Inputting Impulsion

With one of my young riders we’re slowly working through the scales of training; getting her to understand, apply and improve her pony. Rhythm and suppleness have improved, and she has now grasped the feel of a good contact, and knows how to ride her pony into the contact when he hollows and comes above the bit.

So our next phase is to improve and increase their impulsion. I always explain to clients that basically impulsion is energy without speed; when energy is the purposefulness, or desire to go forwards. 

But it can be tricky for riders to generate the impulsion without losing the first two stages – rhythm and suppleness. 

When I asked my client for some suggestions to generate some impulsion into the trot, she replied by telling me that when she uses her leg to put in some energy her pony gets faster. Which didn’t really answer my question, but was a valid observation. I explained why her pony, who is a jumping machine, thought leg meant faster and how he pulls himself forwards, instead of using his hindquarters.

She still hadn’t worked out how to improve her pony’s impulsion, so I brought in a bit of maths.

If she adds energy to her horse but also gets speed, then she should use this to help improve the amount of energy he has in his gait. Then, when the energy is established, she can take away the speed. Once the speed is taken away, she is left with impulsion.

Then my rider suggested she could use medium trot to create impulsion. I agreed, and off she went.

Along the long sides of the school she focused on putting energy into the trot; feeling her pony use his hindquarters, and not losing the rhythm. Then as she approached the short side, she had to take away the speed. By the time she’d done a few transitions she could feel the improvement in the trot, so we added in circles to practice maintaining the impulsion for longer. 

Now she’s got the feeling of a more purposeful trot we can focus on maintaining this level of impulsion for longer periods, and then maintaining it on circles and school movements, checking that the rhythm and suppleness aren’t inhibited. 

Working through the scales of training is like peeling an onion; each time you introduce another level, or increase the difficulty, then you need to revisit the previous levels to ensure total understanding by horse and rider, and to make sure the horse continues to work correctly and to  improve. After all, if one of the building blocks starts to erode as you move up the levels and you don’t fix it then the whole thing falls down. 


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!