Riding The Seemingly Simple Circle
Down The Fence with Richard Winters Horsemanship
How correctly your horse lopes fast and slow circles while reining will be contingent
on how much care and attention you give to this phase of the pattern on a daily basis
In a reining pattern, the sliding stops and spins are certainly spectacular and cause everyone to sit
up and take notice. Yet there is another important maneuver which sometimes doesn’t receive as
much attention, the seemingly simple circle. How correctly your horse lopes fast and slow circles
will be contingent on how much care and attention you give to this phase of the pattern on a daily basis. There are two elements you need to constantly consider when loping circles.
Number one: The symmetry or roundness of your circle.
Number Two: The proper balance and frame of your horse while loping the circle.
Our 2 year old futurity prospect, Rocky had no comprehension of
what a symmetrical circle was when his training started. That’s why it’s so important that I know what a perfect circle is. Circles
often turn into eggs, oblongs, or other weird shapes because the rider doesn’t have a clear picture of what the circle should look
like. Having a frame of reference can be very helpful at this stage. When riding in an arena, the fence can be a good visual reference
point. If I’m loping large circles twenty feet off the rail, I should be the same distance on the opposing side. Be careful that when
loping at the end of an arena you resist the temptation to just follow the fence line instead of keeping a perfect arc all the way around. Whether in an arena or out in an open area you can help
train you and your horse by using a center point. Place a cone, bucket or any other object in the spot you want to be the middle
of your circle. Now attempt to judge an equal distance all the way around the object as you lope your circles. I really enjoy stepping into an arena that has just been watered and groomed. The
tracks I leave on the ground will be undisputed evidence of how round and symmetrical my circles are. As I lope repetitive circles I want to come right back on my tracks on every revolution. In a
reining competition there will be a middle marker on the fence that you need to be “dead on” in
alignment with for each circle. In your arena at home you can also designate a “middle marker” along your fence line that will help you ride consistent and correct circles.
It’s been said that practice makes perfect. That’s not true. It’s only perfect practice that makes perfect! If you don’t practice perfect circles at home, it won’t happen in the show pen. Our horses
proper body position in the circles is something we have to feel and continually work on. I spoke
last month about body control and having the ability to manipulate my horses individual body parts
independent of each other. This is where it becomes really important. When I am loping to the right,
I want my colt slightly arced in that direction. In a right hand circle I shouldn’t be able to see the
corner of my horses left eye. If I can, then my horse is counter bent and leading with his shoulder
instead of his nose. I need my colt to be looking in the direction he is going. If I can’t see that inside
eye I’m going to gently bump the inside rein and perhaps use a little inside leg to keep my horse looking in the proper direction.
Another common problem when loping circles is a horse dropping its shoulder into the direction they are going. If Rocky starts to drop his shoulder in a circle I will lift with my inside rein along his
neck and use some inside leg close to the front cinch. This would be part two of my 4-Part Harmony exercises.
Loping squares can also be helpful in reminding my colt to keep his shoulders straight while circling. Here are the hard facts: If you can’t control the
shoulders, you’re not going to have a reined cow horse. Just like we encourage our kids to have good posture, without reminders our kids and
colts can get lazy. With consistency your horse can develop mind and muscle memory to travel correctly when loping circles.
I’m also asking Rocky to speed up his circles and then slow down again. I want to introduce and
encourage speed control and show him that speed is nothing to be afraid of. I also want him to understand that the reward of speeding up will be the opportunity to slow down again. In most
reining patterns the circles consist of large fast and small slow circles. However, at home I will often
speed up and slow down in the same size circle. I don’t want my horse to slow down and
automatically begin to turn into a smaller circle. That’s when he’ll start dropping his shoulder in
anticipation. Keeping the same circumference will help him keep his shoulders straight when going from fast to slow.
When you begin to step up your program for higher levels of performance, you have to raise your standards and become more precise. The question is no longer Can you lope circles? Rather now
it’s, How do you lope circles? That’s where Rocky and I are right now. Paying attention to details
and forming good habits will hopefully serve us well as we continue his reined cow horse training.
Contact: Richard or Cheryl Winters
5025 Thacher Road
Ojai, California 93023
Phone: 805 - 640-0956
Richard was honored to receive the 2007
Monty Roberts Western Equitarian Award
Given by Monty & Pat Roberts in Solvang, California, this award is dedicated to the the person who has worked with the
horse's mind without using force and in Honor of the Trainers of Western Horses.
Past recipients of this award have been Greg Ward, Crawford
Hall, Sheila Varian, Tom Marvel, Bobby Ingersoll, John Ward, Al Dunning, Craig Cameron, and Chris Cox.
When asked if Richard would receive the honor, for 2007, he was only pleased to be placed
in the same category as the above mentioned horsemen and women!
Richard Winters, a Short Horse Training History
As other grade school boys dreamed of being firemen, astronauts, or race car drivers, this years
equitarian recipient thought of nothing other than being a cowboy. Not the most convenient dream considering he lived in town with parents who had no ties whatsoever to the equine community.
During those early years this boy wore out more than a few bicycles peddling seven miles to a
stable across town where he was a self confessed “stable brat.” Opportunities to be involved with
horses were few and far between but they did come. Helping clean stalls, learning to drive the
single horse feed wagon, and helping to saddle the dude string, little by little desire was intersecting with experience.
Four summers as a teenager wrangling dude horses in the mountains added to this experience. Then
the opportunity to work for the late great bridle horse trainer, Troy Henry, of Clovis, California.
This was the young mans first introduction to higher levels of horsemanship. Troy introduced the idea that horsemanship was only about 10% mechanics and 90% psychology. It was there that this
high school kid had the privilege of riding some true bridle horses. Though he couldn’t duplicate it, he knew there was a feel with horses that could be obtained.
A 9 month Farrier program gave the young man skills that
financed most of the obligations a 17 year old boy could accrue. Graduating from High School a year early he was college bound. Not necessarily for the scholastic
opportunities. Rather, Hartnell College, in Salinas California, had one of the most outstanding varsity rodeo program in the country. Two years of roping calves and
riding saddle bronc horses was a lot of fun, however it was self-evident that there wasn’t much future in it.
It was in Salinas that he met Cheryl, the girl who would
become the cornerstone of his success. This pretty strawberry blond has spent 23 years raising their children, running their business, and being the #1 supporter of this ongoing adventure.
Over the years, shoeing clients recognized the horse handling skills of this young farrier and training
opportunities began to present themselves with more frequency. In the late 80’s and early 90’s
horsemanship clinics were gaining in popularity. This is where Richard has shined. A strong horsemanship foundation balanced with unparalleled people skills has been the perfect mixture for
the outstanding clinician he is today.
Never satisfied where he is on the journey, this gentleman continues to hone his skills as an avid
competitor with the National Reined Cow Horse Association with world championship titles to his credit. He is also an A rated Judge and a trainer and coach to world champion non-pro riders as
well. It’s been said “Find a vocation you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life!” Richard Winters is living his boyhood dream.
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