If you ever find yourself losing impulsion on turns or circles then this post is especially for you!
One movement that comes up a lot at novice level is a trot change of rein through two half ten metre circles. At elementary level you need to do them in canter, so it’s worth paying attention to the finer details of the movement so you can ride it in your sleep. In order to do two circles, or half circles, in different directions almost immediately it is important to maintain impulsion around the circles, otherwise your horse will fall onto their forehand and struggle.
In order to maintain impulsion you need an analogy. For car drivers, this will make a lot of sense. When you approach a corner, you brake the car, and as you go around the corner, you accelerate slightly. Now let’s apply this to riding a horse. Before the corner, or circle, half halt. I’m sure we all know we should half halt before turning anyway, but if you are actively losing impulsion on turns then it is vitally important. The half halt shifts the horse’s weight onto their hindquarters, and lifts the head and shoulders. Then as you ride around your turn you should apply the inside leg to drive the horse forwards. Hopefully, you should come out of the turn with as much energy as you went into it with.
I’ve used this analogy a few times recently. Once, with a teenager whilst jumping. Her turns off the track left them lacking impulsion and then affected the canter and subsequent jump. By collecting the canter, half halting, and riding deep into the corner, whilst riding forwards around it, meant that they approached the jump straighter, with a better canter, and had a much better bascule over the fence.
Another horse and rider that I’ve used this with tend to lose impulsion and energy on turns because the horse is very stiff through his body. Now circles and serpentine so will help supple him up, but only if he doesn’t grind to a halt halfway around. Just by thinking about accelerating around the corners of the school helped this horse get a longer stride, and more active hind leg. Once the corners were better balanced and he maintained impulsion we did the same with circles and serpentines. He just needs a lot of circle work to improve his way of going and by the end of the lesson he was more forwards, with a bigger stride, and he even wanted to stretch at the end.
I’ve used this concept with a horse I school because the half ten metre circles have been letting us down in novice tests. In order to get her thinking forwards as she comes out the turn I’ve done a lot of half ten metre circles in trot, before striking off into canter as I come out of the turn. This changed her mindset about turning, and she stopped dropping onto the forehand on the way out of turns. Riding a full circle before a transition up, either to medium trot or canter, also helped her balance herself. I did a couple of sessions focusing on these circles and half turns and when I returned to the two half circles she seemed to find it much easier. This means that I can bring in more exercises to further improve her suppleness without sacrificing the rest of her work.
Try it, next time you’re schooling. Brake before the turn, and accelerate through it; hopefully you will feel the difference!