Straight on the Circle

By: on Friday, April 14, 2017

Melanie Buhlman studied horse rehabilitation training and equine osteopathy at the holistic health centre Equo Vadis in Germany and is a Master Teacher of the School of Légèreté, a classical training concept that excludes any use of force or coercive artificial aids.  

For me, a Cavesson is part of my basic equipment. I use the Cavesson for lunging and in-hand work. One of the benefits of a Cavesson is that it doesn’t place pressure on the horse´s mouth. My daily goal in riding is to achieve a stable and nice light contact to the horse´s mouth. Would I lunge a horse on the bit, I would have a risk of desensitization.

I use the Cavesson without any auxiliary reins. On the motto: If you don´t force your horse into a frame, you give your horse conditioned freedom. In this way I can teach different clear signals without restriction of movement.

Click here to find out how Melanie properly fits the cavesson

As soon as I have taught the horse the basic signals for controlling his legs (forwards, backwards, turn the forequarters, turn the hindquarters) I can start with what I call “new movement and posture learning”.

Why is “new movement and posture learning” important for the horse?

The horse is an excellent athlete, but in all the years of evolution, the horse´s body was not made for riding. And in all the years of domestication we didn´t change that. Let´s be honest, we have been breeding horses for speed, strength, endurance, mobility or beauty.




However, if we give the horse a proper training program, we can help the horse to rebuild his body to carry the rider in a good balance without strain.

To put this in perspective let’s compare it to training the human body: We are not made for swimming or carrying heavy weights for a long duration of time, but our body is able to reform and adapt to the task. The same is valid for the horse. His body is also able to reform and adapt to the task of being a ridden horse. For some horses, this is easier and for others more difficult to learn, but we always need to adapt to new environmental and/or life situations.

In this respect, learning a new movement is an essential part of the evolutionary development of living beings.

When we train horses, we are confronted with two main issues:

  • First, as a grazing animal (12 – 16 hours per day) the horse is more on the shoulders. The horse is built for flight and speed, another reason for being built on the forehand.
  • Second, horses naturally drift more to one shoulder, because of their asymmetry.




So, how can cavesson work help to improve the horse´s lateral and longitudinal balance?

With a well-fitted cavesson, I am able to give clear signals to the horse. It also gives various possibilities. I use it to teach different postures, like lowering of the neck, elevation of the neck, poll flexion and lateral poll flexion, by applying different cues.

How do I achieve this? I teach the horse to yield from pressure. It is a step by step approach, the more time you spend on the foundation, the more sustainable the outcome.


To put it in the words of Vera F. Birkenbihl (brain-friendly learning) 

“Take time for the basics, you create new nerve tracts!“


For instance, neck extension:

If I stand in front of the horse´s head and lower my hand and keep the lead rein in contact with the cavesson, the horse feels pressure on the poll and yields downwards. But before I use the cavesson, I gently use only my hand on the poll. As soon as the horse has learned to yield downwards from the pressure of my hand on the poll, I teach him the same movement with the cavesson.

The timing of the release of pressure is especially important. The pressure motivates the horse to react and the release of pressure trains the response. The release rewards the horse, thus poor timing of the release can manifest as conflict behaviors.

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I first teach neck extension in halt,then in walk, then in trot and at last in canter. I need to be close to the horse at the beginning, but the better he understands the downward signal with my hand, the better it works from the distance too.

Picture: neck extension in trot: 

The neck and the shoulders are so closely linked to each other that one always influences the other. This means that in training I can´t separate the neck position from the shoulders or vice versa. Thus, if I gain shoulder control for steering, I am able to improve lateral balance and straightness.

Picture: Free movement of the shoulders, because good self carriage and no restriction of movement leads to more range of movement.

Picture: Neck extension and poll flexion in acceleration – trot depart from walk

Picture: Elevation and flexion of the poll in acceleration – canter depart from walk

Let´s explain this with the example of how an untrained horse moves on a circle.

But before, we should ask ourselves the question: Is lunging just getting the horse to go on a circle?

Unfortunately not, a circle is a difficult challenge for horses, because they cannot naturally do so! The circle is not included in the horses´ movement patterns. Horses evolved to survive in the wide grassland.




They are made to move 40 to 60 km per day. If there is a drought, they can move 100 km per day. Sometimes they walk 60 km to find a waterhole! They almost always are going straight. They have an incredible endurance and they are able to perform fast sprints.

But when the horse turns or changes direction, it simply swerves towards the shoulder of the direction of movement and his head turns into the opposite way.

Picture: Natural way to turn on the circle: overloading the inside shoulder, looking to the outside. Hind legs stepping out.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, for a feral horse without a rider on top.

So how can we modify these movement patterns into an even balance on both shoulders and lifting of the shoulders while turning?

When I lunge my horse, I am always looking for shoulder control.

I teach the horse to move away and keep at distance when I point my whip towards the shoulder.

Again, it is a step by step approach. The horse learns first to yield from pressure on the shoulder from my hand, before I just point my whip towards it.

In lunging, I lead the horse a lot on straight lines alternating with circles, I also lead him on squares and serpentines.

This helps me to keep his attention, improve the steering and build a better relationship.



With the preparation of the steering and the teaching of different cues for different neck positions, I am able to teach the horse how to move on a circle in health-promoting self-carriage.

I am able to raise the inside shoulder of the horse by sending it away.

The raising of the forehand enables the hind legs to engage.

I am able to bend the horse´s neck to the inside and/or let the horse extend his neck.

The horse will move straight in his tracks with the hindquarters tracking the forelegs.

This way to move causes a physiologically correct back activity.

Once the horse is taught that movement pattern in hand, it will be easier for him to show it under the saddle, allowing him to easily bear the rider´s weight.

Picture: Health promoting way to turn on a circle: raising of the shoulders and engaging of the hind legs:

Picture: Health promoting way to turn on a circle: the inside hind leg will step into the track of the foreleg. Well-bent horse:








For me, cavesson work is beneficial for any horse, whether young, old or in retraining.

It is beneficial for the rider too: we can see our horse, it improves our relationship with him and keeps us fit in mind and body.

In the further training, I combine in-hand work with lunging, where I teach my horse the lateral work.

All that together gives him a holistic gymnastics program, which helps him to enhance his movement patterns and self-carriage and enables him to fulfill our demands with lightness.

CategoriesEquitation Science

About the Author:

Melanie Bulmahn
Melanie Bulmahn lives in the North of Germany and is an International Equine Coach. Before she could walk, she already sat on horseback. She trains horses from the base up to high level and has been working with different riders and horses for more than 20 years. She is a Master Teacher of the School of Légèreté, a classical training concept that excludes any use of force or coercive artificial aids. She studied horse rehabilitation training and equine osteopathy at the holistic health Centre Equo Vadis in Germany. Currently, she is working towards her diploma in Equitation Science. You can read more about Melanie at

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