Beginning Courtesy Circle Strategy
Courtesy circles are much more than a courtesy. I see all too often, people just simply doing a circle and then getting on with their course strategy. A courtesy circle at the beginning of a hunter course is an opportunity to pick up your intended gait, most likely a canter, and to start setting your pace for the course. It is a fault to pick up the wrong lead but if changed within short order of a stride or two, can be forgiven depending on the rest of the performance. Practice setting up a pace within that circle at home just as you would school other elements to improve your performance. Don't use the courtesy circle at the beginning of a course to school and show your horse the fences. Your horse will not think differently of a fence he went past when approaching it to jump later on. Use this opportunity to set up in gait and focus on pace. Pace is a huge part of riding a good hunter course.
If you see a dotted line on a course diagram, make sure you do not cross that line when making a circle before or after the course. That is cause for elimination because you were ' off course ' . This is also somewhat discretionary on the judges' part. The dotted line must always have landmarks within the ring such as 'island' displays and/or jumps. Take note if a dotted line is in force or not. Be mindful when starting and ending your course.
Ending Courtesy Circle Strategy
A circle at the end of the course is also a good chance to show off your horse' movement. You should be well in rhythm by the end of the course transition down to a trot for the ending circle. It is a good way to show an open, fluid trot transition. The ending circle, while showing off a distinctive trot, can also show a well conditioned horse who has just finishsed a course with ease. While it is a rule to jog horses for hunter course awards at rated USEF shows, it is not a requirement, usually, at local, unrated shows. So again, another opportunity in the ending circle is to show that your horse just came off the course sound.
My Preference & Perception
I do not like to see riders coming to a walk but continuing to circle at the end of a course. What is the purpose of that? You are judged from the time you enter the ring until you exit while in a class with a course (not a flat class). If you walk out your ending circle, it shows me you or your horse are possibly fatiqued, possibly sore and hints at subtle arogance. As if you're sayiing you rocked the course so well with your impeccably perfect horse, you don't need to show all the way out the gate.
Opposite End of the Ring (Long Approach)
Although you are permitted a circle at the beginning and end of a course, if the first fence of the course is on the far side of the arena from where you enter and coming back to the direction of gate entry, start from the entry point setting up your gait and pace. Then go on to your first fence without circling. So many times you see riders entering the ring, trotting all the way across the arena and then circling in front of the first fence. That is not only a waste of time but if you pick up your gait and start setting a pace from the entry point, it's very impressive. If you pick up your gait and start setting your pace from the point of entry, circling could only prove hazardous by setting your pace back or even breaking gait. The same is true for a course that ends on the opposite end of the ring.
In summary, make every stride from the entry into and out of the ring, a chance to win. It is more useful to pick up your canter and start setting pace in a beginning circle rather than just thinking your circling as a courtesy. Then use the ending circle to show the condition, ease of movement down to the trot and soundness of your horse.
47 minutes ago