forward mean
Photo Credit: J. Boesveld

I've discussed the term forward many times on this blog, in terms of training for it, what it is, how it solves riding problems, and how it feels. If you want to read up on it, scroll down to the links at the bottom of this article.

I'm coming back to the idea because as always, the concept is an integral part of horse riding, especially when you are working toward any sort of performance and overall balance. I'd say it's one of the most important elements of riding.

I'm forever checking and augmenting my "forward" with my horse, Cyrus. My students are constantly working on it (maybe it has something to do with my insistence - haha!) and I tend to really notice it in horses and riders when they don't have it.

In dressage, we call it impulsion. It's the pushing power that you get when you ask the horse for more energy. It's all-pervasive, in every gait, in every movement. It's also one of the most difficult things to learn to do, feel and create.

You can do whatever you want, but without "forward", the horse will always be working against itself physically, carrying your weight in a less than efficient manner, and often being hollow-backed and on the forehand.

What It's Not

  • Faster

It's definitely not speed of the legs. This is a common error, and it still happens to me at times. If you're not paying close attention, the horse just moves along faster, quite possibly more hollow and more on the forehand. 

  • Slower

Even though increased impulsion, or more "forward", can result in better collection, it's not necessarily the same thing as slowing down. We often think that slow means collected, but true collection requires a lot of energy and engagement of the hind quarters.

If your horse is taking smaller and slower steps, staying generally flat in the overall movement, he's likely not forward. Collection is round movement, bouncy, "jump" in the hind end, active, energetic. The strides may be shorter but this happens because the movement is rounder and more elevated.

I've spent a considerable amount of thought on how to explain "forward" and what it really means. This time, I'd like to ask you. 

What do you think "forward" means?

How do you explain it to your students (if you are an instructor) or riding friends?

How do you know you "have" it?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on it. Please post in the comments below, so we can share in everyone's expertise and experience. Thanks!

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More related reading here:

The One Answer To Most Horse Riding Problems: There is one solution that will improve if not completely resolve the issue - whether it be straightness, slowness, speed, or any of the other problems listed above.

Try This To Feel "Forward"If you've never felt "forward" before, how on earth are you supposed to learn it? You need a friend to help you with this one.

18 Reasons To Establish "Forward" EnergyRiding forward is often an elusive concept when you're first learning to ride. It requires an increase in energy but paradoxically, the energy can't be let "out the front".

Stepping "Forward" in Horse RidingThe term ‘forward’ is used liberally in horse riding but is often misunderstood.

Impulsion: How Two Easy Strides Of Energy Might Solve Your Horse Riding ProblemIt can help to straighten the horse. It can resolve “behavior” issues. It can even help to reduce tension in the horse’s body.

11 Comments

  1. Forward is that feeling that comes when everything feels light and effortless and so in synch you feel like you could ride it forever. Once you’ve felt it you always strive for it but until you feel it you have no idea how exhilarating it is. It is almost a feeling of letting go, allowing the horse to carry you in perfect rhythm. 🙂

  2. When an instructor tells me that I am nicely forward, I inevitably hear wind in my ears. I knw that helps no onebut it helps me!

  3. I’ve got ‘forward’ when the horse is going at the speed I want with energy (walk or gallop, doesn’t matter) with confidence and relaxation. I think about it as the horse following my energy and going in a relaxed way instead of being tense and worrying about my high energy.

  4. Forward is the horse bringing his belly up under you so that he is stepping under himself with his hind legs. It’s a definite “feeling.”

  5. To me forward means moving forward with intent, no meandering. Marching but not rushing with a lack of tension. Tracking up, swinging back, relaxed and happy.

    1. The engery of the horse is upward, reaching with legs up and forward. The back feels so bouncy like being on a beach ball. Every muscle seems to be engaged at once. There is lift, more air time. Horse is super sensitive and responsive, so the aids come thru quickly and with lightness. I had a instructor creat this for me on a school master, and then had me get right on, best way to feel it. When you see a horse all excited in the pasture, moving with every
      muscle engaged, looks almost tense, but with swing in the back..that’s it.

  6. For me, Forward= commitment. The best most reliable forward state occurs when my horse is absolutely committed to doing what I ask 110% with energy and the only thing on his mind is our activity of that moment. He responds with physical control and internal gusto. I seem to only be able to get the best state of forward from my horse when I have a plan and I’m committed 110%. It’s hard to ride in that state all the time but wow does it feel great and it keeps us out of so much trouble!!! I get into the most trouble whether it’s in dressage, over fences or crossing creeks etc. when forward is missing.

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