productive hack. Now that that’s out of the way…Saturday lesson!

Some information you may need going into this post:

  • Val gets really excited about trot jumps which means that I either jump way ahead or get left behind because I’m already not so great at the trot fences as it is.
  • Val doesn’t canter poles. He jumps them. Always has. In fact, he’s often more looky at poles on the ground and little cross rails than he is at verticals, oxers, boxes, flowers, etc. No clue why.

Trainer decided that both last Thursday’s lesson and Saturday’s lesson would incorporate the “Circle of Death”–four poles set on the ground so that you can canter around and around over them like a terrible Merry-go-Round. Incorporate did not mean at the beginning or end of the lesson. It meant smack dab in the middle of the course.


I should mention that Trainer’s text said “Doing fun exercises tonight!” the first time around. She either lies, or doesn’t understand fun.

The trickiest part of the exercise was doing the circle again after doing several jumps. It’s much harder to get your horse back together in a packaged canter so that the circle doesn’t fall apart. Especially with Val who tends to get more stiff and resistant as the course goes, it was hard to bring him back without letting him get inverted. I also struggled to ride the two halves of my horse, as he rides like a fish. We’ve done enough flat work that his front end and hind end can be fairly independent of one another, but that meant I often lost his his end around a turn, or in keeping a good track with his hind end, he dropped his shoulder in or out.


Photo by Lauren

The whole first course was trot the combination up,  canter around the circle, down the diagonal, doing the outside option, back to a trot up the outside line, around the circle the other way, and back down to the trot to go down the combo.This was only kind of awful. Up the combination (a one-to-one) was a bit quick, the circle was pretty reasonable, down the hill was ok, and then trying to trot the next jump was ugly, cantering out we ate it, the circle fell apart a little, and this was the combination:


Trying to slow my horse with my body and wait = left behind. Photo by Lauren.


Recovering ok. Photo by Lauren.


Shoot we’re out of room! Photo by Lauren.

And that was about how all of our trot jumps looked. Next course was up the grid again, around the poles, down an option (our choice–so we of course did the skinny every time because why not?) up the first of the outside line, with a roll back to the jump next to the option, around the end of the arena and back over the single at the bottom, then back to a trot for the combination.

There was some good. There was some bad. And there was definitely some ugly.

This turn rode really nice. He wanted to bulge on the turn a bit, but all it took was a little blocking with my outside leg through the turn and a supporting outside rein and we were golden. We hit this vertical really nice, and only scooted a little on the backside.


Drifting left but good. Photo by Lauren.

I was really proud of how we rode this turn, because it was just like what we did at the clinic. I tried to remember to ride both sides of my horse, get a good bend, and then get straight. The hardest part about this jump was waiting for it to come to me and not rushing to it. Based on his effort, I’d say we approached about perfect.



Still drifting left… Photo by Lauren.

And then this happened. I can’t remember if I halted and then trotted on, or just tried to trot right up to it. But silly man decided he was done trotting in, and since I like to drop my hands and hunch, he got inverted and then threw himself into the combination. We kind of flew out but I at least went with my horse.


“I forgot how we trot cross rails Ma!.” Photo by Lauren

Notice how instead of rocking back, we are kind of flat and all over.


Photo by Lauren.

Despite the silliness, Val did go on to do the course better and better. Our trot jumps never got great, but when I asked him to just carry a reasonable canter instead he quieted and listened so I’ll take it. By the end of the lesson I actually had a horse that was carrying himself well and covering too much ground even in a packaged canter, which is typically not the problem. We are usually inverted and covering ground, or packaged and not covering enough. It was a nice change. He also ended up doing the poles quite nicely, but Lauren was gone by then so no proof.


Photo by Lauren


Photo by Lauren


Ew. What even is happening here? Photo by Lauren.


Photo by Lauren

Some days I feel really competent after a ride, and others I can’t find a distance to a pole on the ground or trot a cross rail and I wonder why people let me ride their horses. Also, I was so excited for fall and the fact that my weather app said it was 71 out when I got up that I threw on a flannel button down. Good thing we had like 95% humidity and the temps still shot up to the mid 90s. Fail. I was dying but I looked cute. I can’t wait for it to actually be fall. Winter though, can stay away forever. Does your trainer ever come up with exercises that bring out all of your flaws and really make you step up to the plate?

5 thoughts on “The Circle of Death

    1. My hypothesis is that since a pole is so small and easy, the horse is less likely to do anything to fix things and make the effort look smooth. With a jump they have to, but if they splat over a pole it’s really no big deal. So unless you do it right, it’s really obvious that you did it wrong.

  1. ugh cantering poles and trotting fences are the *fastest* ways i know to make myself feel like a total idiot (and my horse agrees lol). always good practice tho!

  2. Debbie Follman

    Our little mare leaves me behind because of her speed and my total lack of judgment of distance…… are there any excercises (at my level) lol to help us be more in synch?

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