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Harmony is born out of a genuine empathy for the horse and a compassionate awareness of the mental and physical impact of the work on the horse.

The 'Walk on the Buckle' Exercise

This is the 'Walk on the Buckle Exercise' as I learned it from Erik Herbermann, the writings of Waldemar Seunig and, my most wonderful teachers – the horses:

“The exercise begins at the walk, with the rider holding the reins ‘on the buckle’. The horse is walked on circles ‘on the buckle’ until the horse is relaxed, his muscles are loose, he is breathing more deeply and he is physically and mentally ready to begin work. The exercise should begin on a deliberately sized and placed circle and progresses to figure 8’s or other school figures, as the horse is ready. Appropriately sized circles* can help regulate the tempo.

The seat and neck rein can be used to guide the horse when needed. The circles can be made smaller if the horse is a little quick, spooky or fresh but it is recommended to stay on a loose rein as much as possible. If the horse is hot or spooky only the reins are used to direct the horse until he is ready to accept the rider’s seat and legs. If the horse looks out at something, his attention is put back onto the circle by gently bringing his nose back onto the line of the circle with the inside rein by gently and momentarily drawing the inside hand back through the elbow and then immediately giving the hand forward again at the moment the horse has responded. The key to the success of this exercise is knowing when to momentarily pick up the reins to get the horse’s attention back on the work and then knowing when to leave the horse alone. The timing for the correct aiding is best learned with the assistance of a good instructor.

As the horse settles into his natural tempo, his legs swing forward in RHYTHM as pendulums and he often lets out a deep sigh. The objective at this stage is to encourage the horse’s energies to swing freely forward. Simply meandering aimlessly around the school does not help the focus for either horse or rider.

A nice deep sigh is often a sign that the horse is relaxed and can be sent more energetically forward without loosing his rhythm and RELAXATION. When the horse is balanced and relaxed to the point that he takes longer, fuller strides in response to the driving aids, his hind legs send rippling waves of energy forward through his spine, through his forehand and out his neck and poll.  This causes the horse to extended his head and neck forward and down toward the bit. The horse stretches forward though his whole spine, offering the rider CONTACT with the bit. This is the preliminary stage of suppleness that, as contact is carefully developed, will develop into a more advanced form of suppleness. This classical approach to suppleness and contact lays a solid foundation for advanced work.

Video Sample of 'Walk on the Buckle'.

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If the horse does not relax and reach for the bit, it may be a sign that there are other factors involved. The horse may be uncomfortable due to ill-fitting tack, sore muscles, rider imbalance, extreme crookedness, etc. Comfort issues of the horse must be addressed before progress can be made.

The rider can then begin receiving the contact that the horse offers, being careful not to create tension or stiffness in the horse (which would suppress the horse’s reaching attitude). It’s very important that the contact doesn’t develop into a crutch. If the horse finds support in the rider’s hand, he will not learn to carry himself in independent balance. If the rider refuses to provide any support for the horse, he will have to carry himself in his own natural posture and balance. In the beginning, the contact is a ‘following’ type of contact. If the horse becomes tense then the rider must start over and reestablish the reaching attitude. When the horse is ready, a little work in the walk on contact can begin, or work in the trot on contact (for horses new to dressage, work simply on developing basic following contact in response to the forward driving aids). As in the walk, if the horse is rushing in the trot, some appropriately sized circles will help the horse slow down. Then, various school figures can be used as needed to develop the horse’s balance further. The size and shape of the school figures depends on the horse’s needs.


The daily use of the ‘Walk on the Buckle’ exercise (on circles and other appropriate school figures) can benefit horses and riders of all levels.

The ‘Walk on the buckle’ exercise for the horse:

bullet Helps teach the horse to stay focused on the school figure without constant intervention  by the rider
bullet Helps the horse settle into a state of mind conducive for schooling
bullet Helps the horse relax (as is manifested by deeper breathing and occasional soft snorts or deep sighs)
bullet Develops the horse’s trust in the rider
bullet Helps the horse to find its tempo and independent balance
bullet Gives the horse’s muscles a chance to relax between workouts
bullet With the improved rhythm and relaxation the horse’s free swinging energy can be channeled forward, from it hind legs, through its spine to the bit
bullet The released tension and free forward flow of energy induce the horse to reach for the bit and offer the rider a soft, light elastic contact

The ‘Walk on the buckle’ exercise for the rider:

bullet Helps the rider settle into a state of mind that is conducive to helping the horse
bullet Helps the rider develop a greater awareness for what is happening in the horse’s mind and body
bullet Helps the rider develop trust in the horse
bullet Helps the rider develop a feel for the free forward flow of energy and the elastic flexing and relaxing of the horse’s back muscles
bullet Helps the rider learn to channel the horse’s energy with the seat
bullet Helps the rider learn the significant differences in the concepts of guiding vs bending

 As with ANY exercise, the ‘Walk on the Buckle’ exercise can be carried out well or badly.


2000 - 2008 © Tonja Dausend  - Terms of Use

last updated July, 2009