Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography
Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

Take Two Deeper Steps Underneath For Better Everything

One of the easiest, and most beneficial solutions to many riding problems is to teach the horse to move from the hind end. Why do we harp so much on this topic?

Everything starts with impulsion.

Impulsion starts with the hind end.

Every horse benefits from stepping deeper with the hind legs. (Click to tweet if you agree.)

If the stride is longer, the hind legs can reach further underneath the body and support the horse's balance with more strength and agility.

The energy derived from the increased impulsion can then travel over the back (topline), allowing for better carriage of the rider and a loftier, bouncier movement, whether it is walk, trot or canter. It can help to straighten the horse. It can resolve "behavior" issues. It can even help to reduce tension in the horse's body.

How to Increase Impulsion

All it takes is two stronger steps, in the same gait, in the same rhythm, tempo and direction. Use two squeezing calf leg aids with a corresponding seat aid for "forward". You may need a half-halt (or two) following the energy surge.

In other words, ask for increased energy but:

- don't let the horse get faster in the gait.

- don't let the horse change gaits.

- don't let the horse scramble because of the extra energy.

- stop him from falling to the forehand.

- help him send the energy straight forward (avoid letting him become crooked).

Teach him to use that burst of energy to lengthen the stride of his hind legs. 



For the horse that does not typically, or naturally, use his hind end, taking the two deeper steps might be difficult at first. He might translate the request to mean that he has to move his legs faster, or fall to the inside/outside, or change gait entirely. You might have to learn to coordinate your "go" request with an immediate "no" to help him rebalance rather than to scramble underneath that extra energy.

You know you are on the right track when:

- the stride becomes bouncier

- the strides feel longer (you travel over more ground with less steps)

- you feel less overall tension in the horse's body

- the horse goes straighter (doesn't fall to the inside or outside on a turn or line)

- you get more "air time"

- the horse begins to round (without you pulling back on the reins)

- the footfalls are lighter when the horse lands

- for geldings, the sheath sound disappears

- the horse gives you a heartfelt snort!

The next time you run into tension, leaning, drifting, hollow back, or many other problems that we often think of as resistance or reluctance, try this simple technique. Ask for just two steps of increased energy. Then, evaluate. If you feel there could be more, ask for another two steps.

Increase impulsion in two-step increments, without the expectation of doing more and more and more over the long term. 

And see what your horse thinks about it!

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If you enjoyed the above articles, here are more along the same idea:

5 Steps to Effective Short Reins: Just as with any other movement and technique that is taught to horses, short reins can be very beneficial to the horse when applied correctly.

Find the Space Between the Give and Take in Horse Riding: As with so many other things in life, we need to find the happy medium.

Can You Recognize the Sewing-Machine Trot? It is easy to get fooled into thinking that the sewing-machine trot is a good trot.

Why A Release Is Not A Let Go in Horseback Riding: Many people interpret the term ‘Release’ literally – but that’s not what really means.

From a Whisper to a Scream: How Loud Should Our Aids Really Be? Should we be “loud” in our aids, or should we be working as softly as we can in hopes that our horse can respond to lighter and more refined aids?

29 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on EQUINE Ink and commented:
    Great article about the need for impulsion and how to break it down into those important and incremental two steps. What the article implies (and which I think is equally important) is that after asking for that bust of energy, you need to leave your horse alone and not nag him. I think a lot of horses become dead to the leg because their riders are constantly bumping and nudging them along. Better to ask for the surge and then go with it. You can always ask for more later.

  2. Ensuring there is no fixation in the sacroiliac, intertransverse and lumbosacral joints along with good movement of the lumbar vertebra will allow the horse to use his hind legs for propulsion, if not a brake is now on the horse’s bio-mechanics and he will use his front end to try to initiate the stride.

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