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Simple Horse Training Exercises: 4 Circle Drill


Happy Friday!

I have decided to start a monthly series this fall about simple exercises that you can do with your horse. The first exercise I am featuring is called the 4 Circle Drill. It can be used on any level of horse and is helpful for all disciplines.

The 4 Circle Drill Introduction:

The goal of the 4 Circle Drill is to have your horse circle softly, without dropping their shoulder and being stiff through out their body.  This drill is a great way to work on circles with your horse. It is a wonderful warm up drill to get your horse really listening to you and using their body correctly. I love using this drill on younger horses especially if they are feeling fresh, it tires them out a bit and really gets their focus on you. It is also a great exercise to use on finished horses since it helps correct any bad habits they may have formed.

One important thing to remember is that horses are not naturally built to execute circles, they are naturally built to work in a straight line. We as their trainers have to encourage the horse to build up enough muscles to execute circles in a soft manner. If your horse doesn’t have enough muscles built up and is not comfortable with circle work, your circles will become flat and cut short. Trust me, you do not want to encourage this bad habit, it is one that can be hard to break! It also takes time to learn the feel of them going flat, so don’t get frustrated. If you have a hard time feeling the horse go flat, make sure you work with a trainer or friend who can watch you and tell you when they see your horse go flat.


Since I train my horses with a reining foundation for barrel racing, circle work is extremely important!  When I prepare my young horses for barrel racing they have to be comfortable with circle work. They can’t get away with dropping their shoulders and going flat on their circles because that will eventually turn into hitting a barrel. They have to build up strong  muscles and stamina so they can turn around the barrel quickly and power fast out of their turns gaining speed to the next barrel. There is a lot of behind the scenes circle work to get those barrel horses finished on the barrel pattern.

I use this drill as a great warm up for my barrel horses before I actually start working on pattern work. As I mentioned before, this drill isn’t only for barrel horses. It can be used for horses in all English and Western Disciplines, whether your horse is a reiner, pleasure horse, dressage horse or a jumper. There are lots of variants that you can add to this drill. Feel free to modify my instructions below to fit it to your training program. I love this drill because it is simple but there are many things that can be added to make it more challenging for the horse and the rider. Enjoy!

The 4 Circle Drill:

For this Drill:

This drill can also be used in an arena or pasture. You just need 4 corners to work off of. Be sure to make sure you set your horse up properly for their circles. Your inside rein should be lifted up slightly so you can see the tip of your horses nose pointed towards the inside of the circle. Depending on the horse, you might also need to use your outside rein to make sure your horses head stays collected and not lifted up our towards the outside. Your goal is to have your horse in a soft collected C shape/ shaped like a banana. Use both legs to help build this mold into your horse.

C Shape/ Banana Shape

For example, lets say we are performing a circle to the right: Lift your right hand slightly upwards till you see the tip of your horses nose on the inside and use your left hand to hold the horses bend in it’s neck. Your right leg should be placed near the horses girth area and your left leg should be back past your girth area usually in between the girth and back cinch/flank area. Use leg pressure to help mold the C shape bend and use your legs and hands to keep the horse consistent through the size of the circle you planned out.


Step 1: At the Walk

  • Warm up your horse by starting the drill at the walk on the rail in either direction (The diagram above shows the drill to the right)
  • In each corner of the arena execute a small or a large circle. It is up to you to decide the size of the circles. Most of the time it depends on the size of the area you are riding in. If you are working this drill in an arena use the rail to help mold your circles and keep them consistent.
    • Ideally, it would be nice to have a goal of only executing one total circle in each corner. However, you might have to repeat circles a few times if your horse is going flat and/or not executing the circle well. Once the horse executes a smooth correct circle move on to the next corner. Don’t have too big of expectations for younger/green horses at first. Use your judgement on what to expect for the training level your horse is at. The first few circles can be rough, but try to get your horse to improve on the next ones after.
  • After you finish your circle (s) in one corner of the arena move your horse down the rail to the next corner. Prepare your horse for the circle slightly before you start executing the circle.
    • For young and green horses, use the rail as a time for them to relax a bit before you prepare to execute the next circle. This helps them have some time to think and will help prevent them from getting frustrated.
  • Repeat the drill at the walk as necessary.
  • After your horse feels comfortable in one direction switch to the other.

Step 2: At the jog/trot

  • After your horse feels comfortable at the walk, move them into a jog or posting trot.
    • If they are young/green use your judgement as to if they are ready for the jog/trot.
  • Repeat the 4 Circle Drill explained in the diagram and in Step 1 at the jog/trot.
  • Switch directions once the horse is ready

Step 3: At the lope/canter

  • After your horse feels comfortable at the jog/trot, move them into a lope or canter.
    • If they are young/green use your judgement as to if they are ready for the jog/trot.
    • Also be aware of your surroundings and the size of the area you are working in to decide if there is enough room to safely lope/canter your horse
  • Repeat the 4 Circle Drill explained in the diagram and in Step 1 at the lope/ canter.
  • Switch directions once the horse is ready

Advanced Moves/Notes

  • Counter bend your horse through the circles in each direction and at different gaits depending on your horses training level. Switch between counter bends and normal circles in each drill. The counter bend really helps your horse improve it’s circles. Switching up the drill with the counter bend really helps keep your horse focused. We will go into more counter-bending exercises at a later date.


  • For work on transitions and rate, switch gaits on the rail before each circle.
    • Example: Execute the first circle at a trot then cue horse to canter on the rail before executing the second circle in the next corner of the arena.
  • Feel free to switch up cues, size of your circles, the timing of cues and vary the speed of your horse
  • You can also vary the order of directions on the rail. A lot of times I will work the 4 Circle Drill at the walk, trot and canter to the right and then switch and do all three gaits to the left. It is completely up to you.

CLICK HERE for your FREE Simple Exercises: 4 Circle Drill Printout!—

Please let me know if you have any questions on this drill! I would love to hear how it worked on your horse.  Also let me know if you are having any current problems with your horses and I can suggest a drill to work on for November to fix those issues!

Till next time, Happy Trails!






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