The Circle of Energy: how, what and why?

A good connection, that’s what we all want… but how do we accomplish this?

What if your horse wants to curl up or keeps taking over the tempo? Or gets tense when you try to ride him towards the hand?

Rien explains it according to the Circle of Energy.

What is meant with the Circle of Energy?

The Circle of Energy means that you ride your horse:

  • from back to front,
  • towards the hand,
  • and you keep the energy within your horse.

And not, what you often see… The rider establishes enough activity, but it’s given away at the front.. because the reins are too loose.

Or when the rider is working backward with his hands. At that point, the energy he creates from behind evaporates at the front. The challenge is to find a balance between these two.

Loose reins never accomplish a connection

We all know we shouldn’t block our horse at the front and we shouldn’t force our horse in a certain head-neck frame. Your horse needs to go forward, from back to front, towards the hand.

But did you know that loose reins will never allow you to establish a good connection?

During the Live Q&As with Rien van der Schaft, we see this problem sometimes with our members.

They’re aware of not wanting to work backwards with their hands, however, as a result, they actually give away too much rein.

And with a loose connection like that, the horse can never get the right connection towards the hand, on the bit.

Make sure the water gets in the bucket

Rien always compares it with a water hose.

Imagine you have a tap with a water hose and a bucket. The goal is to receive the water in the bucket. If you place the bucket too far away (compare it with giving too much rein), then you can spray very far (raising activity), but the water will never reach the bucket.

A contact rein is accomplished by feeling the impulsion in your rein.

Of course, if you want to be friendly by giving too much rein and you let the horse fall apart, you’re friendlier than someone pulling his horse’s mouth.

But you’re not giving your horse the right support. Your horse is left alone to figure it out by himself.

The #6 pitfalls with the circle of energy

The most common pitfalls that we see with the Circle of Energy are the following:

  1. Riding in a high tempo with giving away too much hand.
  2. A hand that works backwards.
  3. Reins too long or too loose.
  4. Correcting a ‘heavy connection’ with your hand.
  5. Using the rein for support.
  6. Giving a long rein too fast.


#1 Riding in a high tempo with giving away too much hand

If you think: ‘I need to ride forward to get a connection’ and you give your hand too much away and you only go faster, faster, and faster. The result of this is your horse falling onto the forehand. And there will be more unbalance in your horse and more weight on the front legs.

This happens because the rider doesn’t give the horse the chance to let the energy flow from through the body, from back to front, and receive it in the hand.

As a rider, you must feel the connection in your hands.

#2 A hand that works backwards

When you force your horse in a specific frame, you block the horse in his movement.

Depending on the temper and the confirmation of your horse, he will become lazy, or tense.

You don’t establish collection by working backwards with your hands, but by letting your horse place his hindlegs more underneath his body.

You try to catch that energy, so the horse starts moving in a more upward direction.

#3 Reins too long or too loose

As previously said, the danger by not wanting to feel your horse’s mouth is that a rider gives his hands so much away.. Then the energy of the horse won’t turn into a connection.

If the reins are too long, the horse can’t get the contact with the hand of the rider (think of the water jet). With long reins, you’re never capable as a rider to get a good connection. You’ll never get a closed circuit.

#4 Correcting a ‘heavy connection’ with your hand

If a horse is in his natural balance (more weight on the forehand) it can surely be that the horse takes a contact that we think is too heavy.

Then it’s very tempting to fix this with your hand.

However, this will not lead to the wished result. Your horse will only become heavier in the hand. You make the connection more light by riding turns, transitions, and laterals for example.

Improving the horizontal balance within your horse, will make sure the horse becomes lighter in the connection.

#5 Using the rein for support

If you as a rider start to use the rein as a kind of handle then it makes sense for the horse to lean back in the rein. And if the rider leans too much in the rein, he will slow down the energy in the horse.

Then the horse will lean on the rein and will have more weight on the forehand. Because of this, the horse will block his neck and back, plus the hind leg won’t be able to get under the body anymore.

If a horse moves in his natural balance, he doesn’t necessarily needs to be heavy in the hand.

No matter the balance of your horse, as a rider, you shouldn’t let the contact get too heavy. Let a connection grow between the hand of the rider and the horse’s mouth, so the horse can establish the connection and start to trust it.

#6 Giving a long rein too fast

During the training, you want to offer the horse some rest, but it’s very important to be aware of the moment you do that.

Many moments of rest can be confusing for the horse. And you’re much friendly when you are clear.

If you keep giving your horse long rein in the training, you’ll never come to the point where your horse truly has that activity forward, towards the hand.

So every now and then, try to ride a little bit longer. It’s not like your horse can never have a break, but first try to reach the point where the connection is stabilized.

Do I have a connection from back to front?

If your horse is using his body in the correct way and is forward, how do you know if there is a right connection?

You can check this by opening your hand. With a good connection, your horse will search for your hand in a forward and downward motion

If your horse escapes (throws his head in the air for example), then the frame was absolutely made the wrong way.

It’s crucial that when you give your hand, your horse wants to follow it forward and down.

Do you recognize the pitfalls? Do you have the circle of energy or working on it? Let us know by leaving a response below.

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9 Responses

  1. Hi, this makes so much sense. I have a mare that I bought nearly a year ago and she would not go forward without constant niggling with spurs, and then it was a half hearted effort. I tried lots of different methods to get her going forward, some lasted a week or two, but she would revert back. So I started using high energy and light whip taps and when she went forward nicely I would totally throw the rein away and tell her how well she did and, of course, she would stop. Now it makes sense! Thanks heaps, really appreciate your advice, Janet

    1. Hi Janet, Thanks for your kind message! We’re very glad that this blog is helping you and your horse:) You can always contact us if you have any questions. Best wishes, Team DressagePro

  2. Altijd interessant de uitleg van Rien. Mijn eigen paard kon altijd goed zijn achterbenen onder zijn lijf brengen en zijn bekken kantelen. Nu is hij met pensioen en rijd ik een springpaard van een stal genoot. Dit paard is vrij strak in de rug /bekken en vrij zwaar in de hand. Hij wil uit zichzelf graag over het tempo heen lopen. Moet ik hem dan juist op de volten rijden om het tempo en aanleuning beter te krijgen?

    1. Hi Thea, om eerlijk te zijn is het niet eenvoudig om hier zo antwoord op te geven zonder beeld erbij te zien. Maar schouderbuitenwaarts kan misschien wel een nuttige oefening zijn, dit komt terug in de Correcte Basis Training met Rien. En heb je de Basischeck al eens gedaan? Die kun je hier gratis aanvragen:

  3. Hele fijne uitleg, mijn paard is erg sloom en geeft weinig reactie op mijn been, ik ben dan genijgd mijn handen naar voren te brengen, ja… waslijntjes en dus geen goede verbinding meer en alles valt uit elkaar.
    Hoe krijg ik mijn paard voorwaarts, ik heb goede lessen en rijd veel overgangen, heb een barokke fries, zou graag nog andere tip willen om mijn paard meer aan het been te krijgen. Volg de tips dus heeeeel graag.

  4. hello, my mare refuses the contact of the rein because my hand was too firm for a long time, now she refuses the contact and comes into tension by raising her neck, and by picking up speed, I no longer dare to trot because she accelerates like a racehorse, she digs her back and turns her head to the right! this vicious circle is hard to break for me!

    1. Hi Laurence, I think this would be interesting to film and send the video and question in the Q&A with Rien 🙂

      Best wishes,
      Team Dressagepro

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