The lope might be smoother than the trot, but it can still throw a rider off balance. The larger step and faster pace of the lope require the rider to think ahead before executing a circle, and the horse requires sufficient strength and endurance to hold his gait around it. The cues and aids used to make a circle at other gaits are the same for the lope, so practice circles at the walk and trot before attempting them at the canter.
Shorten your reins to maintain firm contact with the horse's mouth, but not so tight that you jerk on the bit. This will allow you to control the pace so that, if you lose your balance, you can slow him down and regroup. A direct rein approach works best until you learn to lope a circle with no balance issues. Open your inside rein slightly to ask for the proper bend, which will keep your horse from inverting on the circle and throwing himself off balance.
Upper Body Position
Centrifugal force, the tendency to fall toward the outside of a circle, throws riders off balance when executing a canter circle, particularly if the circle is small. Your upper body can counteract this force by shifting slightly more weight into the inside stirrup, moving your outside seat bone closer to the center of the saddle and bringing your outside shoulder slightly forward. Keep your hips loose in the saddle so you can absorb the motion of the lope, but rotate your upper body slightly toward the inside of the circle. Your horse will establish the appropriate bend through the head, neck and back, which prevents him from "jackknifing", or bending abruptly, at the shoulders and unseating you.
To execute a proper circle, keep your inside leg just behind the girth and your outside leg farther back. Open your knees to free your horse's shoulder movement and keep your hips in line with your horse's hips. Lengthen your stirrups if you often become unbalanced while loping a circle. Stretching your leg around your horse's barrel lowers your center of gravity and roots you in the saddle.
Invest in a set of five or six traffic cones or small, weighted barrels. Position then in the center of the arena in a perfect 20-meter circle. Warm up your horse, then lope a circle around the outside of the markers. Each time you reach a marker, move your eyes to the next one. If you stare at the ground or at your horse's neck, you risk losing your balance because your upper body will fall forward. This exercise also helps riders practice riding a perfect circle. After practicing with the cones, try loping concentric circles, spiraling from ten meters to 15 meters to 20 meters, then back down again. If you become unseated, transition down to the jog until you regain your balance, then try again.
Laura College is a former riding instructor, horse trainer and veterinary assistant. She has worked as a writer since 2004, producing articles and sales copy for corporations and nonprofits. College has also published articles in numerous publications, including "On the Bit," "Practical Horseman" and "American Quarter Horse Journal."