How do you know if you have actually achieved true impulsion? What makes this ‘real’ impulsion different from simply running around the arena like the energizer bunny with your horse?
This post is the fourth in a series I have created about the training scale. I suggest also checking out the previous posts on rhythm, suppleness, and contact. At ‘Step 4’, impulsion is in the ‘top tier’ of the training scale. I really do believe that the final 3 steps, impulsion, straightness, and collection, need to have the solid foundation of the first three in place if they are to be worked on and mastered.
What is impulsion?
Impulsion is the harnessing of the energy that your horse creates and that is inside of the ‘container’ that you and your horse create when working together. Working together is an important part of impulsion; it occurs when both horse and rider are working towards a shared outcome.
Make sure that you do not confuse impulsion with speed. It actually has nothing to do with speed, it is the energy and the focus. Like a laser beam!
In step 3, Connection, the focus is on how the energy is connected through the horse and rider, from back to front. In order to establish and maintain true impulsion, the energy must first be there and remain connected throughout the movement.
There is little point in creating energy if it is all going to fall out the front of your horse. Similarly, if you are constantly losing energy through a shoulder or hip falling in or out, there won’t be any energy there to effectively channel and create impulsion.
Creating from Behind
True energy will be created in the back end, the hindquarters, of the horse. That is why when we are riding, we are always making sure that the hindquarters are working and that the horse is not dragging himself along using his shoulders or front end; the horse equivalent of being in front-wheel drive.
Ideally, we want our horses to propelling themselves along from the back end, like a vehicle with rear-wheel drive.
In order to be able to do this, there has to be a certain amount of self-carriage in the horse. A certain amount of lightness. Self-carriage is important for both horse and rider. I believe that we can really develop and improve it through the filter of contact and connection.
Developing Self Carriage
I have mentioned how all the steps of the training scale work together to achieve a better conversation with your horse. So, for example, suppleness is when the energy can move and flow within you and your horse. But it also means that there is a certain symmetry to your horse. That your horse is developing equally on both sides.
In fact, I believe that suppleness is the key to straightness (the step after impulsion). However, you can begin working on it today in order to develop and work towards straightness.
And this symmetry is important when considering impulsion; your horse must be pushing himself forward equally from both hind legs.
As that energy moves through his body, it is ‘engaged’ through contact and connection. This connection is due, in part, to your horse engaging his core. Which will allow him to begin to carry himself a little more.
This self-carriage creates lightness in the front end of your horse, which in turn, helps to sustain the impulsion (or focused energy) in the ride.
Driver, not Passenger
Think of impulsion as you becoming the true driver, and not just the passenger. Obviously, I don’t mean driving him from the seat or driving him forward. By driver, I mean that you are directing the situation. And, you are confident that your horse is doing his part in order to create the desired outcome. When you drive a car, you don’t physically turn the wheels yourself. You trust that the wheels will turn when you put them into gear.
When you are riding and working at this level, it is a similar approach. You trust that your horse will show up with a similar level of responsibility and ownership towards the outcome you’re both working towards.
The horse is creating it, and you are allowing it to come forward, and then you are directing it where you want it to be. All while your horse remains engaged and part of the conversation. That is impulsion. But again, as I mentioned earlier it requires relaxation, rhythm, suppleness, contact, and connection. This is because they are all intermingled and mix together – they cannot just be alone without the others.
Working on Creating Impulsion
Firstly, invest time in truly understanding and implementing the earlier principles of the training scale. They must be understood by both you and your horse. Once you have those in place on a fairly consistent basis, one of the most useful ways to work this into your horse’s training is through transitions.
With transitions, you are moving up and down the gears. These can be transitions between actual gaits – from trot to canter or walk to trot.
Or it can transitions within the gait itself – lengthening and shortening of the stride.
By asking for and riding these transitions, the hindquarters become more engaged in the work that is happening. And both you and your horse have an opportunity to ‘tune in’ to each other a little more, which helps create the focus of thought and energy between you.
Impulsion is not Speed
A lot of riders make the mistake of trying to ask for impulsion too early in both or either their own or their horses training. What ends up happening is the horse will try to answer the question. However, you run a big risk of either causing damage with an injury, or teaching your horse to work incorrectly.
This is often the point where riders confuse speed for impulsion. With just pure speed, there is little controlled, directed energy. There is also a complete lack of lightness and self-carriage. The connection is missing.
When you use transitions as a way to develop impulsion, you allow your horse to develop both mentally and physcially. Keep in mind that he has to understand impulsion as well, before you can move on.
Using well ridden and practiced transitions will help both you and your horse do just that.
Your goal is to make sure your horse is listening to you and is responsive. And, that both you and your horse have a good working relationship with the rest of the steps of the training scale.
More, More, More… To Help You :)
- Find the Gaps in Your Horse’s Training
- The Training Scale for You And Your Horse
- Training Scale Series; Intro – Putting the Pieces Together for You & Your Horse
- Training Scale Series; Part 1 – Rhythm
- Training Scale Series; Part 2 – Suppleness
- Training Scale Series Part 3 – Contact
- Online Community for Equestrian focusing on Planning and Mindset
- Equestrian Virtual Lounge Online Community
- FREE 2021 Equestrian Fitness Challenge – What You Can Do While You Ride
- Daily Strides Premium Newsletter