The thing about developing impulsion is that it rarely comes from more leg. The leg aids do play a role in increasing the energy of the horse, but they are not the only factor.
We often think that we should just kick the horse along. Without a doubt, the horse should move "off the leg" with increased energy and speed.
The novice horse might just move faster from the leg, and at that point, we don't want to stop him or discourage his enthusiastic response. Similarly, the novice rider needs to develop coordination of the leg aids (and overall body balance) so kicking at the outset is necessary for the rider to begin to control her legs. However, sooner than later, for both the horse and rider, we need to move away from the "kick" and more to the "aids."
True impulsion can only happen if the rider herself "has" impulsion. Let me explain.
If you don't have "impulsion" in your body, the best you can do is get exactly the opposite of impulsion: the horse just moves along at a faster rate (leg speed), hollows his back (hind legs our behind), falls to the forehand (loss of balance).... This happens because essentially, all you can do is chase the horse into speed. But impulsion isn't exactly speed.
It's more about energy. It's about buoyancy, it's about spending more time in the air than on the ground.
How can the rider encourage impulsion?
- Lengthen the legs (by opening from the hips down) and "wrap" your legs around the horse's sides.
- Squeeze your legs in rhythm with the horse's strides.
- Lighten your seat as if to invite the horse's back UP to you.
- Half-halt the resulting energy - don't let it just "go out the front", but redirect it so that the horse uses the energy to 'bounce."
- Keep control of the horse's leg speed with the half-halt as well. If the horse speeds up, half-halt to slow down and start again from step 1.
- When the horse changes his movement from going faster to becoming more trampline-y, bounce right along with the horse, accentuating the off-the-ground moment of the stride.
It takes quite a lot of coordination and energy to be able to first create this type of energy, and then to maintain it. But as you practice, both you and your horse will be able to make this happen more easily and promptly. Invariably, the better you get at creating impulsion in your body, the better the horse will get.
Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published! Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email
If you enjoyed this piece, you can find many more in our book, Horse Listening – Book 3: Horses. Riding. Life.
Available as an eBook or paperback.
How You Know You Don't Have Impulsion (Yet): An analysis of the components that make impulsion.
Impulsion: How Two Easy Strides Of Energy Might Solve Your Problem: One exercise to help increase impulsion.
How To Improve YOUR Canter-Trot Transitions: What should you do to improve your ability to make this down transition?
Lighten Your Horse's Forehand - From The Hind End: Rather than lifting or carrying or forcing the front to be higher, try this.
The One Answer To Most Horse Riding Problems: What will improve almost every riding problem?